Our party triggered an inReach SOS and was in contact with SAR after a near miss and a party member with full on hypothermia late on Saturday July 16th very close to the Climbers Trailhead for Eldorado Peak in the North Cascades National Park. Thankfully the team handled the incident well (if not some decision making leading to it) and everyone is safe and home now.
Edit3: Rightfully so I got some private commentary about “name and shame” – blog write-up was shared as draft and discussed at length with the team about naming names considering the situation. It was his desire to publish as is. -Syl Edit4: After more discussion with the team I’ve decided to remove specific references to his name. Please don’t dox someone for being awesome and having one shitty moment.
Anish, James, Kasia, Y and myself made plans for a 2 day attempt at Eldorado Peak leading up to this weekend. The weather showed a window of Friday->Sunday but the forecast as of Thursday showed rain on Sunday. Around 9pm Thursday we made a group call and decided to go for it Friday/Saturday which meant that unfortunately James couldn’t come with us and we had to quickly scramble to depart a day earlier than previously planned.
We managed to make it first to the Marblemount Ranger station at 6am to secure permits. We met Chris of https://gethighonaltitude.com/ fame and had a great chat on conditions and objectives. They were going for the North Face of Mt. Buckner. We managed to secure a permit but others that arrived later did not. It seems like they are issuing 4 walk up permits for camping on Eldorado a day currently.
We made it to the trailhead for 8am and got started on our way up. We found the most mellow river crossing that we could and found our way up to the trail. (edit: according to a Reddit comment there is a dry crossing 500 feet west of the trailhead.)
It quickly became apparent that Y had taken too much weight and his condition wasn’t up to it. We re-distributed his gear among the other 3 of us and slowly continued up. We made it to the top of the notch in about 9 hours.
The notch proved to be important as it was a class 3 downclimb with a solid snow moat at the base with some mild exposure. This took some time to descend with our heavy packs. There was a snow bridge we managed to take onto route and continue up to low camp at 6300 feet.
My wife and I managed to celebrate our 6 year anniversary with some wine I carried up and Anish was our photographer. We got some good sleep and enjoyed the hot food and refreshment.
We woke up at 4:30 to cloud a couple hundred feet above us but no precipitation. We roped up and got going at 6:45am with a number of C2C parties catching up to us.
Conditions on the Eldorado glacier are A+. The bootpack is in, with a firmly established trail, all the crevasses by the bootpack are fully filled in with near zero risk of punching through on the flat section.
We made it to high camp in about 2 hours and pushed up to the summit 2 hours later. There is no water at high camp but there are snow free tent sites.
WHAT A SUMMIT BLOCK. Amazing exposure and bootpack. There are two bootpacks, one on the actual ridge and one climbers right about 2 feet down. I got on the more exposed bootpack right away and it was full value.
We had peak-a-boo views with clouds rolling in and out. We busted out the most expensive selfie stick ever and took some shots on the summit ridge. We spent 45min or so up there and it was worth it.
We unroped at high camp as we had full visibility on the route and assessed basically no crevasse danger. The east ridge ABOVE high camp (7200 feet) does have open crevasses but they are relatively obvious and at least one party skied down from the summit.
We made it back to our camp in 7.5h total and took some rest and food in. We broke down camp and made it to the base of the notch at 9.5h in.
The snow bridge we crossed the previous day now looked pretty sketchy and risking punching through. I found a tricky slab and solo’d up higher with my pack. I took the rope from Anish and setup a belay to bring up Y and Kasia.
We were graced by a mountain goat and an hour and a half passed before we were all through the notch section. It was tricky to find a safe anchor to belay from, I should have ascended higher and found a secure tree.
We got to the top of the boulder field after 11.5h total and were passed by a trail runner. 3/4 of the way down the boulder field he passed us on a short downclimb after having already tagged the summit. WOW.
On the way up it is really easy to miss the trail and stay too long on the actual boulders, keep left. It’s relatively well marked. On the way down it was easy to follow. We finished the boulder field in 2 hours after a short break for fresh water.
Warning signs started to show for Y’s condition on the forest descent has we had to take multiple breaks due to discomfort and tiredness.
We made good time but got to the river elevation having put our headlamps on 10 minutes prior. 15h and we were at the final danger.
We followed a trail to various dry crossings but kept getting “island’d out” where the water was way too high and fast to cross back to the cars. It’s important to note that you can see the cars but you cannot let your guard down.
