Eldorado - Northwest Couloir

November 12-14th, 2004

Ken, Bill, Keith and I went up to try a couple routes in the Eldorado area over the weekend. More to come later but long story short after hiking in on Friday in good weather, we almost bailed Saturday morning due to a whiteout and snow storm. Just as we shouldered our packs to head down, poof, the clouds dropped below us and the mountain came into view. We hmmmed and hawwwed, but I was pretty psyched to go try the route. After repacking, around 10:30 am Ken and I headed up the Eldorado Glacier from our camp while Bill and Keith went down. Immediately it socked back in, and Ken started postholing up to his waist in the warm snow. We slowly worked our way up to the base of the East ridge where the snow became firm, and the weather began to clear even more. The snowy views of the surrounding peaks were amazing. It was like we'd stepped into a different set of mountains than we'd been in an hour or two before.

Ken and Keith on the approach. Eldorado and Eldorado Glacier behind.

Johanessburg and the peaks of Cascade Pass.

Keith and Bill hanging out Saturday morning.

We hiked around Eldorado on the Inspiration Glacier, heading for the col with the McCallister Glacier in the Tempeh Towers. We accidently went too high (the col is NOT to the left of the big wide tower). Time was already running short, and it looked like a loooong walk down and around to get into Marble Creek the recomended way. So we decided to check out an option that Phil and I had checked out once. This was to go to the obvious notch between Eldorado and Dean's spire (at the base of Eldorado's North ridge). We started belayed downclimbing a gully that left the right side of the notch. Ken went down about 35 meters before setting a belay atop another gully feature. The downclimbing from here didn't look too bad, but we opted to make two 30m rappels down snow and rock to reach the glacier. This deposited us only about 100 yards from the base of the route, cutting miles off the standard approach!

Ken climbing out of the fog and into paradise.

Forbidden peak.

Ken starting down the gully at the Eldorado-Dean col.

The Northwest Couloir of Eldorado.

We started up the route at 3 pm, with two hours of daylight remaining. There were some nice AI3ish steps to enter the couloir, and Ken lead up for a couple pitches of simu-climbing. I took the lead as the evening sun cast very beautiful pink rays on the glacier below. Most of the climbing consisted of 45-50 degree neve, but with a few crux steps. Near the end of the rope I climbed a chockstone that blocked the gully. The stone was draped with a thin layer of water ice which provided some good sticks on the steep climbing (probably WI4- given the conditions). Above the chockstone the gully eases off a bit so we ran the rope another 100 feet or so. Ken lead off and took us to the top of the route by headlamp.

Ken getting punished by spindrift at the base of the route.

Ken following after the chockstone.

It's definitely getting dark now...

In the darkness, Ken looked up at the summit pyramid of Eldorado and told me we had another 1000 ft. of climbing to get there. He must have been running low on GU in the bloodstream, as it's only about one pitch to the summit from here! However, the snow was really exposed to the NW face and the picket we put in was pretty worthless. I lead up to the summit, finally able to get some good pro in on top. I brought Ken up and we started looking for the East ridge descent.

Even though I'd been down the East ridge twice already, it was really spooky doing it at night. I wasn't sure exactly which was to go, and it looked like steep and very exposed snow. My headlamp was waning a bit as well, so Ken headed down first. We swapped leads down a couple "pitches", still in steep terrain and still a little sketched that we were going to walk off a cliff. It hit me how funny we looked when I belayed Ken down a "steep" looking section that ended up being just 30 degree soft snow. Soon we were zooming back down the glacier to our camp.

All in all, I thought the route was a fun, relatively short but aesthetic ice route that climbs one of my favorite mountains in the Cascades. We spent about 3 hours on the route and climbed it in three simu-pitches with a 60 meter rope. From the East ridge campsite, we were about 7 hours roundtrip. As for gear, we brought too many ice screws, 1-2 would be fine. The rock pro in the couloir was pretty good, if not a bit spaced out. We had pins from knifeblade to angle, and gear from tiny nuts to a #2 camalot. We used it all, probably a 15 piece rack in total.

Sunday we hiked out in the morning. It rained and snowed the whole way down, but we were glad we hadn't just taken the gear for such a lovely hike. I have to give Bill a VERY special thanks. After heading down Saturday morning, he waited until we got down Sunday to drive us home. Not only that, but he had gone into town and picked up some brews in the meantime. Way to go!

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