MM Collection
Checking in from the Condor's Nest on Illimani, Bolivia. MM Collection
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July 17, 2019

Intermediate Alpine Course - Eldorado and beyond

While everyone dreams about alpine climbing in the sunshine, surrounded by the high peaks of the Cascades, often times we go climbing with the weather we have, not with the weather we wish we had.   The forecast for our 5 days in the stunning Eldorado Peak zone of the North Cascades National Park (NCNP) then was perfectly suited to the goal of the course: to foster leadership and confidence in climbing and traveling in alpine terrain.  During our time traveling in the heart of the North Cascades, we encountered all types of weather from rain, snow, driving wind, and complete whiteout.  Through it all we managed to stay (mostly) dry and warm and even were successful on several climbing objectives.  A questionable weather forecast does not doom a climbing trip, it just requires us to raise ourselves and our skills to the level of the mountains, which is perhaps the spirit climbing is it not? 

 

The morning of the first day involved meeting and checking to make sure everyone had the gear they need for the terrain and weather at hand.  Following this we departed Seattle and headed towards the NCNP ranger station, where we picked up our camping permit for the trip (camping permits are required for both guided and recreational groups to camp within the NCNP boundary). 

 

At the trailhead we donned our boots and packs and set out, only to take our boots off 3 minutes down the trail to ford the North Fork of the Cascade River.  Boots back on, we maintained a steady pace gaining a respectable amount of elevation gain to our first camp just before snowline.  We wasted no time the following morning gaining the Inspiration glacier and bumping camp up to near the base of the East Ridge of Eldorado Peak.  En route, we went from being below a cloud ceiling, to being in the cloud ceiling, and we got the opportunity to hone our whiteout navigation skills.  Upon setting up camp we spent the rest of the day working on our snow protection, belaying, and anchor skills, crucial knowledge for travel in alpine terrain. 

 

The weather had not changed too much the following day (day 3, still in and out of whiteout conditions), but with the confidence we had in our whiteout navigation skills from the previous day we set out to summit Eldorado via the East Ridge.  There weren’t too many views, but after only a couple of hours we gained the knife edge summit ridge which Eldorado Peak is known for.  In the wind and the snow, it was a memorable summit. 

 

After resting and warming up in camp for a bit, we headed out onto the Inspiration glacier to do some realistic crevasse rescue practice.  While setting up haul systems on flat snow is great to learn the concepts of crevasse rescue, there’s no substitute for actually having a friend hanging inside of a real crevasse to turn theory into skills you can rely on under stress, which will be the case if you are having to haul your friend out of a crevasse!

 

Day 4 we were greeted with a fresh dusting of overnight snow, but also to clearing skies and good visibility!  We packed up for a long day out, and set out across the Inspiration glacier towards the McAllister Glacier intending to climb the Dorado Needle via the NW Ridge.  Upon reaching the McAllister Glacier, we decided to split up, and one team continued up to the Dorado Needle, and the other headed back towards the Inspiration, and tagged the summit of Dean’s Spire on the way.  It was an excellent day of alpine climbing. 

 

In classic style, our last day ended up being the sunniest day.  It was a real treat to finally be able to see all of the amazing peaks surrounding us.  We packed up camp, and made the long descent back to the car and civilization.  We even found a log to cross the river on this time.