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mr.radon

[TR] Dragontail - - Backbone 8/21/2004

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Climb: Dragontail - -Backbone

 

Date of Climb: 8/21/2004

 

Trip Report:

We make a noisy entrance into the parking lot waking a few people sleeping in bivy's next to their cars Friday night. As soon as I park I realize I've forgotten one nice to have item: my HEADLAMP! I didn't remember to grab it out of the upstairs coat closet before we left, argh! jdog and I waste no time setting up our bivy's. We are both excited about the climb, while at Safeway I anticipated how hard it would be to fall asleep with such a big climb ahead of us so I bought two 24.5 oz. Foster beers to aid in this department. In hind sight we really should not have drank those beers.

 

8-21-04 Climb Dragontail

Around 3 AM jdog is telling me to get up. I telling him to bugger off till I remember we are here to climb. Drinking that beer was not a good idea at all, I feel queasy. We eat and pack as quickly as we can. jdog and I then go through all our gear, leaving some items in my trunk. We take my small cams and nuts, his large cams, all my slings and quickdraws (7 total). We decide to split the team gear and are soon repacked and off for a nice day climbing. The plan is to be up and off before the weather system moves through. The weather report predicted a strong storm front to be moving through Seattle later in the day. We hoped it’s arrival will be delayed since we are far East of Seattle. I’m ready a few minutes before jdog and make an attempt to fall asleep in the driver’s seat. jdog ruined my plans before I could even realize them.

Hitting the trailhead at 4:15 we make excellent time, even with me needing to follow jdog closely due to my headlamp mistake. However, creek crossings are tricky since I couldn't follow very well jumping rocks; jdog crossed and then light the way for me. About half way to Colchuck Lake we pass two climbers heading for the Serpentine Ridge, a slightly easier route then ours going up Dragontail. They are far behind when we reach the lake. I don't recall the lake being so large, getting to the other side is a long trek. We pass our former camp site from many Easter’s in the past. At the far end of the lake we take a break. Preparing for the climb we throw everything we don’t need for the climb into jdog’s pack which he leaves hangs in a nearby tree while I load our down jackets, single headlamp, food, rope and crampons into my backpack. jdog carries the climbing rack; I really got the short end of the stick with this deal as my backpack out-weighs the rack!

From the lake we ascend the scree/moraine field between Colchuck Peak and Dragontail. jdog and I climbed Colchuck Glacier around Easter in 2000 with Shawn. That climb was much easier since these nasty & loose rocks were covered with snow and ice. These loose rocks are horrible today! jdog is a bit ahead of me, partly because he took off earlier and partly because I was still feeling the unwanted side effects of the beer. I was hoping the feeling would get better.

To get to the start of the climb you have two options. Climb high and cross the steep icy glacier or hug the edge of the rock face where the glacier has formed a moat avoiding the glacier crossing and a possible slip/fall. We descend around the icy glacier and follow the moat. Above a particularly hard moat corner jdog waits for me.

This particular moat follows a bend in the rock wall. I couldn't figure out how jdog swung around it. I climb up on the rock face and try to swing around but lose my footing and fall several feet into the moat. My right foot hits a small rock rolling my very tender right ankle. I yelp in pain quickly followed with profuse cursing. I throw the pack off my shoulders as jdog yells down, "Did you hurt yourself?" I yell up, "(@)% YES!" He says he is going to climb down and check me out. I nurse the ankle, gently moving it and try to put weight on it; I cry a little. Ever since the last major sprain when I tore ligaments the ankle has been very unstable. In this case I rolled it pretty good but since the ligaments are gone there is nothing left to tear. After the initial pain wave is gone I can again bear weight, I can tough it out. I'm pretty pissed at myself and the ankle situation, I hate being limited by injuries. Before jdog can down climb I manage to get around the corner on a second try.

From here we can now access the ascent gully. This gully is a choss pile waiting for careless climbers to slip. The fifth class scrambling to the base of the climb is invigorating. By the time I get to swing the pack off my back I breathing pretty hard and sweating. Leaning against the pack I look up at the face thinking what have I gotten myself into today? At the start of the first pitch (5.6) I throw gear out of the pack and jdog lays down the gear sling. I pick up the gear sling and now know why jdog was able to move so fast. jdog hoists the back pack and notices the discrepancy, thankfully he offers to carry the pack on the descent, A big smile forms on my face.

