Eldorado Peak (8868 ft)
May 30, 1999
First off, heed this tidbit of advice: DON'T wear plastic boots on this approach. Your shins will suffer an agony that not even a 14th century torture master could dream up. OK, now that that's out of the way, this approach is your ordinary, run of the mill, gasping for breath as your quads and lower back muscles scream with lactic acid on what can only be called a climber's trail. Frequent waist-high steps (for a 5'6" person) were necessary to get up and over the tangle of tree roots on a steep hill. Carrying crampons and snowshoes in addition to the regular glacier gear made for extra heavy packs.
Our journey began with an exciting log crossing. Finding the log is referred to as "the crux" of the climb, although we had no problem locating it. The pleasant hike, winding through the subalpine forest was soon to be a memory as the trail steepened and took a more direct route, mainly "up". A few hours later we left the forest and entered an open snow field scattered with large boulders. We took a break to eat a bit and take in the impressive north face of Johannesburg. Kim heard and then spotted an avalanche roaring down. Watching it made me glad I was here and not there!
The snowfield led to the upper Eldorado Creek basin. Clouds that had been passing quitely overhead, quickly condensed and we found ourselves in a small snow storm. We stopped to add layers of clothing and continued on to the ridge dividing the Roush and Eldorado basins. We followed the exposed ridge looking for the gully leading to the Roush basin. But the limited visibility cause us to ascend too far up the ridge, missing the gully. When the ridge became too steep we realized the mistake and retraced our route. Following the ridge downward, we came across a couple that were setting up their tent on the ridge. We found the gully and finally set up camp in the Roush basin.
After setting up camp, we ate a hardy dinner, watched the alpenglow on the surrounding peaks, then reclined to our tents. One of our party, John, chose to "go light" and crawled into his bivy sack entrenched in the pit he dug. After a few hours of restless sleep, Kim and I awoke to the tent shaking. A wind had come up in the night and was pounding our tent every few minutes. We had secured our tent soundly with deadmen at each corner and added guy lines to the sides, but I still put shoulder into the windward side of the tent when the gusts came. It was fascinating how regular the gusts came. One minute there would be a dead calm, then 5 minutes later it felt like we were in an earthquake with the tent shaking and flexing with the force of the wind. After several hours of this pattern, the winds died and we were able to get a few hours of sound sleep.
Four o'clock came too early and we crawled from our warm sleeping cocoons. We were all glad to find John still with us. He admitted that more than once he felt like he was going to become a human kite during the night's winds. After our oatmeal and tea, we roped up and started climbing up the glacier. We reached the extensive plateau of the Inspiration Glacier and were rewarded with a fabulous view of our peak. The snow was solid and there were only a few long indentions in the snow, reminders of the many abysses beneath our boots.
We gained the base of the east ridge and our boots found good purchase on the firm snow so we cached our snowshoes and continued up the ridge. The ridge soon narrowed and we slowed as pickets were placed to set up a running belay on the knife edged crest. I had seen pictures of this ridge, and it was strange to find myself there, excited and in awe.
The view from the summit was truly spectacular. We all tried to soak it in and record this view in our memories until the next time we make this trip. Views such as this is one of the reasons I climb. To gaze onto this magnificent landscape instills in me a sense of awe. Yes, I will remember the brutal approach, but the view from the summit with my friends is what I will cherish.