I’m in Colorado now enjoying the great snow drought of 2011. Even the Pacific Northwest is less wet than normal, but that just means more weather windows (or at least that’s what I keep telling myself). Eldorado Peak is a PNW classic ski descent. We headed up there about a week ago.
We left Thursday evening, and we’re able to easily drive all the way to the summer trailhead. The hike to timberline commenced late the next morning. I’d gotten lost here during an ill-fated one-day attempt a few years ago, so we took our time and attempted to follow the summer trail buried under a foot of snow. Thankfully there were some old footprints to follow, which made the going easy. We weren’t able to skin until we breached the trees.
We reached camp just in time to enjoy a beautiful sunset over the North Cascades. They say the views from the Eldorado area are some of the best in the Northwest, and I’d be inclined to agree. We dug out a tent platform, and agreed to wake up before dawn to head up to the summit. Short December days make for pre-dawn starts and apre-dusk finishes if you want to get anything done.
I woke up and stumbled out of the tent, and was greeted to a red moon with a sliver of white on it’s lower edge. “Hey guys,” I said, ” I think there’s a lunar eclipse happening!”. I’d never seen one before, and it was a special sight to be greeted with as it set to the left of Eldorado Peak. The eclipse served as good motivation for leaving warm sleeping bags, and we got going around dawn.
Variable bulletproof snow made for difficult skinning, especially for Zach’s splitboard, but we eventually made it to the base of Eldorado. Clouds began moving in, but we kept heading toward the top. I had a GPS, so I wasn’t too worried about getting whited out. By the time we reached the summit clouds to the west had obscured everything more than 1500 feet below us. Only the tallest peaks poked above the vaporous ocean. I enjoyed the views immensely on the way up.
The snow on the ski down was horrible, as expected. Up high was somewhat enjoyable wind-crust spiced up with patches of bulletproof ice. We entered the clouds, and the skiing and route finding became more challenging. We made camp around dark, and skied the section below camp by headlamp. It proved to be some of the most challenging skiing I’ve done in a long time, and I think Zach and Colin would agree. Horrendous breakable crust, with manky glop underneath, combined with limited visibility from a moonless night inside a cloud — all made for careful skiing. The heavy packs probably didn’t help either.
As with many peaks, I’ve been wanting to head up to Eldorado for a while. Although it would have been a bit more enjoyable with good snow, it proved to be a good choice for the conditions, as the beautiful views more than made up for it.
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.