I decide to start up the first pitch. I want to be up front with jdog that I don’t want to lead any hard pitches today. I’ll grab all the easy ones but my ankle is bothering me and beer is still swilling around my gut. The first pitch is fun. I work my way up quickly but safely even though the rout finding is not straight forward. The route description is horrible, not detailed at all. The terrain is forgiving though and I manage to get to a nice belay station as jdog yells 10' of rope left. I set a belay quickly and jdog is soon standing next to me. From here the crux is plain to see, a horrible looking 6" off-width.

Off-width is called that since it is too big for a fist jam, to small for a body jam, just the wrong size for any good jams.

jdog pulls out the large cam we've borrowed from Rudy just to protect this pitch. He leads off while I watch. I take a few photos of him as he heads up. It looks like a lot of work. Slowly he makes his way up the pitch. At the end he puts me on belay. I've got the pack so it might be a little harder but at least I didn't have to lead this pitch. I move my camera bag to the other side of my harness since it looked like jdog used his body to shimmy up part of the pitch. I get up a few feet when I get to the blue Camalot. I give it a big tug and then use it to yard (aid) my way up the first third of the crack. After this the going gets much, much harder. The blue cam is too small to be of further use so I have to figure out something different. I can get my left leg into the off-width and jam it in, but there is little in there to step on. I get my ankles scraped up, my knees are toast too. At least with a leg jammed in it will be hard to fall out. I make progress ever so slowly like jdog. The last third is interesting as the crack gets narrower. I reach jdog's perch and look back in amazement. What a lead he had. I'm exhausted and tell jdog he has to lead the next pitch. He takes off and belays me to him. Here we re-read the route description, the next pitch should be a 5.7 which transitions into low fifth class climbing to the Fin.

I take the lead and find a nice 5.7/5.8 crack. Really good climbing for about 40'. Here I encounter an un-expected off-width that the guide says to avoid, 5.9. I get into it and try to place a cam, but the placement sucks. I remove the cam and gut it out. The large cams are in the pack by jdog's feet, worthless to me. I run out the rope on this off-width reaching the top I happily calm my nerves by placing a solid cam. I then have the guts to look down at the fall I could have taken, wow! I finish the pitch but find no gully. jdog reaches me and leapfrogs over me. We have to hurry up, we can see the cloud corer getting thicker and more ominous looking. It’s going to be a close call with Mother Nature today. jdog quickly reaches the low fifth class scrabble, we double up the rope and simo climb. We make fast but sure footed progress up the ledge systems to the base of the fin. We continue up the ledges till we are at the middle of the Fin. We set up a belay and jdog gets ready to climb again. We reread both route descriptions and debate about our current location on the sketch of the route we have. jdog looks and then decides we are in the right spot. He launches himself up the face to a supposed 5.9 crack. This one is much easier then the off width but we are still encountering some loose rocks and crumbly holds. I follow and reach jdog's gear belay in a crack. He takes off again doing the nice layback described in our guide. I have fun on this section, convinced that we only have one more easy pitch to get off this rock. Now the weather is moving in, the clouds are thick and overhead, Mount Stuart is getting pounded already; I’m getting very cold every time we stop. A little bit of rain starts to fall, thankfully not enough to wet the rock yet. At every belay I’m freezing, I haven’t brought enough cloths and NO rain gear. jdog climbs another lead almost toping out. He can't finish the pitch with our 50M rope. He sets up a hanging belay off a large flake no more then 20' from the Fin's crest. I reach jdog's nice perch and we talk about the situation. I looked over the remaining section from below and now that I am next to jdog I find it even more undesirarble. I apologize and tell him I can't climb that. jdog sucks it up like a real trooper and racks up. I throw a cam into the crack and make myself safe as we switch roles. A hanging belay is a bit more complicated to swap roles. I put jdog on belay and he unties and leads the last pitch. 10' up I see he’s into the difficult section. He manages to get a cam in but then has to hang off of it. I’m really glad I didn’t lead that pitch now. I have to admit, jdog doesn't give up easily. He attacks the crux again and manages to somehow mantel over the crux and get a piece of pro in. He quickly tops out and starts to curse loudly. From what I can gather we are off route, this isn’t the way to the ledge system and the summit. jdog says he’s standing on top of the Fin looking down at an overhang to the ledge below. He can safely make it there with me lowering him but there is no safe way for me to get there! jdog and I need to decide what to do. It’s now clearly obvious the notch to my left is the correct finish on the Fin. However, to get to the notch from my belay station there is an impossible traverse.

