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This past Saturday, myself, Paul Guatelli, Pat Ragar, and a new WAC member|
Jason Schuman (the application is in the mail he says) set out for what
became a perfect (uneventful?) climb on Eldorado.
A bit of history first. I had tried this climb last year via Sibley Creek
but did not make the summit due to a lack of time for the chosen route.
That trip also had the infamous Marmot incident in which a marmot ran off
with my ice ax with me in hot pursuit. I did retrieve the ax but not
without a tug-o-war first. With this being my second attempt on the
mountain, I was determined to make the summit and luckily all the elements
went my way.
Eldorado is located in the North Cascades National Park, a couple of basins
west of Boston Basin, home to much of the grandest alpine climbing available
in the Cascades. I say the climb was "perfect" because in essence nothing
wrong or even unusual happened. Ok Ok, we did have one unplanned rappel due
to a route-finding problem but it only cost us a half-hour (MAYBE) and
didn't prevent us from making the desired high camp.
As Jason is the newest member it was decided
by a vote that he should drive. We made good time to Marblemount with the
required stop in Sedro-Wooley for Paul to buy his breakfast - an Armageddon
sandwich. We acquired the necessary FREE permit (I love the North Cascades
National Park) and had an oh-so-enlightening lecture by the Ranger on
smearing and the need for a free 3 LB. bear bucket to store your food. Do
many bears venture out onto glaciers in search of food? I don't know.
The trailhead (2,200' elevation) is located roughly150 feet downstream from
the parking area and is somewhat obscured by brush. The initial trail is
steep, muddy in many places, and contains exposed tree roots just waiting to
twist unsuspecting ankles. The four of us cranked out the altitude and
crossed the two boulder fields in good time. The Ranger
informed us of a new trail the Park Service has built which cuts east from
the current trail at a waterfall located at about 5500 feet. Unfortunately,
there are several waterfalls in that altitude range and with the trail being
what it is, the location of this new trail is not completely obvious.
Nonetheless, we crossed the creek heading east in the general direction
described by the Ranger before cutting back west in an ascending traverse
towards the ridge separating the Eldorado and Roush Creek basins. Packed
snow is currently at about 5,000 feet.
Nelson in "Selected Climbs...." describes the need to find a particular
gully on the ridge in which to descend down into Roush Creek. We must have
ascended to high as upon arriving on the ridge the only descent possible
would have required the use of a 500 foot rope, which no one thought to
bring. We began climbing the ridge under dark, ominous clouds hoping the
ridge would allow us to continue up to Inspiration Glacier, our desired
camp. It quickly became apparent the ridge wasn't going to make easy
climbing forcing us to rappel off of the ridge back down into the Eldorado
We continued ascending the basin up snow slopes which in the end put
us out on top of and just east of the ridge we had tried to climb. Ten
to twenty minutes of easy walking put us at the Inspiration Glacier
(7,200 feet) - 1600 feet below the summit of Eldorado.
We had cranked out 5000 feet of elevation in 6.5 hours which
includes breaks and the unplanned rappel. By making the high camp we were
situation very nicely to make short work of the summit day.
Camp was made which consisted of three bivy sacks and Jason in my 10
year-old-almost-water-proof Sierra Designs one-person tent. Dinner was
cooked and then the hail began to fall. And fall and fall and fall. It
stopped briefly allowing a window of opportunity to climb inside our
respective bivy sacks before the rain commenced. It was 6pm and there we
all slept until 5am. At first, the though of laying in a Gore-Tex body bag
for 11 hours seemed unimaginable but I must say those Outdoor Research
Advance Bivys are actually quite roomy - for a bivy sack. Being so close to
Boston Basin, though, Paul at first instinctively climbed inside his pack
instead of the bivy sack. For those uninformed folks, Paul has a history of
un-planned bivies in the Boston Basin area and though we were not actually
in Boston Basin, it appears we were close enough for the forces that be to
By 6:30am, we were traversing the Inspiration Glacier under
perfect conditions: clear skies, cool temperatures, and hard snow for
cramponning. For the most part, the climb is straight forward. The
glacier in this section is quite flat with few crevasse problems. The
infamous knife-edge ridge described in Nelson isn't quite as scary as I had
anticipated. We had the rope, of course, and a few pickets for a running
belay but never needed to set one.
The ridge, while
containing quite steep and exposed sides with bad run-outs, is wide enough
to walk without much trouble. Plus, the snow was still firm allowing the
crampons to make excellent purchase with the snow. Anyone not real
comfortable with exposure though, would definitely want to at least put in a
running belay. At 8:30am, two hours after leaving camp, all of us were on
top drinking in the view. And let me tell you, folks, the view is
spectacular. It seems every mountain in the Cascades is seen from this
central location. A must do climb, in my opinion.
In thirty minutes we left and an hour after that we were back in camp
packing up for the walk out. Given the steepness of the trail and the
number of objects (mainly tree roots) in the trail, descending was a bit
tricky as well as hard on the knees. The car was reached around 2pm and we
were back in Seattle at 6pm after a quick stop at La Hacienda in Burlington
for the required Mexican food.
As I had said, this climb was in essence perfect. The weather, the climbing
team, the views, etc. For once, nothing went wrong. The rain even waited
for us to be in the bivy sacks before coming down. No marmot problems
either!! I definitely recommend this climb if for nothing else to see the
More information about this climb can be found in Nelson's "Selected Climbs
in the Cascades." Nelson offers two routes, Roush Creek (the one did here)
or Sibley Creek. The latter is a bit more scenic but generally requires
three days or two very long days.