Flattop Mountain – Dragon’s TailDay 1: - 06/05 Stats:
Mountain: Flattop Mt. (12,324’)
Route: Started at Bear Lake TH (9475’), climbed Dragon’s Tail to Flattop Mountain and descended flattop mountain trail.
Elevation Gain - 2900’ (approx)
Roundtrip Mileage - 8 miles (approx)
Crew: Brad Cunningham and Prakash Manley
We had wanted to climb dragon’s tail for a while now and felt like this weekend was as good an opportunity as any. We were made aware of beta suggesting rockfall facilitated by melting snow, etc. but the only way to know for sure was to go and look. Given that the time was late for this couloir we thought that the right branch was probably what we would climb. Overnight temps at 12,000’ were forecast at above freezing (38F) which would ordinarily mean no refreeze but the fairly clear night and fairly strong winds gave us hope that the snow in the couloir may remain fairly solid. However, it did not make sense to risk a late start and the melting that came from sunhit. We therefore advanced our start time to 4AM.
The sunrise alone was worth waking up for even if the rest of the day had gone sour…
Sun rises over Emerald Lake, RMNP
A healthy dose of alpenglow never hurt anyone either…
Alpenglow on Dragon's Tail Couloir
First impressions… the cornice was still guarding the exit of the right branch while the left branch looked good to go. I was surprised that the warmth hadn’t melted it out yet and even more surprised that the cornice hadn't fallen off with all the warmth... perhaps today would be the day it falls off... We quickly revised plans and decided to go left… this was good because I was curious to scope out the left branch crux wall for myself after having read various reports rating it from anywhere between Class 3+ to low 5th.
It’s probably not the smartest idea to walk the lake right now. We skirted it along the right bank and had to bushwhack a tad.
Base of Dragon's Tail Couloir
We geared up at one last rock band before couloir entry. We brought harnesses and my 8mm, 30m rando rope to get some practice with roped travel. I’d also never led in the alpine and wanted to set some pro on the crux wall. I figured it was best I practice in a setting where we were both comfortable with climbing unprotected. I carried a lightweight rack… a few quickdraws, doubles, cordelette, few nuts, hexes, a tricam and a couple small C4s. We met Mike and Bob from the tri-state area who were also heading up. We chatted about the underpants gnomes, shared infuriating tunes that stuck to ones head, etc… once everyone was suitably fired up we set to work up the couloir.
In the lower body of Dragon's Tail Couloir
Soft snow often kills the perception of steepness but I felt like the initial sections were in the high 30s – 40 degrees.
In the lower body of Dragon's Tail Couloir 2
We soon approached the fork…
And took the left one… the grade was fairly easy throughout. The snow had softened a fair amount creating more work for us but was never soft enough to where we were concerned about slides.
The left branch - Dragon's Tail Couloir
We soon approached the crux… in current snow conditions an easy class 2+ looking option had opened up – climber’s left (red arrow). We instead decided to go to the right up a class 3-3+ looking feature (blue arrow)
Crux - Route Options
I wanted to test if the crux took pro and found a nice pocket in a crack above the feature that swallowed a cam greedily.
Note, for more challenging climbing conditions - Crux is protectable if needed
We continued to simulclimb through the cam. A skier approached the crux as I waited for Brad to clean the cam on his way up. He turned around and skied back down from below the crux. Looking down the couloir from above the crux…
Looking down the couloir from above the crux
Steepness above the crux probably reached the low 50s but felt a lot mellower because of the soft snow. Our boots were now sinking in to the ankles and our crampons started feeling unwanted. Wind had begun blowing 30 mph sustained down into the couloir at this point.
Low 50s above the crux?
Brad tops out on his first ever couloir climb…
Brad tops out on Dragon's Tail Couloir
Brad tops out on Dragon's Tail Couloir 2
This guy might not hold snow for much longer the way things are going…
Longs Peak - The Trough
We quickly walked up to Flattop Mountain’s summit and returned via the Flattop mountain trail after a brief stop for Ramen once we were in the trees and sort of out of the wind. The trail was socked in with snow and tracks wandered all over it. We found a bearing and stuck to it. Word of advice… bring skis for this descent and save yourself some time. Leave snowshoes at home.
Mush in the trees
We chatted with Mike and Bob at the trailhead. They were planning to attempt Snow Lion in the IPW on Monday. Must be cool to be in college where you can take off for a couple weeks and do whatever you want. This guy showed up to bid us farewell…
Lenticular seen from Bear Lake TH
It was time for hot-tubbing, Qdoba, protein shake and onward to the next trailhead for an attempt on Jasper. Brad’s warmup for Sunday’s century ride was complete.
