On the second pitch of the Fin on upper Backbone Ridge.
Photo by Justin Wood
AAI guide Justin Wood just returned with Ryan, a climber from Baltimore, from a very successful trip in Washington's Stuart Range. Justin and Ryan met on Sunday, September 16, at our headquarters. Ryan had four days of alpine rock climbing booked in the Stuart Range, and when Justin asked Ryan if he had anything in particular in mind, Ryan said, "Well, I'm here for an adventure, and I want to get my butt kicked!"
This is just what Justin wanted to hear. He had wanted to do the Backbone Ridge of Dragontail Peak for a long time and just hadn't gotten around to it, but it seemed like the perfect climb for Ryan, who is a strong climber looking for a committing route. Justin told Ryan, "I have just the climb for you," and after borrowing the #5 Camalot from AAI's gear shop (for the 60-meter 5.9 offwidth), they were off.
Since the weather forecast didn't look too great (the best days were Sunday and Monday), the plan was to do the Backbone Ridge right away, then finish the trip by doing a few days of rock climbing and rescue skills. Justin and Ryan arrived at the 8 Mile Campground outside of Leavenworth on Sunday afternoon and went to bed soon thereafter. They then woke up at 1:30am and were starting the approach to Dragontail Peak by 2:30am. By 6:30am, they were roping up at the base of the Backbone Ridge under foreboding early morning skies.
Early morning sunrise at the base of Backbone Ridge,
looking out over Colchuck Lake. Justin Wood
Justin gearing up for the first pitch.
Justin said, "We quickly made our way up the first 500 feet of 3rd class terrain and arrived at the base of the 60-meter 5.9 offwidth crux pitch. The full, sustained rope length of 5.9 climbing required a complete arsenal of Yosemite-style offwidth climbing techniques. Four more pitches of 5.7 and 5.8 climbing set us up for several hundred feet of 3rd and 4th class scrambling, placing us at the top of Backbone Ridge."
At the end of the crux 5.9 offwidth pitch. Justin Wood
"From the top of the ridge, we traversed right to tackle the clean, white granite slab known as the “Fin.” The skies were ever-threatening, but short sun breaks kept our spirits high as we climbed the cold rock, warming our hands ever few moves. Three short pitches and one full sixty-meter lead put us at the top of the Fin.
Topping out on the Fin. Justin Wood
Snow showers unleashed at the top of the difficulties and we lost all visibility for the final, easy rock scrambling to the summit ridge. We summited at 6:30pm and pretty much started the descent right away. The weather was pretty nasty, and it was getting dark."
"In two short rappels we bypassed the icy, steep snow slopes near the summit on the southwest face as we made our way back to Asgard Pass. We had extremely low visibility. We got to Asgard just as it was getting completely dark, and we turned our headlamps on and hiked the last six miles to the Stuart Lake Trailhead, stopping for two 15 min catnaps along the way."
We arrived back at trailhead shortly after 1am. All in all, it was a 23-hour trip. We drove back to 8 Mile campground (and saw a black bear on the way) for a well-deserved late night dinner and a good night's sleep."
"The whole trip couldn't have turned out better - everything went like clockwork (except the weather). Ryan was really stoked. He has been climbing for a long time and really wanted to do something big like this."
The last two days, Justin taught Ryan how to place gear and lead traditional rock climbs in Icicle Canyon. They also did a half-day of rock rescue practice before returning to AAI.
Nice work, Ryan and Justin!
Justin (left) and Ryan after the climb.