Words and photos by Seth Timpano
The weather in most of the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Intermountain Regions had been atypical this past winter and late spring. For many skiers and ice climbers the warm temperatures made for less than ideal conditions most of the season, but for some of us this abnormal weather patterns made incredible alpine climbing conditions. In March, several climbing partners along with myself were fortunate enough to establish three quality melt freeze mixed climbs in the remote backcountry of Montana and Wyoming. Not wanting to hang up my tools just yet for the season; I was fortunate to get a call from my friend Lee who lives in Bellingham, Wash. The alpine climbing conditions in the Cascades were shaping up nicely and the weather looked promising. We decided on the Cotter-Bebie route on the North Face of Dragontail Peak in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness outside of Leavenworth, Wash. The route is 2000 feet of beautiful alpine ice and mixed runnels through stellar granite rock.
The peak had seen quite a bit of action throughout the winter and early spring, but we found the north face empty the days we spent in the wilderness. We setup a quick camp on the frozen Colchuck Lake and tucked in early for the night, intending on pre-dawn start.
Lee and I simul-climbed several ropes lengths of straightforward alpine ice before stopping to belay a short section of bare rock and thin ice that required a delicate touch to surmount. This put us on the upper snowfield beneath the crux of the route. At the apex of the snow field we moved slightly right into a weakness that is the Northwest Face Route – an old Fred Beckey route in summer. We followed an ephemeral ice runnel that averaged only a foot wide for 500 vertical feet to just below the summit of Dragontail Peak, bypassing one overhanging rock section along the way. This section was tedious and thoughtful, particularly in the spindrift conditions, but went free at M6 for both the leader and the follower. A few more snow covered pitches of easy rock climbing put us on the summit with daylight to spare.
I use the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack for lots of adventures and am convinced that it is the best alpine climbing backpack on the market. It’s lightweight, durable and has all the right features to meet the needs of any alpinist. The pack is large enough to handle the approach with all the climbing equipment, overnight kit and several days of food and fuel. Yet it is light and collapsible while climbing and always comfortable. I am very excited to be headed to the Alaska Range this spring in search of new ice/mixed climbs where both myself and my partner will be wearing Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs.
Seth has been climbing for almost 15 years and has been guiding for nearly a decade for Alpine Ascents. He enjoys all types of climbing but finds his greatest adventures to be steep rock and ice climbs in the mountains done in the best style and with great friends. He has put up first ascents in Alaska, Canada, India, Kyrgyzstan, Montana and Antarctica, in addition to several climbing trips to Argentina, Nepal, Spain, Thailand, Italy, Chile, France & New Zealand.