Eldorado Peak, East Ridge
October 13-14, 2007

Photos and story by Jason Hummel

~Every weekend is a fascination for me. How can I make it better? What new adventure is there? Oft, I feel like sitting one out but rarely is it that I regret shrugging my heavy pack on, skipping a night’s rest, and heading out into the hills. After this weekend, another perfect-fascinating weekend, how could I ever complain about my life? I am too lucky. Life is too good. And…this weekend, a celebration of sorts – My BIRTHDAY. Mother Nature herself came out to visit me in the most wondrous of ways, with a blue colored dress laced with white streaks and a pearl of yellow on her crown. I couldn't have been more thrilled!

Beginning as beginnings are apt to be when it comes to alpine starts begin well before dawn with Christy, Josh and I meeting Phil and Sam just outside Seattle. It was 3 a.m. I was laid out in the back of the car forming dreams of a perfect weekend that hadn’t even cast its shadow down these car-light washed highways or star-lit heavens. These dreams of powder hidden behind tall peaks and corn laid smooth on glaciers stretching all the way to the valley bottoms left me seeking sleep instead of reality. I was tired and the hike up would be anything but joyous.

*Press on small photos to see LARGER!

Another would-be ski-mountaineer errant met us at mile 20 on Cascade River Road. Tony was armed with a video camera and began filming what I am sure will illuminate many on my lack of acting skills and poor thought out quotes. Even then, near 6 a.m. I was attempting to think of something stupid to say.

The climb for the day was ELDORADO PEAK whose classic East Ridge can be picked out from dozens of peaks. Its characteristic summit block provides a tempting slope for a skier, but surely not tempting are the four thousand feet of boulders and steep forest to get to snow, let alone to the top of the peak which stands at 8876-ft. Right then, at the parking lot, we are at 2160-ft. One benefit for us was a log perfectly situated to get us across the river to the steep climbers trail. It doesn't mess around. Still dark, I say at one point to Christy, "What a beautiful day," to which she responds, "What DAY, it is still DARK." I think that she is still getting used to this hiking-for-skiing business. I tell her, "It will be worth it. You always forget this part." She was less than thrilled and probably was wishing the forgetting would begin post-haste.

Soon the trail meanders into a boulder field where the right-hand side makes for the easiest way up. We missed that of course. Boulder fields led to Vine-Maple and Alpine Fir trees speckling the slope along with berry bushes and yellowed grass. Fall, cut short by early snow, was not lost here. Colors cast a vivid spectrum throughout this altitude and the air waft of fall smells. I LOVE this time of year.

Blue berries still clung to bushes even as snow threatened to bury them. We left our shoes next to large rocks and continued upward in deepening snow. Eventually we changed to skins and the weight of both boots and skis off the back was thanked for, maybe not in words, but sighs of relief surely.

Rock slabs and steep slopes lead to a pass near the six thousand foot level. We donned the skis again and dropped into Roush Basin below the Eldorado Glacier. This was a pain due to a few inches of break away snow on slippery rock slabs. Time wasted was further consumed on the boulder field below. Sometime later we finally reached consistent snow and last dibs on water. We all raced up the glacier to camp at the 7500-ft level. Clouds that had earlier emerged all but disappeared and with food in us and camp set up, it was time to get our reward, a climb of Eldorado.

I am surprised sometimes by the stark contrast of the valleys and the cities that fill them, to the glaciers and mountain tops that crown the North Cascades. I often tell others of my exploits and they ask, "Where did you find snow?" Or, "What ski resorts are open?" So few understand the true beauty that can be found with effort, and kids these days seem so obsessed with easy (fast food and video games) and I think parents are to blame. What is good takes effort. It takes suffering. All good things in life do. That is why I think the mountains are good for people.

What was hoped to be good for us turned out to be jaw dropping. At a leisurely pace we wrapped around to the East Ridge and began our climb up. Views of Klawatti, Torment, Forbidden and Tepeh Towers where fantastic, but what held me longest was Moraine Lake and Sahale set aglow by the pinkish light of sunset.

The final summit climb was left to Christy, Josh, Tony and I to finish. Sam and Phil had climbed several times before and wished to get down before darkness hit. What temptation I had was shrugged off, above me was the top and a night ski was looked forward upon rather than feared. The day was so calm; it felt like I was somewhere else other than a mountain?

The summit arête was angelical, the soft snow flooded with light and the hard ice of the other side, dark. Josh led the way to the summit and I took photos. A story he later told was hilarious. There he was mere feet from the top and, with him, a spider. This little beast skittered across the snow at such an egregious pace, Josh was left stumbling behind, second to the top, behind the spider.

We all took turns spinning our heads in every direction and I think that Christy was just then forgetting that day's efforts. I took a photo of Josh and her - both can been seen with rather large smiles.

The ski down was less than memorable, except for the top where nice snow was hidden from that day's warmth. The rest was icy. We made it back to camp in the dark, stars already pinpricking the dark veil above. The other's were cooking and eating and we were jealous. I decided then to try my hand once more at night photography. This time I set a 36 minute exposure at f3.2 using the long-exposure feature in the camera settings. The Big Dipper was situated right over Eldorado, so bright I felt like I was sitting amongst them. The shot was beautiful, but had a red cast that my camera appears to add. I took another shot that ran until the battery died. It was sharper, but also had the red cast. Further reading will tell me if this is common place or if I just made a mistake. At that point I was too tired to try another.

In the morning I slept in, my sunrise missed but the tiredness of the day before dissipated, thankfully. That morning, the 14th, now my birthday, required reward, so I strapped on my back and headed for the top of a small peak I'd had my eyes on. Phil was the only other heading out so I chased him down, but he was not interested and thought it was too icy. So be it, icy or not an early summit was going to be my present.

The climb up was crampon and whippets, never too steep but exposed and surely, as Phil had guessed, icy. A fall would be unwise. I stood on the summit and just sat there, casting my eyes at views made more precious by my seeing them alone. The small snowy bit at the top was too dangerous to stand on for a breeze could knock you off balance and a tall cliff would happily fly by as you fell. I wasn't looking to be the glaciers breakfast so after a time I sat just below.

Copious sidestepping and a few turns brought me down the face to where Sam was waiting. We took some turns down towards Moraine Lake on softening corn before climbing up. Once back at camp, breakfast was served and not long after, camp was packed and we were leaving.

Down at the bottom of the glacier, we dropped our packs and climbed back up twice. The turns had were the best of the trip! We were all sad to have to leave and, none of us, surely, wanted to go back down to the car just yet. The day was so warm, but end it must. For the sake of leaving this trip on a high note, I'll end it at the pass above the Eldorado Glacier, where, with one last view I made a promise to come back. Next time there'd be several days and many more peaks on the schedule. Until then, I had a great birthday (the BEST). And I must admit, Mother Nature knows how to take care of the faithful. Although, admittedly, if she looks too close, she may see me cursing her whenever the weekend forecast is warm and rainy.

(some more photos to enjoy)

Poem Lyrics of Eldorado By Edgar Allan Poe

Gaily bedight,
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.

But he grew old
This knight so bold
And o'er his heart a shadow
Fell as he Found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado

And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow
"Shadow," said he,
Where can it be
This land of Eldorado

"Over the Mountains
Of the moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,"
The shade replied
"If you seek for Eldorado!"

More reading: Eldorado and Klawatti


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