jdog and I talk about our options, we review them and decide to execute. I can't find a flaw in his plans. We decide to leave some gear on this one. jdog places a nut and lowers off of it to retrieve the cams he placed to protect his climb to the top of the Fin. I then keep him nice and tight as he climbs back up to the Fin's crest. Then I lower him to the ledges below on the other side of the Fin and he climbs up to the notch to my left. After a few minutes I can see his head poke out just about 20' away. He sets up a belay and unties from the rope. He pulls in about 30' of slack and then throws me the coil. I easily catch the rope and tie into it. So now I'm hanging off the belay via locking carabineers and am tied into both ends of the rope. I lock off the section I just tied into as a back up and carefully review the plan before I unrope.

I untie the rope that follows the route jdog took to the Fin's crest. I yell to jdog and he pulls up the slack. Of course the last 20' of rope has to get stuck. jdog puts me on belay with the rope he threw to me from the notch. I take the hanging belay apart and lower a few feet to the stuck cam. There I add a quickdraw and tie off. I'm thinking I can tension across, but NO that will not work. I remove the quickdraw and climb higher. I grab a good two finger hold with my right hand and lock on, I have no feet and the rope is at a 45 degree angle from the notch. I don't like swinging on a 9mm rope over sharp rocks. I look down at my feet and can't help but notice the void down there. I swing the left foot wide trying to find a hold and with the left hand I feel around but find nothing but smooth granite. I reach for a small ledge but it's also a worthless hold. Finally my two finger grip gives out, I rapidly swing below the notch right into the crack. My right fingers that held me so long hurt, I'm sure I removed at least a layer of skin. I quickly ascend the crack to the notch greeting jdog with a big grin. Off!

I look at the route, wow! From here there is a nice ledge. jdog takes off, unsticks the rope and ties back into the end. I hear a rock falling down the Triple Couloirs route, however, it sounds a little different. jdog yells that he dropped his belay device. I think, “Hope he knows the Munter hitch still.” jdog continues along the ledge to a belay spot. I follow jdog and notice he does remember the correct belay knot. I leap frog around a corner back to the other side of the Fin. Now there is easy scrambling to the summit. I set up a quick belay off a single cam and bring jdog to me. Together carrying the rope we scramble to the summit.

By now the summit is enveloped in clouds and it starts to rain hard. I quickly grab my down jacket and put it on, I've been freezing at every belay and my body aches from the ankle pain, the bruises and the scraps. jdog and I take our first chance to eat something since our modest breakfast. I finish off my apple juice, I'm glad I filled up with apple juice today instead of water as the sugars have given me plenty of energy. My emotions are swinging. A half hour ago I was hearing church bells ringing in the valley below, harbingers of doom. There were no bells, but I heard them non-the-less. We did it but we still need to get off this peak. I’m tired, I’m a little sore, I’m invigorated by the summit rocks, I’m worried about the descent, I’m proud of the feat.

jdog and I think about the next few steps. We get a little testy. I pack the gear into my pack for the descent, being done first, jdog is still coiling the rope; I wanted to carry the rope over my shoulder but he taking extra time to coil it to carry as a backpack. I tell him to stop, I’d finish the coil, he can take off with the pack and I’ll soon follow. Instead he tells me to take off. Hun? I carry the backpack? I also have no clue as to the descent path, especially in the fog; jdog’s been up here before.

