Dragontail (Serpentine Ridge, IV 5.8)

Sunset on Dragontail on the way out

Sunset on Dragontail on the way out


[Playing a bit of catch-up here. -ed]

Dragontail is an impressively serrated granite peak in the popular, relatively dry Enchantment Range near Leavenworth. A walk-up from the southeast, it has a number of technical climbs on its north face. In one of my final outings with humans this summer, I teamed up with Dafna, a Washington local I last met a decade ago, to do the Serpentine Ridge. Though not especially sustained, it is a long route with an excellent, hard-for-me crack crux. We did it as a long day, leaving the parking lot around 6:30 and returning between 10:00 PM and 12:45 AM. Soloing everything above the crux, socializing less with other climbers, and descending faster would have saved some time.

While the Alpine Lakes wilderness would be teeming with techies over from Seattle for the Fourth of July weekend, it was no more than normally crowded when Dafna startled me in my car, and we had the trail to ourselves at 6:30.

Dragontail across Colchuck Lake

Dragontail across Colchuck Lake

The mosquitoes made it unpleasant to stop, so we made good time to Colchuck Lake, where we met two tourists at the mouth, and passed a single tent at the base of the Colchuck Glacier moraine.
Booting up below Colchuck Glacier

Booting up below Colchuck Glacier

After following bits of trail up the scree, I kicked steps up the snow to the base of the route, while Dafna fought to keep her crampons attached to her running shoes (I think my way was easier).

Detail of route (black, left-trending ridge near center)

Detail of route (black, left-trending ridge near center)

The so-called “Serpentine Ridge” is not especially obvious from the lake, but thanks to a good diagram on SummitPost, we had no problem finding the base of the route.
Base of P1

Base of P1

After gearing up on a chilly, awkwardly sloping ledge, I flailed around next to the ground for awhile until I figured out the rock and the first couple of moves. The distressingly tricky-seeming start soon eased off, and I slogged up a loose gully until I was almost out of rope next to a tree, trying not to bomb my belayer.

Base of P2

Base of P2

Dafna led P2, which started with a short chimney/dihedral, then eased off to more scrambling. We ended up simul-climbing a bit to stretch this pitch, though it might have been better to end it short, put away the rope, and scramble the next section.
Wandering on "P4"

Wandering on “P4”

After I “led” some miscellaneous scrambling left of a black tower, Dafna led a harder pitch continuing up a variety of cracks and slabs, with several options and non-obvious route-finding. I next led up some parallel fins and cracks, through one steep section, then along a ledge around to the right side of the black tower to a perfect belay ledge at the base of the money crack.

Picture of picture of crux crack

Picture of picture of crux crack

After collecting gear, I led this excellent pitch through three distinctive cracks and a full 50 meters. The first crack, perfect hands and feet up a relatively blank face, is the kind of all-appendages-in deal that tests one’s crack technique. Since mine is bad, I hesitated, thrashed, and bled some to get it done. Following a stance, the second crack is mercifully contained in a right-facing dihedral, so I was able to stem and enjoy it. The final crack is at the base of a v-shaped dihedral suitable for foot-wedging.
View from belay on crux pitch

View from belay on crux pitch

Pitch above crux (P7?)

Pitch above crux (P7?)


Dafna led the first part of the next pitch, which continues up a right-facing dihedral until it heads up an off-width slot into a small field of giant boulders. Following, I helped un-wedge her pack where she had tried to haul it through the off-width, then strung the rope through the boulder-field and onto easier ground and the end of belayed climbing.

Summit from end of climbing

Summit from end of climbing

The summit is far from this point, up an indistinct ridge with mostly scrambling and an occasional 5th-class move. We opted to start out simul-climbing for that extra bit of psychological protection, though the rope drag sucked. We eventually gave that up and put away the rope for the rest of the summit scramble. While the rock on the ridge itself is mostly good, we eventually wandered into the white gully to the right, which consists of debris covering rotten rock.

Upper, loose scrambling

Upper, loose scrambling

While extricating ourselves from the chute, we noticed some climbers above, who had done a good job not raining rocky death upon us. Reaching the summit, we met the party of three, who had camped at the lake and somehow climbed ahead of us without being noticed. They were on vacation from back east, and seem to have packs full of nothing but wine and fine cheese. Having eaten nothing but pop-tarts and cookies all day, I gladly accepted their proffered hunks of cheese.

Some summit show-off

Some summit show-off

After hanging out on the summit too long and too close to sunset, we started down the walk-up route to Asgard Pass. I cruised the descent, thoroughly enjoying the boot-ski down to the pass. Dafna, more cautious and less practiced, started falling behind and foolishly suggested that I go ahead. Selfish and impatient person that I am, I accepted her suggestion, sliding and jogging down the hideous Asgard Pass, then motoring the trail, almost making it back to the car headlamp-free around 10:00 PM. I was relieved to see her car gone in the morning, though somewhat embarrassed to learn that she had returned at 12:45 AM, then driven home for a nearly 24-hour house-to-house day.

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