Finally, we exited the field on the right side where the little waterfalls spit over the rocks from the meadows above. It’s the beginning of one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever come across. Even two years before, in the rain, I had fallen for this little alpine dream. This time, the sun was shining, the green plants and flowers were at their happiest and all was right with the world.
Johannesburg Peak across the valley is an awe-inspiring sight. That’s one big boy of a mountain, and I always wonder if I’ll ever get the chance at that one.
But above us here are great green fields that gently give way to granite slabs with rivulets of water melting off the snow fields above. I love walking through this area and I took my time taking it all in.
We decided though that instead of doing the normal thing and camping up on the ridge to the left, or at the foot of the glacier on the other side, we would camp in the meadows where we had easy access to water but most importantly, it was closer! We figured we’d just get up earlier in the morning to hit the climb.
We each set up our bivy sacks wherever we could find dry, soft ground. Once that was done, it was relaxin’ time. I took my shoes and socks off and soaked my tired dogs in the ice cold melt water. It was wonderful, although I had to take them out after a minute or so in order for them not to go numb. Super refreshing and it rejuvenated me. The other guys did the same and then we set about making dinner. After we choked down the dehydrated goop, we went to bed really early as one usually does in the mountains when you are pretty much regulated by daylight. It was a nice night.
When our alarms went off, we fumbled around getting ready and eating but we got going about the same time as some other campers closer to the ridge did too so we felt ok about the time. We headlamped it over to the ridge and maneuvered our way though the myriad of trails but found the correct exit off the ridge (much better go this time that last where I went way to high and had to come back down – lesson learned).
Once over the ridge, we went cross country through the rocks and slabs until we were up on the snow. This was where Steve and I camped last time and were thwarted by weather the following morning. I noted the spot as we went past and was happy to be getting on new ground.
The snowfield was easy and we played leap frog with a group of Seattle Mountaineers up to the flat snowfield and the first views of the classic Eldorado profile. We worked our way quickly across this flat ground. Others roped up but we waited until we got across it at the base of the slope up to the summit. There were great views here down to lakes below and North Cascade peaks everywhere you could see. We saw Sahale which the three of us had done before. And above us was a crevassed glacier and the well-known ridge to the summit.
We didn’t wait long and soon headed up, passing more groups of climbers. Karl lead out, then Steve and finally me. It was pretty easy going for glacier travel. The crevasses are easily passed and the route was well worn into the snow. Kind of a cattle call but the slits of exposed rock and ice in the glaciers were neat to look at as we side-stepped them on our way up. At the top of the glacier, we reached the final summit ridge but this classic, knife-edge snow ridge was only a slightly-rounded over fin this late in the year. No amazing photos this trip like you see in the books. We cruised up though in good time and were on the ridge traverse over to the rocky summit.
We were there for a minute or two before the larger group came up behind us and we all camped out on the rocks relaxing, taking photos and having snacks. Not sure how long we were there but we left before the big group did and we slid our way back down in good time. We stayed roped up across the flat glacier this time mostly because we were just cruising along and didn’t want to stop. We did finally take the gear off on the other side of the snow field as dark clouds moved their way in from the west. Had some light rain off and on but nothing bad.
Once we were back down and over the ridge, we had to go back to our bivy spots and break camp. Fortunately, Karl had brought some Caldera Pale Ale and it was chilling in the melt water. We all had a celebratory brewski before breaking down the camp and loading up the packs to capacity. We walked through the meadows like we owned the place, although the real owners, a couple of marmots watched us transients move on down the line.
The boulder field went a little better this time after a summit. We really did not have any issues this climb, it went off as planned and we made pretty decent time. The bugs were a bit nasty in the woods on the way down but Karl and I were planning on heading up to Liberty Bell the next day so we had other things on our mind now. Weird how you can not even be done with one climb and you are moving ahead to the next.
We never did get to Liberty Bell as a storm moved in all across the North Cascades that next day (the one we watched come in with the rain). We headed back home a day early and one summit richer. I can see why some of my friends do this one multiple times. It’s a classic steep approach, alpine meadow traverse, glacier climb and snow ridge summit. It’s what you think about when you think about mountain climbing.
Although, I’d be hard-pressed to want to do that approach a third time….