I cool my heels till jdog finishes coiling the rope, a nice job of it too. I wear it like a back pack and follow jdog. The first attempt ends at steep cliffs so we skirt right to an obvious descent trail leading to a small Col. Here we see the reason for the crampons and ice axe, an icy glacier now stands between us and the trail back to Colchuck Lake via Aasgard Pass. I have crampons, jdog doesn’t We start down some old steps in the snow, any fall here will send you down the icy glacier into a rocky rubble pile. After a few feet the path becomes very icy forcing us to reconsider out exit plans. I put on my crampons and laced them tight to my tennis shoes. I trail the climbing rope behind me to a rocky island in the middle of the glacier. I take off the crampons and tied them to the rope. jdog pulls the rope up to him retrieving the crampons. While I wait for jdog to get to me I find a small rock cave made by three large flat boulders, open on the right and left. I crawled inside to get out of the rain and wind. I finally get warmed up again, however, I hear constant rock fall behind me. I figured I'll be quit safe in my little hideout. jdog climbs down to me, to save time I tell him to keep going; I'll pull the crampons up rather switch here.

As we discuss the route a volleyball sized rock comes hurtling towards us. I can hear it getting close and before I can react it slams into the rock I’m leaning against, the concussion felt throughout my body. A wave of fear sweeps over me as I realized that 12" separated me from instant dismemberment. I leave the cave and find better protecting behind a very large boulder. Here in the rain I wait for my turn to with the crampons. When I do get them back jdog is off the ice. Since I didn't have to give them back I leave them on and descended straight down the glacier avoiding further travel on the loose scree as jdog has to do. It’s a lot easier to walk down the icy slope then that loose rock pile.

After the glacier descent we met up again. In twenty minutes we reach the lake at Aasgard Pass, a very windy and wet experience. From the pass we find a faint trail leading to Colchuck basin. Following this trail proves to be difficult. Never having been on it we have no clue where it goes. Right left, and DOWN. The trail for most parts is good but it keeps disappearing. Near bottom and after a gorgeous sunset the trail stopped right above some cliffs. Frantically searching we finally find the trail by traversing way right. Once down I gaze back to where we had cliffed out, very steep! Glad we found the right trail before sunset! I hurry my way to the lake wanting to be off the boulders by the time it’s dark. I didn't have a head lamp so I have extra motivation. We made it!

When we arrived at the place jdog ditched his backpack and take a long deserved break. The hike back to the car is long, with many more uphill sections then I remembered from the hike in. Fortunately the rain had stopped half way down Aasgard Pass. The last mile to the car is most painful. I twisted the sore right ankle three more times heading out, every step is one more then I want to take. We just kept going till we see the trailhead sign; RELEIF!

To tired to drive home we lay out or bivy bags again. I fall asleep immediately but soon the heavy rains come. I wake to find my head soaked, I slid further into the bivy and closed the clam shell over my head. I neglect to remember my cloths, stuffed into a black bag used as a pillow, were still in the rain.

 

8-22-04 Return home

By morning the bag is soaked, however, fortunately for me the clothes inside are amazingly dry. Nice since these are the only cloths I brought. Packing the car we run into the climbers who reached the summit first via the Serpentine Route. Yesterday we had also seen a second party on that route, they had not yet come out. Speaking with these climbers we told them we took pictures of them on route. They mentioned they had some of us so we agreed to trade via e-mail.

We head off to Leavenworth to get some grub. I ordered a full meal; (2) eggs, big pile of hash browns, and 2 slices of toast with one large waffle. jdog also ate about as much. I spent the drive home reflecting on our climb.

 

Post Climb Thoughts

I gave a lot of thought to some things:

Racing weather SUCKS

Racing weather without weather gear SUCKS

Racing weather knowing you can’t go down without going up SUCKS

No helmet (me)

No rain gear (me)

No long pants (me)

No headlamp (me)

No crampons (jdog)

We did fine but we would have had a hard time explaining our lack of gear to a rescuer. That made me think about some of the risks we took. However, we proved: climb light, success is guaranteed; bring bivy gear, you will bivy.

 

Out of all the alpine rock climbs I've ever done this was the most enjoyable. Enjoyable being directly proportional to the amount of adrenaline dumped into my system. The route had everything and threw everything at us it could. We suffered through it all. The route deserves its Grade IV+ rating, I'm glad I've got it under my belt now. We both agree we made a few mistakes, especially with the gear we didn’t bring. But most importantly we made clear headed decisions when it counted. I’d like to drop by someday and do the Triple Couloirs Route or the Serpentine route. Sooner then later.

