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About Us > Adventures > Eldorado Peak

Eldorado Peak – E. Ridge, 6/14-15/03

Eldorado Peak

Months earlier we’d chosen this mid-June weekend for our second attempt at Eldorado (8,868’), primarily for the full moon, and also with the hopes that snow would be plentiful to speed up the ascent. Having turned around 300’ from the summit in September 2002 trying the NE Face ice route, we were hoping this time to traverse across the infamous knife-edged ridge captured in so many climbing photos. Fortunately, the weather cooperated – we had overcast skies without precipitation for the trip in over the steep climber’s trail and snow-free boulder fields, and windless whiteout conditions early the next morning that dissipated as soon as we reached 7,500’ where the sun poked through fog and clouds, allowing us wonderful views in all directions for our climb along and across the summit ridge.

Twelve of us from the Seattle Mountaineers climbing program (Courtenay Schurman, Doug Schurman, Rick Anderson, Laura Nugent, Annie Terry, Caprice Hochstrasser, Wendi Rowlands, and five students from our mentor group, Jeremy Dodsworth, Kevin Dornfeld, Monica Dodd, Cheryl Burwell, and Brady Johnson) started out from the parking lot at 10 a.m., facing our very first challenge at the stream crossing, which took an amusing if somewhat frustrating 45 minutes. We opted for the single log crossing to the east of the uprooted 3-log jam, which at first glance looked more difficult to fjord than we’d anticipated; I held one end of a makeshift hand line as our students followed Doug and Laura, shimmying over the log to the other side. Once everyone had crossed, Rick led them up the climber’s trail while I retrieved the rope and backtracked to scout out the 3-log pile, realizing too late that it would probably be the much faster and safer option – we’d use it on the return trip. At least everyone got a good lesson in stream crossing, not to mention great photos!

We passed a Prescott, AZ school group on the way to regrouping with our party halfway up the climbers’ trail. After a brief break to redistribute gear, we continued upwards, reaching the first of the boulder fields (3920’) about 1:15 after starting from the stream. There we took a nice 45-minute break to let everyone catch up, and then continued for another hour to 4660’ (just beyond the steep heather/rock portion of the boulder field) and again let everyone regroup. We took one final break at the top of the boulder field and waterfall at 5174’ where we gingerly crossed the rapidly melting snowy and stopped to filter water for anyone needing extra to get up to Roush Creek Basin. From there on up, we were primarily on snow, and once we got past a few switchbacks and over some snow-covered heather, boulders, and hidden streams, we entered the first basin and made our way up to the ridge between Eldorado Creek Basin and Roush Creek Basin, where Doug and Rick scouted the best route down into the basin.

Up at the top of the ridge were two tents where a foursome from Mountain Madness were staying; we decided we’d get a head start on the next morning and continue down the ravine to about 6150’. The gully was clear of snow except at the very bottom, where a moat was just beginning to form over the boulders. We pitched camp just above the exit to the gully, where we found a mock-knife-edged ridge on which we could practice for summit day. By five p.m. our entire group had arrived and were setting up 6 2-person tents, including our brand new pride-and-joy Hilleberg tent from Pro Mountain Sports. Doug and Jeremy dug a kitchen trench so all of us could eat, joke, rehydrate, and laugh together as the fog swirled around us occasionally allowing fleeting glimpses of the summit over Eldorado Glacier. None too soon we all hunkered down in our tents, anticipating a 3 a.m. wake-up call. The rangers had reminded us that there are occasionally bears up in the North Cascades, and the Mountain Madness guide mentioned that he’d seen fresh bear tracks two days earlier; we collected everyone’s food bags and dug a horizontal pit upslope from us, complete with thick snow blocks to cover the opening and wands to mark where we buried the food. I just hoped the Balance bars would not freeze solid mixed in with all the other food.

At 3 a.m. I bolted upright when my alarm went off, eager to see if the clouds had dispersed. I could see traces of the full moon through thick clouds, but it wasn’t the clear skies I’d hoped for. Still, I thought we could at least start out and see how far we’d get. By 4:15 our 4 teams of 3 headed slowly up the snowfield to Eldorado Glacier, reaching the top of the snowfield in a complete white out that was, frankly, causing me to feel somewhat dizzy. I’d just pulled out map and compass to get a good north bearing when suddenly the clouds parted just enough to see the 7,500’ rock outcrop way over on the other side of the plateau at the bottom of Eldorado’s East ridge. Someone out there was looking out for us! By the time we reached the “high camp” rocks, it was about 6:30 and Brady wasn’t feeling too well; he had opted not to cook a hot supper the night before, and also (we learned too late) had skipped breakfast, so a large part of his nausea was likely due to insufficient food. He grabbed a bite to eat as we took a break on the rocks, but I could tell by his pallor that he’d probably had enough. When he admitted that he would have difficulty getting out if he continued up any higher, Rick opted to descend with him back to base camp. Everyone else decided to continue up the ridge. While we sipped water and chomped frozen chocolate bars, the sun burned a larger hole in the cloud layer, coaxed along perhaps by my enthusiastic “Come on, baby!!!” cries to the heavens. By 7 a.m. we could see it would be a magnificent morning, and energized, we headed to the eastern part of the ridge, Jeremy now on Annie’s rope, to start our final push to the summit.

