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[TR] Dragontail Peak - Backbone with Fin 7/14/2013

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Trip: Dragontail Peak - Backbone with Fin


Date: 7/14/2013


Trip Report:

Talking to my buddy Todd, who just got turned around on a Slesse attempt due to shitty snow condtions, I proclaimed: "Climbing in July sucks! I am not psyched about climbing right now. Moats to fall into, shitty snow messing everything up. You need lots of snow or no snow!"


The next day. Me, having not climbed anything in a month: "I HAVE LOST ALL STREET CRED! Do you want to climb something this weekend?" Todd: "Ha, I thought you just said now is not the time to climb!" Me: "Yes...but there are things with minimal snow to get to...like Dragontail."


I know this girl and she got THREE enchantments permits in the lottery this year. I got zero. Just like I got zero last year. No matter, I don't need one. DO IT IN A DAY!


We headed up to Leavenworth Saturday afternoon. Had the willpower to only share ONE margarita during dinner, then hit the trailhead bivy at 9 PM. The alarm went off 1:15 AM Sunday morning. I turned to Todd. "You know, if we get up now, we have to SUFFER for the next 22 hours! If we just lay here and go back to sleep, we don't have to." "Is this the point where you and your boyfriend would just have sex and go back to sleep?" Todd asks. "...yes." I admit sheepishly. I missed three alpine starts last year because my boyfriend is so cute and cuddly. As a result, we no longer get to climb together because we just FAIL! But, he isn't here, so...Todd and I rally and get up and begin getting ready. Around 2 AM we hear whooping and hollering as a team of two triumphantly busts out of the woods. I know what they just did. I don't want to be them. I don't talk to them, assuming they are delirious and manic, and don't want to hear of the suffering they just endured that I am about to. We hit the trail at 2:30 AM.


Cruising up the Colchuck Lake trail I somehow get us onto a 'shortcut'. Fuck how embarassing I can't even get us to Colchuck Lake and I didn't bring a map or GPS cuz the trail is so damn easy!! Luckily Todd crosses a sketchy log over the creek and sniffs out the trail. Whew. We get to the lake and cross to the far end and peer up to the base of the route. Only a lil snow. We stash crampons and ice axes, transfer our gear into one pack, take a liter of water for each of us, and grunt up the moraine to the base of route. Todd bravely stomps across the snow. I'm a little more timid and grab my patented 'self-arrest rock', any plate-shaped rock I can find that I assume I can plunge into the snow like a dagger in the event of a fall. We begin the scramble up to the technical pitches and the comforting feel of the rock under my fingers immediately puts my pre-climb jitters at ease. We scramble a bit too far left...if you hit black lichen on the granite you've gone too far, go back right and up towards the middle till you find the well worn open book 5.6. We roped up at 7:40 AM.


Pitch 1: 5.6 Todd cruises up the 5.6 placing one piece.

Pitch 2: 5.9 Offwidth already! Time of reckoning. Todd leads it like he's sitting on the couch. "This is pretty tame" he calls out boredly as he bumps the monster cam up again and again. With his left foot in the crack and smearing with a right foot, he never has to perform any weird offwidth moves. My turn. I follow like I'm fighting for my life. I struggle, I grunt, I gasp. I begin talking to myself, being my own personal cheerleader. "THERE'S A GOOD JAM! NOW GRAB THAT! SMEAR THERE! YOU GOT THIS, KATIE!" I like to blame my flailing on my tiny foot being too small to acheive a sufficient foot jam, and not the fact that I simply suck at climbing. I carried the pack up. If you have to haul packs you need a more competent second.


Here is Todd, calm cool and collected leading the OW LIKE A BOSS:



Pitch 3: 5.8? Todd offers to let me lead it but I whine and proclaim I need to catch my breath after the OW. He leads up. Trip reports say go way left of the roof but he goes up to the very left of the roof. If you go right of the roof you must manage another 5.9 OW so don't go that way. He belays me up through a small tunnel.

Pitch 4: 5.8? Todd makes a snotty comment about this "not being a guided climb" so it is my turn to lead. I have to start off with a 30' downclimb down a finger crack which is mellow. TRs say go left and I try to go left but end up in right trending gullies. It's supposed to be 5.8 but I never found anything even 5.7. I wander around randomly until I am stymied by rope drag and belay Todd up.

Pitch 5-9: Simul-climb! I go first since I am the crappier climber. This was pretty fun scrambling often on the crest of the ridge.


Simul-climbing happiness:



Pitch: 10-11: 5.6. I climb a ramp then up to the top of a 'dirty groove'. It's dirty, full of sediment. At the top is a sloping ledge. I go to the middle of the ledge and build an anchor, but I can see I should've built it as soon as I reached it. Stay to the left on the Fin always!

