Eldorado Peak

Summit: 8,868ft

14m 6,716ft gain

Ancestral homelands of the: Nlaka’pamux, Okanagan and Sauk Suiattle

Eldorado Peak is a beautiful mountain that could fit right in with the Himalayas thanks to its remoteness, position, and knife-edge summit ridge. It stands tall at the heart of a beautiful collection of peaks and the largest contiguous icesheet in the lower 48, not connected to a volcano. It is the 25th highest peak in Washington and is protected within the North Cascades National Park Service Complex. Two main roads cut through the park, the North Cascades Highway and the unpaved Cascade River Road which offers unparalleled access into the American Alps. The easiest route up Eldorado climbs almost 7,000ft from Cascade River Road and includes route finding, boulder hopping, glacier travel and an exhilarating knife edge snow ridge leading to the summit. Fred Beckey, a pioneer of the Cascades, dubbed Eldorado Peak the Queen of the Cascade River!

From Mount Pugh
From Ruth Mountain (far right in alpenglow)
From Park Butte (far right)

1st Trip: 6/19/2021

Three friends and I made plans to climb Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park this weekend, but weather and schedules did not line up. I’m always on hunt for permits in the beginning of every year so thankfully I had a backup permit to camp along Cascade River Road. Picking Eldorado was an easy decision considering we could complete the hike in one day to align with our schedules. I love that if you don’t plan to use a permit you can return them back to the park, like we did with the Olympus permits, so someone else who did not plan 6 months in advance can use it!

We camped at Mineral Park the night before and after the climb. That was the extent of our planning considering the last minute shuffling to put this together. We started the hike at 3am on Saturday and found the road closed 2 miles from the trailhead. After the 2 mile road walk we followed a flagged trail into a mess of creeks and thick brush. We were close to where we needed to be but we couldn’t find or make a dry path to get there. We ended up backtracking to the road and 100 yards later we found the simple wide log crossing which finally got us heading uphill. This delay would end up costing us summit views. Still kicking myself for that.

We cruised up the first 1,500ft along the climbers trail snaking through thick timber while staying within an earshot of Eldorado Creek. The trail ends at a collection of talus fields that we’d have to navigate for next 1,000ft of elevation. Before hopping along we took a break on some big boulders and watched the sunrise over Johannesburg Mountain. Our early mishaps didn’t seem to matter now!

The traverse started with simple boulder hopping that turned into a nightmare of postholing and questionable snow bridge crossings.

Fog rolling into the Boston Basin
Sweet spot to camp if you have an Eldorado XC Zone permit.

The snowpack got better the higher we went. We filled up our waters in a few streams and waterfalls around 5,000ft before entering the Eldorado Basin.

Steven, Ryan, Ben and my shadow

We took another break atop Eldorado Creek Ridge before finding the way down to the Roush Basin.

The massive northeast face of Johannesburg with its hanging glaciers, couloirs and 5,000ft of relief is just wild!

So many other gorgeous North Cascade peaks!

Glacier Peak
Snowking Mountain
Hidden Lake Peaks
Eldorado summit!

After our break Ryan and I went to scope out how to get down to the Roush Basin and got distracted by bear tracks. Eventually we consulted the gps and found the 150ft gully to scramble down.

Once in the Roush Basin we started heading north towards the Eldorado Glacier. There was still enough snow to cover up where the glacier begins but we felt comfortable staying unroped.

Lenticular cloud over Glacier Peak.

We’d soon pass around the left side of the Ice Cliff where we’d connect to the Inspiration Glacier. Here we finally earned a view of the imposing Forbidden Peak.

Forbidden Peak and Forbidden Glacier

We crossed the flat section of the Inspiration Glacier and took a break at the base of the east ridge to rope up.

Wild and unique clouds started to roll in as we admired some of the gnarlier peaks of Cascadia.

The weather was changing fast but what was more of a bummer was the guided group of 12 who started heading up from their camp right before we made our final summit push.

Heading up the east ridge.

We caught up to the group and passed them right before the infamous knife edge snow ridge. By that point we were consumed by a thick cloud, fog or some mean combo of the two. The only benefit to only seeing as far as your next step was being able to stay focused on making each step perfect. Here’s a picture of what our final steps looked like on a nice day:

Photo from NPS.
How bout that summit view!

As soon as we touched the summit we were ready to head back down but we had to wait for the slow guided group of 12 to come up first. All we could do was huddle up and freeze together. It wasn’t raining but the fog was so thick and the wind so strong that we were getting soaked. We were certainly paying for my early route errors but somehow these great partners seemed to enjoy the suffering. My raggedy paper thin pants and I were just happy to have the opportunity to stand on a classic peak even though I couldn’t feel my legs.

Eventually we were able to make our way down safely from the summit but clouds continued to engulf us as we crossed the Inspiration Glacier.

The cloud deck stopped around 7,000ft so we could finally see again as we entered the Roush Basin.

After scrambling back up to Eldorado Creek Ridge we ran down the snow until the upper Boulder fields. The snow had softened making it even more of a postholing nightmare than the ascent was.

Steven playing the ‘will I plunge through the snow with this step’ game.
The Marmots in the boulder fields were not amused.
Devil’s club
The obvious way to cross the North Fork Cascade River.

Our time on the climbers trail passed quickly while the extra two mile road walk seemed to last forever. Only having to drive two miles to our camp for the night was amazing and so was having excellent company to share the experience with! At camp we celebrated the victory and passed out early. Eldorado is the perfect challenge in my favorite mountain range!

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