Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Route Profile: Triple Couloirs, Dragontail Peak, AI3, 5.8, Grade III-IV

Situated on the southern edge of Colchuck Lake with Aasgard Pass to its east, Dragontail Peak stands as a guardian to the Enchantments area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  Topping out at 8,840', it is a giant of the Stuart Range, second only to range's namesake.  With dozens of routes winding up the peak's bony ridges and deep couloirs, it is a true alpine playground.

The Triple Couloirs Route is a classic alpine snow and ice route, with even a little mixed climbing thrown in for good measure.  The route is typically climbed in the spring, but can also be done in the winter if the avalanche conditions are stable enough.  The first ascent was done by Bill Joiner, Leslie Nelson and Dave Seman in May 1974.  As you will soon see, the cruxes of the route are not necessarily the Couloirs themselves, but the transitions between the Couloirs.

Looking across Colchuck Lake to Dragontail Peak.  James Pierson.

The approach starts by driving south out of Leavenworth down Icicle Creek Road for 9.2 miles to the Bridge Creek Campground.  In winter, the road is plowed to here, so plan on walking, snowshoeing or skiing in the 3.5 miles to the Stuart Lake/ Mountaineer Creek trailhead at 3,400'.  The trail winds along the east side of the creek for about 2 miles before crossing over to the west side.  After another mile, the trail forks.  Take the left fork and cross back to the other side of the creek.  After winding generally southeast, you finally arrive at the north side of Colchuck Lake.  It is approximately 5 miles from the trailhead to here.  There are numerous campsites along the western banks of the Lake.

To start the climb, head counter-clockwise to the south side of the lake then head up hill and just a bit east of the lowest point of the north face of Dragontail (the prominent snow finger at the bottom of the first photo).  You will warm up on 40-50 deg. snow and ice for about 800' of the First Coulior before you are forced to make a choice between three options.

Climbing through the First Couloir.  Scott Schumann.

Your first option is to climb the steep ice runnels for about 3 pitches to the base of the Second Couloir.  These runnels are 70 - 80 deg. and the difficulty and thickness of the ice varies greatly depending on the snow conditions.  Be sure to bring some pitons along if this is your desired route.  

At the base of the ice runnels between pitch 1 and 2.  Coley Gentzel.
The second option is to continue up the First Couloir for another pitch or two, then heading up and left for two more pitches.  From this point, you can downclimb (5.8) or rappel over to the base of the Second Couloir.

Midway through the climb, with Colchuck Balanced Rock
in the background.  Scott Schumann

Your third option is to continue on to the top of the First Couloir.  By doing this, you essentially bypass the Second Couloir and come out on a broad snow slope on the Northwest Face.  The entrance to the Third Couloir is found behind a large tower at the top of these 40 - 60 deg. slopes.  However, because this variation does not ascend the Second Couloir, it is not, technically, the the Triple Couloirs route.

Nearing the top of the Second Couloir.  Scott Schumann.

If you take either Option 1 or 2, you are rewarded with over 600' of 40 - 50 deg. snow and ice.  Eventually, you exit up and right then start into the Third Couloir, which is another few hundred feet of 40 - 50 deg. climbing.  This brings you to the northeast face of the summit with the top of the peak up and to your right.

Transitioning from the Second Couloir up into
the Third.  Andrew Yasso.

A short snow scramble from the top of the Third Couloir up
to the summit of Dragontail Peak.  Andrew Yasso
The standard descent from Dragontail is to head east to Aasgard Pass and follow it back to Colchuck Lake.  According to the Nelson and Potterfield guide, the climb should take 5 - 9 hours one-way from the lake.

This is just one of the great alpine ice routes that are available to climb with AAI.  As I mentioned previously, the route is usually done in the spring, so this is a great follow up if have taken our Alpine Ice Course during one of the past summers.  If this gets you excited and yearning for more, give us a call and we'll get a trip set up for you!  

1 comment:

Jay H said...

Like to see that ol' Scotty Schuman's pics are being used for this one.