OverviewThe Dragtooth is the culmination of the long ridge to the west of Matterhorn Peak, just before the ridge drops off to Polemonium Pass. The south side is relatively mild, until just before the summit, but the north side is steep and sustained, with a couple of class 4 routes, a III 5.10, and just around the corner there is a III 5.8.
The Dragtooth was first climbed, via the Southwest Face, in 1931 by Walter Brem, Glen Dawson, and Jules Eichorn, of Eichorn Pinnacle fame. Both routebooks that I consulted, A Climber's Guide to the High Sierra, edited by Hervey H. Voge, 1965 edition, and The High Sierra Peaks, Passes, and Trails second edition, by R.J. Secor, list the south side routes as class 2. This may be so, but not all the way to the summit. The summit blocks are definitely class 3, with attention-getting exposure as you pull up over the top.
There was no summit register present on the summit or in the general vicinity to gauge the number of ascents this peak receives, but there is little indication of travel, and it is likely not visited often, especially sitting under the crest of its famous neighbor Matterhorn Peak.
Note: mtnartman reports that as of September 4, 2004, the summit register has been restored to its place.
Getting ThereThe best access to the area is from US 395. From the north, as you arrive in the tiny town of Bridgeport, watch for the first right hand turn just after the Shell filling station (rip-off fuel prices--see below). This is Twin Lakes Road. From the south, enter Bridgeport and proceed to the end of town and take the last left-hand turn, right across from Buster's Market. This is the same Twin Lakes Road. At the end of the road is Mono Village. If you are staying overnight, enter the Village and bear left, along the shoreline to the boat trailer parking and a large dirt turnaround. The trailhead parking is along the edge of the turnaround. Dayhiker parking is along the shoreline of the lake just prior to the turnaround.
The Horse Creek Trail offers the easiest access to the area, and from the overnight parking area, head up a dirt ramp into the campground at the west end of the parking area, and then bear left (south) and watch for a road that is blocked by a steel cable with yellow ribbon tied around it. Hop over this cable, cross a wood timber bridge, and look for a decrepit wood footbridge (got worse after winter 2004-2005) over Robinson Creek. At the far side of the footbridge, turn left and follow the trail to its end.
The official end of the trail is at the intersection with the Cattle Creek Trail, but a good section of trail goes beyond this point, following Horse Creek and twisting through brush and boulders. It soon degenerates into a braided use trail, and the lower branch is usually better. Avoid the sidehill trails visible to the east, and stay low. After a good stretch of level-to-low-incline, there is a steep talus section, and the best trail is on the right hand (west) side. At the top of this 1,000' slog, the trail pretty much goes away.
The three options from here are: (1)continue up the Horse Creek drainage, and contour around toward Burro Pass, and access the peak from the southeast, or turn right up another steep slog to the moraine of the Matterhorn Glacier, and from there you may proceed to the Matterhorn's West Couloir (2), or straight up to the North Face of The Dragtooth (3).
Red TapeIf you intend to leave your vehicle overnight, you must buy a pass from Mono Village to park there, $7 per vehicle. The pass is purchased from the person in the building at the entrance to the campground. You may stay for as many nights as you wish for your $7, but if you leave and come back, you will be required to buy another overnight pass. They will not allow you to leave food or scented items in your car on overnighters, as bears are a problem here. They will store your items for you, but keep in mind that if you get back to the trailhead at an unusual hour, they may not be there to return your items. Their hours of operation are variable, depending upon the business, so I cannot post them here.
If you are a dayhiker, Mono Village requests that you park alongside the shore of the lake rather than in the overnight parking area in the loop at the end of the road, and there is no cost.
When To ClimbSpring, summer, and fall are the main climbing seasons here, and the road is not always kept open in the winter, at least not to the end. The avalanche considerations are foremost in the decision to plow (or not plow) the road. Spring and summer mean lots and lots of hungry mosquitos in the area, and it gets better in the fall, even though the days are shorter. Mono Village and all of the local campgrounds are closed in the winter.
CampingThere are pay campgrounds at Mono Village at the end of Twin Lakes Road, as well as the Paha Campground , Robinson Creek Campground , and numerous other pay campgrounds along the way to Twin Lakes. Personally, I hate to pay to lay in the dirt, so I camp along Buckeye Road, which is accessed by the turnoff to Doc 'N' Al's resort, another pay camping area a couple of miles north of Lower Twin Lake. Take the turn, and pass the resort on the left, and continue onto Buckeye Road, across the bridge over Robinson Creek, and onto public land.
Mountain ConditionsNo cams here, yet. The NWS weather is pretty reliable and detailed, and is worth checking out. The Bridgeport Ranger Station may be able to offer some insights.
The Sawtooth TraverseThe Sawtooth Traverse, covering the ridgeline between Matterhorn Peak and Blacksmith Peak, was first accomplished in 1984 by Vern Clevenger and Claude Fiddler. The first ascentionists took the hard and long way to do the traverse, starting at the toe of The Cleaver, and traversing the entire Cleaver to the summit of Cleaver Peak. They then turned southeast, and traversed the rest of the ridge to Matterhorn Peak. Clevenger and Fiddler spent 2 days on their climb.
The traverse is most commonly done from the southeast, beginning at Matterhorn Peak, to the northwest, ending at Blacksmith Peak. Peter Croft has lent the traverse some notoriety by free-soloing the entire long, knife-edge ridge from SE to NW. The difficulty doesn't exceed 5.8, and with a rope this seems pretty casual, but the exposure wears on you after a while. And then there are the rappels. Personally, I hate to rappel. I know, if done right, it's plenty safe. But I don't like to. Some of the rappels are nearly a full rope length, and free-hanging to boot. Makes it more of an adventure...
The traverse is tremendously exposed, especially along the section from The Dragtooth all the way to Blacksmith. Driving along Hwy 395 throught the Bridgeport Valley, it is easy to assume that the ridgeline is only steep on one side, like the ridgeline of the Whitney Massif, but this is not so. It is steeper and more exposed (well, maybe not more exposed, but still plenty enough) on the southeast side than the northwest side.
So if the Sierra Nevada is getting too boring and predictable for you, strap 'em on and try this traverse!
GasolineCaution -- Extremely high fuel prices in Bridgeport!
Unreasonably high fuel prices in Bridgeport motivated me to add this section. There are 2 filling stations in Bridgeport, and both are owned by the same shyster. The fuel prices are often a dollar or more per gallon higher than surrounding areas. With this in mind, I want to recommend to everyone using a trailhead in the Bridgeport area to fill up well before you arrive.
If arriving from the north, fill up in Minden/Gardnerville, or next best, at Topaz Lake. Coming in over Tioga, Lee Vining is also expensive, but (slightly) less than Bridgeport. From the south, Bishop is the best bet, but Mammoth is 40 - 50 cents per gallon less than Bridgeport. Coming over Sonora Pass, I guess you're out of luck unless you buy enough in Sonora to get over and back.
If you for some reason do find yourself in need of fuel in the Bridgeport area, Mono Village (at Upper Twin Lake) has fuel for 20-30 cents cheaper than in town.
While the fuel prices are a rip-off, other merchants in town are more reasonable, especially restaurants.