Climbing El Dorado peak in North Cascades, WA

There is something about El Dorado – it’s only 8,876 feet high, though heavily glaciated. It’s not a technically challenging climb, but an enjoyable and aesthetic journey that takes your breath away at every step. It’s also not in remote Himalayas or deep into Alaska, but in North Cascades, the American Alps,  within a few hours of journey from Seattle and can be done in a single day – but it does feel like you are in a deep wilderness, climbing a classic high peak.

This is how WTA (Washington Trail Association) site describes it: “Located in the picturesque North Cascades National Park, Eldorado Peak is Fred Beckey’s “Queen of the Cascade River”. The summit’s craggy profile, remoteness, and knife edge summit combine to remind hikers of the Himalayas.

It’s true – the first time I went there, it reminded me of the Himalayas where I started my mountaineering life. We camped on a ridge near the foot of the glacier and enjoyed a marvelous evening as the alpenglow shifted from peak to peak. The next time, I climbed in a day – starting from the trailhead at 3 am in the dark, climb all the way up and back – very exhausted, but satisfied to the core. I think that I will climb the peak many more times – there is something about it that captures my imagination.

When I first moved to Seattle, a local friend told me about the knife-edge ridge on El Dorado and how beautiful the mountain is. He told me, “you got to get up there” – he was right. I say the same thing when anyone asks me for suggestion to where to go climbing in North Cascades.

Here are some images with some description from my first trip (this was done in as a 2 days trip) that hopefully captures the essence of the mountain.

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The climbing starts from a trail head on Cascade river road and an almost impossible to find trail head (good description here https://www.mountaineers.org/explore/routes-places/eldorado-peak-inspiration-glacier). Once you find the river crossing and huffed and puffed your way through the steep trail through thick forest for a few hours, you will then be presented with your next challenge – a range of boulder fields with huge and unstable boulders. It’s extremely tiring crossing this with a heavy pack, but there is a faint path which, once found, make the life a little bit easier. Here are two co-climbers relaxing after all that hard work and enjoying the stunning view of Johannesburg peak
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Lower campsite on El Dorado – reward for the work that you do carrying your heavy pack up that trail. A great spot to camp with Johannesburg mountain dominating skyline as Glacier peak (another fascinating mountain and known as WA’s wilderness volcano) peeks from the horizon. You can see our camp at the right of the image – with another team down the ridge – gives you some idea of scale.
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Glacier peak – glowing in the first light of the day as seen from the camp. This was taken at an early morning as we started from the camp to climb the peak. Yes – if you do all that hard work on the first day, you can sleep more and skip the alpine start!
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Last light fading on Johannesburg – one of the impressive mountains in the North Cascades
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From overnight camp, a short descent to Roush creek basin puts you right at the bottom of the glacier. Then begins a moderate climb up a glacier. Here my team is climbing up early in the morning
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As soon as you climb up, the more of the peak comes into the view.
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This is the beginning of the next slope – there is a very flat area between these two slopes. There is also a rocky ridge area which is known as high camp. At the top of this slope, you will find the knife summit ridge
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Beginning of the famous knife ridge. On this day, there were a number of parties – we had to wait for our turn as only one team can go up and down this area at a time
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The ridge is spectacular – but short. It’s actually not that much scary or exposed as it looks – the firm bootpath makes it safe
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We did hit the jackpot in terms of weather that day – a perfect bluebird day. Baker and Shuksan in the background as we enjoyed the summit for a long time. The views were mesmerizing and the weather was pretty warm
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Climbing down the ridge – it can make you feel dizzy.
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The deep drop and that glacial lake at the bottom – you experience a place like this and all your pain just melt away

 

Here are some images from the single day climb – which I thought was easier than the 2-day climb as you don’t have to carry tent and heavy load over the treacherous boulder field. However, you need to be able to mode fast and have enough endurance to complete the whole climb in a day. As you can see from these images, we had a very different weather conditions

On the flat area below the peak – only me and my partner (Hakim Ali) were climbing the peak that day. We had the mountain all to ourselves.

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Hakim tackling a tricky crevasse
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Hakim on the summit ridge
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At the top of the ridge, reaching the summit!

 

I have met many local climbers who climb this peak every year – some multiple times. I think that I will also come back here many times – it’s truly the queen of Cascade river.

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