We headed out of Onion Valley on Saturday morning and chugged up to the unnamed lake at the base of Dragon Peak. This was achieved in a few hours and we spent the afternoon goofing off. Sunday morning we headed up to the North Dragon Col, which is above the talus and scree on the north side of Dragon. Getting to the top of the Col we looked down the other side. A large iceberg had taken up residence about 100 feet down the col and we had left the crampons in the truck. Furthermore, it looked like it would take a rappel to even start down this col. The footing at the beginning of the step down was incredibly loose. Finally, the wall above the col showed signs of stuff coming off. This col is very narrow and any junk starting down the slot would scrape off anyone or anything in it. I was secretly glad we had left the crampons at the truck. The North Dragon Col is possibly the most dangerous looking place in the Sierras I have ever laid eyes on.
While I was parked on my pack Charles suggested maybe we could go up the wall above us and get on the ridge. There is a crack system or book right above the col but it looked loose. The rock further left looked better but it wasn't clear we could get through it. So, for no other reason than we had nothing better to do, we headed up the book. The first pitch is the hardest and has maybe one 5.6 move in it and the rest is 5.4 or so. It is somewhat loose and all holds needed to be tested. Furthermore it is sort of tricky getting in cams but there are enough openings in the discontinuous crack to put in a few. After about 60 meters a chute is achieved. This has a big plate like rock about the size of two grand pianos precariously perched above it. I opted to continue up the left side of the chute and we came to a notch right on the ridge. This is about 3rd to 4th class.
The route looks like it can continue up the ridge, however, it was now possible to climb down 30 to 40 feet and get on the East Face which looked 3rd class. Since we had no real idea where we were and I was nervous about getting over to the South Dragon Col and heading down the snow late in the afternoon we opted for the 3rd class escape. It looks like there are at least two towers further up the ridge that would have to be negotiated. We cruised along on the East Face and then came to a broken area that allowed us to get back up on the ridge. We headed up this broken area and 3rd classed along the ridge until confronted with a 5th classish looking move and broke out the rope. After about 60 meters directly on the ridge the summit of Dragon is achieved.
On the summit we ran into Elizabeth Wenk and Chris Tuffley, both PhD students at UC Berkeley. They were smart enough not to get on the North Ridge. We lollygagged around for half an hour and then headed down. The summit block has a classic 3rd class crack for the feet and a few pockets for the hands. This is positioned above a huge drop. We headed along the ridge on the West side and headed for the South Dragon Col. This is another nasty spot in the world. In order to avoid the snow we ended up down climbing steep ledges that were covered with scree. Once on the snow it was a cruise to our camp at the unnamed lake. We packed up and headed out to Onion Valley.
The North Ridge of Dragon Peak is not harder than 5.6 and is only one move. The first pitches are pretty loose. I plugged a cam into a crack, gave it a good yank, and the whole block fell off and landed on my foot. The route really needs to be done by going up and continuing all along the ridge. This would be a far more aesthetic route but will require bypassing the towers. I am not sure how hard that would be but it would make the route more interesting. For gear we had a single 60 meter rope and a selection of stoppers and a single set of cams up to #3 camalot. The big cam was unnecessary.
As for the Northwest Ridge route I would not go up and over North Dragon Col. That is a good way to get killed. Going up and over the South Dragon Col will drop you down at a nice looking lake and it is probably straightforward to get to the base of the route from there. This would extend the trip but it is probably worth it given how dangerous the North Dragon Col appears to be.
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