Triple Couloir

On February 9th I climbed Triple Couloir on Dragontail Peak with Ed Hobbick. One of the most sought-after mixed alpine routes in the Cascades, Triple Couloir delivers incredible alpine ambience, interesting climbing, and a some good healthy exercise.

We found good snow conditions and were able to move together in all three couloirs kicking bucket steps. Gaining each couloir, however, took a little more time. Conditions proved to be what they frequently are in February: cold, unconsolidated snow over rock in steep areas. It's later in the season, late March or early April, that melt-freeze cycles tend to create the ice runnels for which the route is famous. I once climbed the route in June and found the runnels long gone. What I found was a still-interesting ascent via a variation that lets you neatly avoid the compact, slabby rock exposed when the runnels are not present. I knew that, ice or no, we were in for a good climb.

The worst of the technical difficulties came from thin snow over rock. I always find this kind of climbing to be very engaging: never really steep or difficult, but tenuous and poorly protected, with serious consequences if the leader takes a fall. With the exception of one 15cm ice screw, we used cams and pitons for all the protection and anchors; the rock on Dragontail is accomodating in this respect.

Ed and I agreed that this climb deserves its classic status, and I wouldn't be surprised to find either of us climbing it again one day soon.