I've spent the last few weeks reading trip reports about people's recent snow climbs and just had to get in on the action myself. I did a little research into a few couloirs I've been wanting to climb, made a few phone calls and finalized the plans. Stephanie, Shawn, Matt and I decided on the Dragon's Tail Couloir on Flattop Mountain in RMNP. We couldn't really go wrong with this one. Granted, it is early spring and the conditions might not be the best, but with a short approach and being in RMNP we could always go find something else to do if we didn't find favorable conditions.
We all met at Bear Lake before the sun had any thoughts of showing itself. While getting ready we came to the realization that none of us are morning people and we all dislike the cold; and with these thoughts we contemplated going back to Estes for breakfast, but before I knew it we were on the trail....so much for French Toast.
I was happy to see how solid the snow had gotten over night at the start of the trail, after hearing that it hadn't been getting to far below freezing at night. We were making quick work of the easy approach when we got our first view of the Dragon's Tail. I love how intimidating these things look from a distance!
Thanks to the well trodden trail we were soon near the base of the climb. We threw on our crampons, got out our axes and started plodding along happy to find great snow conditions thus far.
The angle started out pretty gentle, but steepened as the couloir narrowed only to mellow out again.
About 1/3 of the way up the wall sheltered us from the wind and I started to cook in my coat. I stopped to take it off and noticed another group of four starting up below us. I began to catch up with my group just below the split of the right and left branches. We opted for the left branch since the right was guarded by a cornice. This is when the Dragon became a little unhappy with all of the attention he was getting. It more or less sounded like a bomb going off over my head as one of the ledges decided to drop its snow down on the couloir. I basically fell on my ice axe and hoped the snow that I was on held. Luckily, I just got a little spray from it. The main body of snow shot off at the group below us. It seemed like it took forever for the cloud of snow to dissipate, but when it did I was happy to see a complete group of four below. They soon started retreating back down to Emerald Lake.
We were happy to be heading up the left branch and out of the path of cornice.
A look back down the left branch with Emerald Lake below.
The crazy winter weather that we had this year kept us wondering what condition we would find the crux to be in. We found that there was still enough snow cover that it left us with about a 10ft section of class 3+ scrambling.
The angle increased once again for the final climb to the top.
Although it wasn't steep enough to require 4-pointing, the wind that gusted down carrying thousands of icy shards of snow with it made 4-pointing mandatory.
Once out of the couloir the wind was blowing in true Flattop Mtn fashion. We quickly packed up our climbing gear and headed for the trees.
The short approach, fun climbing and the easy hike out made for a pretty sweet day. We even made it too Estes for lunch....but they weren't serving French Toast anymore.
Questions: When you say "4-pointing", do you mean "Front-Pointing"? Also, can you elaborate on what the snow was like (postholing, soft, very firm, icey?). From the pictures it looks rather "firm" (which I find surprising for March! Then again, we had a crap year for snowfall). Lastly, do you recall what time you arrived at the base of the couloir and when you topped out? Thanks for sharing.
Thanks! I was referring to using both hands and feet as 4-pointing. Surprisingly, the snow was in great condition from top to bottom (better than what I've found so far this month!) I think the dry, warm March helped. As for times, I can't remember off hand. I think we actually got a rather late start up the couloir 8:00 and I want to say we topped out around 9:45. Enjoy, it was a fun climb!