Friday, May 20, 2022

Route Profile: Dorado Needle - East Ridge

There is almost no information whatsoever about the east ridge of Dorado Needle. In the Cascade Alpine Guide, Beckey merely gives it a mention:

EAST RIDGE: This sharp crest leads from the col E of Dorado needle toward the summit. First ascent by Joan and Joe Firey, Hans Hoesli, Dave Knudson and Peter Renz on July 4, 1971. The route involves class 3-5, sound, granitic rock. Ascend the ridge to the eastern subsummit, then rappel into the notch beyond for completion to the summit. Rating: 5.5. Time 4 hours.

On an ascent of the route in 2016, we found this description to be... less than adequate. The route clocks in at about 5.7 and most parties will take eight to twelve hours from the Eldorado East Ridge camp (where there's a toilet) to the summit of Dorado and back. Additionally, the route presents many different alpine problems that make it an interesting and fun route to climb!


Approach: From the camp at the base of the east ridge of Eldorado Peak (see Selected Climbs in the Cascades, Volume I), traverse the Inspiration Glacier to the north avoiding crevasses until you reach the Inspriation-McAllister Col.

This is a good time to take a picture of the NW Ridge of Dorado Needle and the glacier below. On the descent you will not be able to see all the options and an early photo that you can reference later will help with your return trip.

Drop down the glacier until you reach the Dorado Needle Col.

Topo for the East Ridge of Dorado
(Click to Enlarge)

Route: From the Dorado Needle Col, climb one very loose, nearly unprotectable 5.5 pitch, to a stance. Approximately 100-feet up from the Col there is a large horn that had a sling on it when I climbed it. This is the best anchor if you start from the Col.

There is protection, but it is thin. Everything that you might consider for pro needs to be checked to ensure that it is attached to the mountain.

An alternative is to cross the moat to the right of the Col and climb straight up underneath a cannonball hole in the mountain. While we didn't go this way, it is reportedly better climbing. However, you may have to deal with a very dangerous moat. It should also be noted that the cannonball hole is hard to see on the approach.

At the top of the first pitch, scramble up toward the ridge crest on better rock. Continue for several rope lengths along or just below the ridge. The climbing here is anywhere from third class to easy fifth class. All the ridge climbing throughout the entire route is either on the ridge or below it on the right-hand side.

Eventually, you will come to a notch. Down-climb third and fourth class terrain to a spot where the glacier touches the notch.

From here, cross the glacier to the base of the continuation of the east ridge. The best place to access the ridge is at a ledge with two quartzite lines. Beware of the moat here as it is bottomless.

East Ridge Dorado Needle
(Click on Image to Enlarge)

Many parties may choose to skip the loose bottom of the east ridge and simply access the mountain after this notch. The rock is significantly better from here on out.

After you access the rock, continue up for several rope lengths on terrain that ranges from third to low-fifth class to the top of a tower.

Make two short rappels into the notch between the ridge and the summit pyramid.

Working up 5.7 Terrain toward the Summit.

Climb good rock for another two pitches. This terrain looks harder than it is as you approach it. The climbing is never harder than 5.7.

Climb one to two more easy pitches to the summit of the mountain.

Descent: This descent can be easy, or it can turn into a nightmare. Stay awake and pay attention. There is a lot of tat on this mountain that leads you to difficult moat crossings.

From the summit, ignore the tat around the summit block and continue down the ridge toward the Northwest Ridge. Eventually you will come to a block that is inconveniently wrapped with tat. It's inconvenient because you will have to climb over to the other side to rig it for a rappel.

One way to tell that you're in the right place is that you can see that you'll be about five to ten feet above a stance when you rig it.

There is a lot of tat on the north side of the mountain. If the moats are not too difficult, you might be able to use some of these. But if the moats look like they'll be a problem, then you shouldn't rap that way.

East Ridge from Eldorado Peak
(Click on Image to Enlarge)

We rapped easily down the southwest side to a stance that is exactly 30 meters (100-feet) below. From there we scrambled on easy ledges back to the NW Ridge and to an easy rap that took us to a moatless notch at the base of the NW Ridge.

From the base of the ridge, you will have to find a way down through steep crevasses in order to make your way back to the McAllister-Inspiration Col. In 2016, we found a good path down on the skier's right side of the glacier.

Dorado Needle is an excellent climb. This is an adventure climb in the purest sense. The peak is remote, big and incredibly cool. An ascent of Dorado Needle is an ascent of something at the very heart of the North Cascades!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 16, 2022

Route Profile: Cutthroat Peak, S. Buttress (5.8, III+)

Every winter the Washington Department of Transportation turns a cold shoulder to a stretch of State Route 20 that winds its way through the Northern Cascades.  This area sees so much snow and crosses so many avalanche paths that it is not feasible for them to maintain the road and keep it plowed.  This stretch can see sometimes more than 60 or 70 feet of snow in some places.  Every spring, we eagerly await the reports from the DOT as they start the clearing process.  Depending on the snowfall and the avalanche conditions, this can take a few weeks, or a few months.  This year, the highway was cleared and open by May 8, and climbers and skiers alike have already started enjoying the numerous routes there.

