Monday, June 23, 2014

Dragon's Tail Couloir and Tyndall Gorge.

It was almost two weeks ago now that I met up with Dan early one morning to climb one of the classic snow routes in the park.  Rated M2 SS, Dragon's Tail Couloir climbs the south side of Flattop Mountain and starts from Emerald Lake, giving a very short approach.  It is generally in shape to climb in the winter, spring, and early summer months, though of course discretion would be needed in the more avalanche prone winter.  But of course when the snow starts to melt and consolidate, that isn't as much of a worry.
We set off from Bear Lake shortly after 5am.  The sun was already hitting the horizon and we got to enjoy sunrise in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Sun illuminates Thatchtop with Glacier Gorge behind.
As we approached the lake, we caught our first glimpses of the couloir.  It is on the right here, while the left one is called Dragon's Tooth or Dead Elk depending on who you ask.  As is the norm with these things, it looked intimidatingly steep.  As you can see it splits about three quarters of the way up, and either side can be taken, though the left branch is the norm.
At Emerald Lake it looked even steeper.  After a short bathroom break, we strapped on our crampons and got out the ice axes and made our way around the south (left) side of the lake.
At the bottom of the snow field below the couloir things started to look not so bad.  We could see a party of two ahead of us and quickly caught up to and passed them. 
Gaining some elevation over Emerald Lake.  The familiar routine and sound of step, step, ice axe, step, step, ice axe was now taking over the mind and body and the exertion warmed us up considerably.  I was dripping sweat.
And higher.  Of course plenty of others have been up this recently and it was pretty easy to follow their already kicked in steps.  As the terrain grew ever steeper, I went from using the spike of the axe to the pick. 
Here is Dan leading the way as we take the left side of the split.
Nearing the top.
Things had melted out a bit here and required a short third class scramble over some rock.
Before getting back to some snow and topping out the couloir. 
We stopped for a snack and discussed descent options.  Just for some additional distance and gain we decided to hit Hallett Peak and then either take the Flattop trail back down OR check out the conditions on Tyndall Glacier and glissade to Pool of Jade.
On top of Hallett looking south. 
We got back down to Tyndall Glacier and it looked good.  In now somewhat mushy snow, we initially started down climbing face in before turning out and going for the glissade.  Yes, it was a whole lot of fun!
We came down on the right here.
Dan run/sliding down to Pool of Jade.
And looking up into the gorge from just above this small alpine tarn.  The water was pretty darn cold as you may imagine.
Perspective on Dream Lake and the Hallett boulder.
We got a few more fun glissades in on our way back down to the lake. 
Looking back up at our route in the afternoon.
And making our way back around the now very populated Emerald Lake. 
There were a ton of people out enjoying the day.  It's funny to get back to the parking lot in which you were the third car of the day to find it completely full.  Kind of a strange wake up after seeing a whopping four people during the day.
This route is indeed a classic in RMNP!  Some, such as the people we passed, choose to use protection in the rock next to the route or in snow pickets.  Some, such as us, go for it without, and that decision will be up to your own personal comfort level. 
While Pool of Jade is neat in and of itself, it was the views coming back down to Emerald Lake that really made the hike.  And Hallett is a pretty neat place offering a view of many of the peaks in the region.  These are all some fun destinations to add to your list and check out!
In all, this hike covered about 7 miles and gained 3570 feet, for a strenuous- day out.  I've broken down the various components below, with all distances given from the Bear Lake th. 
Dragon's Tail Couloir: approximately 2.2 miles to the base of the couloir, it gains around 1400 feet over the next quarter of a mile.  Expect snow up to 55 degrees and the possibility of some third or fourth class scrambling on rock which may or may not also contain ice.  M2, SS.  Moderate+.
Flattop Mountain, 12324 feet: 4.4 miles each way, 2874 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Hallett Peak, 12713 feet: 5.1 miles each way, 3263 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
Tyndall Glacier, 12200 feet: 4.7 miles each way, 2750 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Pool of Jade, 11580 feet: 2.9 miles each way, 2130 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Emerald Lake, 10100 feet: 1.8 miles each way, 650 foot gain.  Moderate-.
Dream Lake, 9900 feet: 1.1 miles each way, 450 foot gain.  Easy+.
Nymph Lake, 9700 feet: .6 miles each way, 250 foot gain.  Easy.

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