"Finally", I think. My eyes dart up silver paths slicing black stone. I am no expert, but this is good, very good. Joel Kauffman and Dan Hilden cross a frozen Colchuck Lake towards the North Face of Dragontail, a peak I just can't stay away from.
I've banged my head against Dragontail's walls, ridges, and couliors for years, learning and progressing. The Backbone stole Rudy Ruana's 4.5 camelot when I shoved it tight and deep into the crux wide pitch. I was young, but I saved money from Vertical World shifts and replaced the piece. That climb lit a fire in my soul and was worth every single penny. Max Hasson and I climbed a new route on the same face years later, learning the joy and the rush of pushing ourselves in the mountains. Sol Werkin and I made the first free ascent of Dragons of Eden and forged a new friendship. Most recently negative temps froze Cole's toes and stole my confidence. It hasn't all been easy.
Too much fun; loving it on the Cotter-Bebie
All in all, I've made 10 ascents of Dragontail. I've failed on half as many. Climbing is hard, even on peaks you know well. These days, I am striving to understand the world of mixed climbing on cold faces. The last two years I've walked into the North Face in winter conditions more times than I would like to admit. Most times I bailed. A few times I made the summit, but the ice wasn't drooling over the slabs and the neve wasn't filling the voids between blocks. I yearned for the real experience.
Conditions are everything. I am learning that about ice and mixed climbing in the Cascades. The last few weeks I've climbed the North Face twice in stellar nick. Those 200 miles from Bridge Creek Campground to the face seem worth it now. Everyday I watch the weather from my window at home and visualize what's happening up high. I scan NOAA and hone into the temps. I am learning.
Dan cranking a mixed move on the Serpentine Arete
This week we climbed the Cotter-Bebie to the upper Serpentine Arete, a challenging endevour in spindrift and snow. The climbing blew my mind. Rock edges, hard snow, and real ice sucked up my picks and showed me what I need to learn and work on to progress in this world.
Even after twenty years climbing still fascinates me. There are so many facets of the sport. So many things to learn. Someday I hope to take the skills I build on Dragontail and put them to a higher use in a far away land. Until then and always I will enjoy the learning curve.
For more pics and another report, check out http://joelandneilsclimbingblog.blogspot.com/