Grabbing the Dragon’s Tail- The Serpentine Arete, 5.8, III

After 11 days in Portland I was getting the itch again, and I knew it would likely be my last chance to get on an alpine rock route for quite some time.  Pat and I have long dreamed of getting into the business of alpine climbing in the North Cascades National Park.  We packed up Friday night with hopes of making the long approach into Mt. Goode, but at the last minute the forecast hit 60% chance of rain on our summit day, so we pointed the car east and headed for Leavenworth, Washington.

We pulled into town around 7am on Saturday and were fortunate to make friends and secure a permit.  Then we headed up Hwy 2 and warmed up on a nice two pitch line next to the highway called Canary.  Good times, but the crux on pitch 1 got my attention, and Pat felt the air under his butt on pitch 2.

Good morning Skander, and welcome back to rock climbing with a smack in the face.

Pat eyes up the wildly exposed step across...

Scary step complete, time to get a move on- nice work Pat.

The real reason to come to Leavenworth though was a line I first saw in 2008- I was scared then, but when we needed to pick a different mountain for the weekend, it was one of the first to come to mind.  The Serpentine Arete on Dragontail Peak is a gorgeous yet moderate line on one of the most prominent peaks in the eastern Cascades.  After not rock climbing for over two months, and still uncertain of how my foot would do, I had a few doubts, but the last dance is the last dance, and you’ll never get the girl if you don’t ask.

The line starts at the snow directly above my head, heads right up the faint ramp, then left up the ridge.

Early morning light on Mt. Colchuck, just across the valley.

We left camp at 6am, and started across the snowfield at 6:50.  The route is about 2,000 vertical feet and would entail a full range of technical skills, so we knew we needed to boogie.  After cutting steps across the snowfield and jumping the moat from snow to rock at the base of the route, we were in the business at 8am, and made steady progress.

Across the moat and time to go!

Getting the business end- yours truly on the crux.

Supposedly not the crux, but Pat and I might disagree.

Close quarters on the last serious pitch.

We moved through the harder pitches efficiently, and we hit the easier ridge terrain around 2pm.  The route gets a grade IV for the overall duration of effort (IV typically means a very full day of climbing), and despite the harder terrain being below us, we still had quite a bit of ground to cover.  We switched to simul-climbing after 8 belayed pitches, and started to wander up the ridge, not always certain we were on the right path.

Pat looks to make short work of a few spicy steps.

We kept pushing, in retrospect tying in even shorter than the 35m we were at would have reduced rope drag and increased communication, but so it went, and we hit the summit ridge at 6pm.  We coiled the roped and scrambled around to grab a gorgeous view of the lakes and Mt. Stuart, which were well worth the effort…

Loved by many, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area does not disappoint.

The great granite beast, Mt. Stuart. I look forward to returning when I can.

Tired and happy on the summit.

We headed down on well packed snow, but with a sinking feeling that we were racing daylight.  Quads burned, knees ached, and the trail wandered faintly.  The views took an edge off the urgency, and we made it almost all the way back to the lake before true darkness fell.

So much gorgeous granite...

The hands show signs of a good day out.

Racing the light back to camp.

We did end up hopping rocks and bushwhacking in the dark to make it back to camp at 9:30pm.  For our first grade III route, and new terrain that neither of us had been on, we had a blast.  Also of note, there were no bolts on the entire route- so fun to climb super clean.  Thanks to Pat for being a solid partner and friend, and always being down for the next big up.

In the photo of my hands above, there is a purple rope in the background.  Normally I wouldn’t plug products here, but I need to give credit where due.  The rope was a gift to me from my parents, it is a Sterling Nano that might be pure magic.  I think of them every time I use it, and today it was the star of the show.  70m let us run pitches together, yet it was light when we doubled it over to simul-climb.  It didn’t pick up dirt, it feels great in my hands, and doesn’t tangle easily.  I am truly grateful for solid gear, and amazingly supportive parents- thanks.

One thought on “Grabbing the Dragon’s Tail- The Serpentine Arete, 5.8, III

  1. Pingback: Short Season | stickthefeeling

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