Technical climbing info
Mountain: Eldorado Peak
Route: West Ridge
Grade: V, 5.8 (approx. 25+ pitches)
A dream, or a haunting?
A couple years ago, Will and I climbed the North Ridge of Eldorado, a fairly rarely climbed rocky ridge up the popular peak. The route gave us spectacular views out over the western flank of the mountain, exposing what looked like a much wilder side. Among the jumbled glacier patches and broken rock towers, the West Ridge ominously cracked it way up through the skyline. It was gnarled and blackened, with massive teetering spires and gendarmes; it looked evil, it looked wicked.
Getting back home, I opened up mountain project, curious to see if anybody actually climbs that thing. W. Ridge T Mod. Snow 5.8, there it was. Click. 7 ticks, since 2007. Not bad. The few trip reports spoke of bad rock, rockfall, unexpected bivys, and dehydration, nothing classically appealing.
The next season, I poked the idea over the Jessica. She was less than uninterested. I poked the idea to a few guides I knew. “I’ve heard bad reviews. Why don’t we climb something actually fun?” And I did have plenty actually fun climbs that season, they were great. But all too frequently, the ominous image of the West Ridge burnt into my mind would resurface. The line between a dream and a haunting blurred.
2 years later, a plan
2022 came around, and the ridge was still burned into my mind. It had also made it to my to-do list of epicness. Will and I exchanged messages, and shot each other objectives over the spring that could be interesting possibilities for when the snow started to play ball. The West Ridge surfaced itself, and lingered around the surface. It seemed that both of us wanted to go for it, but at the same didn’t want to. (Reader- does that even make sense..?) We had been climbing together since 2015, and he was one of the few people I trusted to shoot for this kind of thing with.
We would be attempting it from the NW aspect of the mountain, the rearely used Triad Zone. We would have 4 days, for either if we wanted or needed to spend a day on the route. If all went ultra-smoothly, we would be able to attempt either Early Morning Spire or Dorado Needle’s SW Buttress from the basin as well.
On the way back from the Bugaboos with Jessica, I checked the weather frequently. Will and I agreed we would would only climb in a solid window due to the potential of a bivy on-route.
The Triad Zone and its abandoned classics
The approach in was hot and filled with flies. The flies and mosquitoes in 2022 had been unescapable. I had walked out of Vesper Peak a few weeks prior with literally my body covered it bites. The Bugaboos was no different. We waved and swatted around for the 8 hour walk in. Eldorado already had my least favorite approach to date, and the millions of flies did not make it any more pleasant.
Eventually we veered off the beaten East Ridge trail and navigated our way through a slab filed broken by infinite little streams coming off the glacier. We weaved our way through big and micro crossings, working our way over to the Triad. Eventually we found ourselves on a glacier, overlooking the wild NW side of Eldorado. The blackened rock was just as gnarled and spired as I remembered. The glaciers were small but completely jumbled, somehow just hanging there. There was a warm breeze from the valley below, one of the densest valleys I had ever laid eyes on in the Cascades. It looked like a jungle below us, the scenery more akin to Ecuador than our beloved Pacific Northwest. We roped up and meandered towards what would be our camp site.
The campsite looked like a remnant of some past era. It had been maintained at some point. Rocks were cleared on a large sandy flat, but it looked barely touched and grown over in some areas. A rusted over dual burner stove and a crowbar were hidden behind a boulder, we guessed from the stove’s look it was maybe left behind in the 80s. Maybe at some point a team came out to develop this place. We wondered when it was eventually determined that it was not the classic side of Eldorado. But we could feel the potential of this basin that that team from the past must have felt, as Eldorado, Early Morning Spire, and Dorado Needle towered above us.
A loose start
We packed our bags for a potential night out on the ridge. Is an anticipated unanticipated bivy still unanticipated? I am not certain… We had a tarp and a closed cell pad to share. I shoved an extra Gu and a few extra cheese sticks into my food bag, loaded up 3L of water, and grabbed an extra puffy. The previous night was nice, so this all should do. We didn’t to use it, but we didn’t want to be totally unprepared if it came down to it. We’d be far from the first party to get caught out there.
