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[TR] Isolation Traverse, Pyramid to Eldorado, Aug. 1-7 - 8/8/2008

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Trip: Isolation Traverse, Pyramid to Eldorado, Aug. 1-7 -


Date: 8/8/2008


Trip Report:

Colonial Pk

Pyramid Pk

Paul Bunyan’s Stump

Snowfield Pk

The Coccyx

Early Morning Spire

Eldorado Pk


The Isolation Traverse – maybe a classic of North Cascade mountaineering of olde. This had big trees, meadows, glaciers, rock both solid and crumbly, and brushy cliff bands that can make you cry. Even the weather cooperated to give us just about everything the Pacific Northwest can dish out on any give summer week. My apologies for the extended length of this report, there is a lot to tell…


Four of us started out early on 8/1/08 from Seattle, parked one car at the Eldorado trailhead on Cascade River Rd. and then proceeded to the Pyramid Lk. trail and started going up. The route past the lake was your typical “climber’s trail” – a thin muddy route straight up to the ridge. At the ridge it was up and down, with the route becoming ambiguous at a few points at vegetated steps on the ridge. Just after treeline the route dropped left off the ridge and up talus and snow to the rock barrier at the foot of Colonial Glacier/Lake.


Both the clouds and the temps were dropping and as we got our camp set up at a tarn some harsh wind and rain was bearing down. We were lashed by the weather all night although this did not deter the rodents from chewing into a food bag.


8/2 – at wake up time rain and wind still so we hung out until things started looking a little better and we made a quick dash for Colonial with the intent to get back, pack up camp and move up to the Neve Glacier. The weather had different plans and as we returned to camp the wind and rain was back to continue its punishment. We went to bed with the thought of bailing if the weather wasn’t better by noon the next day.


8/3 – wake up time finally saw blue skies so we packed up camp and got onto the Colonial Glacier. We ascended about halfway up, dropped our full packs and headed up along snow ramps to Pyramid Pk, then a traverse down to a rock island where M. and J. waited it out while K. and I quickly made our way up to Paul Bunyan’s Stump, starting on the South ridge and climbing up class 4 slabs around the West face to the North ridge in a “Corkscrew” ascent to the summit. Our route shown in red below, as viewed from the Colonial-Neve Glacier Col:


As we all met up again down on the flat, M. and J. citing difficulties of psychological fortitude announced they were bailing. We discussed options and decided to head up to the Colonial-Neve Glacier Col to see what was in store. On the way up I had to come to a difficult decision that I would proceed with the trip as planned – too much juggling of work and marital issues had occurred for me to simply give this up so easily, and besides this was part of my “just got my PhD” celebration, come on!! I put it to the group, saying I would love it if any and all wanted to join and K. decided to stick with it. Ok, enough stuff about personal drama…


So the group split at the col, with K. and I continuing across the Neve to the col between Snowfield Pk. and the Horseman – this was very straightforward. We dropped down a little way, stowed our full packs and then headed up Snowfield via a class 3/4 route going up the SW face, ascending the W ridge for a ways, crossing to the north to parallel the W Arete, through a notch crossing back to a south-facing gully and up to the summit. At the top I found a pair of sunglasses! Looking north across the Neve:


We dropped back down to get our packs, then made a descending traverse toward the SW ridge. This turned out to be a mistake. We should have either made a rising traverse (toward the E/SE) to cross the ridge into a south-facing bowl or followed snow fields down (toward the W) to cross under cliff bands to reach a flat area at the bottom of the ridge to camp. We descended the ridge crest and at a 5th class short downclimb at a step K. took a fall, but he was mostly ok once we got to camp and made a significant dent in our whisky stash. The camp here had incredible views all around, and we decided that this was one of the coolest camp sites we’d seen in the North Cascades.


8/4 – we awoke again to great weather but knowing we had a possibly difficult day ahead as we entered the “maze” part of the trip. We were able to get a pretty good view of Isolation Pk. and a probable route that roughly corresponded with the info we had, so we took off along the ridge and then descended toward the lake we called “Isolation Lake”, then climbed a snow ramp to a shoulder on the E side of the mountain. The shoulder continued as a nice bench (even potential campsites here) around to the S/SE face of the mountain where it ended in a talus field. This is where things got exciting as we determined we should just plunge down through alternating brush and steep heather, working around rock buttresses toward the south ridge leading to Wilcox Lakes. An apt description of the nature of this traverse would be 4th class mixed rock and tree; veggie belays were heavily utilized. However to keep things in perspective this part took us just under 1.5 hours.


