Dragontail Couloir

From my trip report dated April 24th, 2005

We climbed the Dragontail Gully on the south face of Flattop Mountain today. Apryle, Jesse (new hire at CMS) and I. It has been a pretty long day….as the snow falls quietly outside I’m vindicated for our early morning start. 3:00AM, the alarm didn’t need to go off. I snapped to attention, squinting against the harsh light of our reading lamp and repeating my last thoughts before falling asleep…”gaiters…don’t forget the gaiters…”

We were at the Bear Lake trailhead and on the trail by quarter after 4. The sun hadn’t even thought about making her daily pass by Colorado yet, but the full moon shone brilliantly through the thick pines. We passed Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake, all still half-frozen in the wake of the Rocky Mountain winter. By 5:15AM we were geared up at the base of the gully, keeping an eye on the building clouds and eagerly anticipating the reassuring warmth of the mountain dawn. Step, step, plunge and breathe, step, step, plunge and breathe….the snowed-in valley floor fell away as neve snow crunched under cramponed boots. At 6AM the sun rose and cast a spray of pink-orange alpenglow on the towering spires surrounding us, then sank higher into the gloom of the coming storm. We moved quickly up the gully, sweating and resting and breathing deeply of the clean thin air. A running belay kept us safe; a few pickets and pieces of rock pro easily warded off the exposure and twinge of fear inspired by climbing on the recently-avalanched styrofoam snow.

We topped out around 8 AM, just before mist swirled up the valley and obscured the spacious grassy pasture that is the summit of Flattop. Descent was quick, despite some hopeful mistakes whilst searching for a speedy glissade that never materialized. Back at the apartment by 11 AM, just in time to blow off the rest of the day napping and reading. A good adventure, lacking slightly in challenge but not a bad first snow climb for Apryle and Jesse, and certainly a good day for the legs in preparation for the marathon next week!

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