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[TR] Dragontail- Backbone Ridge with Fin 9/8/2004


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Climb: Dragontail-Backbone Ridge with Fin


Date of Climb: 9/8/2004


Trip Report:


Skyclimb and I made quick work of the hike up to Colchuck Lake on Tuesday afternoon. His 8-mile/4000' hikes to his job in MRNP have made the youngster lean and fit and pretty hard for an "old-timer" such as myself to keep up with. We arrived at the lake expecting to see a whole gang of cc.comers since it was Tuesday night and I had suggested Colchuck Lake as this week's pub club location. To our surprise, there was only one guy laying out in his sleeping bag surrounded by about a dozen MSR fuel bottles and he didn't seem amused when we yelled "HORSECOCK!" at him, so I guess he wasn't a cc.comer. Worst turnout for pub club ever! Since no one showed up for the bigdrink.gif, we decided to climb Backbone Ridge the next day to salvage something from this wasted trip to the lake. We hiked to the far end of the lake and nestled into a nice sandy spot between some RV size boulders. It seemed like a nice spot, and we ate dinner and enjoyed the evening light show on the north faces of Colchuck and Dragontail. We tried to scope out our route as best we could, but ended up saying, "we'll figure it out when we get up there".


North Face of Dragontail:




Our approximate route:



We spent the night battling off an army of snaffles that seemed intent on running across our faces and sniffing our ears. Fortunately for me they seemed to like Skyclimb better, so I mostly got to laugh at all his spastic kicking and cursing.


We woke up at 4am and decided it was too damn early, so we laid around and discussed cosmology and big bang theories until after 5am. Skyclimb then broke the stove, so there would be no warm breakfast for us. We left our bivy shortly after 6am and had some wonderful sunrise views on our approach up the talus field:




The approach scrambles and traversing went quickly and easily, and before you could say, "Dude, you're leading the off-width" we were at the base of the "crux" of the route. Fortunately, a kind friend had loaned the "big green off-width machine" to me, so Skyclimb would not have to solo the wideness:



*note the bloody hand from bludgening several snaffles to death during the previous night.


Skyclimb was masterful on the offwidth. "The key is to bury your leg up to yer nutz and cam your thigh into the crack. It's like you're makin' sweet sweet love to the granite". Yeah, whatever dude:



Random nice view of Colchuck and the glacier (name?):



After the awful-width, some really nice face climbing took us to the crest of the ridge:



A bit of simulclimbing later and we were at the base of The Fin at noon. Certainly not superfast, but we thought we were doing OK. "Man, only three or four pitches and we're off this mother!" This is where things started to get more difficult. Row after row of clouds were forming off to the southwest and blowing across the summit a little faster than I would have liked. Nothing too serious, but definitely something to keep an eye on.


Skyclimb led out right on the prominent ledge system along the base of the fin:



I then climbed a shallow finger crack to the top of a large block sticking out of the amazingly smooth slabiness of face of The Fin. This block is visible in the previous picture directly above Skyclimb's head. From there, Skyclimb led up an arching-to-the-left layback flake back to the lefthand side of The Fin.


Skyclimb starting that pitch:



I then climbed a finger crack around a roof/bulge and back onto the face of The Fin following a wildly exposed traversing crack. About 30m out, I stopped at the base of a clean wide crack that led back up to the crest of The Fin. Nick led up this (we took the "Big Green Machine" out of the pack for this) and gave out a blood-curdling scream of joy upon reaching a thank-god hold after running it out past some wideness that was even too wide for the #5. I thought a stowaway snaffle in his shorts had suddenly come to life and bitten him or something. Freaky.


I joined him on the crest of The Fin and then led another airy foot traverse with no hands while placing gear at my ankles. This was the scariest "low 5th" climbing I have ever done.




Finally I reached a notch in the crest of The Fin and stepped around the corner to a ledge system. WHEW!


