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[TR] Dragontail Peak - Triple Couloirs Ski 1/6/2013


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Trip: Dragontail Peak - Triple Couloirs Ski


Date: 1/6/2013


Trip Report:

I put together a TR over on Turns All Year already, but thought I'd post one on CC.com because I like contributing content. Sunday Scott McCallister and I made a ski and snowboard descent (Scott) of the Triple Couloirs. It was a very long day. The ski Buddha Dan Helmstadter, Well Terrano and I skied the NWF variation to the TC's in March 2010. At that time, the snow was hard on the NWF and Hidden couloir. It was fun but took a lot of work. I've also always wanted to ski all three couloirs like Ross Peritore did in April 2006.


Ross's descent has always been a source of inspiration for descents in the area, albiet with heels safely locked down.


Scott and I didn't exactly get an alpine start, at 6am, so this contributed to our skiing the couloirs mostly in the dark. We were able to ski the 3rd couloir in dim light, but rapping into the top of the 2nd couloir it was dark.


Each couloir held great stable powder that was not wind affected. The step at the transition from the 2nd and 3rd couloir had some ice, but not very much yet. I wouldn't feel comfortable leading it yet, but it is forming. The step was just enough for my 60m, 6mm rope.


The skiing down the 2nd couloir was outstanding! It was by far the narrowest of the three couloirs, with a constriction that required some careful side stepping to pass through. In the dark, it was a bit unnerving to be skiing above the runnels, and it was difficult to tell how far below they were.


We made 5 rappels to get through the runnels, skis/board on packs. 3 more rappels than what Ross made. I guess it was a lot less filled in this early season. I was surprised to discover there weren't that many fixed tat or anchors in the runnels. We only found two that we used. The rest, we built using my booty gear and a number of lost arrows, and two snow bollards.


There was some ice in the runnels, but not much. It is forming though.


Skiing the Hidden couloir was a pure joy, especially with the snow quality being as it was! Towards the bottom we had to downclimb a 40' icy rock constriction, but after that the steep pow turns continued to the end!


We got out just in time as it really started dumping. This outstanding winter contiues!


Breaking out into the open.



Scott on der summit.



The entrance to the 3rd Couloir.



Scott tearing it up in the 3rd Couloir.





Taking a breather towards the bottom of the 3rd couloir.



Setting up our bollard rop into the 2nd couloir.



Part way down the runnels.



Hanging out in a protected alcove.



Safe on Aasgard Pass, brewing up for a much deserved coffee.


Edited by telemarker
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We made 5 rappels to get through the runnels, skis/board on packs. 3 more rappels than what Ross made. I guess it was a lot less filled in this early season. I was surprised to discover there weren't that many fixed tat or anchors in the runnels. We only found two that we used. The rest, we built using my booty gear and a number of lost arrows, and two snow bollards.


There was some ice in the runnels, but not much. It is forming though.


Skiing the Hidden couloir was a pure joy, especially with the snow quality being as it was! Towards the bottom we had to downclimb a 40' icy rock constriction...


This part here caused me some hyperventilation just reading it. Strong work!

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Thanks. Just to save you a click, here's the update :


This is Scott's first summit of Dragontail. He's been close, but never touched the top. We left the car at Bridge Creek CG at the late hour of 6am. It's nearly 4pm and the light is waning in the gloomy overcast.


We snap a couple shots and click into the planks to make the first couple exposed turns just below the summit to the exit notch of the Triple Couloirs. However, for us it will be our entrance notch. I look down the 3rd couloir and can't see beyond a couple hundred feet. I tell Scott it's not too late to bail on the plan and ski our line of ascent. He says he's fine with TC's, so I guess we're committed.


The 3rd couloir is in fantastic shape. All the rocks are covered, and the snow consists of stable soft powder. We make methodical turns down to the transition point of the 2nd and 3rd couloirs where there's a flat bench. Here, we talk.


It's now almost completely dark. We weigh the merits of continuing vs. booting back out and descending the safe side. There are no cracks for pro here, so we'll have to chop a snow bollard to make the rap. I ask Scott what he wants to do. He says he's good for continuing, but sounds a little more ambivalent this time. So am I. Scott mentions that he's fine with skiing in the dark. Me too, I guess. We decide to set up the rap to see if our single 60m rope will reach the snow below. We thread the rope around the bollard and I toss the ends into the misty void. I weight the bollard and descend to see the ends are just barely visible, sitting on snow of the 2nd couloir. I tell Scott that once we make this rap, we are locked in to finishing the route, since I dont have the tools to reclimb this step. Scott gives me the green light and I continue down out of sight.


