Tuesday, January 27, 2015

East Ridge of Eldorado Peak September 2014

Eldorado Peak is known as the "Queen of the Cascade River". by Fred Beckey but as Lee and I came into the parking lot we certainly couldn't tell. The thickness of the trees and the lowland fog pretty much blocked the view. It all started with a change in plans. Lee had originally wanted to do a Grand Traverse in the Tetons but with some convincing and talk of glacier travel we changed plans to heading to the North Cascades to try for some of the peaks in the Cascade River area.
Surprised, daunted, tired? Not sure it's too early.
While there was talk of climbing the Torment-Forbidden traverse we decided to start off with a simple climb of Eldorado Peak. After flying into Seattle we grabbed our rental car and headed for Marblemount to settle in for the night.

The next day we got our permits and our bear canisters and headed for our first camp in Roush Creek. With warm temps and the haze lifting we headed for the start of the trail which is a little difficult to find if you've never been. Once we got across the river the onslaught of uphill began. The initial trail climbs up Eldorado Creek for a little of 4000' in around two miles. It's a bigger climb than almost anything in Colorado and it doesn't even get you to the summit. There's still over 2000' to go! It's better than bushwhacking though.

With several breaks in the old growth forests we continued thru most of the day. Eventually we reached the boulder field where the trail is a little more difficult to follow and that leads through the best part of the hike that time of year which is the blueberry patches below the slabs that cross over into Roush Creek Basin.

We lost some time here. I couldn't help it, the blueberries were delicious and we stood under a small water cascade to wash away some of the sweat. I will not apologize for enjoying delicious blueberries. Maybe next time I'll collect them in a jar and we'll have blueberry pancakes!

Eventually we were able to pull ourselves away from the delicious treats and picked our way up to the ridge before crossing into the basin. A short steep down scramble/hike leads to back to a reasonable trail just below the Eldorado Glacier. Laying out on the flattest part we could find on the rock slabs we cooked up some quesadillas.

Steep trail and big trees.
We had a nice stretch of good weather and decided to sleep with the fly off under the stars of which there were many.

After a good night's sleep the morning arrived. We had some warm oats, camp bread, and assorted dried fruits before packing gear.

The route is pretty straightforward. You essentially head straight up and across until you're beyond the E. Ridge proper and follow the glacier the rest of the way up. Straightforward doesn't always mean easy though. Late season can mean a little scrambling over rock slabs to actually get to the snow. Most crevasses are open but that usually means a lot of end running to get around them. So the E. Ridge route makes for a good introduction to glacier travel as you can stay on snow most of the entire route.

It also has a pretty logical progression of snow and glacier skills. From our campsite you climb on to a lower snowfield which, while crevasse free, still features some steep snow that requires the use of crampons and knowledge on how to self arrest. This leads to the lower glacier which has a few crevasses where understanding travelling on a rope team and how to avoid crevasses is important. It also provides a relatively easy spot to demonstrate basic rope ascension and crevasse rescue skills before moving onto the main event which is the E. Ridge itself where there are several large crevasses, some crossed by tiny walkways, and an exhilarating knife ridge finish.

After practicing some of these skills and refreshing others the sun started to rise and we were no longer in the dark. The wide expanse of white is only broken by a few rocky pinnacles. The views of the peaks around are truly amazing. The severity with which the surrounding peaks rise around you is greater than most of the other ranges around the US. So if you want steep Washington is where you'll find it.

Sunrise with the summit above.
Knife edge near the summit.

The route becomes less straightforward as you get higher with some steep walking and wandering around crevasses. Things get way more interesting at the top where you can head near the ridge with some exciting crevasse crossings including a tiny sidewalk with big crevasses on either side. Once beyond this you're at the best part which is the knife ridge. While not technically difficult the exposure on either side is enough to make anyone step with care. So a few quick belays in this section lead us to the summit.

Most of the route had been mild and pleasant with a strong uphill pace and good sun at our backs. This started to change as clouds began to roll in and we felt the wind picking up. The summit was a little chilly but the views still amazing. We were able to see some of the bigger peaks such as Baker and Shuksan and while you think you can see Rainier from here I'm pretty sure it's actually Glacier Peak. After some pictures we were getting cold and started to descend.

While uneventful in general I did try and stop to go to the bathroom since it's the only spot that's supposed to have a composting toilet. For the life of me I could not find it though. After 20 minutes of looking all over the place I decided carrying your waste out was just as good and we headed back to our camp in Roush Creek.

We were a bit earlier than expected so decided to do some exploring of the various caves and slabs around the area which is kind of fun. There are some neat little glacier holes to hide from the sun and some nice waterfalls to dunk your head in or get water.

One more night under the stars and it was time to go back down to the real world. We headed back thru the blueberry patch, the most memorable and enjoyable part of the hike before the downhill drone set in. Getting back to the car in the afternoon we collapsed in the parking lot and did some stretching before driving off.

Marblemount is a ways back from the Boston Basin area. Couple of recommendations in town. Don't eat at the BBQ shack in the train car. Do get some ice cream at the Cascade Farms stand on your way back to Seattle.

Recommendations for the climb. Be fit, with nearly 7000' of elevation gain it's a multiday trip for most people. It can be done in one very long day by a strong team of experienced climbers but I found 3 to be very comfortable. Don't carry too much water either. There is a lot of it along the way where you can fill up. The hike is steep and trekking poles can be nice for the down.

It's a good introductory glacier climb so give us a call and get on it. If you're a pretty fit rock climber there are several other climbs in the area that can be done as well that transition from glacier to rock and are well known. The West Arete of Eldorado is a big route even at the 5.8 grade. The Torment-Forbidden Traverse is a committing ridge traverse that sees both summits and while only 5.6 has a lot to throw at you.

While late summer is the best time for blueberries early summer or late spring can yield easier snow travel as some of the rock slabs are filled in. Depending on what you're looking for either way can be fun as long as you know more what to expect. Overall a fun quick trip with some excitement and great views.
Summit with Baker in the Background

1 comment:

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