Trip: Dragontail Peak - North East Couloir Trip Date: 11/23/2019 Trip Report:
I got out for a stellar day with Kyle and Daniel on Saturday (November 23, 2019). Following a few weeks of mostly high pressure and moderate temps, but with a storm front moving in, we were curious about conditions in the Stuart Range. Kyle brought this route to my attention, as I hadn't even heard of it. We found a TR on here from November 2008 and this inspired us to go give it a look.
Be sure to check the trip from Kyles perspective at https://climberkyle.com/2019/11/23/dragontail-peak-ne-couloir-wi2-m5-r/
After leaving the trailhead around 5 am, we found more snow on the surrounding peaks than expected, which was promising considering the lack of recent precip, except for a day or two the week leading up to this. We knew the weather was supposed to deteriorate and winds were supposed to pick up throughout the day so we hurried to Aasgard Pass. We switched to boots and crampons where the creek down the pass was frozen and flooded over the boulders. At around 8 we started soloing up easy little water ice flows toward the base of the couloir.
At the base of the couloir, we could see the first dry section that leads into the couloir and it didn't look too hard. We opted to rack up but solo up it. It was a tad techy so I fixed a cordelette as a hand line in a few spots for extra security. Above this, we were on variable steep snow. Throughout the couloir, we found everything from thigh-deep wallowing, to firm neve front pointing. About a third of the way up the couloir, there was a steep/overhung chockstone with a thin ice/snow flow on the right. I led up and over this with some mediocre gear (a tied off 10cm screw and a cam lower). Above this, we soloed a bunch more steep snow until our gully ran out of snow and we did a pitch traversing 30ft right over rock slabs to a different snowy gully. Now we were approaching the top of the couloir and it was starting to open up and become drier.
Just 2 more pitches took us to the top but, wow, they were seriously full-on. The first pitch was a series of near-vertical granite steps with steep snow in between. This was perhaps the technical crux as there were quite a few delicate moves but also some dark brown ice that took good sticks, as well as generally good gear. I belayed off a horn, looking up at the last pitch, which appeared to be 100% dry. I was tempted to ditch the crampons but kept them on since the only bomber feet I had gotten on the entire last pitch were in the few small patches of ice and I was still hopeful that there would be ice above that I couldn't see. Once Kyle and Daniel got to me, I mentally prepared to take the sharp end for hopefully the last time of the day. There had been a lot hard and sketchy climbing already, and the hardest/scariest was still yet to come. I started up the pitch, immediately finding that the rock quality was deteriorating. I was mostly climbing with both my axes racked since the rock was so bad. It seemed like the majority of holds could be pulled off and gear was sparse. When I finally got good gear halfway up the pitch I yelled "take" and sat back for a sec to breath.
I took a few photos, looking both up and down. From then on, I didn't get another piece of gear. Eventually, I could see the ridgeline 20ft above me and was eager to get there. All that stood in my way was a steep kitty litter chimney, devoid of any gear of course. At this point, I had my gloves off since I was just rock climbing with crampons and its nice to be able to feel all the holds that will inevitably crumble in your hands. I started up the chimney, with my pack pressed against the right wall, my crampons finding edges in the left wall, my arms finding chicken wings and armbars, and cursing like a sailor. Thankfully my gopro had already died. I wouldn't mind forgetting this pitch. Down below, Kyle and Daniel were experiencing a constant flow of gravel filling their hoods. I remember throwing one hand up over the ridge onto a jug and letting out a sigh of relief before mantling up and finding an extra bomber belay.
The wind up here was absolutely ripping and I got cold quickly while belaying. I was wearing all my clothes and had sweated a bit on the previous lead. The forecasted winds (60mph) had arrived and there were now intermittent clouds, but the sky was still mostly clear. Our weather window was certainly closing. Kyle and Daniel enjoyed the pitch far more than I did and both arrived at the belay with big grins, especially since they could climb near each other and watch all the holds break off. Since I was cold and antsy to move I let them break down the belay and sort out the ropes while I looked for the "traverse to the notch."
I found it, but accessing the notch looked just a bit spicy. I wanted to solo it but realized I was just cold and anxious to get down and out of the blasting wind and gravel so I lead it with one rope and gave each of them a terrain belay up to the rap station where a single 60m rap got us out of the wind and to a point which we could walk from. We were out of the wind and off the technical terrain. It was a big relief for me. However, the light was fading and Aasgard pass is never fun to head down. There was a set of tracks up to the summit proper of Dragontail which we followed downhill and down the pass.
As the light faded I snagged a photo of the route from across the pass. It looked pretty impressive, I was briefly proud but mostly humbled. We talked briefly about the climb. Perhaps there were mistakes. It would have been possible to bail down the route once we saw how dry the upper pitch was. I was enticed to just climb it since the ridge was practically 80 or 100ft away and bailing down the route would have meant leaving gear and taken a lot of time. Hard choices. Of course, you will never know exactly how it will be until you're in the thick of it, but perhaps we/I made too bold of a choice and got lucky (on the other hand, down climbing the snow would have also been tricky). Food for thought for anyone who has made it this far through the trip report. I try to stay safe and climb hard, but its a tricky balance.
Anyway, we got back to the car around 8 pm and headed to McDonald's. All in all, it was a very fun day with 3 competent 22-23yr old Washington born and raised climbers. And for anyone curious about this route right now, I would steer clear!
In the coming days, I'll post some first-person climbing video on my insta @porter.mcmichael
First, a photo of the route, taken on the descent.
Looking up at Dtail
Still on Asgard
Dry pitch to access the couloir
Fun steep snow!
Chockstone in the middle of the couloir
Looking down on the last pitch (I think)
Looking up in the middle of the last pitch
From the ridge looking down the chimney
Looking North from near the top
Kyle on the last pitch
Daniel on the last pitch
Down the rap
3 screws (placed 2), 4 pins and a bulldog (surprisingly didn't place any), nuts (placed a few), cams .2-2, some doubles in the smaller sizes (placed them all), 60m doubles. Approach Notes:
On your right, halfway up Asgard, hard to miss it. The slabby approach pitch is the first obvious way to access the gully (farthest climbers right)