Technical climbing info
Mountain: Eldorado Peak
Route: North Ridge
Grade: II, 5.7
Interesting fact: I forgot my camera at home, all photos were taken on my iPhone 11.
Unlike most climbs, this climb didn’t start at the trailhead. A few weeks ago Jess and I were half asleep in our tent above the Winnie Slide on Mount Shuksan. I’m classically bad at misidentifying people, so while half asleep in my tent, hearing what seemed like a familiar voice, I thought nothing of it. But catching bits and pieces of the conversation, I thought to myself, that’s definitely got to be Will.
I popped my head out of tent.
“Hey, is that Chris?“
“Will! I knew that voice was familiar!“
Quite a few years ago now, Will instructed an AAI Alpine Ice Climbing Intro course I was enrolled in. It was a weeklong on Mount Baker and he proved to be an awesome instructor and an all-around cool dude. We climbed a few times afterwards, but we had not seen each other in-person for a few years. We caught each other up on our lives for a bit, Facebook just doesn’t quite do it, and we figured we should plan a climb for the rapidly dwindling season.
I texted Will a few days later, he had just completed his AMGA Alpine certification. (Climb with him here!) I mentioned that Jess and I were looking at climbing the NE Face of Eldorado. His AMGA Alpine exam happened to take him pretty close to our objective, the relatively untouched North Ridge of Eldorado. Kind of a coincidence because I had just been looking at the N Ridge topo wondering if it would be a viable ascent. Turns out it was, and Will was ready to get back on it!
Count us in! Plus, with the long haul up to the Eldorado camp, why not call it 3 days and throw in an extra climb. We planned to climb the NW Ridge of Dorado Needle…or whatever else we come up with (lol). Spoiler alert- we ended up climbing Dorado Needle’s East Ridge.
Labor Day Weekend!
My biggest worry about climbing any route on Eldorado during Labor Day weekend was the inevitable permit junk-show. We showed up at the Marblemount Ranger Station on Saturday morning 8am, and it was indeed a junk-show. Will swung by the previous afternoon and picked up our permit, so all we needed to do was navigate the parking lot and drive to the trailhead.
The Eldorado trailhead was particularly empty, maybe the permits didn’t end up getting cleaned out. Either way, we began to make our way towards the Cascade River crossing. The last (and only) time Jess and I were here was late November. Just trying to locate the trailhead in the off-season was nearly impossible. We had turned back at the boulder field, finding it covered in slick ice. This time, getting back to the boulder field, we realized that it went on and on and on, far longer than we originally expected. It seemed to play a tick on us, at every moment it seemed to feel like we were almost out, but there was still always an indefinite way to go. God that field sucks.
We were the first party to arrive to camp, we only spotted 4 other humans that day, all on their ways down. A couple other parties eventually strolled in as the sun began to set. Will, Jess, and I debated what we would do the following day. We could either climb a couple easier objectives, starting with Dorado Needle’s NE Ridge. Or we could climb Dorado Needle’s East Ridge, a full day route. We opted for the longer East Ridge.
I personally had the epic debate of choosing between rehydrating my chili or bean stew. Either would result in a whole lot of farts, I opted for the chili.
Dorado Needle’s East Ridge
This climb has its own post!
Dorado Needle, East Ridge
We had spent the previous day hauling up to the 7400’ camp of Eldorado. This camp is such a long way to go that it doesn’t particularly make sense to me for anything except mini-basecamping. Our primary objective of the trip was to climb the rarely touched North Ridge of Eldorado, with the NW Ridge…
Oh right, it’s fall
1am, I woke up to the tent flapping against my head. The calm weather had turned. The sunny September almost had me fooled that it was still summer, but it was indeed fall. I popped melatonin to try to force myself back to sleep. My sleep was intermittent at best.
I wished the wind away, but when my 6am alarm rang, the tent still was flapping against my face. Jess’ shoulder injury was bugging her even more, and she (intelligently) opted to stay back for the day. I woefully unzipped my sleeping bag, lit the stove, and put on my still-damp shirt from the previous two days.
I kissed Jessica goodbye for the day and crawled out of the tent. Will was gearing up in the wind, “a little breezy this morning huh!”
We quickly left the camp and East Ridge behind us. The wind didn’t let up but that didn’t stop us from hustling down the Inspiration Glacier. The landscape was far more dramatic with the fast-moving clouds than the day before. The Queen of the Cascade River has a bit of an attitude change. Days like these remind me that I am just a visitor in this landscape.
Put the ol’ gear in drive
We landed at the NW Ice Couloir rappel notch. The wind was clearly beating down on the west side of the ridge, so with most of our climbing being on the east side, we were mostly in the clear. We climbed up a short pitch of steep snow and mentally prepared to take out gloves off for the next few hours.
My first pull up onto the rock reminded me of the past couple days of work. If my thighs could have make a sound, it would have been of an old car squealing into first gear. The first few moves felt more like I was hucking my body from foot to foot, but eventually my body slid into cruise control.
The climbing on the ridge was solid. The rock to the east of the ridge was cleaner than clean. It felt almost like it was manufactured to be climbed. Solid and high friction, with little edges and footings exactly where you’d hope them to be. We kicked a few huge blocks off the ridge making ultra-satisfying thuds into the snow moat below. “Wooooooo!”, as we watched them hurl down. Will joked about his future “alpine climbing gym” buisness idea were not all the holds get screwed in quite properly. I’d get a membership.
The climbing was overall more objectively fun than what we had done on the East Ridge of Dorado Needle. Maybe I’m crazy, but I just don’t enjoy choss and lichen. It was also interesting to have such minimal exposure with the glacier on the east, but such dramatic exposure down the ridge ridge to the west.
My first Eldorado summit!
As we made our way up the summit began to peak its way into view. This was the first time that I had ever actually seen Eldorado’s summit up close. The ridge eventually flattened out into basically a pile of rubble right below the summit.
Part of me didn’t actually want to believe that we had gotten that far already, the climb had gone by quick and I didn’t want the fun to end! We had the option of either going straight up the ice or to do the classic East Ridge finish. We only had 2 screws on us, so the classic ridge finish was our way to go. The wind made the knife edge ridge a little more than we paid for. We got knocked down a couple times by strong gusts, we opted to counterbalance on either side and punch our way up. I thought this was supposed to be a walk? It gave the “easy Cascade classic” finish a little Himalayan alpine flavor.
Hot or not? Hot!
We tagged the summit, took a couple photos, and aimed our way back to camp. Overall, I found this relatively unpopular climb super fun. We made it camp to camp in about 5 hours. It never feels too exposed, which makes it more “classically fun”, but also probably prevents it from being wildly considered an ultra-classic. I give it an A+, I’d climb it again.
Will Gordon’s AMGA Profile link
Up Next, From Just across the valley
Forbidden Peak, North Ridge (via NW Face variation)
2018, sitting on the summit of Forbidden having just climbed the classic West Ridge, Jere and I watched a team make their way up the North Ridge. The route just struck me. The increased solitude, the variety of terrain, and the overall burliness of the ridge just had me impressed. It looked like the true…
Hey Chris! Do you have a GPS track for this by chance? In terms of approaching, do you simply walk to eldo east ridge camp , then to the NW ice couloir rap notch and then start climbing?
Hey Andrew, unfortunately I didn’t record a GPS trace of any value. What you described is what we did. Once on the ridge, it is fairly straightforward. We mostly stayed on the east side of the ridge where the rock is higher quality. Enjoy!