Successful ascent of Colchuck and Dragontail via the Colchuck Glacier/Col and Dragontail West Ridge. Started ascending the col around 6:00am, snow was great with a thin soft layer over the firmer snow. It had been warm all week, but the snow stayed in pretty good shape. Topped out on the col around 8:00am, sticking right - it’s a bit steeper, but easier to get onto the dirt of the ridge. Picked out way up to Colchuck peak a little after 9:00am. The trail is a bit of a choose your own adventure but it’s not super hard route finding. Traverse the back side of the ridge, biasing upwards until you’re under the summit block. There are a few spots where you can scramble right up to the mouth of a gulley that drops all the way to the glacier below, so be a bit cautious. Took a break for a bit and headed back down to Banshee Pass. Hit the snow in the col headed up to Pandora’s box at 10:15 or so, right as the sun was starting to hit it. This is definitely the latest to be on it, once the snow gets super soft it’d be a miserable trip up. Beating the sun got us great kick stepping snow and we booted right up. The col looks pretty intimidating from below, but it gets less steep after the first section and is pretty short, nothing compared to what the Colchuck Col just was in distance. Took the scramble section from the col onto the ridge as the snow downclimb had been in full sun for awhile and was looking sketchy at this point in the season. The scramble seemed class 3 to me, with one class 4 move due to a pretty shear drop down the left side. Really good rock though so it never felt sketchy. Once you top out on the ridge there’s a 2.5 foot gap between two huge boulders to squeeze through to the other side of the ridge. Pretty neat how nature worked that one out for us! Worked along and down the ridge to the snow on the backside of Dragontail and across to the normal trail up. The snow was super soft here and I fell to my waist with both feet into a surprise rock well at one point - definitely the sketchiest spot. Steer clear of the rocks! Hit the summit of Dragontail right after noon. Trail back to Aasgard and out is pretty self explanatory. Aasgard does take a really long time to go down and was the surprise crux of the day. Just kitty litter the whole way slipping and sliding with the tantalizing lake below that never seems to get any closer.
Overall the route is in decent shape as long as you get there early before the sun hits the snow. I can’t predict how long it’ll stay in on the back side of Dragontail, since that gets the most sun. You can continue on the ridge the whole way potentially, but I can’t speak to that route since I didn’t take it. Lots of fun rock scrambling all day, the rock is great quality and there were a number of solid moves on both Colchuck and Dragontail.
15 miles, 15 hours, with 6500’ of elevation gain. Could be done faster for sure but we took our time a bit.
Erik Schulz was brave or foolish enough to invite me on an adventure in The Enchantments, given my penchant for long days and alpine finishes experienced first hand on our summit to Preacher Mountain. Erik has an e-bike and extolled the virtues of an e-bike for long approaches to climbs on forest service roads. Intrigued about the increased opportunity for more car-to-car (c2c) climbs vs. planned camps or unplanned bivys’ (Big Snow, Lake Constance, The Brothers, and others), I quickly agreed to join him on this adventure while also increasing Erik’s experience with alpine finishes. Our plan was to take a trip to The Enchantments, and after a night of pouring over many GPX tracks, we agreed on a loop – climb the Colchuck Glacier, bag Colchuck Peak, summit Dragontail via Pandora’s Box, drop to climb the Witches Tower, and finish with a stroll to Little Annapurna, then descend to Colchuck Lake via Aasgard Pass. Simple enough! I was up for a record day for hours and altitude in an outing, given I had gained 11,700 feet and 19 miles on a day trip a little over a week ago.
I rented an e-bike for this trip as I did not have sufficient time to research a purchase and did not want to drop $5K on something I may not find all that appealing or have a sufficient ROI. About one mile into our journey, my bike stopped moving and displayed ERR6 on the instrument panel. After an hour and three miles of pushing the bike uphill, we commenced on foot from the Stuart Lake trailhead.
Our plan to start early paid off as the temperature was sufficiently low that the snow was firm for the ascent to the lake. This was critically important, as on the hike out from the lake, we encountered endless miles of tree wells, rock well, rotten stream-covered snow bridges, contributing to my 56,000 steps and 12,000 calories burned. The exit fee from the Enchantments is high!
Please be mindful that the rising temps are rapidly changing the conditions on the trail, lake, snowfields, and glaciers. Although the lake has been skied on and walked upon recently, to do so now would result in an unplanned ice bath and shortened outing. Also, note that the boot path to Aasgard Pass and the Colchuck Glacier approach traverse part o the lake. Please find a route that avoids crossing the ice-covered water, as it won’t be ice for much longer.