As im waiting for Scott to rappel, the cycle of spindrift starts. The sound reaches us first, then a small waterfall of sugar snow that exploits every weakness in one's layering system as it flows over us. This pattern continues for the next 7 1/2 hours that we're in the dark bowels of this mountain.


Scott touches down beside me. I very slowly and carefully pull our rap rope. I give Scott a bite of it as i pull to ensure it doesn't go flying down the mountain without us. I say that I will be slowing down from here on out to make sure no mistakes are made in worried haste. Scott says he's cool with this, stating, "It's not like it's going to get any darker at this point." I could hug this guy!


Apart from a small rock constriction partway down that requires some careful side stepping, the skiing in the 2nd couloir mirrors that of the 3rd couloir. Joyous, steep powder by the small orb of a headlamp. But I know the dry runnels, steep exposed slabs of granite, loom in the blackness somewhere below us. It's impossible to tell with the misty fog that fills the air around us. Scott follows on his homemade board behind me, wielding his ice tool in front of him with both hands, like he's holding an assault weapon.


I pull up next to the rock and dig out the snow and find a good crack for a cam and lost arrow piton. I pound in the pin, and the ringing of iron tells me the placement is most likely solid. The cam is good too, though I never fully trust cam lobes against snowy rock. I equalize the gear placing more emphasis on the pin, with the cam more as a backup.


We place boards on packs and rap to a small alcove out of the way of the constant spindrift. Bad news is that there aren't any cracks worth a damn for an anchor. We decide to chop another bollard and this works swimmingly. Being 30 lbs heavier than Scott, I rappel first. I also have the all the gear with me to build each additional anchor. I slowly descend on rappel below the alcove, out of sight of Scott. The walls above the small cave are aglow in LED light from Scotts headlamp.


I am able to dig out a nice crack for a .5 first generation camalot and a large stopper, which I weld into place with my single BD Viper ice tool that I have holstered on my harness. Solid! This is going easier than expected. I call up to Scott that I'm off rappel and he's good to come on down.


Rappel #4 starts. In the dark it's impossible to estimate how many more raps will be necessary to reach the snow of the Hidden couloir. But so far, it's fine smooth and I'm confident in my ability to coax anchors in crappy rock. I can't wait to get to the bottom safe and sound. I suppress my imagination that is trying to distract me with visions of triumphantly exiting the final couloir out onto the slopes of Asgaard Pass.


I'm near the end of the rap line, knots tied into the ends of the strands, and there are no cracks available for gear. I scrape the sugar snow from the rock for what feels like hours. I'm a little nervous, but not rushed. There's boot top snow to stand on, and I have a sling brake on the rap strands so that I can remain hands free looking for pro. I move from margin to margin of the narrow snow runnel but still can't find a crack. Meanwhile, more spindrift comes streaming down over my head, one slough with enough volume to threaten my stance. I lower more and continue scraping snow off rock, and notice I'm leaving small streaks of blood on the pink granite. An inspection of my right glove reveals an exposed middle fingertip where the glove material used to be. Ive worn a hole in my glove already. The tip is red and oozing blood. It's so cold and the circumstances such that I can't feel the pain anyways. I think to myself, wow. That should hurt right now, but it doesn't. Weird. I take out my viper and continue excavating.


I concede on finding cracks and announce to Scott that we will have to build another bollard. United again, we chop a hasty bollard and thread the rope. Oh well, I tell Scott that at least we save our gear with this bollard. I'm about 40' below the snow anchor, half rapping, half downclimbing towards the steeper rock slabs when I get a feeling of sudden weightlessness. It tips me upright where I catch myself. Scott yells down that the rope had cut through the bollard, which is painfully obvious with the entire rope coiled at my feet. I tell Scott he'll have to downclimb the snow to my stance and we'll continue looking for pro.


More begging ensues as we clean snow off rock. Time ticks slowly by. It feels like this one rap is running up on the 3rd hour, and we're no closer to finding a safe solution. Maybe a bigger bollard this time. Another cycle of spindrift pounds us as we dig. I look up to see stars in the black sky.


We dig out a bollard twice the size of our previous one and again thread the rope. The snow is on a 60 degree slope, and it's only about 2' deep and mostly sugar. There is no way in helll im going to commit to it without some healthy body weight testing. I lean on the rope, and the thin 6mm line easily starts cutting through the snow. Im still jittery from the last close call, and this rap will take us over steep rock slabs, so full commitment will be required for this anchor. No go, I tell Scott. We need to scour the rock more. And I want to do it anchored with crampons, so decide to climb back up to our last gear anchor which is still accessible by steep snow climbing.


