El Dorado has been high on my list of Washington climbs ever since I first saw a photo of someone topping out on the knife edge. My desire grew even stronger when Sarah summited it a few years ago (without me!). So when the early May weekend forecast called for a snowy and cold Saturday followed by a sunny and cold Sunday, it seemed like a prime opportunity to bag my dream. I shot a text to Brent and the plan was made.
We left Seattle on Saturday night and got to the end of Cascade River road around 9pm. Despite dire warnings about road conditions, it was one of the better dirt roads I’ve driven on in the Cascades. Unfortunately the closure was two miles from the start of the climbing route, adding four miles of road walking to an already long day. We planned to leave the car at 2:30am; I figured we would need some buffer time since we were virtually guaranteed to get lost on the way up due to early season Cascade conditions below the snowline (blowdowns, washouts, etc.).
An alpine start
So, after pretending to sleep for four hours (I can never really rest the night before an early wake up and a big adventure) we threw on our 40 pound packs and hit the road. After two miles of roadwalking, my prediction was proven correct as we were instantly lost after crossing the river. Thirty minutes of brutal bushwacking later, we finally found the trailhead sign and started up the climbing trail. It’s not much of a trail, but more of a beaten in route directly up the side of the mountain. We continued to get lost as we ascended since the path was so covered in blowdowns. After two and half hours of dodging trees in various degrees of upright, we finally made it to the legendary 1500 foot boulder field that was the bane of so many trip reports I had read.
Luckily for us, after about 200 feet the snow was thick enough that we could skin and thus began a wonderful 5 hours of some very easy and beautiful skinning up, onto, and over the El Dorado and Inspiration glaciers.
Skinning the boulder field
The glaciers were so filled in that we didn’t travel in a rope team, although we did see one large open crevasse on the summit ridge. At exactly 11:00 we were at the base of the knife edge, and stopped to have a snack and consider if we wanted to take the risk of climbing it.
Ascending the ridge towards the summit
We consulted with a couple who had just come down and decided we would do it with the help of the rope and climbing gear we had schlepped up all 7000 feet. We took it slow and made it to the summit in three “pitches” of ridge walking using pickets as snow anchors.
Descending the infamous knife edge
We started down from the summit around 1 PM and made quick work of the skiing, descending 4000 feet to the base of the boulder field in an hour and a half (including two uphill sections that required transitioning).
Some very chill turns
It ultimately turned out that the crux of the day still awaited us, descending the climbing route with skis on our backs was brutally hard and was probably the closest I felt the whole day to actually getting injured. Also Brent had brought Chacos as his approach shoes which elevated the difficulty of his day by at least a couple notches.
This made blowdown acrobatics quite difficult
Finally though we made it to the river and started the two mile roadwalk back to the cars. We were passed by a couple other skiers who had biked the road closure, which I am filing away to do next year because the roadwalk at the end was an unpleasant affair. At the parking lot we chatted a bit with the other dozen people who had absconded from mothers day and then headed back to Seattle. After a couple failed trips earlier this year, I was very happy to have this day be so successful and fun!