NW Ice Couloir on Eldorado Peak

Skinning up with J-burg in the background

Skinning up with J-burg in the background

The weekend forecast was shaping up nicely and both Dale and I wanted to get out there to enjoy what I like to refer to as "prime time" in the Cascades for icy routes. We'd bailed on the North Face of Graybeard the weekend before and were looking for something a bit less avalanche prone and committing. The NW Ice Couloir on Eldorado was a good choice, especially since Dale likes those silly plank contraptions under his feet.

We left Seattle at 3:30am and departed from the car just shy of 6am. The snow line had moved up a ways since my trip in late February and we boulder hopped a good ways up, perhaps around 6,000 feet and around 2 hours from the car, before putting the skis on and weaving our way through the trees.

Thankfully it was smooth sailing from there and we were up between the rock outcrops on the East Ridge by 10:30 or so. Wrapping around the North side of the mountain was easy on skis despite the deeper, windblown snow. We easily found the rappel station and did a single rap with our 60m line to reach steep snow below. As we traversed to the route, what had started as a beautiful day was quickly turning into a socked-in mess. Full whiteout conditions followed.

Dale disappearing into the couloir

Dale disappearing into the couloir

Dale headed up the couloir and quickly out of view. We ended up simul-climbing the whole thing and didn't find much gear, but the climbing was secure, with good steps in steep snow, solid sticks in neve, and a few ice bulges in which Dale placed three screws along the way. For much of the route, there was a deep runnel with good neve, but it was also the firing line for anything coming down the route, so we stayed out of it. We topped out the route in what Dale called a "milk bottle" whiteout just shy of 2pm. With our GPS (the Gaia app is a true life saver), I got a feel for how close we were to the knife edge and headed to what we believe was the summit, without getting too close to the cornice edge.

The descent was painstaking and we weaved back and forth down the East Ridge, checking our position often to avoid going over the cliffs to the South or into the crevasses to the North. Once we were down to the rock outcrop, we put skis on and experienced serious nausea as we slid down the slope with no visibility and flat light. After one errant circle on the soccer field when we ran across our tracks from the morning and followed them the wrong way, we navigated back to the glacier descent just as visibility lifted a little.

It was wet slide prime time below the final ridge and we were careful on our way back to the boulder field and our approach shoes. The last bit went smoothly.