Following this, the flat area around Wilcox Lakes was another spectacular alpine area dotted with meadows, rock outcroppings and tarns. A series of shallow tarns that looked almost tiled with flat rocks was too enticing so we had to take a stop to jump in and hang out here for a while. This was a great way to get our spirits soaring in preparation to get knocked down again. We thought we had our route figured out and headed straight up to a col just to the E of Newhalem Pk.


When we got there the other side seemed to drop straight down in to a deep hole with a pretty improbable climb out on the other side (I could be wrong on this – Lowell Skoog’s description of this traverse as a ski tour shows the route going through this cirque – maybe more feasible with snow coverage?). The north end of Backbone Ridge was tantalizingly close, and the ridge on the W side of the cirque seemed to look like a go, but we thought we had to climb up to get there, as the topo map seemed to indicate friendlier territory above. We topped out on a subsidiary summit of Newhalem Pk. with a deep gorge separating us from the SE face we intended to traverse. There was no way this route would work. We sat down to check things out and decided that the best way would be to drop back down where we came from on the N side of Newhalem Pk. then skirt around the W side of the mountain to get to Stout Lk, which seemed to be a favored basis for many of Beckey’s route descriptions for climbs in the area. So we downclimbed back into the Wilcox Lakes basin and then ascended to a flat area on a ridge coming off the north side of Newhalem Pk. where we made camp. Backtracking off such hard-earned territory was mentally tough and we directed our frustration at the subsidiary summit we climbed, deciding that in keeping with anatomical nomenclature of the area we would call it “The Scrotum”.


8/5 – Fortunately the good weather was holding, because we started this day expecting another tough go. It didn’t start off well – getting off the ridge into the next bowl was more bushwhacking through cliff bands. K. found a good way through by going down the ridge (north) through trees to a grassy/shrubby SW-facing ramp. My descent was an ugly and fast slide down some moss-covered cliffs which miraculously only cost me half of the fingernail on my left pinky finger. We crossed a talus bowl and then ascended up a gully to a shoulder on the W side of Newhalem Pk. We were now looking straight down at Stout Lk. The following photo shows our route around Isolation and Newhalem Pks. looking south from the Snowfield-Horseman Col (The nasty part of the descent to Camp 2 is off the photo to the left):


From the W shoulder of Newhalem the descent to Stout Lake was straight down, mostly steep heather working around small cliff bands and some shwacking to the only flat and clear area around the outlet of the lake. There is fisherman’s camp here with cached campfire grills and frying pans, and it looked like tons of trout in the lake. Now we headed up the ridge due south of the lake outlet into a furious steep uphill brute-force bushwhack that was fortunately the last one of the trip. We ascended to the W shoulder of the unnamed peak SE of Stout Lk, then climbed about 500 ft along the meadowy ridgeline until we came to an open area leading to the slabs of the next cirque below The Coccyx. The following photo looking down at Stout Lake shows our route to the ridge:


And the route through the cirque below The Coccyx and the entrance to Backbone Ridge:


We dropped our packs at the Coccyx Glacier and ascended up the snow to reach the W ridge. We took the rope and 2 pickets for a single pitch at the cornice going over what appeared to be a sagging bridge over the bergschrund at the headwall. The rest of the way to the summit was a class 3 scramble up talus and blocks. The following photo is looking back at the snow headwall and beginning of the rock ridge:


After dropping back down to our packs we made a slightly descending traverse to the point where the ridge flattens out for an easy drop into Marble Creek Cirque. This area was beautiful knolls, rock slabs and streams. Fortunately we had a lot of snow for easy travel – in later season or with less snow it looks like there are some gorge-like features that would need to be negotiated. We made it almost to the end of the cirque where it meets the Marble Glacier.