The Liberty Bell Group from the East.  Dana Hickenbottom.
SR 20 cuts through the heart of the North Cascades National Park, and is the access for hundreds of peaks.  One of my favorite areas along there is known as Washington Pass.  This Pass is home to some of the best alpine rock climbing in the state.  The most notable formation there is the Liberty Bell Group, which includes Liberty Bell, Concord Tower, Lexington Tower, North Early Winters Spire and South Early Winters Spire.  Each of these peaks have numerous routes on them ranging from 5.6 beginner routes to 5.12 Grade V monsters.

However, the Liberty Bell Group isn't the only fine chunk of granite in the area.  Another great is Cutthroat Peak, which is just to the north of Liberty Bell, on the other side of the highway.  At 8050', it tops out at about 300' higher then anything in the Liberty Bell Group.  When viewed from the east or west, you can see the distinctive North and South Summits, which form the shape of the salmon that it is named after.

Climbers approaching through the grassy meadows to
the southwest of the peak.  James Pierson

There are a hand-full of routes on the peak, mostly in the moderate range, although there are a couple in the 5.10 and over range, as well as some alpine ice routes.  From the highway, you park at a broad pull-off south and just west of the peak, approximately 1.5 miles west of Washington Pass.  Drop down into the drainage and start the brushy hike up the other side towards the meadows on the southwest of the peak.  Ascend the northern-most notch of the Southwest Arm to get to the base of the South Buttress to start the real climbing.  The South Buttress, shown middle-center in the photo below, is a great 5.8 route that follows the crest of the feature, with a few short sections that venture to the east before returning back to the ridge.  If you find yourself getting sucked too far to the left, be sure to steer yourself back to the crest again.

View of Cutthroat Peak from the summit of Liberty Bell.  James Pierson

The majority of the route is easier climbing with a few short but well protected 5.6 - 5.7 spots.  The crux of the climb (5.8) comes near the top, just before you start the final easy scramble.  This takes you up to the first of the two summits.

Rock Ptarmigan trying to blend in. James Pierson
Mountain goat coming to say hello.  James Pierson


Above is a 360 deg. panorama from the summit of Cutthroat Peak.  From this vantage point, you have spectacular views of the Liberty Bell Massif, Big Kangaroo Peak, Silver Star Peak, the Wine Spires, in to British Columbia to the north, and on a good day you can even catch glimpses of Mt. Baker.

Climber starting to rappel down the
West Ridge. James Pierson
For the descent, you have two options.  If there are no other climbers behind you, you can rappel the route.  The other option is to continue scrambling and drop into the notch between the North and South Summits, ascend the North Summit and then rappel down the West Ridge route.  There are fewer rappels this way, but there is also some loose scree scrambling as you come off the West Ridge.

Cutthroat Peak is often overlooked by climbers since its neighbors on the other side of the highway have such easy access.  But with a little extra effort on the approach, you will find a great climb for anyone looking for a long, moderate climb with beautiful surroundings.

--James Pierson, Program Coordinator and Guide

Friday, May 13, 2022

Tent Melt-Out

When the spring is sprung and there is more rain and warmth than snow and cold, an odd thing starts to happen in the mountains around your tent. The bottom of the tent acts as an insulator or a blanket, keeping the snow cold. On overnight trips or short summit trips, you may not even notice this. But on longer trips, the warmer temperatures and the rain cause the snow to melt everywhere...everywhere except for under your tent.

Slowly your tent develops its own little pedestal. There are two problems with this. First, your tent-stakes will start to melt out and second, the edges of the insulated tent floor will begin to melt-out.In the snow, tent-stakes should be buried in a T-slot instead of buried vertically. Work-harden the snow to make sure that the stakes stay in place. If there is any metal showing from a stake, it becomes more likely that the stake will melt-out. Warmth radiates through metal. Making sure that a placement is solidly work-hardened will decrease the likelihood of a stake melting out in the short term.

When the snow underneath the tent starts to melt-out, it tends to do so from the edges. Over the course of a couple of days the melt-out will force the tent's occupants to cuddle more and more closely together. The sides of the tent become a trough, eating up all the extra equipment.

If you plan to camp in a given location for a longer period of time, the trick to avoiding problems is to pile snow all around your tent. Pile the snow heavily along the sides of the tent and over the snow-stakes. If the edges of the tent are well-covered, the problems that arise with longer camps become less prevalent.


A tent in the snow without additional snow piled-up to prevent melt-out

A tent that has a significant amount of snow piled around it 
so that it doesn't melt out on a warm day.

While this might not be the most technical tip that we've ever provided on this blog, stacking snow around your tent can certainly make your life a lot more pleasant.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 9, 2022

The Ice Bollard

Steep snow or ice can be descended two ways. A climber could downclimb the terrain or he could rappel. Rappelling is always a dangerous option as a lot can go wrong...but in the mountains, sometimes the speed of rappelling is safer than downclimbing.



