With the forecast once again being unseasonably clear and warm for this time of year Damien, Rodica, Ian and I decided to attempt an ascent of Eldorado Peak in the North Cascades National Park. It is a classic climb on the Cascades that I’ve been dying to do since i began glacier climbing. However, I had never gotten to it mostly because of the advanced permit from the ranger station required. However, in the winter months permits are self issue at the door of Marblemount Ranger Station. Thus we picked one up and headed to the surprisingly crowded trailhead.

The trail begins across the street…. the first crux is crossing the giant and seemingly never ending log across the large creek. The well traveled track then meanders very, very steeply through the forest wasting no time gaining elevation. By the time we reached the first talus field two hours and 1800 ft later were were pouring all sweat and not looking forward to heading out into the exposed slopes.

The lower talus field is snow free. It is pretty easy to pick through provided you find the cairn marked passage to the right. Otherwise boulder hoping can be a bit more treacherous. There are a few sketching class 3/4 scramble areas made worse by some mud, but we managed okay. Eventually we reached the snow line. The boulders have created moats of course so be sure to watch where you step. Eventually, there was enough snow cover by the time we reached the second snow field to prevent any broken ankles. We never felt the need for snowshoes. There is access to a small waterfall in the second snowfield which were filtered water from. I wouldn’t carry more than a liter up to the trailhead for this reason.

The clear boot track goes up the  steep Eldorado Creek Ridge Ridge and then down a snow gulley to Roush Basin. One can also use the “traverse” route from a spot a bit lower down the the ridge avoiding the steep gulley, but we didn’t find it until the way back. The gulley if fully of snow and we easily plunge stepped down. Ice axes were out at this point. The basin snow filled and one cannot see where Eldorado Glacier Begins. There were no visible crevasses on the glacier and by staying far right next to the head wall any hidden ones can be avoided. Thus we did not rope up. It is a long trudge from here Inspiration Glacier.

By the time we ascending to a flat area beneath a lofty triangular rock feature the sun was  beginning to set. We decided to camp here in the protected depression instead of continuing on to traditional high camp. The cold came in quickly as we set up camp. I was grateful for Damien’s BD Eldorado Tent… it would keep us warm as the temperature plummeted the rest of the night. It was hard to imagine that just as hour ago I was roasting in the sun and wearing short sleeves!

The views were spectacular as we cooked dinnered and a clear skies reviewed numerous stars. Eldorado Peak was illumiated by the mostly full moon and the mountains surrounded up for 360 degees. Breathing in the frigid air as I prepared to spend the night, I knew that this is where I belong. I belong climbing in the alpine of the Cascades. It is where I feel happiest. Not just to be there on the glacier or rock, but it is were I find the most contentment with myself and the world.  Since Eric died I had forgotten what that felt like… and I was reminded there just below Eldorado.

Damien and I spent three hours talking and listening to Ian snoring before finally drifting off to sleep. We rose at 6am and took our time preparing for the ascent. Our muscles were cold and were were waiting for the sun to warm us a bit. We roped up at about 7am. Damien led us across the flat Inspiration Glacier the the rocky ridge on the right side of Eldorado. A carin marks high camp there at “The Gap”. From here we simply went up. There is a pretty defined boot path through the snow as many folks have been climbing here recently. As typical for a glacier climb, every time it seems like you are about to top out a slope it just gets taller. There were a few crevasses here to navigate. Near the top we crossed to the right side of the ridge and began the famous knife-edge traverse to the summit. We trekked carefully here as the way to narrow and steep. The boot track crosses back to the left side before reaching the small, but flat summit. Views abounded us from every direction… and clear skies granted us view as far as the Olympic range!

Ian led down the peak placing two pickets along the knife edge. The descent was long in the now intense sun and we rested in the shade of our tents when we returned. We then packed up and headed back. There are several good places for glissades, but mostly we plunged stepped through the snow until there was none. By the time we arrived at the log following the knee jarring descent through the forest were were exhausted, but still ecstatic about our successful winter ascent of Eldorado Peak.



  1. Thanks for this report! I’m planning on climbing this route March 17-19, 2017. This year has seen more snow than last, so hoping for less bouldering, and more snowshoe-ing.
    I know it’s probably different every year, but how was the road up to the trailhead? I hear it gets pretty bad. I do have 4×4 and chains if needed.


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