Sunday, October 27, 2013

Colchuck and Dragontail Peaks via Colchuck Glacier

Colchuck Peak (8,705 ft.) and Dragontail Peak (8,840 ft.) via Colchuck Glacier
Easy snow, Class 2-3 (depending on the season)

This fall has been unusually mild in the Cascades and a lot of late, late season climbing has been easily accessible. So last week, my friend and I decided to watch the weather and make a quick trip from Pullman to the Enchantments area in the eastern Cascades.

We hiked up to Colchuck Lake and set up camp on Friday night.  It was a pleasant, yet steep ~4.5 mile hike to the lake, which took about 2 hours.  We were in our sleeping bags by 6 pm, as soon as the sun went down.  We left camp at 7:30 am on Saturday as the sun came up.  We climbed up the moraine and Colchuck Glacier to the Colchuck Col on soft snow without crampons or even an ice axe.  The glacier is not very steep and the softness of the snow cover prevented us from being concerned about falling.

Colchuck Lake and Dragontail Peak.  Colchuck Glacier is to the right on Dragontail Peak

The col is the low point between Dragontail and Colchuck Peaks.  We scrambled up the "east route" of Colchuck Peak and were at the summit by 10:45 am.  Just as Fred Beckey suggests, it is a simple scramble from the Col on the south side of the crest to the summit.  No major route find-finding issues should occur.

Approach and route up Colchuck Peak in black.  "West route" up Dragontail in red.  

We descended back to the col and made our way up the "west route" variation described by Beckey of Dragontail Peak. This was a little more involved but it went fairly smoothly and quickly.  The route climbs a narrow couloir all the way to the summit ridge.  The couloir was mostly filled with nice firm snow.  We climbed the path of least resistance on both solid rock and snow (class 3 tops). From the ridge, we dropped into the large southern basin/cirque and traversed towards the East ridge. From here, we easily climbed to the summit of Dragontail Peak.

Dragontail summit picture of Will and I
View from Colchuck Peak - Stuart Peak on the right, Mt. Rainier in the distance
Great views of Mount Stuart, Mt, Rainier, Mt. Adams, Glacier Peak, Mt. Baker and hundreds of other peaks in the Alpine Lakes wilderness were enough to make the long drive worth it.  We spent a half hour at the summit, enjoying the perfect October weather.

Enchantment Lakes Basin

We were back at the Lake by 2:30 pm.  From the lake, we climbed both peaks and made it back to camp in about 7 hours (we were not moving very fast). There was a total elevation gain of about 4,000 ft. to climb both lakes from the peak.  This was a great introduction to the Enchantments.  The views of Mt. Stuart definitely increased my desire to climb it.

Dragontail Peak, overlooking Colchuck Peak and Mt. Stuart

We brought the bare essentials due to the great weather forecast:

  • 3-season mountaineering boots
  • Wool socks
  • Gaitors
  • Soft shell pants
  • Base layer
  • Light fleece
  • Arctyeryx atom shell
  • Fleece beanie and gloves
  • Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice axe
  • Grivel 14-point crampons
  • 2 liters of water, snacks