A Nod to an Old Favorite...
Yes, that's right-- On Tuesday, August 11, 2009, I climbed Dragon's Tail with Blake and Walt, and I got the sunburn to prove it!
I don't quite remember how I "met" Blake here. Probably, we noticed from each other's submissions that we shared a passion for Montana's Glacier National Park, which is, and I don't care what anyone else says otherwise, the most beautiful place in this country. Blake is a native Montanan; I am merely a wannabe Montanan.
I "met" Walt a little over two years ago when he called me out on something pretty outrageous I wrote in a Prate and Prattle thread. That began a dialogue that led to a mutual respect (I think), bolstered by the facts that we went to neighboring high schools at the same time and that we have both done a fair deal of soloing at the local crags-- he back in the day and I more recently.
It worked out that while my wife, son, and I would be in Glacier, Walt was going to be up there, too, and, as Blake and I had thrown around the idea of getting together for a Glacier climb for some time, we all found a day that would work for all of us.
And did we ever pick the right day. There were strong winds that day, but it was otherwise sunny and warm (when the wind abated or we were in a sheltered area), and it was followed by five consecutive days of rain, snow, and temperatures that struggled to make it out of the 40's. Not exactly the Montana August we know and love.
Dragon's Tail was the consensus choice. It was something new for all three of us, it was something Blake and I had both been wanting to climb for several years, and it was a half-day-type outing that would leave us time for more if we wanted or allow us time to deal with unexpected problems. So we met at Logan Pass shortly before 8, had a quick discussion of plans (we had originally planned to climb Reynolds Mountain via the north face first, but the strong winds convinced us that the narrow goat trail on the north face might not be such a great place to be that day), and got going.
The Serious Part
This part of the trip report is like an extended Climber's Log entry commenting on route conditions. Please read this part if you are interested in climbing Dragon's Tail and are looking for information from more than one source.
The route description on the Dragon's Tail page is a good one, and although the description in J. Gordon Edwards's A Climber's Guide to Glacier National Park is also adequate, the one on SummitPost is better because of the pictures and additional details.
We had little trouble locating the goat trail on the eastern face after finishing the approach to the saddle between Dragon's Tail and Reynolds Mountain. There was some uncertainty about how much we had to drop in order to pick up the goat trail, but our options were clearly limited since a wall of sheer cliffs awaited us if we dropped too much.
It also did not take long for us to see ahead the couloir that signals the first safe break on the upper eastern face for climbers to attain the summit ridge. As tempting as it may seem from the approach saddle to make a direct ridgetop traverse, do not do so, for you will only eventually (and quickly) reach Class 5 cliffs with tremendous exposure. I am not saying it can't be done-- as a matter of fact, we scouted out such a route on the way back but ultimately turned back after encountering an area that was probably within our ability to climb but not worth the risk-- just that it is not a good idea to try it.
The goat trail is mostly easy to follow; although it occasionally fades out, it is not hard to relocate. Footing is generally good, but there are loose sections near cliff edges where extra care is warranted, and it narrows enough in places that people new to scrambling and off-trail travel may feel uncomfortable.
But experienced climbers will have little difficulty or worry unless snow blocks the trail, and they will reach the first of the two great couloirs on the east face in relatively short order.
As the main page says, stay on the right side of the couloir instead of climbing the couloir itself; that way, you will follow a series of staircase-like ledges, many of which harbor microcosms of alpine plants, up to the top of the ridge a short distance north of the main summit. The scrambling up the ledges is Class 3 on sketchy-to-good rock; the couloir itself looks climbable but would go at Class 4/"easy" Class 5.
"Easy Class 5" is subjective. Many people who do a lot of roped climbing consider 5.0-5.6 easy. People who consider themselves scramblers more than rock climbers, and who thus rarely don the rope (talking about me here), think of 5.0-5.3/4 as "Easy Class 5." So if you try the couloir itself, use your own experiences and abilities to judge the route.
Summit views are outstanding, with an ocean of peaks extending in all directions. One view that will probably really catch your eye is the one to the south, where snow-draped Gunsight Mountain looms over crevasse-laced Sperry Glacier and its basin of glacial debris, flat rock, and alpine tarns. Sperry Glacier is one of the park's largest remaining glaciers.
Unfortunately, that view is partially restricted by the south ridge of Dragon's Tail, which leads to a summit almost as high as the main summit before dropping sharply. It is possible, however, to get to that other summit with some Class 3 or 4 scrambling on loose rock, and a few minutes of that gets you to a precipitous, unobstructed view of that sprawling alpine wonderland to the south.
So at last, the reward(s):
The Not-so Serious Part
I tan easily and well, but because I have gotten a nasty burn on the nose, ears, and forehead before, I make sure to wear sunscreen and/or a hat when I am in the mountains. This day, however, it was extremely windy, and, afraid my hat would blow away, I left it in my pack. Why I skipped the sunblock, I can't say. Maybe some part of my mind was saying that because it was so windy and the temperatures felt so cool, the sun wasn't going to be that intense. I know that's completely wrong, but maybe that's what happened.
After the climb, on the trail back to Logan Pass, I had that hot feeling around the face that says "Sunburn." Later that day, I was sure, and for the next few days, I felt it, though I fortunately only had some minor peeling instead of resembling someone suffering from radioactive fallout.
So yes, I climbed Dragon's Tail with Blake and Walt, and I got the sunburn to prove it!
And if you don't believe me, you can ask Walt, because he saw me the next day!
If you don't understand the reference about having the sunburn to prove it, that's probably a good thing, because it means two things: you don't (yet) spend all of your free time on this website, and you don't venture into Prate and Prattle. But if you must know, it shouldn't take too much effort to find and read the thread that engendered this infamous quote. A warning, though: it was in PnP, now retired, and you will not be able to find the thread.
Here, though, are some excerpts:
From the OP (quoting someone else)-- "I was out on Mt. Shasta,
14162 ft. soloing the classic Casaval Ridge...I have the sunburn to
From Walt in the same thread-- "I have a feeling that quote may become legend."
And by the way, I was wearing my convertible pants that I got from REI, and I noticed that the knees had holes and the back pocket had come unstitched. This is proof, once again, that REI has gone soft.
(This, too, stems from a somewhat infamous forum thread.)
Great day, great mountain, great climb. I had a blast, and I thought Blake, Walt, and I matched up well in ability, pace, and experience. I'd be happy to climb with either one again and hope I get the chance to. Guys, thanks for coming out, and I'm glad we got to meet for real!
P.S. My wife also sends her thanks. She pretty much hates SummitPost, but she hates my solo climbing trips even more, and her hatred for this site "burns less bright" these days since the site has also become a medium for me to find climbing partners. (Now, when she catches me on the site when I'm supposed to be painting or fixing something or when the kids are playing with knives under my "watch," I can say that I'm discussing climbing plans with someone for my upcoming trip, and I almost avoid the glare!)