As we approached the lake, we enjoyed watching the sun illuminate the sky and surrounding peaks. We gained the slabby rocks nearing the lake and were greeted by early morning hues of pink and purple lighting up the tips of Cashmere Peak and Mountaineer Ridge. We arrived at the lake just before 6 am (my new e-bike already taxing our time itinerary) and took in the majestic views of Dragontail and other surrounding peaks, enjoying the beauty and magic of the aptly named Enchantments. From here, we made our way around the lake, enjoying the smaller inlets and bays, taking in the snow-covered surroundings, and refilled our water bottles at the small tarn just west of the lake – avoiding an unplanned dip, although Erik is ever hopeful I will find my way into the water on some future outing. We made our way to the boulder field at the southern edge of the lake and opted to cache gear we would not need for our planned summits, recording a waypoint allowing for easy location and retrieval regardless of our path down.
We ascended the Colchuck Glacier, which was in the shadow of the sun for the entire climb, making our way to Banshee Pass, impressed and appreciative of the natural beauty and grandeur of the surrounding granite cliffs. Upon nearing the saddle, we met a pair of skiers who were traversing from Dragontail to Mount Stuart – impressive stuff! Fortunately, they kicked in a nice boot path to Colchuck Peak, which we followed. The view south from Banshee Pass to the peaks of the Teanaway is stunning. Most of the Teanaway 20 were visible. We agreed that hiking and climbing with a modicum of cloud cover are preferred as it not only provides a respite from the beating sun, it also provides much more interesting and beautiful vistas of the sky and imminently more interesting backdrop for photographing peaks.
We reached the summit of Colchuck Peak and enjoyed the stunning views of Argonaut and Sherpa Peaks and Mount Stuart, all so close, we felt we could reach out and touch the summits. Soon enough, and another Bulger in the books. We dropped back to Banshee Pass, had some lunch, and prepared for the climb up to Pandora’s box. Unlike Colchuck Peak, we had no pre-paved path to follow. We scratched and clawed our way up the col in ever diminishing snow conditions – which only become more challenging with the increasing grade and sun-softened snow. Fortunately, we brought two sets of axes, which were needed to make the ascent. I am sure we resembled two bears crawling uphill, relying on the purchase of our picks as our feet were only effective at dislodging snow down the slope. As we climbed upwards, I was thankful we would not need to descend this way and that another, a more civilized route down awaited us. Now I was awaiting what was instore inside Pandoras Box.
Upon reaching said named block, the clouds were rolling in, and visibility was rapidly dropping. I gingerly approached the edge of the ridge, as it was snow-covered and possibly corniced, and I had no idea what was on the other side, although the topo maps and routes gave the impression that it was a gentle saddle. As I peered over the edge, it was a rather steep knife-edge of snow of about 75+ degrees. I could see some tracks about 100 feet below, but without a rope or other protection, it would have been a sheer drop – given the effort to climb the col to this point, I lacked the energy for such a downclimb and also was not in the mood to descent the col we just climbed given the pitch and softness of the snow. I was still emotionally attached to the notion we could traverse the ridge to the Dragontail summit and take a more gentle path down and make Aasgard pass. There appeared to be a “scrambleable” route to the left, which I lacked the energy to test, and I did not explore the immediate area around Pandora’s Box to assess a viable route around the block. With the visibility increasingly getting poor, and our high level of exhaustion, we agreed that the safest route of egress would be to descend the col, regain Banshee Pass, and glissade down the Colhcuck Glacier. I was crestfallen with disappointment and dread at this new, unplanned descent route.
We downclimbed about 200 feet, traversed to the west to once again reconnoiter the potential ridge to Dragontail, only to find about 2500+ feet of sheer cliffs over the edge to the west. Down the col we went! We found a nice rock from which to doff our crampons and assumed a partial self-arrest position for the descent, given the pitch was steep. Our axes were able to bite into hard snow and ice about 2″ below the softer snow, which provided adequate braking for the descent. We dropped about 500 feet, then made our way to the Colchick Glacier. About 2500 feet of safe yet swift glissading was in our future. We dropped altitude very fast as we descended and had a fast journey to our gear cache at the lake.
With our shortened trip, I thought surely we would make it out prior to dark (as my e-bike would certainly be able to coast downhill) and enjoy a proper meal in Leavenworth. Needless to say, the path down was completely treacherous with post-holing delights, delaying my well-intended plans. Dinner consisted of yet more bags of Jelly Belly Sport Beans and Cherry Blosson Honey Stingers. Schnitzel and wurst from the Andreas Keller Restaurant would have to wait until the next trip. I believe we made it back to the trailhead around 10 pm or 11 pm – but who’s counting. It was still an alpine finish, FTW! Erik cruised down on his motorized e-bike while I coasted down on my newly minted Luddite version. I wrapped the evening with a last-minute booking at the Post Hotel. Breakfast and a spa awaited me in the AM – most civilized!
Given the solitude I have enjoyed on my last two outings to the Enchantments, including my late December snowshoe trip to Colchuck Lake, I doubt I could brave the throng of the masses, trampling their way to the lake and beyond. On this trip and my last, I did not encounter another party (campers and skiers excluded). I think that off-season in the Enchantments will be my season in the future. I love the snow and the solitude, and the climbing is so much better in winter – alpine vs. trad rock. Also, Erik is super fun and great hiking and climbing partner. He brings a magical glee and super positive attitude to the alpine and mountain experience. So glad I met him as he seems willing to accompany me on future outings…for now.
