Part 3…Eldorado Base Camp and Beyond

31 07 2012

As day 4 ended moist, but without the fear of getting blown off the mountain, we hit the bags. It was the plan to Alpine start the following day (5), head up the glacier, hit the high camp and the composter and then on to the Peak, and back down to the car. Making a nice 12-15 hr day out of it, with the anticipation of a warm shower, and soft bed after the wet tent slumber party.

As we had done on the days before, we started out with a brew, and some breakfast, sun block, and today burying the tent with snow for weight; since our poles were our snow axe and trekking poles.  We left camp rather quickly after the work was done and topped the ridge we were camped next to, as we scrambled over the ridge we had a small moat to cross next to the rocks.  I was ahead of Mike and made short work of the day’s first challenge, I had a lot of pent up energy from the yesterdays rain.  As I looked back at Mike he was making his was down.

This is not too far from where the glacier swallowed Mike’s trekking pole. We were luck to escape with our lives from the hungry beast.

As Mike set his trekking poles on the rock to step down from hold to hold on this portion of the ridge, that’s when it happened. Almost in slow motion one of his trekking poles decided that it had had enough, and started to slide down the rock. The pole landed about 10 feet down inside of the moat. I peered into the great abyss and was able to locate the pole and told Mike we could get it without too much issue.  He was happy about that and continued to make his way on to the snow. As if in unison, as his feet hit the snow I hear a scraping sound as the great abyss swallowed his trekking pole into an even deeper cavernous area, only to end up as glacier food. With any luck geologist will have a great historical artifact in the years to come when this baby gets melted out of the glacial moraines.

One could only imagine the feeling of losing a great piece of gear that is good for going up but truly shines during the descent. Mike was a little more than bummed but we ventured on up the snow field of the Eldorado Glacier keeping the ridge on our right. After gaining around 500-700’ of elevation we stopped to rope up as there small crevasses beginning to show ahead and to the sides of our line of travel.

After a few hours we came up on a great hole in the glacier. We stood on a small flat spot, with the ridge on our right. The glacier outstretched in front and off to the left for a distance that can only be measured by hours it would take to walk to the edge. Following the glacier to our right and along the ridge would lead us on to the Inspiration Glacier and away from our objective.  The option from our point was to traverse left of this great hole and continuing up slope for another 30 minutes.  So after a little sunscreen and some snacks we kept on trucking.

“Good God Gertie look at the the gash on that one” -Bruce VanFossen

We knew base on our map that at the top of this slope, the glacier would level off into a large flat area and from there it would be a short walk to the high camp, composter, and our pre lunch stop.

Reaching the top of this small slope Eldorado Peak came into sight, and according to Mike my slow boring pace became  the Lighting Mc Queen pace.

Eldorado Peak was a sight to see, ahead of us lay 15-20 minutes of glacier and a few crevasses. It would be at the small rock island on the right we would find high camp, and a rocky ridge leading up to the last two hundred yards of snow climbing. The peak was snow covered and from our perspective did not look as spectacular as Mt. Johannesburg or those of Boston Basin. What was becoming apparent was the vista to our right or east, of the Inspiration Glacier and the North Face of Forbidden Peak.

We crossed the flat area without incident and Mike and I both had our minds on the composter, and after a short looky lou we found the little gem at the base of the rock island.

The best views come from stopping and taking a break. This was one stop that was well worth the time. From the vantage point of the composter you looked south across the Inspiration Glacier towards Forbidden Peak and off to the lower left was Moraine Lake. Moraine Lake was a beautiful green glacier fed lake, still covered in partial ice.

While hanging out on the rock island we were met by a party of three women, who were making short work of the climb. After a short chit chat we headed up the finial snow slope towards the peak. In many ways this part of the glacier was strange as there were several crevasses on the way up. We safely navigated around these new obstacles and kept on trucking. Kick. Step. Kick. Step. Kick. Step. Finding a rhythm was the key to making ground, for me it felt super easy, after all the heavy squats at the gym in preparation for this climb.

With a short push left we let the team of three pass us by and kick steps in the snow, breaking the trail. It was a nice relief to travel in someone else’s steps as it was way more efficient. In short order the women cleared the finial knife ridge and Mike and I started our ascent of the same ridge. This last area of the climb was probably the most dangerous, the only protection was our two pickets sunk deep into the snow. We used these to form a running belay and stepped rather carefully making each step count on its way across.

Looking carefully you can see where the picket is located

This was the main pull of climbing this peak, as it has a Himalayan feel to it with this finial knife ridge. Maximum Exposure to our left and right, for somewhere around 80’ we walked on a kicked step trail in the snow no wider than 1 foot. It led us to a wider snow covered area to which the five of us enjoyed some views, and a few photos of the summit. Yep we made it, Good Ole Eldorado Peak, and we were only halfway done with our day. The rest was all downhill from this point.

Bounding down slope we reached the rock island after a short time descending and settled on the rocks for our lunch. Tuna from a bag, or as the women called it…“cat food”… has never tasted so good. They ladies powdered on down slope and Mike and I left soon after them following their footsteps down the glacier, and back across the ridge.  It was a great day of climbing, the skies were blue all day with a light wind and a few stray clouds. A great pay off to the wind, rain, and wet tent we endured over the last few days.

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