Devo's Climbs

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Alpine Climb: Dragontail Peak, Backbone Ridge - Aug 31, 2012

On Friday August 31, 2012 Peter and I climbed Dragontail Peak via Backbone Ridge/Fin Direct.

DRAGONTAIL PEAK


We'd arrived in Leavenworth early Thursday morning hoping to score an Enchantments permit via the lottery but came up empty, so we reverted to our initial plan of climbing it from the trailhead Friday morning and bivying out of the zone south of the summit that evening. We would continue on and climb Prusik Peak via the Beckey/Davis route the next day.

THURSDAY: GEARING UP FOR THE BACKBONE


For some reason we opted for a late start, thinking it likely on a holiday weekend there would be other parties who had camped at Colchuck Friday evening and would be queued up well ahead of us, and we preferred to have some space between if such was the case. Either way, we left the TH just after 6 AM and were at the top of the moraine in 3.5 hours, with no sign of any other parties on the mountain. It turned out we would have it all to ourselves for the day.

EYE ON THE PRIZE


At 10 AM we were crossing hard snow to the base of Backbone Ridge, thankful we had aluminum 'pons strapped to our approach shoes. Several hundred feet of 3rd and 4th-class scrambling brought us to solid rock and at 11 AM we began climbing. I led the first pitch to the base of the infamous OW, though I don't think it was the standard 5.6 corner approach - I think we started a bit lower 'cause it seems I spied it to my left as I climbed by. This was to become a recurrent theme for the day, as much of the route descriptions (we'd brought both the Nelson and Kearney) didn't match a good portion of the terrain we covered. I managed to bloody my nose as well when, while climbing through a small tree on pitch one, a branch went up my left nostril - ouch!

Peter'd called the OW pitch and he sent it in good style, walking his brand new #6 Camalot in front of him for the entire upper portion. He led from the middle of the rope and hauled his pack up while I followed wearing mine. That seemed to work quite well, allowing me to push his pack up on the occasion it got stuck.

PETER GETTIN' HIS WIDE ON




Once above the OW we initially thought we might simul-climb where it seemed appropriate, but we never did - we basically pitched the whole thing out up to the Fin, swinging leads the entire way. For the first couple pitches I tried to follow Nelson's description, but soon gave up - I never could reconcile it to what we were climbing. We basically climbed mostly easy 5th with the occasional 5.7/8 move initially to the left of the crest, then on it. We did climb right next to (but not in) another OW crack - possibly the one mentioned in previous TR's and the Nelson guide, but who knows? Never did the "down and left (exposed 5.8)" maneuver described as pitch 5 and seen in photos.

CLIMBING ON UPPER BACKBONE






APPROACHING THE FIN


By 4 PM I was leading the narrow crest up the base of the Fin as described by Kearney. After this point, we didn't climb either the Nelson or Kearney routes as we had difficulties discerning the features described in the topos. I followed the lower, low-5th/4th-class ledge far to the right and set a belay on a block that had a fixed forged friend in it, then led another pitch of 5.7/8 crumbly face and crack to another ledge system directly above. Peter then led a 5.8/9 crack system on clean rock up the middle of the Fin to a blank slab just right of what I believe is the 5.7 "blocky gendarme" pitch 13 described by Nelson.

5.8 CREST TO THE FIN


P1 ON THE FIN


I THINK WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BE OVER THERE


PETER LEADS: ONWARD AND UPWARD


THIS ROCK IS GOOD!




At this point, in hindsight, we probably should have tension traversed left across the slab and gained the notch above the gendarme. Instead we set a belay on the slab and, around 7 PM, I began leading another pitch up and right through a strenuous splitter hand crack - by far the burliest pitch of the day, probably .10a.

CRANKING THE HAND CRACK


Above these difficulties I encountered a large block slung with cord and two 'biners - obviously a retreat station, but I didn't like the looks of the detached block and began searching for an alternative. Up and left, I climbed easy ground over the crest to gaze enticingly down at a massive ledge above the final gully of the Triple Couloirs. Unfortunately there was a blank, lichen-encrusted slab between me and it. I reversed direction back to the bail block, then down and right over more lichen with cracks for purchase. Time was now becoming an issue; the sun was close to setting and the wind picking up. Another thirty feet to the right and down was a dirty but climbable (5.7?) corner to easy ground, but Peter wasn't keen on following a downward traverse, so back up and left I went again to the crest and with a bit of backwards "à cheval" down the ridge line, I just managed to reach the ledge above the couloir. Peter followed, shivering from a cold belay. Not much daylight left now: on went our headlamps and off I went for the final pitch, up and over some broken blocks, then right, through a gap in the crest back onto the face of the Fin, traversing easy 5th to a final left-facing corner system I believe described by Kearney to the base of the summit scramble.

OUR ROUTE ON THE FIN


We reached the cozy summit bivy at 9 PM, settled into our bags, cooked dinner and went to bed. I "officially" summited at 7:44 AM Saturday morning, with beautiful views of Stuart, Rainier and the Enchantments.

DINNER TIME


BEST BED IN THE HOUSE


SUMMIT SHOTS




Two rappels and some scrambling took us to Aasgard Pass and on to our next objective: the South Face of Prusik Peak.

ON TO PRUSIK!



Gear Notes:
Single Camalots .4-#4, #6 for the OW; doubles from .5-#2. Full set of nuts.
Slings: 10 singles, 2 doubles, 1 Cordelette ea.
60m 9.4mm rope

Approach Notes:
Hard snow between the moraine and ridge required use of crampons. Bypassed snow on descent via two rappels below summit block.


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