With a solid spring of classic Cascade alpine climbs under our belts and an impending move by Goran to San Francisco, we wanted to cap things off right. Our attempt on Triple Couloirs in late May of last year was thwarted by new snow, warm temperatures, and avalanche concerns. This time was different.
We drove out to Leavenworth after work on Friday and arrived at the gated road at about 9:30pm. We packed quickly, deciding to bring 6 pins, 5 screws, 2 pickets, a small set of nuts, and 4 cams, and were hiking up the road in our trail runners with boots on our packs at about 10:15pm. The hike was quick and without incident, save an unfortunate miss of the Colchuck Lake trail turn-off as we conversed with a couple near the trail junction. Despite close to 30 minutes of errant motion, we made it to our campsite at the edge of the lake below Dragontail in about 3 hours and 45 minutes from the gate. It was about 2am at this point, so we quickly set up camp and conked out with alarms set for just shy of 6am. We'd walked past another party camping on the lake who said they would start the route at 5am, so we figured we'd be behind them.
A quick 6am coffee got us going on our clear, chilly Saturday morning and we rapidly ascended the snowy moraine to the base of the first couloir. The other party was just getting to the edge of the lake at this point, so we were in for a pristine route (a.k.a. setting the boot pack). We soloed the snice entrance and first couloir to the base of the runnels. Goran took the first pitch of steep snice with really good sticks and brought us to a belay at a rocky step about 40 feet below a larger, overhanging rock outcrop.
From there, I did a delicate step left, plugged a cam, and gingerly climbed up thin ice and rock for a series of moves before plugging another cam and moving up and right on slightly more secure climbing to the overhanging roof where I set a belay on awesome cams. Goran quickly came up to me and then cast off to the left around the rock outcrop, then up the remainder of the runnels where he banged in a few pins in the steeper section that was mostly mixed climbing with a handful of sticks in snice.
I climbed up to him at the belay and went straight by him, leading out and then simul-climbing the second couloir, placing a cam and a pin on the side in case the ample snow decided to rip. The steps alternated between secure and hip-deep wallowing all the way up the couloir. We continued simul-climbing as I hit the rock section between the second and third couloirs. I remembered Goran saying a recent TR had people climbing too high on the left, so I stuck right up against the right wall, which was mixed climbing with a touch of sugary snow on mostly slabby rock. After banging in 3 pins along the way and getting low on gear with nasty rope drag, I set up a belay and brought Goran up just shy of 1pm.
There were no great options from the belay and the next 50 feet of climbing took a surprising amount of time. Straight up against the wall was M6 or so, slightly overhanging chimney climbing. Up and left was M4/5 with questionable feet on sugar snow. Hard left wasn't much easier. Goran decided, after trying straight up, to cut up and left, which was spicy for a move, then easier for 20 feet before getting tough again on slabby rock with marginal protection. Thankfully, he finished it up without incident, hit the third couloir, and set up a belay.
I'd taken the opportunity to have a snack while belaying and, by the time the rope came tight, was feeling great. I climbed through the mixed section and went past him again, taking on knee-deep snow in the third couloir from the belay to the finish. I had untied at the belay before the couloir since the remaining climbing was very secure and unprotected snow. The technique which served the best was to turn the tools sideways and punch my hands into the snow to take the weight off my feet, then kick into the depressions from my hands as I climbed up. Otherwise, I would slip through each foot placement to hip-deep snow.
It was sunny, calm, and beautiful at the finishing notch when we arrived there at about 4pm, so we decided to eat lunch and take a quick rest in the sun before finishing the climb. It wasn't far to the top and we dropped packs before the last 100 feet since we'd be back down the same place. With some obligatory summit shots and high fives complete, we began the descent, following footprints from two parties who had done the standard route earlier in the day.
The descent was super fast and involved some fun glissading down Asgard Pass almost straight to our tent. We drank hot chocolate and ate our dinners from the tent with a view of the sunset on Dragontail. I think the day had doubled the number of pins I'd placed in my life. We didn't use a single ice screw. What a phenomenal climb!