Last May I attempted Dragontail with Laurie, Brian, and Gabriel. We didn't reach the summit, but I learned a few important lessons about physical limitations on that trip. Last year, we didn't hit snow until ascending towards Aasgard pass. This year, we hit snow 2 miles from the trailhead!
Laurie, Joe and myself left Seattle headed for Leavenworth late friday afternoon. After dinner at Gustavs, we headed out Icicle Creek rd to Bridge Creek Campground. The road to Colchuck/Stuart lake trailhead is gated here (2000ft?), and we would car camp friday night and get an early start in the morning.
Saturday morning we were walking up the road by 7:15am. We reasoned we would wear our tennis shoes for as long as we could, then switch to boots once we hit solid snow. We hit solid snow about two miles up the road, but it was still rock hard in the early morning hours, so we ended up wearing the tennies all the way to the trailhead (3400ft), where we switched to boots and stashed our tennies for the return trip.
We started up the trail at 9am. The snow was still rock hard and very slippery. I knew from previous experience and from recent trip reports that the bridge over mountaineers creek would be 'spicy', and it lived up to my expectations. We strapped on crampons for the delicate walk across; a slip here would lead to one rescue scenario I hoped to avoid. I figured coming back across would be more difficult the next day, as the snow would be soft in the afternoon - and it was, but more on that later.
Whew! One bridge down, one to go. We got a little off track because I didn't see the turnoff to Colchuck and we ended up in the meadows looking right smack at stuart (good picture ops, anyway). No harm, we backtracked until we found our way again. The second bridge wasn't quite as sketchy as the foot bed was wider, but cornices overhanging the handrail still give one pause! After one or two more routefinding trial and error puzzles we made it to Colchuck Lake with plenty of time to haul our packs up aasgard pass if we had wanted to. But, we didn't want to anymore because then we would also have to carry them back down - plus, it looked windy up there - plus, it was so nice here
We ended up walking across the lake (close to shore!!) and settting up camp at the base of Aasgard pass, between the last trees and the lake. It was only 1:30, so we spent our time building nice snow structures with seating, digging down at the lake to get water, wandering around, napping, watching another party walk across the lake, napping, etc, etc. We went to sleep around 7pm
At 5am we were cramponing our way up Aasgard pass by headlamp. After about 30 minutes, the sky had lightened enough that we didn't need them anymore. We reached the top of the pass by 6:45 and took a 30 minute break before heading to the summit of Dragontail. As we approached the col, the wind was really picking up. 25-35 mph gusts had us struggling for balance and icy spindrift pelted the exposed parts of our faces - ouch! I have a small cut on my neck where a piece of windblown ice struck! A simple but steep snowclimb from the col had us on the summit by 8:30am, with views in every direction. We all stood on the summit for pics, hoping a gust of wind wouldn't knock us down to the lake 3 thousand feet below.
We weren't ready to head back down yet, plus we wanted the slopes below aasgard to soften a bit so we could plunge step/glissade back down. We wandered over and up towards Enchantment peaks, and summited one of the lesser (8360ish) ones. This perch offered an interesting angle of Prussik peak, nearly obscured by the darker rock behind it. We gazed over at Little Annapurna, wondering if we had time to take it, but we also didn't want the slopes below aasgard to soften too much, making them prone to avalanche. We decided to head back, as we had a long way to go. We plunged stepped down the upper part from the pass and glissaded the lower section. The lower section was still pretty icy, and our path was not discernable from below - we hardly left any mark at all!!
After lazing around camp for another hour or so we packed up and headed out at 1pm. This time we spread out and walked right across the middle of the lake with snowshoes on. I stopped a few times for pictures, but I really wanted to get to the other end as quickly as possible. 18 minutes seemed like an eternity to me, but I also kind of enjoyed the perspective and uninhibited views from out there. Not something you get to do everyday!! We wore our snowshoes for most of the descent, but took them off once we reached the bridge at mountaineer creek. It had melted a bit, looked really thin in places and was dripping water. Someone had postholed through the middle of it, and none of us wanted to cross it. But we had to get across somehow, but how??
We walked downstream less than a quarter mile and found a less menacing looking snow crossing that we improved with the shovel a bit. Once on the other side, we met up with the trail just a few yards uphill. Once we reached the trailhead, we picked up our tennies, but left our boots and snowshoes on for as long as possible to avoid having to carry them. After the loooooong roadwalk (it always seems to double on the way out), we made it back to the car at 6pm.
What a great weekend! I wore a t-shirt, shorts, puffy coat, snowshoes, and crampons all on the same weekend (but not all at the same time)
I've been waiting for this one. Nice photos of the Upper Enchantments from Dragontail. A very different appearance from October larch time. Glad to see you had success this year. How much of that "just kidding" terrain did you climb?
I'm kicking myself for not having taken you up on the offer.
-------------- "There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences." -P.J. O'Rourke
"Ignorance is natural. Stupidity takes commitment." -Solomon Short
and to see a snowy dicey report not related to one of the "it's dumping" threads - who would'a thought. Nice views you have there Sure beats my weekend view across a coffee table pearched high atop Mt. Sofa
I don't remember seeing quite as much blue in your pics from last year's early season trips. Congrats on a successful trip and thanks for the great report. Now if we can just take care of those pesky moats...
-------------- "The first time I display the slightest hint of hyperbole, you should just blow me away and burn my corpse at the end of a logging road."
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