Trip: Dorado Needle - SW Buttress
Over August 20-21, myself and Nick climbed the SW Buttress of Dorado Needle. Great climb in a fantastic setting provided the full alpine experience with rock, steep snow, technical glacier, heat, cold, wind and a whiteout. We picked up permits Friday night for Kliwatti zone and grabbed food in Marblemount before crashing at the Eldorado TH. Moving at 5:40am, we made good time hitting the Eldorado camp at 1:00pm. We each carried 3L of water from the TH which turned out to not be needed as there was plenty of water available all the way until getting on the Eldorado Glacier. Once we got on the glacier, we were melting snow until we got to camp. With forecasts for record heat in Seattle, I only carried a light softshell which worked well for the warm temps and light wind on Saturday, but would regret on Sunday. Tagged Eldo under bluebird skies and continued through the McCallister-Insipration Col to the col between Tepeh and Dorado Needle where we made camp for the night. There was no dry ground at the McCallister- Inspiration col, only snow. The camp at the Tepeh-Dorado Col was very nice, with multiple spots big enough for a small tent or a pair of bivies. There was very small stream of glacier runoff at the col which provided water. Alarms set for 4, we used our bivies for ground cloth and slept under the stars with a steady breeze coming up the col.
Morning came a little colder than I was expecting but we got moving by 4:40am and headed down the col to find the base of the route. We tried to follow a path I thought I saw the day prior through the rocks to avoid some of the descent and renascent to the route, don't do this, it didn't work. Just follow the snow all the way down and around, it is pretty obvious. The gulley was not completely snow, despite being called in our beta "the gully filled with snow year round". There was a small section about halfway up that was rock and a stream along with another section that only had about a three foot wide ramp left. It is likely gone by now. The approach will still be doable through the summer and fall, but the moats did make things a little tricky and slowed us down. We lost some time too finding the start of the route. Even with several beta pictures, we still ended up too high and looking at a Dihedral that did not match the description or photos. The easiest way to find the right start is to look for the whiter rock, because all of the wrong upper areas are darker rock and looked very thin on protection. With all the delays, we started up the route at 7:40am. The route is in shade until midday and we had clouds come in just as the sun rose which kept us pretty cold the whole day. This route really is a choose your own adventure. As long as you don't climb anything over 5.8 and stay generally close to the Buttress crest you will not get too far off route, but this climb definitely requires some basic route finding skills. We followed the guidebook and some friend's beta and found all the general checkpoints were pretty obvious. In total, we did the route in seven pitches instead of the 10 talked about in the guidebook. I linked the 3/4th class simul block with the low 5th pitch 3. The only pitch we had trouble initially figuring out was the summit block, which was less obvious with the beta. In retrospect, all of the routes we looked at would likely go, but we ended up moving the belay from the knife edge pitch about 20 feet to the left and going straight up the big face. While it looks heady, it actually goes well up and slightly left. The clouds lowered and we hit a white out just as we started the last pitch, so no summit views. The descent was the crux of this route, as the late season McCallister Glacier was in pretty bad shape. We downclimbed the NE Ridge knife edge, did a 10M rap away from the glacier and then a 30m rap straight down towards the glacier. There are good rap stations for both. The 30m rap deposited us in the moat between Dorado Needle and the McCalister Glacier. The moat was at least 30 ft wide and left the options of descending down the moat or climbing up a 10 ft tall snow finger to get back onto the glacier. We went up the snow finger and while sketchy (steep with moat above and crevasse below), it went. Unfortunately, this meant Nick got to enjoy the experience of pulling the rope while standing above the moat with another crevasse just below him on a fairly steep slope. I'd recommend future parties use the moat, it looked like it went easily. Navigating down the McCallister in a whiteout was an experience I won't soon forget. Definitely the most broken up glacier I've been on before and no visibility to boot. Luckily I had taken a photo the day prior on our hike in and was able to use that to find the best route down the glacier, as the previous day parties steps had melted away. Basically, you are going to need to go pretty far skiers left before winding your way back around the shrund to the right. We got back to camp around 4pm and started the long hike out. The whiteout never lifted and we guessed/weaved our way through the broken up Inspiration to get back to Eldo camp. We finally lost the clouds when we descended off the Eldorado Glacier and finished the death march through the boulder field and trail to reach the car at 9:30pm.
All in all, this is a full value Cascade alpine climb. We saw one party the day before and only had one other party on route with us on Sunday. It is nice to find places to climb near Cascade pass that aren't a zoo. Highly recommended.
Klawatti Beta Photo if anyone is heading that way. Looks like there was some debris falling off the normal ascent route recently
Route up Eldorado is pretty melted out but still very easy
Checking out the SW Buttress for tomorrow. Dont get suckered onto the rocks below to try and cut off the down and up, it doesnt go
Some big cracks on the Inspiration
Descent beta photo for the NE ridge of Dorado Needle. This photo saved our bacon when the whiteout hit. We went far skiers left and then worked our way back gently right. Going too close to the Col up high gets very steep and very broken up
Looking down the Col for the next morning
This is not pitch 1. In some beta photos it looks like the arrows point you here, they dont. Limited pro and mossy rock. Note the dark color of the rock
This is pitch 1. Note the light rock color and ample pro. This is about 50 ft lower than the pitch shown above
Nick coming up after the simul block of pitch 2
Party of 4 on the knife edge of Eldorado
Nick coming up Pitch 3
I believe I went up to the Buttress crest a little early and so we couldn't make it all the way to the correct belay on pitch 4 identified by a "light colored alcove followed by traversing left around a gendarme" In this photo Nick is at the alcove and about to go around the Gendarme
The only other party we saw all day
Belay above the 5.7 lieback pitch. Our Pitch 5
One of many sketchy snow bridges and crevasse navigations in the whiteout. Definitely pushed the limit of my comfort zone at times
Marmots are basically majestic pigs
PSA, dont forget to keep your marmot inflated for top performance
Gear- 0.2-2 BD with double of .5,.75 and 1, set of nuts, 7 doubles and 2 singles. Gear felt about spot on. I used about everything on the 5.7 lieback pitch and only had to runout the easier ground. Crampons were needed for the ascent to the base of the climb and descent from the NE Ridge.
Plenty of water all the way to the Eldorado Glacier. Tiny glacier stream at Tepeh-Needle Col camp.