Go With Flo: Backbone Ridge Climb June 2015
From June10th to June 13th I spent three phenomenal days climbing in the Colchuck Lake area situated in the Enchantments. The area is located entirely within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness about 15 miles southwest of Leavenworth, WA. Due to the overwhelming popularity of this unique area, all overnight visitors must obtain a limited entry permit for trips planned between June 15 and October 15.
Normally there's too much snow to go in there for rock climbing before the permit season begins, but due to low snow levels this year there was a unique opportunity to camp and climb up there before high season.
With a perfect high-pressure weather forecast we set off to climb the classic Backbone Ridge on Dragontail’s north face as well as some modern lines on Cholchuck Balanced Rock. My good friends Lena and Nick from Vancouver, BC, and my blind date Olek, joined me on this trip.
Lena and Nick getting their tent ready at one of the beautiful campsites at Colchuck Lake.Olek and I only brought sleeping bags and pads and slept under a starry sky.
Dragontail’s north face can be seen in the background.
We left camp around 7am the next morning heading for the base of our climb on the other side of the lake. Seeing the morning sun slowly creeping over the mountain’s ridgelines while hiking around this beautiful alpine lake it becomes obvious why the area is so popular.
Conditions were more like September and we only crossed one small snow slope directly below the start of our route.
Even though Olek and I had never climbed together we were very efficient and fast. We started climbing one long pitch with some simul-climbing to reach the base of the crux offwith crack. Offwiths are awkward and strenuous size cracks due to the fact that they are indeed “off”with to climb – too large for a fist jam, yet too small to chimney.Olek made it look easy and we continued up another two pitches until we put the rope away and started soloing the easier middle part of the route.
We ended up climbing another 4 or 5 roped pitches on the upper part of the face. Even though the technical climbing on the route is relatively easy (5.9), the line is tall, committing and requires a good sense for route finding. Here is Olek climbing on the beautiful fin feature on Backbone Ridge.
Olek topping out on the ridge below the summit.
We both were very happy about how well and efficient we climbed together. It only took us about 5h45h to climb the route. Dragontail’s summit is pretty amazing with gorgeous views in all directions and a perfect spot for taking in the views. We waited for Nick and Lena and started descending with a short stop at Dragontail Lake where Nick went for a casual swim in the thawing lake.
A real Canadian
All in all we ended up having another two great days up there with great climbing on Colchuck Balanced Rock and some bouldering at the Forestlands to finish off our trip.
I highly recommend a visit to this area. Not only for climbing, but also for general hiking and backpacking. As I understand, it can be very hard to come by a permit for overnight camping in the Enchantments during high season. A good solution might be to set up base camp at Eightmile Campground at the bottom of the logging road that leads to the trailhead. It offers great car camping spots directly next to the river and the hike up to Colchuck Lake is an easy day trip from there.