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[TR] Dragontail- Serpentine Arete 5/29/2005


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Climb: Dragontail-Serpentine Arete


Date of Climb: 5/29/2005


Trip Report:

I think I posted this in the wrong place before. Sorry about that. Should have pics should in a few days.


Dragontail Peak May 28-29

Serpentine Ridge with Kirk Knight


Kirk and I decided to climb Serpentine ridge on Dragontail this past Sunday, May 29. Neither of us have any experience with alpine routes of that caliber so we decided to leave early Saturday for Leavenworth, do some light cragging to warm up, and then to hike into Colchuck Lake Saturday afternoon. I arrived at Kirk’s around 7 on Saturday and off we went.


After stopping at the Sultan Bakery on the way, we hit Leavenworth mid morning and quickly found our way to Givler’s crack. We practiced short roped simul-climbing and running belays on the way up, taking the time to make clear to each other how we planned on doings things. It was a great way to prepare—mentally and physically- for the next day.


We started hiking for Colchuck Lake around 3 and again took our time on the way up. Every time Dragontail showed herself we stopped to look for the route. I’d drawn a topo from Nelson’s book and made some notes- drawing topos helps me to visualize the route—and wanted to compare what we were seeing with what I’d prepared for. I was quickly intimidated. Besides the fact that pictures and words can’t prepare for the impact of visually looking up at Dragontail, I was surprised to see that much of the lower route still had snow. I’d thought that the warm spell from the previous days would have gotten rid of the recent snowfall. I was wrong. The closer we got the more we saw that much of upper route was dotted with snow as well. Although we each had an ice axe, and I had crampons, I wasn’t mentally prepared for encountering snow. By the time we pitched our tent on the south side of the lake at 5700’, I was beginning to question whether or not the route was in the condition I wanted it to be in. It was 7:30.


I didn’t sleep well. Because the tent was small and the weather mild I slept outside. The stars were out. The night was beautiful. I was comfortable atop the boulder we’d chosen. But every time I opened my eyes to appreciate the moment I saw from their corner a long, steep, snow speckled ridge.


Our 4:45 alarm awakened me from a light sleep. I didn’t give myself time to think about my uncertainties and instead quickly jumped into the routine of getting my pack and gear together. We were taking a 60 m rope, 8 cams, a set of nuts, 8 slings- 4 single 4 triple—roughly 20 standard and 4 locking carabiners, and our respective belay devices. We each had 2 liters of water, food and clothing. It was warm so we went light on the latter. As for snow equipment, we each carried an ice axe and our big boots for the snow we were sure to encounter. I packed my crampons. As an after thought I threw my bivy sack and lightweight tarp in the bottom of my bag. We left our tent shortly after 5 and arrived at the rock platform beneath the start of the route around 6.


Being up close to something I’ve wanted to do for so long did nothing to relieve my anxieties. The class 3-4 slabs that make up the depression between the Serpentine and Backbone ridges were covered in snow. Kirk and I talked briefly. We agreed that if we weren’t happy with where we were by 2:00 we would bail. I told him I was nervous. He calmly replied that we should take one pitch at a time and see what happens. While he was flaking the rope I took a moment to gather myself. I‘d read a book recently that spoke of recognizing your fears without trying to suppress them. I focused on doing that. In the process I made a clear decision—silently and to myself. I’d allow the day to unfold and to climb with my fear instead of climbing in fear of how it might unfold. I was worried about climbing snowy slabs. I was worried about the snow covered ledge next to the prominent pillar we were aiming for. I was worried about if and how the snow would affect the pitches up higher that we were planning to simul-climb. I was worried about snow stability and whether or not crampons would be necessary. Yet the simple thought I’d had and decision I’d made relaxed me. It was 6:30 am.


The first pitch was the standard leftward tending pitch described in all the route descriptions I’ve read. I was wearing my big boots at first, thinking that I’d soon encounter snow, but the rock was damp and my skills not great enough so I quickly changed to rock shoes. I set up belay just beneath the snow and quickly brought up Kirk. On the next pitch I skirted the snow’s edge, avoiding it as though touching it would cause an instant fall, and was pushed to the right. I never encountered the sandy ledges and larch trees about which Becky speaks. I had instead a fun and steady mix of low to mid 5th class moves broken by periodic post holing in the dreaded snow. Post-holing in rock shoes was actually a good thing- my fear slowly began to dissipate.


