Ahoy all, it's been a while since I last posted on here.
is in full swing and the #flyingmonkeysquad
have done it again! This much anticipated alpine climb, the Backbone Ridge of Dragontail Peak (17 pitches 5.9+), took a little more energy, dialogue, and planning than the usual trip, but it sure was worth it! It provided the right cocktail of adrenaline, sense of fulfillment and good times. As usual, I'll let the pictures do the talking, but I also chose to include below an account of the trip for future reference.
We rolled into the Mt. Stuart trailhead parking lot in the early evening and got ready for the planned one day assault. Alarm clock set for 2 AM, we called it an early night after decapitating a few beers. Getting up so early is not our forte, but we made it happen. By 3 AM we were on the move with little to no words spoken reaching the Colchuck lake at 5 AM where we caught our first glimpses of our objective, the massive NW face of Dragontail Peak. After a few pics and quick bites of Chinese Pineapple buns we started the slog across the bolder field and moraine. At a leisurely pace we reached the foot of the route at approximately 8 AM. We debated for a while what the start of the route is, scanning the face for the notorious offwidth (OW) crack. We thought we had it!
Filled with anticipation and excitement we went in for the full frontal assault up class IV terrain (p0). The crack addiction kicked in too soon and we started climbing some easy? crack ... an awkward 5.8 crack (p1). Then we found ourselves at the foot of the OW crack for which we hauled in the big cams (#5 and #6
). This quickly turned out to be a dirty and steep overhanging crack (p2 - 5.10). At first I thought my nonexistent OW technique was really making its presence felt as I was getting my ass kicked. Holds were breaking all over the place and showering my partner, Pavla ... not fun! In the end I made my way to the top, all bloody and sweaty.
Flying Monkeys are not dissuaded that easily, so we fired up the next leftwards traverse ... as per the beta we had. The climbing was straight forward and easy (p3 - 5.7), but I came across a killer loose flake. I decided to clean this out of the way to avoid any risk of our ropes getting cut or my partner getting injured. The drop of the flake caused a massive uproar and spiked Pavla's adrenaline levels instantaneously causing her to ask if I was OK. After confirming all was under control I stretched the rope to its full length of 60m, bringing me underneath a small roof. At this time we were both wondering if we should bail as this route seems to hold quite a few surprises. The consensus was lets keep on pushing a bit further to check things out.
The next pitch, p4 - 5.7, reassured us we were on route as we came across some garbage and a tree rap station at the base of a huge black tower. After consulting the beta we had from some online TRs and mountainproject site we decided to swing to the right of the tower, simul climbing easy class V terrain with limited gear opportunities and plenty of loose stuff. We simuled for probably 4-5 rope lengths. My nerves were definitely tingly as I was navigating the blank sea of dirty granite in search of the best way upwards while ensuring we had sufficient gear to keep us attached to the mountain in case of a fall.
Finally we made it to a ledge on top of the tower where we found two bivvy spots and had lunch. From here we could see the Fin and planned our next assault phase!
Giv'er hard! 7 - 8 pitches left and we should be on top of this pile of choss. We followed right trending ramps to the base of the Fin's face. The choss monster seemed to have increased its might as more stones started rolling underneath our feet raining down the face.
Pavla just started following on the Fin's face (p11? - 5.8) when a hold broke sending her back to the belay ledge. Luckily no major injury was sustained! Pfew, another close call. The next couple of pitches (p12 - 5.8, p13 - 5.9+) proved to be the most fun, splitter cracks that would put us on top of the Fin. Of course there were loose blocks along the way ... I pulled on a 1m block that shifted outwards and I quickly had to side step and push it back, once again yelling to my partner to pay attention and avoid this killer block. The last pitch, p13, finishes off with a powerful under-cling next to a few flakes.
One of the flakes is slung and a red cordelette attached to it was flung over the ridge. I pulled on it and to my surprise it wasn't attached to anything! Hmm, what's going on here?? I wanted to investigate, so I stepped left getting ready to climb over the Fin's arÍte. The flake was looking very suspicious and Pavla was in the fall line. Not wanting to take any changes of dislodging the flake and killing my partner I climbed the couple of meters of unprotected slab until I got over the arÍte. Oh I see now! The red cordelette is so you can lower on the other side of the arÍte onto a ramp, cool!
I belayed my partner up and we quickly got over the arÍte. From here we had 2 more pitches of class IV choss to scramble to the top. It was 7 PM and rain clouds were looming off to the west. We decided to simul this last portion and levitate on top of the choss as much as possible to avoid any disasters. Easier said than done! I topped out, built an anchor, and started belaying ... hoping my partner makes it to the summit ridge with light to spare so we could scope our descent route.
The wind picked up and I heard Pavla yelling for slack, tension, slack ... hmm what's going on? Eventually she yelled she's stuck. Not knowing what that means, I responded she should stay put and quickly rigged myself for a down climb. Trying to down-climb as nimble as possible and triggering the least amount of choss I fell. Rope caught the fall, one gear piece popped, and choss rained down all over the gulley. Hmm not cool! I was worried my partner was in the fall line. She wasn't!
Pavla was stuck on a ledge. One of her ropes caught underneath a bolder. Each time I took in the slack, the bolder was moving closer to the precipice putting her in danger of being dragged down into the gulley. After building an intermediate anchor and assessing the situation, we decided it was best to unrope the stuck blue rope and push the bolder out of the way. Done and done, Pavla was free and safe!
We both made it back to the summit ridge and regrouped as the sun sank below the horizon. We didn't have a chance to see our descent route, so we decided it was safest to hunker down for the night ... an uncomfortable bivvy blasted by wind gusts and threaded by rain clouds. The worst was that we ran out of the 5L of water we hauled before we finished climbing.
At 5AM we were on the move. Two raps (thanks to whoever left a good condition rope on the second rap!!), scrambling across bolders while avoiding the snow, and down via the Aasgard pass. Zombie mode enabled, and approximately 6 hours later we were back at the car!
Departing thoughts, well the post-climb reflection uncovered we climbed some sort of a variation, or entirely different route ... apparently we skirted the Backbone Ridge altogether, see our topo.
Until next time yo! #flyingmonkeysquad
out, WHOOP WHOOP! :-)