Category Archives: Washington

Eldorado, Klawatti, Dorado Needle

Eldorado and Dorado Needle from Klawatti

Eldorado and Dorado Needle from Klawatti

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.



Rainier from Eldorado

Rainier from Eldorado

Having made a turd salad of my time in the Cascades, I did not do as much as I had planned, and very little of what I did was “Dr. Dirtbag caliber.” I may write some of it up later; in the meantime, here are some photos.


7FJ, Fernow, and a piece of the Entiat glacier from Maude.

The Washington Cascades contain many worthy peaks, mostly with long approaches starting at low elevations, and long drives between. The climbing varies from good solid ridges, to endless choss, to glaciers and snow. It being wet and green here, the rock is rounded and often covered in lichen, and takes some getting used to for someone used to Sierra granite and the clean rock of the desert southwest.

Ptarmigan, 10 seconds before attack.

The Cascades also have vicious ptarmigans: on a hike, I surprised a ptarmigan hen with at least one chick. During a similar incident in Glacier NP, the female (mistakenly identified as a pheasant) clucked at me while the chicks flew or scuttled a short distance away. This time, the chick seemed too small to fly, and the mother, after putting itself in front of her, stared at me and clucked. I went on, assuming she would move and let me by, but instead she stood up, ruffled her neck, and hissed. Somewhat taken aback, I tried to make my way around to one side, at which point she hissed again and bluff-charged me, leading with beak and talons. I swore in the future to avoid mother animals with a chance of actually hurting me.

Maude (~6000ft + diversion, 11h RT)

The three high Chiwawa peaks, Fernow, Maude, and Seven Fingered Jack, are deep in the middle of nowhere: the trailhead (at ~3500ft) is 47 miles from the nearest town, 23 miles down a hard-to-find Forest Service access road. Several years ago, a friend and I tried to climb them all in a day, leaving Redmond at 3 AM. After finally finding the road and navigating his low-clearance sedan down the long dirt section, we started later than expected, ended up climbing only Jack, and suffered mightily on the 24 hour house-to-house adventure. I have no idea how I convinced my friend to do this.

The record for climbing all three peaks is an utterly superhuman 11h13. While I’m nowhere near challenging that, I thought I would try to bag Fernow and Maude in a day. It had rained heavily the afternoon before, and I was nearly turned around at a deep mudslide across the road, which trapped a number of people in passenger cars on the trailhead side, with no facilities, 20 miles from town.

I got an early enough start, but paranoia about missing the turnoff to Spider Meadows cost me some time wandering around on game paths. It turns out that either I misremembered, or they have added an obvious sign in the last few years. Once on the trail, I charged uphill, making good time to the meadow, and maintaining a decent pace up the trail toward 7FJ and Maude, the heavy morning dew thoroughly soaking my shoes and pants. I encountered a large group of unfortunate campers drying out after the previous day’s vicious rain and lightning.

I left the trail at the meadow, heading as directly as possible for the saddle to Fernow. I dodged some steep rock and waterfalls to the left on steep grass, then steep scree and treacherous mud, and eventually got to the permanent snowfield below the pass. I felt slow, but forced myself to reach the saddle at 7800 feet before stopping for a snack. The chute on the other side of the saddle, dry when I last saw it, still contained about 8 feet of hard snow, and I kicked myself for not bringing crampons. After a bit of exploring, I found a way to bypass the chute to the right, leading to loose ground and outward-sloping slabs down to the glacier.

At this point my soaking feet and I were very cold, Fernow looked far away, and I suddenly found many good reasons not to climb it. After sitting at the pass for awhile, curled up behind a rock, wearing everything I had, I decided “screw it” and headed for Maude.

I followed the same loose gully that had defeated me last time — this time filled with snow that I had to bypass by edging along one wall. With stronger climbing skills and a bit of searching, I was able to find a way out of the gullies onto the gentler face. I suppose this part was “class 3” like I had read, if you don’t mind climbing a moss-covered pile of rocks, many of the large ones held in place only by mud. The rest of the face/slope was cleaner mixed class 2 and 3, and after much suffering in the heat, and a wrong turn along the ridge, I finally reached the rounded summit. One other party had been there earlier in the day, on some kind of memorial climb for a friend killed on Rainier.

The return trip was long and hot, and I was glad to be a day-hiker as I passed a couple large groups of children carrying all kinds of camping gear. I’m not sure where they planned to camp, or what to do — they didn’t seem like the mountain-climbing type.