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Alex "Street Fighter" Ford, Dave "Nerd Glasses" Bailey, and Susan "GPS" Ashlock
Ever since an instructor had invited a couple of students in the WAC basic class of '06 to do Dragontail and Colchuck, I had been interested in this pair of summits. Four years later, the pefect storm of weather, opportunity, and available and willing climbing partners combined to make the dream a reality.
Alex, Dave, and I opted for a Saturday evening departure from Seattle in the hopes of an early start and reasonble-hour return to Seattle on Sunday evening. After a sad stop at the Family Grocer in Gold Bar along the way, we arrived at the trailhead around 10:30 p.m. and were relatively well-rested by the time we hit the trail at 6:07 on Sunday morning.
The approach was straightforward. Debate only ensued when, from the base of the glacier on the right (west) side, Colchuck Col wasn't visible. This (not very bright) climber managed to convince herself that the col was west of where it actually is. Fortunately a younger and wiser compatriate convinced her to double-check her compass bearing and look for the glacier hidden behind a subtle ridge. (See annotated photo here http://www.flickr.com/photos/susanashlock/4788855047/in/set-72157624483308310/). It's amazing how well a glacier can hide behind a small ridge…
Aside from some postholing, the route to the col and the summit of Colchuck was rather straightforward. I was surprised that we only met one person along the way (though we did hear some climbers on Dragontail).
After about an hour of lounging and nerdy mobile-app discussion on the summit of Colchuck, we headed back to the col and up to Dragontail. The snow finger made the route pretty solid. A steps of snow near the snow was covering a patch of ice a couple of inches down, but crampons weren't used or really needed.
Below Pandora's box a couple of options were considered. I scouted out the rock scramble below where some folks had apparently gone in the last couple of days (based on footprints in the snow leaving that section). A skinny awkard ledge looked less fun than the (short) steep snow option, so I convinced Alex and Dave to take that route by kicking steps down that bit. (See photo here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/susanashlock/4788827769/in/set-72157624483308310/) From there, we continued mostly on snow below the ridge to what appeared to be the highest point on the ridge… and then over to the point on the ridge that then appeared to be the highest.
Another hour of summit-lounging and we were ready to head down to the lake in the hopes of reaching it before it was overcome by shadow. Glissading down the snow finger to the col was minimal, but from the col to the lake was outstanding.
Although Alex had instigated the movement to explore the waters of the mighty Colchuck Lake, it was Dave who first took the plunge. Alex next waded in. Not wanting to be left out, I eventually took the plunge. And then did it again for good measure. And then a couple more times for some action shots to prove that it had been done.
Thus refreshed, the 4-mile hike back to the car went by quickly and with ruminations on the probability and possibility of compiling a "100 Highest Alpine Swims" list or a "100 Classic Alpine Swims" . The sequel to which would be the "Classic Alpine Dives" book, which would include both a swim and drinking establishment for each climb. At 6:27 we arrived back at the trailhead, and by 6:37 we were in the car with the hopes of reaching the 59'er Diner before closing time.
As if the day hadn't gone swimmingly enough, it was topped off by yet another satisfying meal at the diner, complete with a chocolate Guinness malt. Huzzah!
Equipment brought but not needed:
rope, pickets, rock pro