May, '01


The Dragon's Tail Couloir

a snowy slolo...



    Last Saturday I found myself without a climbing partner so I decided to head to Estes Park to see Lisa and Josh. There had been talk of bouldering in the afternoon and that sounded better than nothing. However, when I got to town and started looking at the mountains, I decided to do something in the high county. Since it was late in the morning, I had to pick an objective that was close to the trailhead. The Dragon's Tail Couloir on Flattop Mountain seemed like an obvious choice so, after bouldering with Lisa and Josh, I headed up to the Bear Lake Trailhead.

    The approach passed quickly and I was soon standing at the base of Emerald Lake, admiring the beauty of Tyndall Gorge. I stopped there and ate a small lunch while I talked with a guy from Denver. I pointed out where I was heading and he did his part as a good tourist by being amazed at my intended route and inflating my ego. Of course the truth of the matter is that I could have pointed up to a 10 degree solid rock slope and he would have been impressed. :) Still, this couloir was exciting for me and I started out from the lake with an attitude comprised of 90 percent confidence and 10 percent trepidation.

    Overall it was an easy climb, punctuated with a few difficult sections which reminded me that I was a long way from the car and alone. The first difficulty was a steep snow section where the quality of the snow (read: the ability of the snow to support my weight) was less than stellar. I was not wearing crampons and this was the only moment on the climb that I debated getting them out of my pack. The second difficult section came high on the route and involved climbing loose 5.4 rock to avoid  rotten snow that had formed a moat around a large boulder. The idea of falling into the moat and being pinched between the hard snow  and the boulder was not  inviting. Since the rock was loose, I found it quite scary but easy. I even left a small section of accessory cord (thin rope) on this section in case I was forced to retreat from  higher on the route.

    I topped out 4 and a half hours after leaving the trailhead and made my way over to the summit of Flattop Mountain to eat a few GU packets. I shared most of the descent with another guy that had gone out solo that afternoon to do some back country skiing. It was nice to see someone else out there alone, doing what they love.

Below are some pictures from the route...

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This is the view of the route from Bear Lake. I put a black dot over the actual route for easier identification.


Here is a picture of the lower section of  Tyndall Gorge. Hallett Peak is on the left and Flattop Mountain is on the right. The route is marked in this picture with a black dot.


I was almost half way up the route when I snapped this shot looking down at Emerald Lake. The boulder below me in the middle of the couloir was one of the difficult sections. I passed it on the right (looking down).


Another shot looking down at Emerald Lake before the couloir turned to the west and the lake was hidden from sight.


After I rounded the bend in the couloir, I took this picture looking up. The crux of the climb is still out of sight.


This was the crux of the climb. The 5.4 rock that I climbed is on the right and the moat is hidden from view. If you look carefully, you can see the blue accessory cord that I left at the bottom of the picture. It is dropping straight down and reveals the steepness of this section.


This is a shot looking down from the top of the couloir. If you look at the second picture, you can see a section of the upper route where the snow was melted out. This is a shot looking down from above that section.


Look mom, I'm wearing my helmet!   :)

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