A solo climber made his way by us and kicked beautiful steps along the summit ridge by the time we reached the final steep portion leading up to the knife-edge traverse. He recommended one rope team at a time, as there were some small cornices far west leading DOWN to the “actual summit”, and he advised against dawdling, uncertain how stable the snow pack would be once it started to warm up in the sun. We took that advice and set up 3 pickets in a running belay (the ridge is about 3-4 rope lengths all the way over to the rocks; we went to the highest point and turned around). One team at a time, we slowly and carefully made our way across the ridge and back – going over seemed more intimidating than coming down for some reason. We radioed down to Rick with the suggestion that they pack up their camping gear in order to head out as we reached camp, to give Brady a little extra time through the boulder field. By the time all three rope teams had had their chance on the ridge, it was 11 a.m. and we literally flew back down (roped glissades most of the way) to base camp in just under 1:15 hours, saying hello to the Mountain Madness foursome heading up to the summit in our tracks and to the Prescott students practicing ice travel just above our camp.

By 1:30 we were all packed up and ready to go. In September it took our threesome just 2 hours (and in rain) to get from camp to the cars; however, with new students carrying heavy packs through unfamiliar terrain, boot issues, etc. it took us a longer-than-anticipated 4.5 hours to reach the cars. Lesson to the new climber: slow travel through boulder fields is NOT the way to go – it’s murder on the quadriceps! Fortunately we got everyone out safely, 10 with successful summits, and were able to enjoy dinner on the way out before returning to Seattle. The knife-edged ridge and beautiful views on a clear day are worth every tenuous step through the boulder field, but this mountain DOES require good solid conditioning, experience with steep climber’s trails and mixed terrain of all kinds, AND adequate food and water. It can be done in a day if you travel in much smaller groups, fast and light. But the camping is so enjoyable, and the views so wonderful, why rush your trip?

Following are pictures in order taken.

Jeremy crossing the stream (photo by Cheryl Burwell)

Monica crossing the stream (photo by Cheryl Burwell)

Jeremy and crew stop on climber's trail for first water break.

Boulder field rest break to regroup.

Kevin takes a break; route behind him up through boulder field.

Climbers nearing the top of the boulder field.

View down the valley; snow-free boulder field.

Courtenay on the lookout for Rick and Brady.

Annie, Laura and Kevin reclining on the boulders.

Snow at 5200' en route to the waterfall for refills.

Kevin tops out on ridge at 6200'.

Jeremy and Kevin on 6200' ridge, overcast skies kept the day cool.

Mountain Madness camp at 6200' ridge.

Gully descending to Roush Creek, snow free.

Campsite on Roush Creek drainage at base of glacier at 6100'.

Rick and Laura wondering "Why are we here?"

Getting dinner ready at group kitchen.

Chow time! Look like you're having the time of your life!

Where's Barbie?

Practice on mini-knife-edged ridge at camp.

Johannesburg at sunset.

Doug in camp.

Morning ascent, headed up toward basin.

Crossing the basin in near white-out, headed toward high rocks at 7500'.

Clearing at 7,500'.

Parallel rope teams on ridge for brief break.

Teams on E. Ridge, clouds begin to clear.

View from E. Ridge looking south, with SUN!

Rope teams headed up the E. Ridge

Green Moraine Lake at base of Forbidden.

Rick and Brady at the opposite end of basin, heading down for camp.

Doug and Kevin nearing the summit.

Peek-a-boo, Peaks!

Solo climber kicking steps along summit knife-edge ridge.

Doug approaches and greets soloist, who warns us of cornices and 20' snow over true summit.

Doug leads out on ridge, Kevin in middle of rope.

Kevin on classic knife-edge ridge.

Court at high point on ridge, straddling snow.

Doug and Kevin at highpoint on ridge, true rock summit in background below 20' of snow

View of E. Ridge, Annie checking on our return progress

Caprice, finished with her summit bid.

Profile of Doug over clouds to south.

Mountain Madness foursome ascends to summit.

Water break at 7,500' before quick descent to camp.

The East Ridge Route to the summit

Retreating down the boulder field.


Waterfall melt out after a sunny day.


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