We then dropped down into the incredibly loose and shitty gully that makes up the top of the Triple Couliors route. I pulled a nice 50lb chunk of granite embedded in sand down onto my shin just for fun at this point. I'm glad my foot wasn't firmly planted or it probably would have broken my leg.


As we reached the top of the gully, the rain started. Skyclimb pointed at the final scramble to the summit and said, "Dude?". With rain dripping off my helmet, I replied, "fuck that, let's get out of here". Skyclimb, ever the optomist and cowboy until the end said, "DUDE!".


How could I argue? We sprinted to the summit and snapped a couple of pictures:



The rain, cold wind, the lateness of the day (6pm) and our lack of any rain shells or bivy gear gave us a great deal of motivation to get the hell out of dodge, so we ran down the descent trail, quickly strapped on our crampons and traversed across the grey ice of the ??? glacier back to terra firma. Tennis shoes and aluminum crampons were not the ideal footwear for this section, but they worked.


We descended Asgard pass, only getting off-route 7 or 8 times (stay skier's right!), picked up our stuff at Colchuck Lake, and arrived at the car after 18 hours on the go.



"Just another day in the hillz"


Gear Notes:

single set nutz, cams to BD #2, two BD #3.5, and a "big green offwidth machine" aka BD #5, single 60m rope, crampons, no axes, no bivy sax or tent, no rain gear.


Approach Notes:


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I joined him on the crest of The Fin and then led another airy foot traverse with no hands while placing gear at my ankles. This was the scariest "low 5th" climbing I have ever done.


That type of climbing sucks. I always want to do Sickle Crack as a hand traverse. There's a brief section of that stuff on NR Stuart where JayB placed a nut that took me long minutes to clean, balancing in a crouch on an inch-wide flake yarding and poking at the stupid thing... ugh.


Nice job on the climb 'n stuff. thumbs_up.gif

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Has that zig zag avoidance of the lower portion of the route become the standard way to do this climb these days?


I read an earlier route report that described the off-width as the first or second pitch of technical climbing and I wondered about this because when I climbed this route we did some tough (and not particularly aesthetic) climbing on the lower part of the ridge that you guys avoided.


From what I recall, your route looks like the way to go.

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Thanks Michael,

Nick and I were looking over at CBR and discussing your adventures over there. Congrats on that!






You know a lot better than I what the "standard" way to do Backbone is these days. I really didn't know much about the route and hadn't read much about it until Skyclimb sent me a PM and said he wanted to go do it. He and I pretty much just tried to follow the average of the Nelson and Kearney descriptions. Neither seemed perfect, but we made it to the top, so they did their job.


BTW: If you were in one of the two groups of two climbing Serpentine Arete the same day we climbed Backbone (Wednesday 9/8/04), send me a PM. I've got some pictures of you guys and I'd like to know that you made it off OK since we didn't see any fresh descent footprints.

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Fox, I asked a sincere question.


I didn't have "the book" at work yesterday, and I don't think it had been published when I climbed Backbone. Now that I look at it, I see that Nelson recommends avoiding the lower part of the ridge and, looking at Kearney's book, it looks as if he agrees. Having climbed that lower portion of the route, so do I.


With Jim Nelson recommending the avoidance, I am sure it has indeed become standard.

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I wasn't trying to be snipey, I'm sorry if you interpreted that as my tone. I know you were asking a sincere question and I gave you a sincere answer: I really don't know how most people do Backbone Ridge. I don't think it gets climbed very often. I've looked around here on cc.com and only found a couple of trip reports, and from those it sounds like they went roughly the same way Nick and I did, at least on the lower section. Route finding on this route was quite a challenge and burned a lot of time.


When you did it were you following CAG directions?

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Fox, I was referring to your "you know better than I do" remark. Anyway, Beckey was the only game in town back in the days of yore -- and he recommended a more direct approach to the lower part of the climb. Selected Climbs came out in 1993.


Your picture of the climbing up on the Fin reminded me of just how cool that upper part of the climb was. We didn't have much trouble with the route-finding up there, but I thought the lower part -- like so many other routes in the area -- had a lot of mediocre climbing on it and we did wonder if we were "on route" on some of the lower pitches.


