Peak(s):  Flattop Mountain - 12,324 feet
Date Posted:  05/09/2010
Date Climbed:   05/09/2010
Author:  MountainDewey
 Three Awful Sons on Dragon`s Tail  

Yes, the three of us are terrible sons.

Just back from college in the unbearably flat (well, not including skyscrapers) New York City, I have planned my first spring climb on Mother's Day. For Mother's Day my two climbing partners and I gave our moms coordinates and times for search and rescue. I guess it just goes to show how great our moms really are for putting up with us!

At 1:00 AM we packed up in Denver and by 2:00 we had set out for Rocky Mountain National Park to climb Dragon's Tail Couloir. It was all of our first real snow climb so we were a bit nervous. Drew said it was the kind of think that he would always regret if he didn't come with us. Levi owed me one for backing out at the last minute on a winter Sneffels ascent. Guilt or regret, I don't really care as long as it gets me climbing partners.

At 4:30AM in the semi-darkness we set out from the Bear Lake parking lot. The great thing about Dragon's Tail Couloir is that you can see it from the trailhead. The entire trip we did not even look at a map or a GPS!
Dragon's Tail Couloir is the one on the right. It follows the left fork.

At the base of the col we cramponned up and started climbing. We saw two guys with full racks go up ahead of us and we started to wonder what the hell we were doing. Still, I hadn't heard anything about needing to place pro or even really rope up, so just shrugged it off. The first 500 feet is 40 degrees or so, but it heats up pretty soon to 50 and then tops out at around 60 degrees. The views are unbeatable.

The snow was perfect for our climb. I suppose past noon it might get slushy, but at 7:30 AM it was crunchy and kick-step ready. The first of the two hairy spots was a traverse that went from climber's right to the climber's right of the left fork. I suppose it's a bit illogical to fear traverses more than going up, but it was tricky. The worst part was the melting debris that fall constantly while you were traversing. One such icy snowball came whizzing down the slope at just the right time to catch me square in the Adam's apple. It knocked me back a little and luckily I was able to hold on to my planted ax even though I was coughing and reeling from the pain. It turned out to result in nothing but a cut and a bruise so we kept climbing.

On to the crux! I had heard about it, but I couldn't spot it from the bottom of the col so I didn't really know what to expect. Something about a rock band and a lower 5 move. It turned out to be about seven feet of vertical rock loosely covered by snow. It required a real solid ax placement or two and then a pull up. As in, you have to trust your ax completely or it'll be a good 50ft before you have a chance to think about self arrest position.

Well, I suppose it's moments like these that you learn the most about your life. If your life flashes before your eyes and you get bored, then you haven't been putting yourself in a position to have your life flash before your eyes enough. We got another taste of adrenaline as the wind picked up, rushing over Flattop Mountain and nearly blowing us backwards off of the slope.

Would it have been nice to have a belay on the crux? No doubt. Worth hauling a rope up? Probably not. In the end it's really just psychological, and if you don't enjoy the thrill of exposure, Dragon's Tail is definitely not for you. We ended up all getting our adrenaline fix for the next week, and summiting by 9:45 AM. And when three college age boys climb a mountain with time to spare, there is only one thing to do:
take the shirt off and pretend your nipples aren't about to fall off.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

11/30/2010 17:20
As of Saturday 5/8 you could avoid the "crux" by going climber's left and then traversing back to the right about 20' higher.

That is how we climbed and skied it.


I wouldn‘t say AWFUL
12/16/2010 18:43
Hard nipples at 12,000 feet are probably the best tool for self arrest known to man.

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