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Katinka
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PostTue Jul 18, 2017 10:05 am 
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MY STORY:
I'm an acrophobic mountain climber.  The too-narrow semicircular canals in my inner ear cause me vertigo (false sense of things/self moving) when I'm faced with a lack of visual information about which way is up. 

In other words, exposure scares the sh*t out of me. 

For example, the rock ledges on Mount Pugh scared the sh*t out of me.

So why would I want to climb Eldorado?

photo by Stephen Matera
photo by Stephen Matera

Why do any of us climb?  When lowland-lovers ask us, we can offer no good reason.  There's that sense of obstacles overcome, of battling inner demons, of pure freedom looking out from a summit.  None of these translate well to someone asking why we'd want to nearly kill ourselves to climb a damn mountain.  "Because it's there!" is the way we've ended the conversation - but a more accurate answer might be "to know I'm alive."

Myself, I'm a long-sober drunk who continues to chip away at inner fears that once rendered me unable to face the world without booze.  Anxiety and panic used to rule my life; today, I take no meds. 

So my answer to "why climb when you're scared of heights?" might be that with every summit or major trek I pull off - including Pugh and a solo Wonderland - fear loses its grip on me one increment further.  Day-to-day life becomes a piece of cake.

So... I decided I want to walk that knife-edge ridge atop Eldo - which we attempted last weekend. 

Two weeks prior to the climb I started balance exercises twice a day, closing my eyes while attempting to stand on one foot.  At first, I'd fall after 0.5 seconds.  By the end, I could make it for 15.  And I decided that was good enough.

The TRIP:
Eldorado is WAY harder than I thought, way harder than our leader's description - "it's a tough climb" - had prepared me for.  We weighed packs at the trailhead.  Mine was just short of 40lbs.  In the blazing July sun, I ditched my soft shell pants to bring it down a bit.  My friend K did likewise with her polar fleece and rain pants.  MISTAKES!!

1Trailhead start
1Trailhead start

Back down the road about 100 feet from the parking lot, we cross Eldorado Creek on a huge fallen tree.  Sweet! (Narrow logs I cannot do...)

Almost immediately after, the way turns steep and stays steep.  Rooty, rocky, and dusty, the trail is often about 3 feet from your nose, but small trees and branches offer handholds.

First break
First break

Normally, I'm happy to come out of the trees, but on Eldo, you do so by entering a boulder field.  Climbing these suckers with 39lbs on your back is murder.  My legs felt tired after the first hundred feet of gain - and, come to find out, we had about 1,900 more to go...

Boulder 1
Boulder 1
Boulder 2
Boulder 2
Boulder break
Boulder break
Boulders some more
Boulders some more

When you've been doing this for longer than you'd have believed possible, the route crosses Eldorado creek - which is gorgeous!  See K crossing it.

creek
creek

After that, this being mid-July, we got about 10 minutes of luscious and flower-strewn alpine meadows before we hit snow.

alpine meadows
alpine meadows

We ascended the Eldo creek headwaters, then crossed over the ridge to our left to reach the Roush Creek headwaters below the Eldorado Glacier.

Eldo creek headwaters
Eldo creek headwaters
Entering eldo creek basin
Entering eldo creek basin
Eldo to Roush over ridge
Eldo to Roush over ridge
Down to Roush snowfields
Down to Roush snowfields
Descending gully
Descending gully

Once we'd all hopped down onto the snow, we climbed about 200' before hitting the glacier (I'm not sure what demarcates that transition) and, because two in our party were students enrolled in the OSAT Glacier Climbing Course and needed to do this climb by the book, roped and cramponed up for glacial travel.  (Don't quote me, but neither was necessary.)

Snowfield (Roush side)
Snowfield (Roush side)
Roping up for Eldo glacier
Roping up for Eldo glacier
Eldo - a look back
Eldo - a look back

I was reminded that the thing with glaciers is, you see the ridge easy a couple hundred feet up... but as you get closer, another ridge appears a few hundred feet HIGHER.  By this time I was tired enough to fall for this "false ridge hope" phenomenon at least 3 times before what revealed itself above was... the peak itself.

Eldo some more
Eldo some more

Do you see those cute little clouds up there at the top of the ridge?  So fluffy and harmless?

WRONG.  Weather turned once we crossed to Inspiration Glacier around 5:30pm.  We went from tank top temps to freezing our *sses off in no time.

