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goatboy

[TR] Dragontail Peak- Backbone Ridge

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Climb: Dragontail Peak-Backbone Ridge

 

Date of Climb: 9/2/2006

 

Trip Report:

Three quotes by local guidebook authors resonate in my head as I pack gear for my Dragontail trip:

 

Kearney : "Backbone Ridge is unique as Cascade climbs go because it has a very sustained crack pitch instead of an odd hard move here and there."

 

Beckey: "The route's 21 pitches will possibly force a bivouac...some parties have found easier ways to climb the Fin. Other parties have largely avoided it."

 

Nelson: "The Backbone Ridge on Dragontail is easier to get to than to climb...competent route finding and the ability to travel light and fast are necessary to avoid a bivy on this route."

 

Wondering what my future holds in store for me, I stuff crampons and a #5 camalot into my pack and head to Leavenworth Thursday night...

 

Fri AM: First in line for permit. Get the only remaining Colchuck Permit. Hooah.

 

Meet partner, Robes, who has driven all the way from Klamath Falls to be a ropegun...

 

298Robes_face_resized.jpg

Robes indicating the size of our largest Camalot hauled up the hill...

 

A leisurely 2.5 hour hike brought us up to Colchuck Lake

 

298Robes_Lake_resized.jpg

 

We made camp at the far end of the lake in a lovely spot nestled between boulders, and caught this look at the peak as the sun set:

 

298Dragontail_annotated.jpg

 

Sat : Wakeup at 4 AM for coffee and off by 5:20 or so. Crampons helped us crunch across the moderate snow to gain the scrambling on loose ledges, eventually finding our way to the 5.6 corner, which would prove to barely warm us up for the off-width lurking just above:

 

298First_pitch_retouched.JPG The 5.6 first pitch corner

 

A short jaunt around the corner revealed the O-W (ow!) but it turned out to be much more straightforward than we feared. It was useful to have the 4.5 and the 5, though the climbing was largely secure and even enjoyable. Here's Robes topping out on the OW and preparing to haul the packs:

 

298Atop_OW.JPG "I might be crazy but I like the in-secur-ity!"

 

Much has been written about the OW. All I have to add is that it was easier than I expected and more secure than I had heard it is.

 

Soon, we were following the ridgecrest and occasionally veering off to either side on much easier, mostly solid rock:

 

298Robes_pitch_3.JPG

 

Upon reaching easier terrain, simul-climbing took us quickly to the base of the Fin, where we saw this snow feature we called "the Fertile Crescent":

 

298Fertile_Crescent.JPG

 

Turning back towards Colchuck, we noticed this strange phallic spire sticking out of the margin of the glacier:

 

298Glacier_Phallus.JPG

 

It was 12:25 and we had our hands on the still-shadowed lower reaches of the Fin...we knew this was where other parties have encountered route-finding challenges and we took way too long reading through route-descriptions and trying to match the features we could see with the written descriptions. Nothing really seemed to make sense or jump out at us, so we decided to simply climb and re-assess at each new belay...anyway, here's the approximate route we ended up finally following:

 

298Fin_Retouched.JPG

 

I lead the first pitch up into the loose rock of the lower fin, almost to the first big ledge, and then Robes took us up to the first main ledge where the first red dot is located on the route overlay - and where the rock changes from crumbly white rock to steep, shining clean granite. From this point, face climbing to obvious clean cracks lead upward into the sun to the next big ledge:

 

298Robes_Fin.JPG

 

298Robes_Fin_2.JPG

 

Robes blasted off leading the next two pitches, taking us up a steep variation (felt like 5.9+) around a flake off the left ridge crest and back onto the face of the Fin again to a belay. From here, it was up and diagonally all the way across and off the Fin via a 70 meter pitch (full 60-M rope plus a little simul-climbing at the end). This was the "handrail" pitch, and yielded striking climbing:

 

298Steve_on_Fin.JPG

 

From this point, we simul-climbed on the back side of the Fin above the lingering ice of the Third Couloir before popping back out into the sun of the NW side, soon arriving on talus leading to the summit ridge...

 

We made it to the top around 5 PM I think. After enjoying the summit for all-too-brief of a time, we made our way down to the Snow Creek Glacier where, again, crampons were useful crunching down the icy slopes:

 

298Robes_descent.JPG

 

The slog down Ass-neck Pass went fairly quickly, and soon we were back at the Lake campsite:

 

298Reflection.JPG

 

We had dinner and watched several headlamped parties making their way down Aasgard and the Colchuck Glacier...