I thought the off width was not as hard or scary as most people fear when they read "5.9 off width," do you agree? We had a #11 hex as our biggest piece, and I had to run it out a bit, but I didn't get the sense I was likely to fall out of the crack.

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While I'm certainly glad that I wasn't leading it, I found the off-width to definitely NOT be the crux of the route. I don't like OWs and was pretty scared of a "100ft long 5-6inch 5.9 crack", but it wasn't that bad for me to second. Had I been leading, I would have french-freed it and I would have cried like a baby without the #5 cam.


A "hex", what's that? yellaf.gif


We were probably off route at the time, but Nick led a really nice clean dihedral that ended at a roof. Pulling that roof was harder than 5.9 (at least mid-ten I'd say) and was the technical crux of the route for us. I have a terrible memory for climbs, but I think this dihedral started about ~120' above the OW? Nick would be able to give more detail.


The real crux was the overall length of the route (2000'), route finding, the exposure of the fin, and keeping our heads together while watching the storm clouds build and roll in from the SW.

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Great pics and TR Pax!

This is without question one of the top 5 funnest climbs I have done. The rock was great, the exposure was good, the climbing was varied, routefinding was a bitch, and commitment was high. The off-width was actually quite fun, and very secure for a wide crack, but it was nice to have the 5" to walk up. Like Pax said, the crux was improvising and figuring out a route through the fin with a storm appoaching.

Thanks for the climb Pax thumbs_up.gif

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When I did this climb I stayed to the right of the crest in the picture until the Offwidth was encountered. The climbing wasn't too bad 5.7ish. We simuled one pitch from the shrund up to the start of the hard climbing. It appeared to me that if one wanted to avoid the offwidth this would be possible on the left? In any case the offwidth adds character to the climb. We got caught in a blizzard (in May) at the start of the fin. We had to traverse left and enter the third coulier and chop steps up to the top. This was a memorable outing.


Good job Alpinefox... I will need to go back and finish this one right one of these days. I agree with the green cam... I thought the ow was tough and scary (lucky for me I didn't lead that pitch).

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I don't like "awful-widths". They make me feel like a hippo tryin' to do ballet. That's why I "let" you lead the OW pitch on NW corner of NEWS. wink.gif


We both had sleeping bags, and I had a pad, but neither of us had bivy sacks. I think if we had sacks or a tent we probably would have spent another night at the lake and hiked out in the morning. I'm pretty impressed that folks have done that route in a day from the car. I think I COULD do it, especially now that I know the route, but I don't think I would ever WANT to do it that way.

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Let me just run my last post through the old ALPINE HARDMAN TRANSLATER:


After my third or fourth climb in The Valley, I learned to cruise off-widths. They now succumb to my skill and raw power, just like all other cracks. I don't see what all the fuss is about. Those sporto-girly men and weekend warrior chuffers may not be able to limp-wrist their way up a 5" crack to save their lives, but we can hardly call them "climbers" can we?


As for bivy gear at Colchuck lake, who needs it? And sleeping bags? PLEASE! I just wore shorts and gutted a few marmots as I strolled up the trail to the lake to fashion myself a snaffle-anorak for the climb. It didn't take very long to make and I had plenty of time since the whole trip only took me 8hrs car-to-car.



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Pax is just being modest....

He wanted to do the route car to car and shit, but we figured that carrying sleeping bags and a broken stove and shit was good training for our legs bro. So we hiked up to the lake super fast, and tried to break a sweat. The rats eating at our faces all night was also super stokearific cause it was good training to grow back skin on our faces.

We would have slept at the base in the rain on our way out, cause we had no food or bivy sacks, and that shit is good training being really cold and hypothermic and shit, but Pax had a hot date with a golden retreiver in Leavenworth, and I had a manicure appointment with my hairdresser.

Easiest shit I ever done in my life....

yours truely,

bro bra wazzup.gif

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