We left camp with our headlamps, we wanted to be on the ridge as the sun just came up. The sounds of crampons scratching over the rock and trickling streams under the snow filled the basin’s otherwise silence.
We approached what looked like the West Ridge’s more practical entry point. The ridge was chossy and crumbly, and when it wasn’t, it was covered in dense moss. But 3 pitches in, it began to clear up, and gave way to what actually felt like good climbing. It was unclear if it was actually good, or just good in comparison to the previous few pitches, but it didn’t matter too much. We followed the paths of least resistance and made out way up and up.
The first gendarme, possibly the most iconic of them all, a narrow finger that stood straight in the air was just ahead of us. I glanced at the time, 11am. From the trip reports I had recalled, it seemed like we were making good progress if we were already here. We skirted left around the towering feature, only to be comforted by another. We rappelled down and climbed around again. I snapped the iconic photo that seemed to appear in every trip report.
Will used his AMGA guide skills to navigate the terrain above, seemingly picking the right way every single time. He said it was luck, I don’t know if it’s possible to be that lucky, his skill in the alpine was showing.
The climbing remained fairly good for a while, and while we were making good time, our water was starting to run a little lower than anticipated. The sun was beating down, a heatwave was bearing down on us, we just didn’t know it because we hadn’t been connected to the internet for a while. Ding! Ding! My phone had reception..? I looked down and I saw a flood of texts and emails come in. A couple of my best friends had just come from back a trip to Hawaii I had skipped out to climb this. They were checking in to see if I wanted to grab Din Tai Fung in a few hours, I responded I probably wouldn’t be back in Seattle for a few days. I sent a few photos and a nice message to Jessica.
The final push
2:30pm, we found ourselves on a snowy saddle between us and what looked like the final push to the summit. It must have been a massive cornice before the heat set it, now it was mostly just holding in an infinite pile of loose rock. Our GPS read 800ft from the top. We pushed right, towards the skyline, hoping for better rock. The rock did indeed get better, and we made our moves up what would be the final pitches.
We finally encountered the anticipated choss in the last few hundred feet to the summit. We stayed roped up on the variable quality low 5th class terrain. It was 4:30pm, the sun was still shining hard, and with the very very low likelihood of staying out overnight at that point, I chugged the water I was rationing. 30 minutes later, the low 5th gave way to the summit, and the classic knife edge ridge rose in front of us. There we were. Wow.
Check, check, check
We shot down the East Ridge, it was a lot more mellow than when Will and I had descended it a couple years back. We made a straight shot to the notch below Dorado Needle gaining our way back to the Triad area. We made our way over snow patches, filling water and chugging along the way.
No emergency bivy, check
No blue bag on route, check
Arrived back to camp before dark, check
We made dinner, first under the sun, and then under our headlamps. We were happy to have done it well, but it didn’t feel like the thing we’d want to come back for again. I really give all the credit to Will for making this route on the wild side of Eldorado go with such “relative ease”, you can find his AMGA profile here.
We lightly discussed climbing the next day, but decided we’d just wake up and see how we felt. We indeed would wake up at 6:30am and shoot for Dorado Needle’s SW Buttress.
AND the next day, DOrado Needle…
Dorado Needle, Southwest Buttress
Will and I had come off a long climbing day just the past day. Our 6:30am alarm was too early. While the West Ridge of Eldorado did not destroy us, but it did take a good bit of our energy. We looked at the peaks. Early Morning Spire and Dorado Needle. They were just right…
Big thanks to Stowaway Gormet for supporting my 2022 climbing season! This is a brand that I fell in love with prior to my official partnership with them. These are by far the absolute best backcountry meals I’ve ever had, and I’m psyched to be eating them all year! Check out my meal reviews here!
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