8/6 – Another great weather day – we made a rising traverse from camp to the ridgeline at the south end of Backbone Ridge, then onto the Marble Glacier. We weren’t sure exactly where to cross over to the McAllister, and made an exploratory venture to a col that turned out to be much too far north. We decided to just head to the high point of the glacier and if nothing else we could climb Early Morning Spire. Access to the E ridge was a little tricky, involving a short climb into a moat then up a messy dihedral to a rap sling that we used for protection, then a short crawling traverse under a snow overhang. The rest of the way was pretty simple class 4 up blocks to the summit.


Our next task was getting over to the McAllister Glacier. We knew that we would have to rappel onto the other side, so we figured that we would go for a spot on the ridge that looked low and had the least amount of rock climbing to get to. A notch just N of The Praying Mantis looked like it would work, so we followed the snow ridge at the top of the glacier to its highest point near this notch. The following photo shows our route up the Marble Glacier to the ridge:


Our chosen route was pretty sketchy. On the Marble Creek side, we had to climb some low 5th class stuff consisting of many loose rope-grabbing rocks. With our full packs this was pretty stressful, but we made it up and managed to find a decent spot to anchor our rappel. The other side was worse – we managed to clear some loose rock at the top of our rap, but the whole gully we descended was just mud with a few boulders just sort of stuck in and hanging there. We were on a 70m rope and fortunately it just reached to the snow. A careful climb out of the moat and doing a traversing steep face-in downclimb around some crevasses for about 90m and we were back in civilization and on our way across the McAllister! I’m not sure if another way over would have been better, but if so, it would have to have been to the north of us around Marble Needle. The following photo is one I’ve modified from Summitpost (I think the perspective of the McAllister is from Klawatti Pk), showing where we descended and approximate route across:


At this point some very ominous dark clouds were rolling in, but when we got across the Inspiration Glacier, Eldorado was too close to pass up since I’ve never been up there. We cruised up about 1000 ft, some photos and high fives, and then back down to our packs, across the Eldorado Glacier and camp on the ridge between Roush Cr. and Eldorado Cr. just in time for the rainstorm.


8/7 – good weather again, hiked down to the car in 2h, got our GOOD FOOD fix and then home to Seattle.


This map shows our route in blue (it’s a Google map – you’ll have to zoom to the North Cascades area and I would recommend clicking on the “terrain” feature).


This was a great trip and I was disappointed not to share it with the whole group that started out. As with any adventure like this, the difficulties made the rewards that much greater, and one of the more significant challenges was the routefinding, which I found surprising in this day and age of Google and what not. I know this report was detailed and hopefully that doesn’t diminish the quality of this traverse for anyone wanting to do it. On the other hand, I think our group might have made the whole trip intact if we had a more comprehensive description of it up front. In any case I know that this was a hard way to get to the summit of Eldorado, and no detailed trip report will change that…





Gear Notes:

Glacier gear. Minimal Rock pro would be helpful in places but we never used any.


Approach Notes:

Pyramid approach trail is heavily mosquito-infested.

Edited by alpenho

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Wow ,Great beta and report. I hope its ok if I use this report as a link on my traverse page

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Wow ,Great beta and report. I hope its ok if I use this report as a link on my traverse page

That would be an honor, thanks!


Also, forgot to mention this, but I came across some twisted metal on the north side of Newhalem Pk that looked like it came off of an aircraft, with some black and orange paint. Just curious if that was part of a known wreck or something. Couldn't find anything else that looked man-made, just this piece of metal about 10" X 12".

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Re the aircraft debris: Back in the early to mid 1980's a small plane crashed in the area you found it. It crashed on Thanksgiving day on a flight from a departure in Eastern Washington, if I recall correctly. I was asked by the Chief

Backcountry/Wilderness Ranger the late Bill Lester to be on the lookout for it in my travels into that part of the Park. It was last shown on radar as disappearing 7 (if again I recall correctly) miles NW of Eldorado Peak. During my travels into that area I never saw any trace. The wreckage was in fact discovered (with the bodies) sometime in the later or possibly mid 1990's by two climbers on your Traverse or some variant of same.

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I was back in that area a couple of weeks ago doing some "exploring", nice to see all the peak names labeled on your photos. Looks like a classic north cascades traverse. :brew:

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Thanks for the great TR and pics. I have had this traverse on my list for a long, long time. This may add a bit of motivation.





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