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. However, we proved: climb light, success is guaranteed;

 

Serious advice...

 

Seems to me you proved "climb dumb and you'll generally get away with it." The Fin is the last place you would want a wet & hypothermic or injured climbing partner. With a "strong" system moving in that day and a general sense of how long you expected to be on route the first thing in your pack should have been raingear. Learn to climb smart and the lightness will follow....

 

Other than that thumbs_up.gif that was a shitty day around these parts

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I did that route the Thursday before and encountered a deluge with pounding hail at the very same spot on the last crack pitch of the fin! Imagine that! It was about 1:30 PM. It was way too slick to make the friction move to the notch so I built a belay at at fixed yellow cam and brought up my partner. From there We lassoed a big horn at the notch with a bight of rope and my partner pulled himself up and belayed me while I did the same. We where soaked to the bone! It was kind of scary, sudden rain and hail out of nowhere.

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I was sleeping in my tent at the top of Asgaard pass when it hit.

 

I tried to solo the walkup on Dragontail earlier that day, but I didn't like the glacier. Too manky. I saw a party of 4 coming down the glacier after I got back to camp. I'm assuming they had done a more difficult route. BTW - I hope you appreciated the steps I chopped.

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. However, we proved: climb light, success is guaranteed;

 

Serious advice...

 

Seems to me you proved "climb dumb and you'll generally get away with it." The Fin is the last place you would want a wet & hypothermic or injured climbing partner. With a "strong" system moving in that day and a general sense of how long you expected to be on route the first thing in your pack should have been raingear. Learn to climb smart and the lightness will follow....

 

Other than that thumbs_up.gif that was a shitty day around these parts

The success quote was tounge in cheek. I admit we would have had a hard time explaining my lack of gear if came to that. But something has to be said on a 21 pitch route, every ounce is going to hold you up a little. With the leader able to blaze ahead without carrying that second pack we made good time. I couldn't see adding more gear to the pack we had. I did have a good down jacket that warmed me up at the summit but no bivy gear. I could have tuffed out a night up there but it would not have been fun.

 

We saw no steps cut in the glacier. Make them bigger next time.

 

Glad we were not the only ones to get held up there. Hail, ouch. :-(

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FYI: With no rain gear your "good down jacket" would have been useless after about 10 minutes of any time in the weather up there.

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Oh c'mon all the cool Japanese kids wear down jackets walking around on Robson Street in the November rains. So they MUSt work.

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Mr. Radon & JDog --

 

Ryland and I were the party you passed on the hike in. We arrived behind a party on Serpentine Arete, who were likely the ones you speak of summiting Dragontail. I was about a third of the way up the route, sitting on a ledge, looking at the weather, contemplating the fact that above that point (the tree line) the only way down was to go up when a sudden gale of cold wind and a few rain drops hit me -- I took it as a sign, listened to intuition, and we decided to bail. The rain hit with force soon after we reached the base of the climb and were making our way down the scree. For us, it was the right decision -- climbing in the rain is never appealing, nor is a bivy without proper gear (a helmet, rain shell, and helmet only go so far) in the freezing rain throughout the night. I was hoping you two were out of harm's way when I looked up and saw the entire top third of the mountain engulfed by weather! Glad you made it out okay. Impressive work and determination -- that's one hell of a long day!

 

thumbs_up.gif

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jkrueger: I got a few pics of you guys standing on that ledge. We were a bit worried about your status. Glad to know you made it out fine, smart choice.

And for info on my down jacket; I did wear it in the rain on the descent. No loss in warmth my body stayed dry. I don't know what is on the shell but it was still dry when I got too warm near Aasgard pass and took it off. I figure if wind blown rain can't get the down wet it would have been perfect in a slightly sheltered forced bivy.

It kept me drier and warmer then my old rain shell would have. Last time I was out in the rain with it the "Gore-Tex" wetted out like a cotton shirt. I need a new one.

Short of a snow storm we were going to be fine. Heck we could have aided the entire Fin using a cam if it had started to rain earlier.

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