Pitch 12: 5.8+ twin cracks. Todd climbs up 20’ to the twin cracks. He's up 30' before I yell at him to get a piece in so his girlfriend doesn't kill me. He prob puts in one more piece before topping out of the 80' pitch on the most awesome giant ledge ever.


Todd on pitch 12:



Pitch 13: 5.9? I think Todd avoided the 5.9 face moves by climbing the 5.8 crack left of it. A beautiful awesome finger crack pitch underneath a crazy looking roof that looks like it's glued on. The Fin is truly remarkable, one of the coolest alpine places to be.


Todd on pitch 13:



Looking back down at me, Colchuck Lake below:



Pitch 14: 5.8 Todd traverses 20 ft out right on a horizontal crack, upward on random cracks, and does some no-hands foot shuffling in another large horizontal crack. He stays to the left of the fin and runs the rope completely out till he reaches a cowboy belay, straddling the crest of the fin.

Pitch 15: 5.7 I climb up to Todd, he sends some gear down to me and swats me away. As a result I get the most beautiful exposed mini $ pitch traversing up the top of the fin! I go up and over the back side and scramble through some crap till rope drag stops me.


Right after Todd denied me the belay and made me climb on. I dumped that pack on my first piece as revenge!!



Mini $ Pitch to crest the Fin!!



Pitch 16: 4th class, although we call it 5.9 choss! Todd leads up through the most horrible gully I've ever been in, not only is it scree but the sides appear to be solid rock but crumble underneath your fingertips. You gotta scrap for that summit!


We emerge from the gully, do a 200' scramble and we are on the summit at 4:15!!! I CAN'T BELIEVE WE PULLED IT OFF! WE DIDN'T GET LOST! WE AREN'T EPICING! WE ARE NOT BIVYING ON THE ROUTE!! There were no other parties on the rock routes (I assume smart people go on Saturday) but a nice family had come up the backside. I asked them how the snow on the descent was and the girl told me "she wouldn't do it without an ice axe cuz the runout is bad!" I want to say "well guess I'M FUCKED!" but I just smile politely. The snow down wasn't bad at all although I did still carry my trusty self-arrest rock. We left the summit at 5:00 and hit the cars at 9:20 PM, still light out! <19 hours car to car! Todd got dropped off in Seattle where he is working for the week and I continued on to Portland. I stopped at a truck stop around 1:30 AM and was painfully aware that with my bloodshot eyes, messed up hair, and painful limp that all the other customers were warily thinking I was a methhead. Still amped up from the awesomeness of the day's climb, I didn't mind.


OH the summit of Dragontail never looked so SEXY!!



Gear Notes:

#0.3-4 C4s, #6 C4, with unnecessary doubles of 0.5-2 (maybe a single #2 link cam if you want). Don't bother taping up, you don't need it and it gives your climb partner an excuse to mock you incessantly.


Approach Notes:

2013 Subaru Legacy, Lil Wayne and Knife Party turned to 11

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As a result, we no longer get to climb together because we just FAIL!


Forgive me, but I think FAIL is too strong a word in this context...


Nice work on the climb. Thanks for sharing the story and pics, excellent!



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wow, great write up; very enjoyable reading! your photos have inspired me to get on that route.


and no, the truck stop customers probably didn't think you a methhead, just a truck driver.

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thumbs up, and crank it up.

Edited by pms

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Way to kill it on your first TR. Hope to read more from you.

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Great climb, one day car-to-car is the best.

Who wants to deal with red tape anyway?


Way to go!

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I am not female, ivan, but here goes. Hope its entertaining enough to be gender neutral. I was going to do Backbone in about 2004 with a partner from Bellingham. He was very late getting into Leavenworth and we sat and pondered what to do. He was going to be the leader and had a notebook on the route. He was studying it and on the side I saw a note from a female acqaintance from the previous night. "You are the most terrific lover I have ever had" Meaning the reason he was late. Great start. Plus he didn't have a permit as promised so I suggested going gangster style and telling any ranger that we were doing a "day" trip assuming no ranger was going to be up on the route. Crack of noon start. Bivvied at the base of the offwidth at which time a helicopter was evacuating some parajumpers off the top of the peak. In the middle of the night I had my head on my pack and smelled snafflehound. We went eye to eye. Literally. Two inches. Luckily I outweighed him. Or her. I didn't check. Weather went bad and we bailed. On the way down one of his buddies who supposedly had done Serpentine followed us out. He just plain disappeared around Colchuck Lk. This is an experienced climber who we just couldn't find. Yelling and looking to no avail. I can only assume a chickie was involved. Went back to the parking lot and every vehicle that anything showing had been broken into. Mine had 200K miles and nothing in because I WAS CARRYING ALL MY SHIT and know how to have a trailhead rig. So I was spared. The yups were not. Thanks for the TR and there are lots of great folks on this site.

Edited by matt_warfield

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