Pt. 12,047’ – Jasper Area - IPW Day 2: 06/06 Stats:
Mountain: Unnamed (?) pt. 12,047’
Route: Started at 4th of July TH (~10,160’), skinned / booted up to 12,047’ summit and skied E-NE slopes to Middle Boulder Creek (North Fork) back to TH.
Elevation Gain - 2000’ (approx)
Roundtrip Mileage - 8 miles (approx)
Crew: Jon Coe and Prakash Manley
I parked at the 4th of July TH and read up on Jasper route descriptions as Jon pulled up next to me. We chatted with a couple skiers who’d returned after a 14 hour day skiing the North side of North Arapaho. They warned us of the difficulty in finding the bridge across Boulder Creek’s North fork. The two hours or so of sleep the previous night hit me and at ~9PM I fell into the fairly cramped passenger seat of the Jeep and slept like a baby. The alarm went off at 2:30 and I woke up at around 3AM after some well articulated swears. Jon’s cab light went on immediately after I woke up. He’d been waiting for me to stir. We ate, geared up and left the trailhead at approximately 4:15AM.
We followed the Arapaho pass trail, found the diamond lake turnoff easily and continued booting on softened snow. We were soon at the creek bed. The bridge eluded us and we postholed in deep snow and thick trees for almost an hour trying to find a safe crossing. We instead found a lazy porcupine and were distracted for a further time trying to attract his attention and get him to smile for the camera. He grunted with disdain and hid in the bushes. Finally we found this log, and a balancing act put us across the creek…
Jon crosses log bridge
We skinned up across the creek and pulled out the map. This trip was a good exercise in navigation skills which has become so under-used in today’s world of numerous detailed trip reports and guidebooks. A small, steep, wooded hill needed to be surmounted to gain access to the lakes in the high plains surrounding the Jasper massif…
Wooded hill for upper basin access
We were soon in the upper basin. It was barely 7AM and noticed that eastern aspects were quickly warming up and glistening. We decided that Jasper’s east face was out of the question at this point.
The snow would be wet enough to begin sliding by the time we would summit Jasper… plus Jon needed to get back to his wife at a reasonable hour. A 12,000’ odd point on Jasper’s ridge promised a couple nice turns and we decided to go that route instead. A nice big wedge had broken off and slid recently…
Wetslide Deposition Zone
We broke here to refuel. Jon had brought an assload of food… beef bits to spice up the standard ramen I brewed, bratwursts, etc. After a rather relaxed pitstop we began heading up the saddle to the lake in the ‘Jasper basin’. I skinned switchbacks and Jon booted up the snow since switchbacks aggravate his knee injury.
Booting Up Pt. 12,047'
Once up on the saddle I decided to shoulder skis and help Jon with the bootpacking although skinning is definitely possible all the way to the top. Once the ridge is reached the grade mellows out significantly. A giant cornice overhung the ridge to climber’s right and we gave it a wide berth.
Booting Up Ridge to Pt. 12,047'
The summit was reached at 8:40AM. I hung around for a little while taking pictures of Jasper…
Jasper from summit of Pt. 12,047'
Neva from summit of Pt. 12,047'
and South Arapaho… to my surprise there was not a single person on Skywalker on a weekend day. I found out later that Sarah
and Dominic had summitted S., Arapaho via Skywalker at 8:15AM.
Skywalker (S. Arapaho) from summit of Pt. 12,047'
Jon arrived soon after…
Jon arrives on the summit of Pt. 12,047'
The ski descent began at 9AM…
Prakash skis off the summit of Pt. 12,047' (c) Jon Coe
Prakash skis off the summit of Pt. 12,047' - 2 (c) Jon Coe
Jon skis off the summit of Pt. 12,047'
Jon skis off the summit of Pt. 12,047' - 2
Jon skis off the summit of Pt. 12,047' - 3
It took 8 minutes and 8 turns to get back to where we stopped to refuel. We skiied trees back down to the creek.
Skiing off Pt. 12,047' - IPW
Route finding in the trees consisted sticking beside the creek and heading in the approximate direction of the TH. We found our bridge for more tight-rope walking in ski boots after tossing skis across the creek…
Crossing log bridge over Boulder Creek - (c) Jon Coe
Looking back at Pt. 12,047’… our ski route is behind what’s seen here…
Looking back at Pt. 12,047’
Jon crosses the cascade, less than a mile from the TH.
Crossing the cascade on Arapaho Trail
Our achievement seems ridiculously mild when placed beside Jasper and Neva but there’ll be colder days in a future season when Jasper will become more easily attainable.
L-R Jasper, Pt. 12,047' and Neva
We were back at the TH at 11AM… the beers were still cold and the day was still young... I met and shared tales with old climbing friends and made some new ones. Another great day out. My apologies for the poor picture quality for the most part... my SD200 has seen many moons. I am in the process of evaluating a replacement and welcome suggestions.