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Trip Report: West Ridge of Eldorado Peak

Alpine climbing in the snowy mountains of Montana
 Sunset in the N. Cascades, Washington

For most of us (in the Front Range anyway), when we hear the name “Eldorado,” we immediately think of our beloved Eldorado Canyon with soaring brown, red, and neon-green walls.  We think of how good the movement is on the warm Fountain sandstone and we think of the innumerable, quality routes inaudibly beckoning us like sirens seducing ill-fated sailors…or, as the case may be, desk-jockeys.  We think of the incredible amount of climbing and, best yet, how short the approaches are.

 CMS Guide Eric Whewell cruising up the W. Ridge & on his was to alpine certification

But in the great Northwest, there lies another Eldorado.  Unlike it’s Colorado cousin, Eldorado Peak pretty much shares none of those aforementioned attributes.  The rock quality is poor and treacherously loose, relegating the few routes to low 5th-class ridge climbs; and the approach options to Eldorado’s W. Ridge are all very long by Colorado standards.  Though, I will say, the views are simply spectacular.

Surmounting one of many gendarmes
Views north to Early Morning Spire and Dorado Needle from the ridge

CMS guide Eric Whewell and I, training for an upcoming alpine exam, walked the long approach to the base of Eldorado’s E. ridge.  Here we set up our camp as the sun disappeared and the moon simultaneously arose.  We left our camp early in the morning and essentially circumnavigated the Eldorado massif, dropping through a col between the Tepah Towers and Dorado Needle.  This was done by headlamp, connecting various glaciers that required extensive roped travel to manage the considerable crevasse hazard.  After yet a few more hours of approaching, we finally reached the 3000′ W. Ridge.

Another Eldorado ridge in the foreground, Early Morning Spire getting late-afternoon sun in the background
 A giant gendarme mid-way up the W. Ridge; cloud-bank below rolling in from the ocean

The climbing started out easy enough and we simul-soloed a third of the ridge before deeming the rock quality and difficulty just enough to warrant the rope.  We led in blocks, either outright pitches or simul-climbing, swapping leads whenever our small rack ran out.  I think most people take rock shoes up this route though the moderate grade of 5.7 felt comfortable in our La Sportiva Trango S Evo boots.  (We found a very munched Muira shoe near the top of the second third of the ridge.)  The difficulties were mostly found in simply managing the loose rock.  The hardest climbing came on a poorly protected traverse with a piton at the start but, at least, this section was short.

Taking a quick break and soaking up the views, mid-way up the route
 Eric climbing through one of the ridge’s steeper sections

Higher on the route, the ridge blended into a headwall comprised of infinite ledge systems.  The information we had said we only had another 500′ or so to go but it seemed endless.  Each “summit” turned out to be only another bump leading to more ledges.  Finally, seven hours after leaving camp, we reached the summit.

Unroped scrambling in the upper third of the W. Ridge
 Navigating exposed ledges near the top of the peak

A short but elegant snow-arete forms the upper part of Eldorado’s E. Ridge but the going was much easier than anything we’d been on yet.  We cruised down the E. Ridge, sometimes on rock, mostly on glacier and, 15 minutes later, were back at our camp.  Of course, this still left us with a 4.5 hour “approach” to get back to our car making us appreciate even more the ease of alpine climbing in RMNP let alone rock climbing in Eldo.

Andrew Councell
CMS guide

Descending Eldorado’s E. Ridge snow-arete back towards camp
View to the North, can just make out Shuksan (center) and Baker (left) in the far distance

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