Primus, Austera, Eldorado Peaks

Aaron on Austera

Primus Peak (8,508ft), Austera Peak (8,334 ft), Eldorado Peak (8,868ft)

May 19-21, 2017

Eric and Aaron

A sunny weekend was in store, and we decided to get in one last ski tour before too much snow melted out. We arrived at the North Cascades visitor center Friday morning and easily got permits to camp in the Eldorado and Klawatti zones, remote regions of the park on huge ice caps above treeline. I’ve heard it described like it looks like alaska up there and I agree.

Bushwhacking in ski boots

By 1pm we started up from the gated Cascade River Road parking lot, and were soon following the rough climbers path through the woods. There’s no official trail up to this region, but there exists a well-enough trodden route through the bush that navigation isn’t too tough.

We had decided to hike in our ski boots, which wasn’t super comfortable until we hit snowline at 4,000ft and transitioned to skinning up. We passed a 12-person NOLS group slowly postholing through the snow with massive packs, and that was the last group we would see for a while.

Clouds started descending as expected, and by 6pm we crested Roush Ridge and the plateau above us was socked in with clouds. Wanting to avoid navigating in a whiteout, we pitched camp there for the night.

Climbing up the Eldorado knife-edge ridge

It rained pretty hard for much of the night, but by morning the skies cleared, and we had clear weather the rest of the trip. We skinned up to the southeast ridge of Eldorado Peak, dropped our extra gear, and continued up towards the summit. After weaving around a few minor crevasses I ditched my skis near the top and proceeded on foot. The summit ridge was an extremely narrow knife-edge ridge, and I actually had to scoot up it like a cowboy riding a horse, but managed to tag the summit. Later in the year after it sees more traffic the route gets much easier, but I was obviously the first one up there in quite a while.

Traversing with Forbidden Peak in the background

We skied back to our gear, and continued traversing to Klawatti Col to set up camp for the night. I briefly considered climbing Klawatti that evening, but the only routes went up 5th class terrain or avy slopes, and the snow didn’t really have a chance to stabilize with such high temperatures in the day.

The next morning we rose at 5am to make progress while the snow was firm, and skinned over to Austera. We easily crossed the Klawatti-Mcallister col (which was filled with snow so did not require the usual rappel), and skinned up to the false summit of Austera.

Looking back at Eldorado

From here we traversed across the top of a corniced ridge, dropped into a col, and had a decision to make. One route to the summit ascends a narrow steep, snow-filled chimney, and the other ascends the somewhat exposed ledges on the north. We checked out the ledges, and they looked reasonable, so with a little belaying we took turns climbing to the summit.

On the way back, we realized one of the massive cornices on the ridge was actually a quadruple cornice! It was a cornice on top of a cornice four times! I’d heard of double cornices on Mt Logan, but never one like this. The area must get some crazy wind and snow.

Campsite at Klawatti Col

We skied from the summit of Austera down to 6,800ft and traversed around some cliff bands to Primus Peak. It was amazing how we descended so much that the snow changed from solid and icy to deep slush.

We easily skinned up the gentle slopes of Primus to tag our 3rd 8,000ft peak of the trip. The ski back down was amazing, but the skinning back to camp was quite difficult in the deep slush. We took down camp, then carefully skinned back to Eldorado, and skied the rest of the way back down to snowline at 4,000ft. The walk back in the woods in our ski boots was not extremely comfortable, but we made it back to the car before sunset for the end of another awesome trip.

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