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|Mailed to WacList||10/26/2006|
Here's some pics if you want to skip the long-winded TR:|
THE LONG-WINDED TR:
During the warm days of August it seemed like a great idea. Aaron and I planned to attempt Dragontail’s Serpentine Arete in mid-October, when you no longer need any stinkin’ permits to camp in the area.
Unfortunately, fall finally arrived about a week before our climb. I secretly hoped Aaron would agree that a weekend of cragging at Tieton or Vantage made a lot more sense, but neither of us have an abundance of sense so our fate was sealed. We grew increasingly puckered through the week as each new day brought rain and cool temperatures to Seattle. I couldn’t find any snowfall beta for the Enchantments, so I envisioned 4-8 inches of snow on the upper route. I shuddered when a “friend” joked about the high probability of an unplanned bivy and the spooning it could involve. To prepare for the worst we switched from our original ‘light is right’ plan to a ‘ready for anything’ approach w/ steel crampons, an ice tool, heavy boots, etc. Ugh! Not what we had in mind back in August.
Friday night we drove east. After stopping at the Heidelburger for a gut bomb burger/shake combo, we arrived at the Stuart Lake TH and begin hiking in around 9pm. The hike in went okay, but somehow we got turned around in the dark – TWICE – in the maze of trails near the lake. As we neared Lake Colchuck our stoke grew – no snow at all! It was cold, of course, but the weather had finally cleared Friday and it must have been warm enough to melt off the lower elevation snow. So far, so good! We camped at the South end of the lake and got to bed around 1am.
Our alarms went off at 5:30am Saturday morning, but the day did not begin well. Aaron woke up feeling nauseous, and within minutes of eating some of his beef stew breakfast (who the hell brings beef stew for BREAKFAST ?!?!) he was vomiting it all up – burger, shake and stew. This went on for about a half hour as the sky grew lighter. When Aaron finally stopped hurling we agreed to hike 1,100 ft up the talus to the start of the route, hoping the bug in his gut would go bother the goats instead.
After maybe an hour of sitting around, Aaron apologized many times over - he wasn’t throwing up any more, but was still nauseous and lightheaded. This was torture for us both, because we could now see the route and it looked mostly snow-free to the top. But with Aaron sick, at best the climb would be miserable, at worst a proof of Darwin’s theory.
As we hiked back down to the lake we thought about how we could salvage our weekend. Since Aaron felt well enough for slow hiking, we decided to hike up into the Enchantments and, if we woke up nausea-free on Sunday, climb the West Ridge of Prusik. We hadn’t planned for this at all, so food would be a stretch, and we had no route beta (Aaron had followed the route as a wide-eyed newbie a few years before, but he basically just remembered where the route began). Oh well – how bad could it be? We stashed some of our gear by Lake Colchuck and headed into the Enchantments.
As it turned out, Aaron’s trauma was a blessing. We relaxed and enjoyed a spectacular hike up into the Enchantments, catching the last of the golden larches before they lost their needles for winter. All of the upper lakes were frozen, which added to the sense of desolation there. We camped close to the base of the route and got to bed early.
Sunday morning we woke a bit before 6am, and Aaron was feeling much better. The start of the route is easy to find – unfortunately a party of four found it about 15 minutes before us. An hour passed before both teams were up the first pitch, and we were shivering and numb.
Luckily there are plenty of variations on the route. We were able to keep moving, passing the slower of the two teams by taking the right side of the block/gendarme above the first belay (later we felt a bit bad for them – they got ditched by their friends and ended up rapping off the first pitch). The ‘exposed’ slab section wasn’t too bad – at the base of it there’s an ancient pin to clip (which you can back up w/ good gear), and within 10 feet you’ve got good pro again.
Without beta I got off the ‘standard’ route on the last pitch and wandered all the way around to the East side of the summit block. I chickened out when faced w/ a beautiful 20ft vertical thin hand crack (.10a maybe?) – it didn’t seem like a good idea w/ numb hands and feet. Instead we found an easier hand crack on the North side of the block that took us to the summit.
After summit pictures and a bit to eat, we began the raps. Getting off Prusik is very straightforward; the first anchor is impossible to miss (at the Eastern end of the summit platform), and just keep your eyes open for the remaining stations. There are a couple sections with loose rock to watch out for. The biggest tragedy of our trip happened on our fourth and last rap, when Aaron dropped his camera over 50 ft to the rock below. We found it so Aaron could hold a memorial later.
The hike out was long, but we were lucky enough to have light all the way to Lake Colchuck. As we passed by Dragontail again and eyed the descent route, we had no regrets about how the weekend turned out. Aaron’s gut rot probably saved us from great suffering. With limited daylight, freezing temps, and scattered ice on the route, I don’t think we could have made it off D-tail before dark. Trying the descent by headlamp would’ve been suicidal since neither of us have done it.
This was about the best ‘failure’ I’ve ever had on a climb, and we’ll be back to try routes on Dragontail next year!
60 meter rope
Depending on your comfort level and which variation you take on the last pitch, about 8 cams from .3 to 2” (doubles in the mid-sizes) and a half set of nuts in the upper middle range should be plenty. If you want to try a harder variation, bring more gear! There are a few things to sling, so w/ that and managing rope drag you might want about 8 singles and 3 doubles.