Over the ridge onto Inspiration - weather approaching
Over the ridge onto Inspiration - weather approaching
Crossing Inspiration to camp - last rays of sun!
Crossing Inspiration to camp - last rays of sun!
From full sun to cold & dark w strong wind - in minutes!
From full sun to cold & dark w strong wind - in minutes!

The wind picked up to 20-25mph - and we were in shorts!  One of our party developed hypothermia just like that!  When we reached the rock promontory of camp we put him in a sleeping bag where he suffered cramps while his tent mate set up.  Here I am with my tent mates freezing before we got the tent up. I also cramped a bit.

Someone loaned me rainpants that allowed me to exist up there by layering them over my longjohns + leggings. But the jacket I had brought was Frogg Toggs Tyvek and proved just about worthless.

At camp & freezing!
At camp & freezing!

So... now there are no photos for a while.  We stayed in the tent from about 6 until we finished melting water around 10 and went to sleep.  We planned on a 5:00 AM start. 

I was stoked.  I was gonna do this thing.  The summit was only 1 hour above us.

BUT... we woke to whiteout and 25 mph winds, with frost all over the tent.  I crossed over to talk to Ray, who was leading us, and we pushed back departure to 6:00.  By the time I got back to the tent, I was freezing again from the wind.

But as it grew lighter, the whiteout did not lift.  We had at most 150' visibility. 

Six o'clock rolled around and I had to decide.  Ray was going up for the sake of the students.  If they didn't summit Eldo, they'd lose their shot Rainier the following week.  Jenebi agreed to go with him.

So I had to think.

The whiteout would actually decrease the intensity of my acrophobia, but that would be a false confidence, because my balance would be worse in the wind. I'd not brought a decent windbreaker, which would make for 2 hours of freezing hell.  All to see nothing.

I decided not to go.  Wah-wah.   frown.gif

Moraine Lake from camp
Moraine Lake from camp
Sad about whiteout and wind...
Sad about whiteout and wind...

I've since experienced many waves of regret, but overall, passing on the summit was the right choice for me at that time.  My friend K, who likewise passed, and I promised each other we'd try it again next summer.  And we will.

Here is a photo Jenebi took at the summit.  Not exactly stunning...


Here's the team returning to camp:

Summiters' return
Summiters' return
Greeting summiters - our 3-girl tent to right on dirt
Greeting summiters - our 3-girl tent to right on dirt
Summiters debrief2
Summiters debrief2

Then we packed up and started down:

descending into clouds
descending into clouds
Descent chain
Descent chain
Me - Back up the gully
Me - Back up the gully

The sun came out once we reached the Eldorado Creek snowfield, so my friends and I pulled some more bikini top shenanigans.  We're just exhibitionists, I guess...

Snowfield bikini babes
Snowfield bikini babes
snowfield babes 2
snowfield babes 2

and soon enough we were back at the cars.

Road to cars
Road to cars

So... I wimped out.  I guess what I'm proud of is the fact that I got myself to a point where I knew I *could* summit that thing, but weighing hazard, suffering, and reward, chose to wait for a day when I'll experience in full that moment of terrified triumph - that I'm still hungry for.

(Photos by all of us)

(Here's some video I took learning to use a Gopro)


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mountainsandsound
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PostTue Jul 18, 2017 12:44 pm 
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Good story, thanks for writing it up.  I can relate to your last sentence.  Those summits that you don't make, not because you couldn't but because the motivation wasn't there or because of some misjudgement, those are hard.  But they keep you hungry.

You guys hauled some heavy packs up there!  If fast and light is appealing, Eldorado is fairly doable in a day with the right level of fitness.
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kettster
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PostTue Jul 18, 2017 1:58 pm 
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If conditions weren't jiving I'd much rather chill with bikini babes than push forward!  No shame in knowing your limits.
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Katinka
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PostTue Jul 18, 2017 2:10 pm 
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Mountainsandsound: Thanks!  I'll lobby for a day hike next year, but my friend is skeptical.  We met folks at 11:00 halfway up the Eldo glacier, who had slept at the TH and started out at 4:00AM.  That'd be the way to do it!

Kettster: Thanks!
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Yet
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PostWed Jul 19, 2017 6:03 am 
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Katinka, it takes a lot of courage to make the right decision for yourself.
Great trip!  up.gif
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Forum Index > Trip Reports > Acrophobic's Eldorado Attempt Foiled - 7/15-16/17
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