Now im getting tired. It's 9pm or thereabouts and the day's labor is catching up with me. I'm struck, however, by how unemotional Scott and I are about the present situation. We go about our tasks with a businesslike indifference. When one solution doesn't pan out, we let go and move on to the next possible option without any attention to ego. We are here, right now in the guts of Dragontail peak in the pitch black watching spindrift avalanches flow by. It's actually quite fascinating, and I think to myself that this will all be very memorable in retrospect. But for now I have to find a crack for pro. I choke down some salty food and prepare to rap again.


With Scott's crampons attached I have better purchase to dig around in the rock. I choose a semi solid slab area and start digging at a weakness with my ice tool until I've scraped a thin canal that accepts a ringing lost arrow and stopper that I again pound into the crack like a head. I weight the anchor still tied into the rap rope and bounce test it a few times. Solid! Thank God! Off rappel! C'mon down Scott.


On rappel yet again, I come across a fixed anchor 80' below. Finally! I whoop up to Scott our good fortune. I adjust the faded cordage so the stopper and solid pin are equalized better and tie in, relieved we don't have to burn more of our own gear. I still can't see how much further down the hidden couloir is. I look up. The stars are gone and it's starting to snow.


Roughly 40' down the next rap I find another fixed anchor of two inspiring pins in solid rock and newish webbing. I tell Scott we should use this anchor too, to maximize the extra length. Finally, I think, this is coming together. Though there's still a black void below us, I reason that the Hidden couloir and glory skiing can't be that much further down.


Except the next rap produces no more fixed anchors and the rope ends dangle against near vertical slabs still. Near the end of the rope I start the clearing and scraping process all over again. The rock quality seems to have worsened if that's possible. Again, I carve out a tiny seam and coax my final pieces of pro-a stopper and small lost arrow- into this horror story that is passing as granite. The piton gives no audio feedback that it is solid as I hammer it in place. It bottoms out with a useless thud. I weld the stopper in an adjacent crack with the tool's pick. On rappel still, I bounce test the anchor and it seems to hold. It's a mostly hanging belay, so I hold my breath, tie into the pieces, and call off rappel.


Scott comes down and perches on a small stance about 3' above the anchor at my request, since I don't trust the gear to tolerate the weight of both of us. I thread and toss the ends. They land on snow, and I'm reasonably assured that this is the final rap to the hidden couloir. I prepare to descend and find my ATC has disappeared. What ensues is a comical attempt by two fatigued minds trying to recall how to rap on a munter hitch. After 10 minutes of trial and much error, I say F' it and rap with the dulfersitz method. I touch down and recognize I'm indeed in the hidden couloir. No more rappels!!! I yell up to Scott, and tell him to come on down.


I've been climbing for 12 years. I learned to climb on gear first, and learned quickly how to build reliable, safe anchors. I've developed a lot of confidence in my anchors and rapped countless times without incident on cams, stoppers, pitons and V-threads. Anchor failures do occur, but not to me. Not on my watch. But you read that sometimes it happens, and that personal trust between you and the rock-a relationship you've developed over years-can be broken in an instant. It did when my anchor failed as Scott started to rappel.


I remember hearing a short yell from Scott. More out of surprise than outright panic. I remember watching his headlamp go flying past me. Out of instinct I grab the rap rope that is zipping down the 60 degree snow and see him tumble further down the couloir in strange silence. There's another 800 feet of steep, rock lined gully left to the hidden, with a small cliff at the bottom. In short, Scott is screwed.


Then the headlamp comes to a stop 60' or so below me. He's fallen easily 70' from the rock slabs to the powder snow. Scott has somehow arrested his tumbling fall and confirms that he is ok. When asked later, he says he doesn't remember how he stopped his death slide. His injury? A scratched elbow.


Without any emotional response to what just occurred, we kick steps over to a small alcove and gear up for the rest of the ski down. We're not done yet.


I make the final few turns out onto low angled Asgaard Pass, and yelp as loud as I can out of immense relief. I have my baklava over my mouth and ears, and my yell causes my ears to ring. I yank down the mask and yell again, and again, and again. Just because it feels so good.


We sit down on the snow and I sincerely apologize for the anchor failure, and feel responsible for his NDE. Scott understands, and is gracious. We just want to savor this victory. It's snowing hard now and it's closing in on midnight. We're both cold and wet, but have to just sit and wind down and just enjoy what it feels like to be on low angled terrain again and not have to worry about another rappel.


We stagger to the cars by 5am. I go to the CWH ER in Wenatchee to get my finger cleaned up, then rush off to a court hearing by 9am. My colleagues declare me a zombie and send me home where I sleep for the next 6 hours.


Scott emails me later in the day to say he tweaked his knee taking out the garbage.






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