Y took a 6-7 foot fall off a small cliff following our headlamps and landed in an easy part of the river. He was soaked but relatively uninjured.
NOTE: When someone walks off a cliff by themselves, even in the dark, you need to fully stop and re-assess. We did a quick check, but decided to re-find the initial crossing. In hindsight this was a mistake. He was too far gone and couldn’t be trusted to accurately communicate his state.
We found the initial crossing and was running higher and faster. I knew I could safely cross and fix a line for others to use to safely cross. I made it over and fixed the line.
The line did not run exactly the same path as the crossing I took. The tree on Anish/Kasia/Ys side was a good anchor for me to have been belayed but not for a fixed line. Two others, an hour later, used that line safely (30 – 45 second crossing) without issue but it was not good enough for Y.
Y should not have attempted crossing, but he did. He stepped off into a waist deep section and struggled to make progress. He barely moved and this was fast running water that was extremely cold. I was in the water maybe max 1.5min. We estimate by the time Anish and Kasia pulled him out he was in there 15 minutes. He was full on hypothermic and the SOS button was hit on Kasia’s inReach mini.
They got his clothes stripped off, dried him off, put him in dry clothes and in a sleeping bag while trying to communicate with SAR. I was on the other side of the river in shouting communication with them. My inReach (66i) was at 3% battery and I turned it off, the backup charger was in Kasia’s pack.
This is where some learnings kick in. Communicating with SAR via an inReach mini is basically impossible in any reasonable time without a phone paired. You simply cannot type fast enough to get a rescue going and the information to the command center. If it’s your only option, fine, otherwise pair the phone or use a bigger inReach device. Kasia cancelled the SOS on the mini and Anish fired one off on his inReach Explore with much better typing (and predictive text).
Some things went slightly wrong here, the loop wasn’t fully closed on the inReach mini and we didn’t know they had contacted our emergency contacts back in Canada. We did not get messages from them which we could have replied by the morning with. There was some transfer between the devices as Anish’s wife got information from the inReach center after communication was going through that device.
SAR asked the right questions and the team was already doing them to get Y back to a safe state. The decision was made to not send a SAR team. This was not communicated back to me on my side of the river. I kept assuming climbers starting the route might be the SAR team, they were not and thanks for chatting with me. Big thanks to the “non-ultralight” skiers for the clif bar 🥳.
I got the accomplish one of my goals for the season of sleeping out in the wild without a tent, just didn’t think it would be 500 feet from the car when I set that goal 😅. The team on the other side of the river pitched a tent and got up around 4am.
We re-fixed the line on their side and I pulled it tight on a microtrax with a 3:1 setup with a tibloc. I managed to tell Anish to use a Munter Mule Overhand to fix the line this time so we wouldn’t have to cut the anchor material to release.
They packed up camp and made their way over to me. Anish did the crossing twice with his pack and Y’s. We made the short hop to the car and made our way to the ranger station to make sure they called off any rescue.
The inReach incident wasn’t closed out until we got into cell reception to a flurry of messages from concerned contacts. Some messages that were sent were not received and I have some following up to do here.
Carry a rope. The rope was critical. It literally saved his life. Obviously don’t hump up a 10.5mm up Mt. Si unless you are training for something, but modern 6mm rope weighs next to nothing and was more than good enough. (Edit: there is some great discussion here around ropes and water crossings)
When things are going wrong, no matter how close to “safety” you are, you give a full assessment unless you are endangering yourself by doing that. Don’t stop under a serac after a ice block hit your helmet to assess if you should still be there.
Weight matters, a lot. Body weight and gear weight. My friends shit on me all the time as a heavier person (working on it) for using the 19 gram carabiner and gucci shit. NONE of this would have happened if weight was managed better. C2C has it’s place for sure and for many Eldo is it.
Skills/Fitness matter even more. Understanding systems and solving problems is literally life and death out there, even a few feet from the trailhead. Wild.
Maybe Eldorado isn’t the best climb to build back your fitness on.
Everyone is safe. I’m super proud of my wife for how she acted in the situation and got through our first epic relatively unscathed and ready to go out again next weekend. Anish you were MVP too, glad to have been out with you on these adventures and building up to bigger ones.
Huge thanks to Tony (of https://www.legendofthedeathrace.com/ fame) and Erinn for taking Meadow on a 4 day adventure with their Vizsla complete with swimming and double Vizsla shenanigans. Thank you so much!!