Since I first hiked in the Cascades in 2006 and was captivated by their huge (to me) glaciers, the Eldorado region has been on my to-do list. Most of my outings in the past two years have been either “more of the same” or incrementally longer or more technical. The lack of novelty has been less than inspiring. While not particularly long time-wise (~12h — 3h to the snow/glacier, 7h on it, 2h down) or elevation-wise (~7-8k vertical), or particularly difficult (mostly snow-walking with a bit of class 4-5.0 scrambling), my trip to the Eldorado region felt new in a way that few things have in the last couple of seasons. It reminded me why I do this.
Though the Cascade River Road was closed to repair a wash-out that had trapped 80 people at the Cascade Pass trailhead, it was open to Eldorado Creek. I found the log bridge and hidden, official “unofficial trail” sign the evening before, then set my alarm for 4:30 and slept off the road. The climbers’ trail was easy to follow by headlamp, climbing straight up through the trees to a large rockfield. I picked my way up the rockfield, still in the clouds, then regained a trail above in a mixture of grass and granite slabs. After overshooting the crossover into Roush Creek, I looked at Beckey’s approach description, then descended the separating ridge until I found the trail crossing into the moraine below the Eldorado Glacier.
I reached the base of the snow around 8:00, put on my plastic bags and running shoe crampons, and made my way up the right-hand side of the glacier to the glacial plain between the Eldorado and Inspiration Glaciers. There were a few small cracks in the glacier, but it was mostly a direct snow-slog. I made my way across the plain and up to a notch on the right-hand side of Eldorado’s southeast ridge, where I found several tent platforms but no humans.
On the other side, I stepped onto the upper part of the Inspiration Glacier, which covers Eldorado’s east face all the way to the summit, and made my way up near the left-hand side, finding an old boot-pack on the upper section. The summit itself is a narrow, permanent snow ridge, with a convenient rocky seating area nearby. I summited about 4h30 out, and took my time on the summit, debating whether or not to tag nearby Klawatti and/or Dorado Needle. I eventually decided that I had plenty of day and energy left, so I should make the most of the near 5,000-foot climb to the glacier.
I planned a line through the crevasses over to Klawatti, then dropped straight down Eldorado’s east face to the flat part of the glacier. My line worked well, and I soon found myself at the base of the west face/ridge, which is supposedly slightly harder than the south face, but with better rock. The first part was 4th class or maybe 5.0, but it quickly eased off to 3rd class, and I cruised the rest of the way to the summit, passing many old slings on the way.
Contra Beckey, Klawatti is not a nunatak (a rock spire completely surrounded by glaciers), as its south ridge just barely connects to the valley below. However, it is almost entirely surrounded by the impressive McAllister, Inspiration, and Klawatti glaciers. Enjoying the view, I noticed that Dorado Needle was not far out of my way on the return. Since I still felt energetic, I decided to tag it on the way back.
Reaching the Inspiration-McAllister col was easy, but getting down to the flat part of the McAllister Glacier required a bit of thought. I eventually figured out that a nice, fat snow bridge near the center of the slope would work getting me to the base of the Needle. A large crevasse completely cut it off from the rest of the glacier, but I (and apparently others) found a short rock bypass on the left-hand side. After more snow-slogging, I arrived at the north ridge, which turned out to be surprisingly fun. None of the climbing was harder than 5.0, but the ridge was consistently narrow, with several knife-edge hand-traverse sections leading to a surprisingly roomy and comfortable summit.
The return trek was long but simple, with the snow soft enough that it was easy to kick steps on the uphills and boot-ski the downhills. Finishing an excellent ski down the Eldorado Glacier, I met two groups of two heading up with full gear. They must have suffered mightily climbing up from the valley in the mid-day heat, but they were pleased to hear that they would have the area to themselves. I was pleasantly surprised to reach the car in a bit under 12 hours, including a raspberry stop near the log bridge.