Mountain, 12,324 ft
East Ridge, Class 5.2, ~
7 miles, ~2850 ft, April 20th 2006 (Jared & Brian Hynek)
After reading a trip
report on a skiing
site that mentioned that The Dragon's Tail couloir on Flattop was in
condition I decided to go try to climb the thing. A frequent
climbing partner of mine, Brian Hynek, enjoys snow climbs and decided
to join me on this outing. I met Brian at his house in
at 5:30 in the morning, April 20th (Merlin's 2nd Birthday), 2006 and,
after an egg and bacon sandwich we headed out. As there was
possibility of a stretch of rock climbing we brought along a 35 meter
length of dry rope, some nuts and cams, a few draws, and a
cordellete (in addition to the obvious axes, crampons, etc).
In general, I now carry a small assortment of rock gear on
climb where the possibility of 5th classs climbing or the need to bail
on the route might come up.
The approach to Dragon's
tail is a
short 1.8 mile hike in from the Bear Lake parking area in RMNP and ends
at Emerald Lake.
Dragon's Tail is the
right couloir in
the picture below, the general finish takes the left branch.
Dragon's Tooth is the couloir to the far left. We
and headed up the diagonal tree line about halfway up Dragon's Tail.
The bottom portion of
is absolutely solid right now and we headed up to the small rock in the
picture above before donning crampons. Above this point the snow became
quite variable with deep areas and solid areas appearing at random.
We continued up and past
major rock at the entrance to the couloir. There were
icicles adorning the rocks but it was warm enough that there was a
large amount of ice fall.
As we headed up the
greatly before easing back. What became apparent as we
higher was that there were at least two distinct layers of
through which we were climbing. The bonding between the two
layers was far from solid and had me worried that a wet slide from the
upper reaches of the couloir could bring a wave down on us.
so much ice fall it seemed a very likely possibility. The
layer seemed set in well enough but even that varied from place to
place. At this point it was still early enough in the day
the upper layer was not going to peel off but it seemed that another
hour of warming in the sun would be all it would take to turn the
We decided to stop at
the point below
and take stock of our surroundings. While the conditions
safe enough, for the time of day, up to where we were stopped they did
not seem safe up above. The warming sun, ice fall, poorly
snow layers, as well as the presence of the cornice in the right branch
all pointed to calling the climb at that point so we did.
below shows some of
the early snow sloughing off due to ice fall. An hour later
it could be 6 inches of the slope, 2 hours later, 15 inches, enough to
easily kill you. With the current warming in RMNP I'd
recommend putting this climb on hold for a couple more weeks.
We decided to cut right
and head for
the trees. This path lead us to a cliff which separated us
the main summit ridge. In the cliff dwelled a narrow couloir.
We were able to stay on easy ground and walk to the top of
trees a nd the top of this other couloir. WE had to traverse
across some steep snow at this point including a short 60 degree
section. At this point we had two options: We could
climb up a bit of rock and take a 50 or so degree snow field to the
ridge on Flattop or we could traverse across some icy ledges with
wicked exposure, set a belay, and run a pitch to the ridge top.
never like the idea of contouring across icy ledges 1000 feet off of
the ground but Brian was insistent that to take the snow route would
put us in a good deal of danger from the rock and ice fall above
whereas the rock route was shielded. We watched the ice
above and the path it took and I ultimately agreed he was right.
Entering the next couloir
(much steeper than it looks)
Moving towards the icy cliffs
where we set a belay
A picture from between
Brian's boots at his anchor
I was able to sling a
horn and set an
alien for an anchor before Brian headed up the rocks. He
around 80-100 feet on 5.3-5.4 but wet, icy, and lichen covered rock.
After he was anchored above I moved up the route.
conditions it would have been cake but with ice, water, lichen, and me
wearing crampons it was decidedly harder.
The start of the fun climbing
Some how Brian always manages to
cut himself quite badly on climbs
After joining with Brian
faced with another 100 or 200 vertical feet to the ridge. We
could have continued to easily pitch it out on solid (and now dry) rock
but the snow above us in this couloir was quite nicely consolidated and
suffering from no wet slides or intermittancy issues so we headed on
up. This final pitch probably went between 45-55 degrees at its
Brian, being Brian
decided to head up to the middle of the couloir and go up the vertical
Me, being me, decided to
hop on rock and skip putting myself at the top of a 1500 foot narrow
funnel on steep snow.
Here is us topped out
from whatever couloir we contoured into and finished
A couple pictures of the
supposedly 'In' Dragon's Tail
Let it warm up a bit more
and a good 12-15 inch layer might go and bring everything from the top
down with it
The final summit push
We headed down the
standard route but
as it was entirely snow covered we decided to skip the meandering trail
and contoured right towards Bear Lake. There were some cliffs
be avoided and some extreme postholing fun but we got down quite
quickly this way, the only downside was that I snapped a Leki pole in
All in all it was a
We still had a fun climb but I'm a bit dissapointed I didn't
finish Dragon's Tail. Sure we still climbed the peak
I've been interested in that route for a while now, oh well, it will be
there in a month and over the years to come. I read allot of
reports of people jumping on these things under marginal conditions and
while we probably would have gotten to the top without any incidence
why take the risk? After all, I'd never have gotten home to
Smallville in time if I had been killed by an avalanche.
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