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Dragon Peak

Location: Dragon Peak
Summit Elevation: 12,955′
Elevation Change: 9,200
Elevation Change: 3,800′
Recommended Map: Kearsarge Pass/Rae Lake by Tom Harrison

These pictures are from a 5 day Ski Tour with Dan Molnar in May of 2011. The Dragon Peak North Couloir was a highlight we looked forward to, as well as camping in the beautiful Rae Lakes area. Our Friend Eric Ongerth told us about Dragon Pass above the Onion Valley trailhead as our most direct access to a camp beneath the north side of the mountain. I’ll admit we didn’t research much back then. Or maybe we did, with a quick internet search. I also don’t like to go around asking everyone if they have skied in a spot in the mountains. It sounds kind of desperate, and says you aren’t up for your own adventure. You won’t know if there is enough snow covering steep rocky cliffs until you get there. Beta you read or hear is rarely enough to go on without getting a much closer look yourself when it comes to snow travel. I have skied out of the eastern sierra trailheads enough to know there is always a different direction to go if things look sketchy. And finally, when you get your backpack full of food, camping gear and crampons, you feel very enabled to feel out some mountains to pick from as you go. A good multi Day Ski Tour should start with identifying the difficulty and location of the mountain passes and cols which give you access to slopes or couloirs you are interested in. Then at least you can launch with some confidence that you won’t have to drag your huge backpack back to the truck that same night due to dead-end ski terrain.
Our Dragon Peak North Couloir climb and ski started on the 3rd morning of this ski tour, requiring an extra day to wrap around a few passes and camp at Dragon Lake around 11,100′. We left the truck in the afternoon from the Onion Valley Trailhead at 9,200′ hoping to find Dragon Pass pictured in the Secor book, and descend down to the lake. We couldn’t find any snow on the north side of the ridge to ski down to Dragon Lake. We almost committed to dropping down the “Not It Col” I jokingly named on my pictures here. With a belay or short rappel it would have gone easy. Snow was firm and it was late in the day, plus our packs were big. Eventually we gave up looking for snow to ski towards Dragon Lake, and we opted for a great corn run down to Parker Lakes. The next day we were stoked to summit Black Mtn.13,289′ by skinning the whole way.  We Ski – Walk – Skied down a rocky sidehill path down to Dragon Lake. No Biggie, with 5 days we knew some good turns were out there for us. After dropping our camp gear we skinned up to Painted Lady 12,119′ for a great view of the surrounding mountains and a late evening corn harvest in that last magic hour of sunlight. Dan is a professional cook and told me Don’t Bring Food outside of power food. Fine by me! I’ll fill the water bottles.
Climbing the Dragon Peak north Couloir on day 3 was easy and only about 1500′. I don’t think I used boot crampons but you would want them if the snow was firm. The upper half was about 40 degrees and there was no cornice. We popped up on top and didn’t think about trying to walk to the summit. Secor’s Book describes class 3 and harder routes. Dan actually skipped skiing back down the couloir, opting for a west slope he enjoyed that wrapped nicely back to camp. He watched me drop into the couloir first and snapped a few pictures. I dragged my Whippet into the snow for 100′ to test the grip of my tele skis and felt more comfortable to start making turns from there.
The next day we headed for Glen Pass and skied great corn snow from the summit of Mt. Rixford down to a really scenic bivy near Kearsarge Lakes with a sweeping view of Kearsarge Pinnacles. And I forget if we booted up one of the couloirs that evening or the following morning, before skiing back over Kearsarge Pass to the car. The only tracks we saw out there were on Mt. Clarence King and Mt. Cotter. I am definitely going back to play around those guys. And I think you could ski Dragon Peak Couloir and possibly even summit the mountain in one day. Since you’ll be climbing the south side of the mountain, you’ll need to go as soon as the trailhead gets plowed in a decent snowfall year. Start at dawn and bring a rope in case the ” Not It Col” doesn’t quite go through at the top. Leave the rope up there because that’s your re-entry back to the trailhead anyway. At least that’s how I remember all this, typing it from memory 10 years later.

 

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