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[TR] Dragontail Peak - Triple Couloirs 04/30/2017

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Trip: Dragontail Peak - Triple Couloirs

Trip Date: 04/30/2017

Trip Report:

The start of the spring alpine season has me thinking back to last year when I climbed the Triple Couloirs route.  I had a blast climbing this route, for sure the best day I had out that season.  I thought others might enjoy hearing about my adventure and perhaps find some of the tactics I used to go fast on the approach and route helpful for their own adventures, should we see a repeat of those perfect conditions again this year.

With a young family and 9-5 job, I don't have much time for alpine climbing, and not much tolerance for risk either.  And so I find myself doing less and less climbing and doing more trail running.  It is just easier to slip out at nap time or after the kids are asleep and run around in the mountains for a couple hours.  But, still a climber at heart, I keep a tick list of dream routes and make it a habit to monitor conditions throughout the season, 'just in case'.  And so it was that, on the train to work one rainy April morning, I came across a great TR about a team who had third-classed the Triple Couloirs.  I figured it would be out of condition before I found time to climb it but nevertheless, started checking weather forecasts for Leavenworth and formulating a plan.

The following Saturday I'd hoped to ski up Baker with a buddy but the weather was terrible so we decided to postpone the trip.  Then at nap time I checked the forecast for Leavenworth again and, to my surprise, Sunday looked really good.  With the blessing of my better half, I packed up some gear and, after dinner, headed south in the driving rain.  The plan was simple: Bivy, run the approach with a light pack, climb the route, run the descent, get back to Vancouver in time for dinner.  But would it work?

The skies cleared as I descended down towards Leavenworth and I had a nice, albeit short, bivy in the car.  Awake and brewing coffee by 3:00am, I left the car just after 3:30am with trail running shoes on my feet and a very light pack.  My pack contained boots (the original and still awesome LaSportiva Trango Ice), Grivel G20 crampons, Nomic ice tools (not the best choice for a route like this but it's all I've got), helmet, extra clothes, food, water, and some emergency gear (including inreach).  Going superlight allowed me to run most of the approach.  Normally for winter soloing I like to carry a rope and light rack so that I can bail if an ice tool or crampon breaks.  For this route I chose to leave this stuff behind because the route looked to be in easy condition, down-climbable should equipment issues arise.  I promised myself I would abort the climb if I came across unexpectedly difficult terrain.  

The road section of the approach, from the gate at the highway to the summer trailhead, passed easily at a light jog.  About halfway up the road I passed a cougar sitting beside the road.  This was my first encounter with such a big cat and, alone in the pre-dawn darkness, I was a bit spooked.  I walked a good ways until I was sure I wasn't being followed, looking over my shoulder every five seconds and wondering how quickly I could get my trusty Nomics off my pack should I need them for self-defence.

From the summer trailhead, the route up to Colchuck Lake was well packed and easy to follow.  I arrived at Colchuk Lake faster than expected, around 2:30 after leaving the highway.  The route looked absolutely incredible!


At the end of the lake I geared up for the climb and stashed my running shoes and poles under a tree.  Traveling on firm snow, the climbing above the lake was fun and easy. At the first couloir I met a team of climbers who had put in a nice boot pack up to that point.  I continued up to the narrows, which would be the 'go/no go' point of my climb.  Conditions in the narrows were as expected - firm snow and bits of ice, just a joy to climb.  And so I continued upward and on into the second and then third couloirs. 


I didn't climb particularly quickly, it was just too much fun to rush through, plus it's not a place you'd want to take a tumble.  But with a light pack and no gear to place the terrain passed by quickly and all too soon I was climbing out of the third couloir and into the sun.  I reached the summit just a hair under the five hour mark.


I could have spent the rest of the day napping on the summit under the warm sun but the plan was to be home to help with dinner so after a few minutes it was time to get moving again.  The descent looked straightforward and indeed it was.  Thirty minutes after leaving the summit I was back at the lake, chatting with a fellow Canadian on his own solo adventure.  Above us I could see two teams on the Triple Couloirs.  We were all enjoying a perfect day in the mountains.  I changed back into running shoes, added microspikes for the descent, and bid adieu to Dragontail Peak.


The descent back to the car made for a fun trail run.  I passed some skiers partway down who were slowed by the icy conditions on the trail.  For sure trail runners and microspikes were the fastest (and most fun?) way to travel on that terrain.  Below the summer trailhead hikers were heading up the road in shorts and t-shirts under the warm mid-morning sun.  The alpine world I had just left already felt like a distant memory.  Was it just a dream?

I arrived back at the car at 11:00am for a round-trip time of 7 hours 26 minutes.  It had been an incredible morning of trail running and climbing.  No suffering, nothing particularly risky, just uninterrupted flow in the mountains.  After a sandwich and espresso in town, I hit the road back up to Vancouver, arriving home just in time for dinner.





Gear Notes:
Small pack with just the essentials

Approach Notes:
Bare ground and packed snow. Trail runners ideal, better to carry the mtn boots in the pack.
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Great TR, thanks for the retro post. It's a good note for the folks with the early season TR's from this route that it tends to get better on into the spring. Your solo time on this beggars the imagination of old fogeys such as myself who might have made a 3 day outing out of something like this, sounds like an awesome day.


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That is an incredible time @mike_1, and so casual sounding! In a (half) day sounds like a lot of fun.  I need to go back when I don't have to walk the road to the TH.  Plus, I had to bypass the runnels as they were too thin.  Thanks for the reminder to return!

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