Eldorado Peak is perhaps best known for its knife edge summit snow arete and moderate standard route. Eldorado offers other routes to challenge more advanced climbers including the West Arete and the Northwest Ice Couloir. The Northwest Ice Couloir is an excellent mixed climb leading to the summit of this iconic Cascades peak. Guarded by a long, somewhat complicated approach and situated in the wild Marble Creek Cirque, this aspect boasts stunning views of Dorado Needle and Early Morning Spire.
When to climb
The route has been climbed in late fall, early winter and early spring. When you choose to climb will dictate the character and difficulty of the route. Late fall, after a few storm cycles, offers the best (most technical) conditions. Later in the season and early spring will yield more of a steep snow climb.
Very fast parties have climbed the route car to car in a day. Most parties take 2-3 days.
North Face of Johanesberg Peak
Many climbers have memories of the Eldorado Creek Trail indelibly etched into their conciousness. One friend still shudders as he recounts a one day climb of the standard route he did 45 years ago. Some climbers, however, appreciate the directness of the trail which eschews switch backs. Naturalists will be treated to a lesson in plant ecology as the approach passes through zones that start in PNW rain forest, through subalpine trees, to alpine meadows and finally across an expansive glacier. Every climber will enjoy views of the impressive 5,000 foot North Face of Johanesberg.
Drive HWY 20 to the east end of the town of Marblemount. Turn onto Cascade River Road and drive to the Eldorado Creek Trailhead at MP 19. The road is typically driveable through the end of December although land slides and blowdowns can block the road earlier. Check the NPS road closure Web page for road conditions: North Cascades National Park Road Conditions Web page
The Eldorado Creek trailhead is not entirely obvious. Walk the road downstream. In approximately 100 yards look for path leading to a large tree spanning the river. The tree is large and is pretty easy for a Cascades river crossing. Once on the opposite bank follow flagging until able to pick up the trail.
Eric Sweet at the bivi below the East Ridge
The trail climbs steeply up the forested hillside breaking out into a talus field. Follow cairns, generally staying right. Pick up the trail again until it peters out into rock slabs (may be snow). Hike up and left until able to drop down a reasonable gulley into the Roush Creek Basin.
Hike up the moraine aiming for the toe of the Eldorado Glacier. Cross the glacier heading towards the East Ridge of Eldorado.
Where to bivi
The base of the east ridge offers good bivi sites and the advantage of descending the East Ridge directly back to camp.
From the base of the east ridge traverse north, then east contouring around Eldorado and onto the Inspiration Glacier. Aim for a pass between two spires. Drop down the pass towards the Dorado Needle - Eldorado col. Note that some parties have found a shorter approach by making a couple of rappels down a gulley before the traverse to the pass between two spires.
Descend onto the Marble Creek Glacier and traverse to the base of the prominent couloir splitting the northwest face. Climb the couloir for eight, 60 meter pitches to a flat area below the famous knife edge ridge. Climb up to the ridge and follow it to the summit. The amount of snow in the couloir will dictate the character of the climbing. Later in season the route will be mostly snow with a few steps of ice. In early season be prepared for steep thin ice and moderate mixed climbing. The granitic nature of the rock offers good protection opportunities on the steep walls of the couloir.
Descend the east ridge back to the Eldorado Glacier.
Low on the route
Midway on the route
Looking out a cave
Leading steep, thin ice out of the cave
Mt Torment and Forbidden Peak
5-6 ice screws, include a few stubbies
Medium rock rack to 2". Pitons are useful
An excellent description of the route and approach can be found in 'Selected Climbs in the Casades, Vol II'. Jim Nelson and Peter Potterfield
My trip report can be found here: NW Ice Couloir Trip Report
A trip report from an ascent in fat conditions: NW Ice Couloir Trip Report