 

Sun Morning Coffee and sunrise

 

298Reflection_2.JPG

 

Heading down to town, we meet my wife Tee-Wa and enjoyed a huge margarita at the mexican place in Leavenworth:

 

298Margarita_.JPG

 

Reflecting on my concerns about the climb and the quotes that precede this TR, I would say that this climb is a legitimate Grade IV, never too technically hard but demanding the need to keep moving smoothly over 2000 feet of climbing. The nature of the route, for us, required many more belayed pitches than the neighboring Serpenting Arete warrants.

 

Having said that, climbing standards seem to have changed a bit since Beckey's quote and two other parties started behind us on the route and all made it off without a bivy. In fact, a party of three left the car at 9 and passed us on the route! They gathered speed as they moved up the ridge, leading me to wonder if they had roller-blades on at once point. Perhaps the advent of large cams allows parties to move more quickly on the otherwise time-consuming wide-crack sections???

 

I highly recommend the route and would definitely want to have the #5 on any future attempts on this route as well.

 

Thanks to Robes for leading many of the vibracious pitches and for a GREAT trip in the mountains. Thanks to the Off-Width Gods for not swallowing us whole!

 

Gear Notes:

1 60-Meter Rope

A few Stoppers

Cams from small aliens to #5 Camalot, including one 4.5 (with doubles from .5 to 2)

Crampons

No ice ax needed

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Great TR and pictures. That shot of Colchuck Lake at the end of the day is beautiful! Nice to see that someone else besides me isn't a car-to-car fiend. yellaf.gif

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Thanks! I may be many things...but I'm no longer a car-to-car fiend. On the other hand, I do like Margaritas...

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yes, the third-to-last photo is marvelous ... looks like a beautiful trip, it's on the top of my list, but probably somewhat above my ability ...

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Great TR and photos. I agree on the car to car crap....The purpose of the climb is to enjoy! As soon as I can find a partner willing to do the 5.9 stuff I doing this one.

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Thanks everyone for your kind words about the photos and TR.

 

I have been playing with some photo editing software and put together this annotated panorama of the Enchantments. Please offer feedback if any of my labels are inaccurate!

 

298Enchantment_Pan_annotated.JPG

 

I am curious about the large peak between Prusik and Enchantment on my image. Anyone? Thanks! wave.gif

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I think the peak in mention is three musketeers or something.

 

I was one of the two behind you on the fin wave.gif Great route, soooo much better than serpentine. We did bivy, although intentionally. Three of my most rad days in the alpine ever! We woke up sunday and headed to stuwie through colchuck and argonaut col and shot up the lower half of the n. ridge and spent the night there. Woke up to lightning and rain and went for it with no water and one candy bar cantfocus.gif one hour to the gendarme and 3 total to the summit. Back to l-w00d for pizza and beers. bigdrink.gif

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It's funny on most of the TR's I've read about this route, no one ever mentions the undercling moves of the last pitch of the fin as described in the Nelson guide as pitch 12. It's the only way I've been up the fin (4 times), exactly as described, with the undercling pitch mostly lichenated with clean spots for your feet only, then a long traverse right to the finishing loose gully. The rule for the fin seems to be there are tons of variations for this feature that work.

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Nice work, er play. Glad you could enjoy the mountains and the margaritas in style. bigdrink.gif

 

I can't speak for others, but when my lovely wife is generously watching the kids while I play Sylvester Stallone in the mountains it's not about car-to-car so much as diaper-duty to diaper-duty...so she can get her turn to play Steph Davis... wink.gif

 

Hopefully the kids will get there too someday.

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It's funny on most of the TR's I've read about this route, no one ever mentions the undercling moves of the last pitch of the fin as described in the Nelson guide as pitch 12. It's the only way I've been up the fin (4 times), exactly as described, with the undercling pitch mostly lichenated with clean spots for your feet only, then a long traverse right to the finishing loose gully. The rule for the fin seems to be there are tons of variations for this feature that work.

 

Using the route overlay I drew, can you describe where the undercling goes? Must be to the right somewhere of where we were....

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Here are a few pics that may help:

 

1280anotated.JPG

 

Here's a pic of Ade Miller cruising the last pitch. the sharp fin of rock in the foreground is the aforementioned undercling. the pitch continues up and left up a low angled ramp.

1280ade1rsz.JPG

 

The pitch ends between two pillars, and from Ade's vantage point, you can look down onto triple couloir's final 3rd couloir looking over Ade's left shoulder.

1280ade2rsz.JPG

 

Kyle Flick finishing up the traverse over to the scruffy gulley leading to the final easy slabs to the summit.

1280ade3rsz.JPG

Edited by telemarker

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