Homepage / Climbing / The North Cascades / Dragontail, Serpentine Ridge in Winter
The first winter ascent of route with Al Turner. 14th Mar 2004.
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Skiing into Dragontail.
Bivi below the Colchuck Glacier.
Looking up the Serpentine Ridge from the bivi.
Al traversing the lower snowfield at dawn.
Al aiding the twin cracks pitch.
Al at the top of the twin cracks.
Rock climbing above the twin cracks.
More rock climbing.
View of the Colchuck-Dragontail col.
Ade leading more rock pitches.
Colchuck Peak from high on Dragontail's north face.
Sunset over Colchuck.
Ade on the summit at dusk.
Al "bouldering" at the bivi.
Bad weather moving in on Dragontail.
Skiing home across the lake.

Chasing the Dragon...

So... not being able to decide on what to do Alasdair and I "lamed out" and headed back in to Colchuck Lake. We'd been in earlier in the year and not climbed anything - too much snow, not enough time and not enough psych. This time it was warmer than in Feb but pretty windy.

It took six hours to reach the lake from the road (Al and I are both very shitty skiers - you can probably do better). We sat on the lake for a bit and considered our options. The TCs and North Face routes both looked in but maybe a bit thin. Both the couloirs on Colchuck looked banked out. After some debate on our choices, option A; "Fuck it, let's do what we said we'd do" won out.

A further one and a half hours got us to the bivi on the moraine below the Colchuck Gl. about 700' above the lake. The snow conditions below the lake were pretty trashy but the slopes above there were iced. The wind and sun had pretty much setup the snow. There are a couple of OK bivvy sites among the boulders on the moraine lip that are out of the wind.

We left the bivvy at 5am and started up the ice smear, that covers the summer approach pitches, by 6. The smear leads you to a snowy ramp that goes up and right to the ledge system and tree on the arete below the 5.8 crack systems. A couple of hardish mixed pitches get you to the large ledge at the cracks.

Above we climbed pretty much pure rock with short snow ramps, as per the summer route. Lots of the 5.7 and mid-fifth turned out to be much harder than we remembered - lots of aid moves. Luckily only one of the upper crack systems was iced in (probably the crux). The snow was hard enough to kick steps and didn't require crampons.

We managed to simul-climb a few short sections but for the most part had to pitch the whole route. The final rock pitch to the summit can be avoided by dropping down a short gully on the left and then climbing up to the summit ridge at the top of the fin (as per the summer variation described in the Nelson select guide).

We summited at 6:30 (12:30 hrs total) just before it got dark. It was still windy but great views of Stuart and the rest of the Cascades. All of the snow slopes on the descent were very icy. Both of us had done Dragontail before so it was pretty easy route finding in the dark but required care under foot. I've nearly gotten completely lost in bad weather on the summit there.

We descended Asgard pass and skirted the bottom of the North face to get back to the bivvy. the last few hundred feet back up to the moraine were hard work. We made it back by 8:30pm (15:30 hrs round trip). Bivvy high and it saves you time in the morning when it counts.

After some further research it seems likely that this was the first winter ascent of The Serpentine.

Summary: First winter ascent of the Serpentine Arete (2000', AI 3 5.8 A0) on Dragontail Peak (8,840'). 14th March 2004.

Gear Notes: Full set of wires, bunch of pins, three cams and two screws. Two belay jackets, food and a stove (which we didn't use).