Sunday, August 3, 2008

Dorado Needle

8,440 Feet
NW Ridge, Grade III, 5.4
August 2-3, 2008

The hike up to Dorado Needle started off a little damp. The forecast was for clouds on Saturday, but clearing by Sunday. Nonetheless, as it sprinkled and spat on us as we packed our bags at the trailhead at 2100 feet, our confidence in the forecast waned a bit. The log crossing over the North Fork Cascade River has improved since the last time we crossed it, about 6 years ago. Unfortunately, the hike up the Eldorado Creek Trail is still steep, and on this day, it was wet and a bit loose. Fortunately, our gear has become considerably lighter in the last 6 years, and I suppose our mental endurance for these sorts of slogs has increased. The hike up through the trees to the boulder field went by fairly quickly, then it was time to pick our way up through a couple thousand feet of talus-strewn slopes. Fortunately, we were able to piece together most of the trail-like tread along the fringes of the fields. Unfortunately, about half-way up, it started to rain with some enthusiasm. We stopped to don our rain gear and had a little talk about whether anyone wanted to cut our losses and turn around on the off chance we would never get out of the clouds. I think any of us could have been pushed over the edge, but we decided to push on a little longer to see if the squall abated.
The rain did stop shortly after that, and we ended up making it to the bivy sites at about 7500 feet at the base of the east ridge of Eldorado about 8 hours after we started. A search of the area to locate two good bivy sites near each other was fruitless, so we ended up cramming our ID tents next to each other in one site after clearing it and smoothing out some bumps in the ground. Around us, as we made dinner and prepared for sleep, the cloud deck rose and fell below our elevation enough to occasionally give us views into the Forbidden cirque.
We woke up at 5am and Kirsten poked her head outside and immediately saw the glow of the sunrise illuminating a clear sky above the surrounding peaks and ridges. Energized by the knowledge that the climb would continue, we ate breakfast and packed up our gear, finally roping up and leaving camp at 7am. We cut a diagnal traverse across the Inspiration Glacier, occasionally looking behind us at climbers ascending the East Ridge of Eldorado, and thankful that no one was heading where we were, to Dorado Needle. When we reached the saddle at 8100 feet between the Inspiration and McAllister Glaciers, we stopped for a minute to take in the incredible views from between the Tepeh Towers, then descended the McAllister before the final steep, 500 foot climb up to the base of Dorado Needle, arriving at 9.
Knowing that climbers just a week earlier had reported a somewhat sketchy moat crossing to get on the route, we were a little anxious to see what it looked like when we got there. The pile of snow that had fallen into the moat, creating a bridge across was still there, so we roped up and off I went. Right off the bat there was a fairly steep move, so I reluctantly took off my mountaineering boots and put on my rock shoes. The move went easy with rock shoes on, and the rest of the way up to the ridge crest and the first belay was problem-free. After bringing Kirsten up, I climbed up a small chimney, then traversed across the knife-edge slab over to the next belay. When Kirsten reached the slab, she took a few minutes to talk herself into it, then chevalled across easily. The first move off the second belay up a step in the ridge required some reaching and stemming across, but thanks to my extra long limbs, it wasn't a problem. Next up was another traverse across an exposed, blank slab. I saw a ledge below it on the right and dropped down to the ledge and found a nice hand crack to get up above the slab on the other end. From there it was easy scrambling up to the summit block, arriving around 10:45.
Kirsten followed up and we snapped a few picks while waiting for Becky & Pete. After a while we saw Becky climbing back across the slab and yelled down to ask what was going on. Her hands and feet had become numb from sitting in the shade and being exposed to the frigid wind, and when she reached the stemmy, reachy move off the second belay, she lost confidence and backed off. Because Pete wasn't particularly concerned about summiting today, Kirsten downclimbed to Becky at the rap anchor, swapped ropes, and I belayed Becky up to me at the summit. After all of us had safely downclimbed back to the rap anchor, and Becky had accomplished the feat of crossing the blank knife-edge slab four times, we rappeled off the route. The rope tried to get stuck between a couple blocks on a bend in the route when I pulled it from the first rappel, but fortunately it freed up after giving it some strong tugs.
We arrived back at camp at about 3 o'clock and packed up with our minds focused on the Good Foods' 9 o'clock closing time. We left at 4:15, and the descent went smoothly, arriving back at the cars after 8:15. Quicly we changed into cotton clothes and threw our gear in the car, careful not to leave any open bags on the ground lest some Cascade River Road mice stow away in our gear, as happened to Becky & Pete over 4th of July. Unfortunately we didn't make it back to Marblemount until 10 or 15 minutes after 9 and Good Food was in fact closed. Our next hope for decent food was in Arlington, but when we arrived we found Taco Time was closed, so our last resort was McDonalds. It was interesting to discover that no matter how many calories we burned during the weekend, McDonalds was still unsatisfying. But as we finished the drive home, arriving at 11:30, we tried to ignore the foreign lump of processed meat in our stomachs and remember the good climb on a fun little peak in the glorious North Cascades.
Some notes about the climb: this is a really fun little climb. The rock is solid, the gear placements are good, the climbing is fun, and the setting on the McAllister Glacier is spectacular. The only drawback is the approach, which is pretty rough for an ascent of just this one peak. Ideally, it could be combined with other peaks, which was our original plan (Eldorado). However, the hike from camp to the route took longer than expected (about 2 hours), so we didn't have enough time. As far as gear, we brought several small cams -- red and green Aliens, red and black Metolius, the #.75, 1, and 2 Camalots, plus selection of nuts. I placed everything except the .75 and #2 Camalots, and there were lots of horns to sling. Basically this route feels a lot like a miniature version of the West Ridge of Forbidden.