I eventually worked my way back to the left of the prominent pillar described by Nelson and Becky. On the pitch beneath it I started up on a move, hesitated, and replanted my feet. As I started again Kirk yelled “Snow!” and I quickly hugged the wall. A large ball of snow came whizzing down past where I had just been. Strangely, I felt emboldened by the near miss. Kirk was looking out for me. I wasn’t alone.


Rope drag kept me from the reaching the ledge by the pillar. I brought Kirk up to where I hung from protection and he quickly popped up to the ledge for a look. To our delight there was a foot wide clearance in front of the sloping and slick snow. Kirk quickly walked across and set up belay to the right of the pillar. Things were looking up. For the first time I noticed how beautiful the day was. There wasn’t a breath of wind. I was wearing a capilene silk weight t-short and schoeller pants without being the least bit cold. Or hot. There wasn’t a cloud anywhere. I remember looking at my watch but I don’t remember what time it was. All I remember is that I liked what I saw. Life was good.


The crack formed by the right hand side of the pillar had continuous water flowing down it so I moved to the small cracks on the right without hesitation. These were hero cracks, and I set up the next belay feeling strong and happy. The sun had risen over the summit and was beginning to heat things up. Several more pitches of mid 5th class (including one with a BEAUTIFUL hand crack) brought us to just below the ridge crest. The time was about 2:00.


“What do you think Kirk? How do you feel?”

“I feel great. What about you?”

“A little tired, but pretty good.”

“On it is, then” we both said together.


We had a short lunch and refilled our water bottles from some run-off to our right. We shortened our rope until there was about 30’-40’ between us and set off simul-climbing. We moved pretty efficiently. I’d place protection intermittently and Kirk would clean as he moved past. Occasionally I’d build a quick anchor and ask for a belay; other times Kirk would rap the rope around a horn or offer a hip belay. He took care of the rope while I took care of the route.


As we got in the groove of short-roping, clouds moved in to cool things off. We couldn’t have asked for better temperatures. I never had to remove or add a layer. We did, however, start to hear thunder. Around 3:00 we both noticed that rain clouds were amassing around us. They appeared far off, and we felt lucky, but the sound of thunder nevertheless motivated us to move quickly.


We agreed that traversing around summit rather than climbing the final 5.7 pitch would be quicker, so we decided that we’d switch into our boots if enough snow blocked our way. This happened about a rope length beneath the summit. We boot packed up to the summit block in soft but firm snow. Once there, I down climbed a short snow gully on belay, and with axe in hand traversed around to the east. I rapped the rope around a horn and brought Kirk to where I was. A short boot pack and one or two rock steps brought us to the summit. It was 5:30 pm.


We felt great. Wonderful views were the dessert to the 11 hours of fantastic climbing we’d just had. We felt especially lucky about the weather. We saw rain in all directions except where we happened to be. After a short moment of appreciating the moment we started our descent.


I won’t go into the details of our descent, except to say that they include waiting out a thunder and rain storm underneath the tarp I’d causually thrown into my pack, and searching for our granite colored tent. We arrived at camp around 7:30pm, 14 ½ hours after we set out.

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Excellent work on the route! We were up there attempting the NBC on Colchuck on Friday, and were just missed by a wet slide. Serpintine surely looked more interesting in its current conditions than later in the summer, and a lot of shit was falling off thumbs_up.gif

Luckily on Sunday, we got off the condorphamine addiction thumbs_up.gif early, and were tent bound during the hail storm. What was that like up there??? hellno3d.gif

p.s. that huge ass track down the colchuck glacier was ours rockband.gif

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The hail was pretty intense. We were getting soaked and and pelted. the thunder was loud. Everything was coming down so har that it got to the point where we talked about the possibility of staying put for the night. Neither of us wanted that, especially since we knew that we had only a couple of hours of easy travel to our tent. I actually liked the experience. I need every chance I can to learn patience.

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