Gettin' some Tail (Dragontail and SE Dragontail); 6-20-09
Trip overview: Crew:Schmidt Alti-Babe, yukon222, GeoTom, Soapy Maps:Green Trails #209s The Enchantments and a couple TOPO! creations
Access: Highway 2 > Icicle Road > Eightmile Road
Trails/Route: Lake Stuart #1599 > Colchuck Lake #1599.1 > Aasgard Pass
Mileage: ~15 total (Based on guidebook info, GPS might differ)
Elevation Gain: ~6,200 with the ups and downs. (Based on guidebook info, altimeter log might differ)
Summits:Dragontail Peak (8,840), SE Dragontail Peak (8,760)
I had originally hoped to head up into this area last weekend before permits were required and ascend Dragontail and possibly one or more other peaks in the area. However, the weather forecast called for thunderstorms so we cancelled the trip. Wildernessed managed to get in and out before the weather moved in, and provided some good info for this weekend.
All week I sat at my desk anxiously waiting for the latest forecast on the NWS website. The pinpoint forecast was clicked many times in various locations in hopes that the forecast would improve. By Thursday night it looked acceptable. Then Friday morning I woke up to discover that it had deteriorated. During the day Friday it improved slightly, then stabilized. A flurry of emails took a drive on the information superhighway and eventually we all agreed to just go for it, with a backup plan or two in place should the actual weather make a turn for the worse.
A few minutes past their expected pickup time of 5:23 pm, yukon and the Alti-Babe arrived to pick me up. The drive over Stevens Pass went smoothly, and we arrived in Leavenworth with plenty of time to spare for a nice dinner and finding a spot to set up the tents and get some needed sleep.
Morning came and I had to put my contacts in to believe what I was seeing: Clear skies! We packed up and drove the short distance to the trailhead. I was ready to go before Alti-Babe and yukon (about the only time I was ahead of them all day), so I went to the trailhead register and filled out the day use permit. I briefly chatted with one guy who was headed up to Colchuck Balanced Rock. I asked him nicely not to trundle it into Colchuck Lake.
We had originally planned to ride some quads up the trail to the Stuart Lake/Colchuck Lake junction, but the trailhead bulletin board said that they weren't allowed, so we started out on foot. The trail was entirely snow free to Colchuck Lake, where we took a nice break in the sun and had a snack. The way around the south end of Colchuck Lake to the base of Aasgard Pass went smoothly, with only a couple minor snow patches. It was at this point that the first clouds appeared above the Colchuck Col. The skies were still mostly clear, so we continued our ascent.
Having been denied our quad ride at the beginning of the trip, we were hoping that Alti-Babe could put her horse riding skills to use and find a couple goats to take us up Aasgard Pass. None were to be found though, so we started the steep ascent on foot. The route was mostly snow free. One large snow patch was still fairly hard as we crossed over it, but it could have been avoided quite easily. We eventually reached the top of Aasgard Pass, and took a break so I could recover.
With the Snow Creek Glacier route in view, we stopped at the edge of the rocks to put on crampons. The snow was soft enough that we probably could have gone without them, but not so soft that it was balling up. I had some fit issues at first, and yukon and Alti-Babe pulled ahead further than they normally would have. With my crampons adjusted correctly, I managed to close some of the gap and got within shouting distance of them. Near the ~8,500' saddle we saw a group of 3 climbers descending from Dragontail as well as the goat vwe had intended to ride up Aasgard Pass. Even though yukon and I egged her on, Alti-Babe refused to jump on the goat, even for a photo.
Crampons came off at this point, and we walked the last 300 feet to the summit. The sky was overcast, and the top of Stuart was obscured (sorry iron), but we could see most of the Enchantment Basin and surrounding peaks as well as the Teanaway area peaks. We saw a group headed over from Pandora's Box and met a solo climber on the summit. He recognized Soapy from my summit shots, and introduced himself as raising2hikers. He had made a quick ascent of Colchuck and traverse over to Dragontail. Usually I am recognized because of Jasper dog, but this was the first time I was recognized because of my slightly smaller partner. We enjoyed the views on the summit and took a nice relaxing break chatting with each other and the Mounties group that arrived shortly after us.
Refreshed, rehydrated and ready to descend, we were dismayed to find out that wilderness regulations prohibited us from using our hang gliders. Instead of carrying them all the way back down with us, we pushed them off the north side of the peak and hoped they would end up near Colchcuk Lake so we could grab them on our way back. If not, they would at least make an interesting geocache.
We got back to the saddle to find our goat friend still waiting for someone to pee. Alti-Babe and yukon wanted to head over to Southeast Dragontail Peak and possibly loop out that way. I was having some stomach issues and was thinking about glissading back to Aasgard Pass and waiting for them there, but they berated me for not being tough enough and to take it like a man. What else could I do but follow them? Besides, yukon had the car keys.
The traverse over to SE Dragontail went quicker than I expected, and soon enough we were at a point ~10 feet shy of the summit. Yukon was able to reach for a hand and foot hold and get to the top. Being in the 5'-5" and under club, Alti-Babe was not able to reach the holds, but yukon managed to hoist her up enough so she could finish the last bit on her own. While I am too tall for the club, I was still unable to reach the hold without a little assistance from above. I was worried about yukon's ability to hoist me as I am significantly more, um, stout, than the Alti-Babe, but he is stronger than he looks and soon enough we were all on the top, peering down at Witches Tower below.
We descended the few feet to solid ground, and decided against looping out by Little Annapurna and the upper Enchantments but instead retraced our steps to the saddle and glissaded to Aasgard Pass. One earlier glissade track stopped at a large exposed rock, so we made a new track that avoided the rock. For only the second time all day I was in the lead, but that changed after the glissade. The descent down Aasgard Pass and around Colchuck Lake went well, and a last break was taken before the slog back to the trailhead.
On our crossing of Mountaineer Creek we encountered some gang activity, but avoided any confrontation by flashing the sekrit NWHikers gang signs:
As noted by others, the trail seemed to grow by a couple miles on the way out. A similar thing happened to Highway 2, but eventually we pulled down my street and they were nice enough to slow down to under 5 mph as they kicked me out. Sleep came quickly after a shower that Dani encouraged me to take.
Joined: 13 Jun 2004 Posts: 2328 | TRs | Pics Location: Seattle, WA
Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:27 am
Dangit! So the weather didn't squash your plans...sigh...I guess I have to say, "good job" then.
Nice write-up GT, as always, it made me laugh. I especially liked the fact that out of all three -- errr four -- of you, Soapy was the one who got recognized. Of course this must be due to his reckless behavior. I bet he was hanging off the side of some rock with hundreds of feet of air below him when he was spotted by raising2hikers.
Thanks for writing up the TR, Tom! It was a very fun trip - worthwhile to break up the driving a bit by driving over to the Icicle Friday night and getting an early start when the weather was crystal clear.
I'll post my set of pictures tonight. Similar but different than yours.
Very nice TR and pics Good job on also getting to the top of the SE peak, it looked like a tough climb. Also, it was very nice to meet the 3 of you at no better place than the summit of a nice, scenic peak.
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