Yours truly, #thehad
Started the hike on a busy Saturday morning at 6:30am. Turned off the trail at around 4.9 miles to get up a pretty mellow scree field to achieve the north ridge up to Colchuck Peak.
After getting up to the ridge there is a good amount of route finding to get the right line. There are definitely some cracks that run to slab, which don't go. I would guess that its about 70% Class 4 and 5 sections of 20-30m of Class 5. Takes approximately 5 hours to get from the trailhead to the summit.
The ridge line was dry and free of now. Some lingering snow to the west of the ridge. The path down to the col between Colchuck and Dragontail is sandy scree, but easy to descend. Encounter some snow on the way up to dragon tail, but after navigating to the ridge it is snow free with only minor scrambling.
Met a group of mountain goats at the top of Dragontail and descended the normal route down. There was some snow on north aspects, but Aasgard pass was free of snow. Beautiful days of Colchuck Lake on the way down.
Colchuck Lake is warm enough to swim in, but maybe a bit cold.
Ascended via the glacier, great conditions
Our climb leader must have been scouting an alternate route, because we went from Colchuck Lake around the west side, camped at about 6000 feet northwest of the peak, and the next day continued diagonally upward to the southwest ridge and up the ridge. Class 2 scramble all the way.
Did this one as an overnight trip. Hiked in and camped on the far south side of Colchuck Lake. Hike in was super mellow because trail was already broken in to the lake. Woke up early the next morning to catch sunrise along the summit ridge. The snow up the glacier was total garbage. One step would be powder, the next solid ice, the next post holing... Not fun. But still very doable with a good rotating crew to break a trail. Views from the top were stunning. Not a single cloud in the sky and no wind. Glissade down was fun but not great. You were either in deep pow going no where or on solid ice going as fast as a car on the highway. Still... much better than walking down.
7 hour 55 minute C2C
Started from parking lot at 4:30 a.m., when there were actually still some spots available. Good and easy progress to Colchuck Lake.
Did the choose-your-own adventure up the boulderfield to the base of the snow, which at this time was at about 500' above Colchuck Lake. We used ice axe & crampons which certainly made glacier travel safer and more efficient but saw at least one traveler without them. (In fact we only saw 2 other travelers on the glacier all day; the other was a telemark skier.)
From the saddle it was a scramble and routefinding to the summit. We traversed over to the true summit.
We glissaded down much of the glacier with great care. Rock-hopping back down the boulderfield on sore legs was unpleasant and our eagerness to get out of the boulders led to some bushwhacking when we tried to shortcut.
I will not say how long it took us car to car; suffice to say, we did not set any records. But dammit, we summited and it was a great day.
Had the mountain almost to ourselves, which is atypical for the Enchantments. Weather on mountain forecast stated up to .4in of snow potentially up high - attained the saddle between Colchuck and Dragontail via almost snow stepping the whole way up. Clouds started moving in and very light snow, made push for summit and by the time we made it back to our bags in under an hour, we had 1" snow accumulation. Made boulder hopping a little tricker on the way back to saddle, but 2500' glissade out pretty awesome : )
Fun hike with excellent summit views. Best glissade I've ever done from Colchuck Col all the way down to the lake!
Awesome trip! 4:45 up and 3:07 down. Probably the best glissade I've ever done. Trip report here.
Climbed Colchuck Peak and Dragontail Peak via Colchuck Glacier route. Colchuck is an awesome summit with amazing views of Rainier, Adams, Glacier Peak, Mt. Baker, and other great Cascade Peaks. Descended via Asgard Pass.
Did this while camped in south side basin for a climb of Argonaut. Rather enjoyable summit plateau, looks like goats use the area heavily.
Night glissading, Bulger summit. One of the best trip that I have ever had!!
Up the glacier to the summit block. Mostly snow free above col.
Came up Colchuck Glacier, scrambled Colchuck, then went over to Dragontail and Little A. Fun climb.
Mostly straightfoward, and way better than the stretch between Sherpa and Argonaut. Descent via boot-ski of the Colchuck glacier. Trip report.
Early season, very cloudy, one day trip. Good glisade back to lake.
Climbed up from the SW corner of Colchuck Lake to the low point on the North Ridge just below Point 6991T. Countoured along the base of the cliffs to the small glacier/small basin just to the side of the SW Ridge. Mostly Class 2 to this point.
After getting on the ridge it is mostly Class 2/3 for the first 1/4-1/3. Afterwards it is a combination of Class 3-4, sometimes with moderate exposure (~40'), crossing back and forth over the ridge as needed to avoid cliff bands. The top 1/3 or so seems to take forever...
checked out North Buttress couloir but were stymied by rock step without gear and carrying skis. looks nice enough to return to (without skis).
Settled for Colchuck Gl. and false summit tag. Great day out with Jonah, Annie and Seth.