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[TR] Dragontail Peak - Serpentine Arete 6/20/2015

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Trip: Dragontail Peak - Serpentine Arete


Date: 6/20/2015


Trip Report:

Allie and I climbed Serpentine Arete car to car Saturday June 20th 2015. Definitely a long day!


We started out from the Stuart Lake Trailhead at 2:30am to give ourselves plenty of time and hopefully be the first party up since we had heard there was considerable danger of loose rock / rockfall on this route.


As it turned out, we thought the route's reputation for loose rock was a little bit exaggerated. I found it to be fairly average looseness for climbing in the Cascades, with only the top 1/4 of the route particularly loose. Even there, you could avoid dislodging any rocks by being careful and watching where your rope was going behind you. It's definitely a route to watch for loose rock on but not one to avoid because of it's looseness, in my opinion.


I'd seen that there was only a tiny bit of snow to cross to get onto the route in the morning by looking at photos from hikers the previous weekend. So we brought only light ice axes and no crampons to save weight in the carryover. This turned out to be the right decision. The snow was bullet hard in the morning, but you only had to go like 30 feet up the snow (see the tiny red line in the photo):




We arrived at the base of the route around 6am, and found a nice flat ledge soon as we got off the snow that was ideal for faffing and roping up:



I'm sure there's many ways to do the first part of the route but this is how we started:




Once around the bend in the above photo, the terrain forms an obvious scoop that leads you up and right towards the pillar that's described in all the beta. The terrain leads you up to the left edge of the ledge, and then you follow the ledge around to the right of the pillar where the crux crack pitch is. Allie led the crux, going up the center crack rather than the broken twin cracks on the right, and we both found it to be rather stout for a 5.8. I've definitely climbed 5.9s that were easier. Allie after leading the crux:




I led the next pitch, which I thought was more of a typical 5.8. It was super fun climbing including slabs, crack climbing, chicken heads, and liebacks. You finish this 2nd 5.8 pitch at an old piton, which I used as part of my anchor here (the angle of the three pieces wasn't nearly as obtuse as it looks in this photo):




Another party of 2 (Mark and Shannon?) caught up to us shortly after the crux pitches. They seemed to be moving considerably faster so we let them pass us.


From here, the beta we'd read had led us to believe that the rest of the climb was "4th class - 5.0, with occasional low-mid 5th steps". We found that not to be really true, with at least 4 or 5 short cruxes throughout the rest of the climb that were probably also in the 5.7-5.8 range. We did basically simul the whole way up from here, but I stopped to belay Allie in after the little cruxes as I didn't think they were really simul-appropriate terrain.


A notable one shortly after the 2 official 5.8 pitches was a ~15 ft section of layback on top of a slab that I sewed up like crazy. Another one was a ~10 ft vertical corner crack, one of the guys in the party that passed us following it here, as I wait to lead up it:




All in all, we found there to be significantly more good quality climbing at a fun challenge level on this route than we had expected based on the beta.


We summitted at 3:30pm:




The enchantment basin looks awfully barren this time of year:




Stuart standing proud as always:




We hung out with the other climbers and hikers at the Dragontail summit until about 5pm, then made our way down. The Dragontail snowfield was soft in the afternoon, crampons definitely not needed.


Dragontail snowfield on the descent:




We arrived back at the cars at 10:30pm, for a total of 20 hours car to car.


Approach notes:

Very short section of hard snow in the morning. You'll want an axe or crampons for this section, but don't need both if you are fairly comfortable on hard snow.


Gear notes:

We brought a very large rack (singles #0.2-0.4, doubles #0.5-2, one #3, a set of nuts, and 13 slings). We were happy to have this much gear because 5.8 in the alpine is about as hard as we lead, and it allowed us to sew up the hard parts. Climbers that comfortably lead harder grades could do this with a light alpine rack no problem.

Edited by ilias

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Nice work guys!


Regarding your picture of the start, I remember looking for a leftward traverse too, thinking that the corner directly above looked spooky from the ground with the thought in my head that there was some sort of 4th class ledge system I was supposed to be looking for. At any rate, I ended up going straight up the corner and found lots of edges and cracks, mild by comparison to the later 5.8 pitches and a nice warm up for the day.

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Yep that corner looked like it goes as well, for sure. That was one of the cool things about this route, getting to choose your own adventure on most of the climb.

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