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Pamplin Media Group photographer is drawn by the enchanting lure of alpine peak

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Photographer Jonathan House sits with some satisfaction after climbing Dragontail Peak. A couple weeks ago the stars finally aligned for a climb that I've been wanting to do since 2012. If you've ever hiked the Enchantments in Washington, Dragontail Peak is the distinctive summit that rises over Colchuck Lake and Aasgard Pass.?

?Camping at Colchuck in 2012, I stared at this behemoth after the sun had set, and noticed a faint headlamp near the summit. It blew me away that someone could actually go up that part of the mountain. I didn't really know anything about rock climbing at the time, but after some internet research when we returned home, I landed on the Serpentine Arete as a future goal.?

?PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - This is the 2,000-foot climbing route (in red) of the Dragontail Peak's Serpentine Arete.That said, I have a lot of goals — some realistic, many not, but what's special about this one was that it was still one of the first climbs that I had put on my bucket list, since my now-wife introduced me to the great outdoors.

But, even in 2020, years after having learned to climb alpine rock, it still felt pie-in-the-sky because of the sheer amount of rock climbing involved (2,000 feet), combined with another some 4,000 feet of ascent and 13 total roundtrip trail miles on the approach and return.

?Poring over old trip reports, we had crossed our fingers for a sub-20-hour day. I was worried because some parties actually had gotten "benighted" (stuck overnight) on the mountain because they had trouble finding the route. We really didn't want to have an unplanned shiver bivy at 8,000 feet since we were going light and not lugging up a bunch of overnight equipment.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Tony Feeny was on lead during the "crux" pitch of the route. The rope and climber look slightly ajar due to the panorama function from the cellphone photo.Thankfully, the terrain and conditions worked out well enough that we were able to speed up the process by simul-climbing long portions of the wall. Simul-climbing is when both climbers move at the same time, while still continually placing pieces of protection between them as they ascend. This is in contrast to traditional climbing where a leader climbs while being belayed, then the follower is belayed from above by the leader.

Simul-climbing drastically speeds up the process, but at the expense of increasing risk to both individuals if one were to fall.

The 5.8 grade comes from two pitches of beautiful crack climbing, with hundreds upon hundreds of feet of open air below. The hardest move, however, actually came from a pitch above the "official" cruxes, which the Fred Becky Cascade Alpine Guide references as "Shallow 5.7-5.8." This was certainly the true challenge for me. I've never cussed so much in my life trying to get through a section.?

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - This is a panorama from the summit of Dragontail Peak, which is in the Enchantments area of Washington.
After getting through this middle section, the climbing difficulty eased, and we were able to once again move more quickly. After spending most of the morning in the shade, the sun finally hit us near the top and things warmed up quickly. Thankfully, we were only a few hundred feet from the top.

We reached the summit at 2 p.m., 2 1/2 hours sooner than what we had budgeted for. Overall, we finished the rock portion in about six hours, while finishing the entire climb car-to-car in a little under 15 hours.

This left us overjoyed, because we were able to make it back into Leavenworth, Washington, with five minutes to spare before our favorite burger place, Heidleburger, closed for the night.


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