A Climber Rappels Off of an Ice Bollard

In hard frozen snow or on ice, one option is to create a bollard. A bollard is essentially a tear-drop shaped pillar that is cut into a frozen surface with an ice axe adze. The rope is then wrapped around the bollard for the rappel. Once the rappel is completed, the climber can simply pull the rope.

Bollards are not the strongest anchors available, but they are quick and effective. If you choose to use a bollard, it is important to do two things. Back them up and reset the rope after each rappel.


An Ice Bollard loosely Backed-Up by an Ice Screw

To back-up a bollard, create the bollard and then preset the rope. Place a piece of snow protection (e.g. a picket buried as a deadman) and then loosely clip a sling to both the piece and to the rope. Once this is set-up, the heaviest person with the heaviest pack should rappel first. The theory is that if the heaviest person with the heaviest pack doesn't blow out the bollard, then a lighter person should be able to remove the back-up piece and safely rappel.

To reset the rope after each rappel, simply treat the rope like dental floss. Pull on each end of the rope once your down. Resetting the rope like this will ensure that it doesn't freeze into place and get stuck.


An Ice Bollard backed-up by an Ice Screw

Snow and ice bollards are a quick and effective style of anchoring that avoids leaving trash -- or expensive gear -- behind. Practice with this style of rappel anchor will lead to a solid and safe understanding as to how one should employ them effectively...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, May 6, 2022

The Dangers of Glissading

Yep, you can find them in just about every issue of Accidents in North American Mountaineering. They have unwieldy headlines like:

"Climber injured in Glissade Accident"
"Out of Control Glissade Leads to Fatality"
"Inexperience, Lack of Proper Clothing and Glissade with Crampons On"

Gissading is an incredibly fun endeavor. I've often felt that after achieving a somewhat physical summit that a good glassade run back down makes it all worth it. It's as if nature gave you something back for all of the work that you did to get up there. The desire to glissade though should be tempered by the reality...and the reality is that a lot of people get hurt glissading.

Most injuries take place because an individual breaks one of the cardinal rules. To stay safe, the best thing to do is to take these rules seriously.

The Cardinal Rules of Glissading 
  1. Never glissade with crampons on. If you're wearing crampons it means that you're probably on hard snow or ice. This means that should you glissade, you will slide really fast. If you slide really fast and you catch a crampon spike, your leg will snap like a dry twig. As such one should never glissade with crampons on. 
  2. Never glissade on a rope team. If one person loses control on a rope team, then others may do so as well. 
  3. Never glissade on a glacier. It's likely that you'll be roped up if you're on a glacier so if you do glissade, you will be breaking two rules at once. We don't glissade on glaciers because of the possibility of hidden crevasses. 
  4. Always make sure that you can see where you're going. This should make sense. If you can't see, then you could end up sliding into a talus field or off a cliff. 
  5. Make sure that there is a good run-out. A good run-out is imperative. One should certainly avoid glissading above dangerous edges, boulders or trees. 

These rules are quite black and white. There are few gray areas in glissading. If there is some question, then the best thing to do is to err on the side of caution. Though you might be tired, sometimes walking down the mountain is the safer alternative.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 2, 2022

How to Sharpen Your Crampons

After running a blog about sharpening ice screws, we had a request on how to sharpen crampons. 

Mixed climbing, moving from an ice climb onto a rock climb and then back, can be very hard on technical crampons.  Most mixed climbers who get out a long will need to sharpen their cramponsat least once a season.  We found the following video from mixed climber Stephen Kotch on how to sharpen technical crampons for mixed terrain:



General mountaineering often also requires one to sharpen crampons.  It's not uncommon for a mountaineer to walk from ice or snow onto a rock feature and then back onto the ice.  In the short term, this has a minimal impact on one's equipment.  However, in the long term crampons can become dangerously dull.

Following is a quick breakdown of how to sharpen your mountaineering crampons:

  1. Mountaineering crampons get beat up. You move over all kinds of terrain in them, so in addition to getting dull, they often get quite dirty. Before sharpening your "poons," you're going to want to rinse them down and clean them off.
  2. Some people will put the crampons into a vice while sharpening them.  If you elect to do this, be sure not to place them in such a way that the vice-grip will warp the crampons.  On many models, you can detach the toe from the heel and place each section in the vice without the threat of damaging them. However, this will be model-dependent. You'll notice that Stephen simply holds the crampons. He does this bare-handed, but you may want to wear leather gloves to protect your fingers.
  3. Be sure to file the edges down toward the point. Do not file the broad side of the crampon point as this will weaken the teeth.  You should not be making the points "thinner."
  4. Once you've completed the process of sharpening, wash and wipe down your crampons. Make sure there are no burrs or chips in them.
  5. If your crampons have been sharpened many times and the points seem to be getting thin or weirdly shaped, then it might be time to replace them.
Final Tip:

When  you come out of the mountains, make sure that your crampons are completely dry before storing them away.  If you put them away before they dry out, next time you want to use them, you will find them covered in rust.

--Jason D. Martin