Jens Holsten and Sol Wertkin have free-climbed Dragons of Eden (5.12a R) on Dragontail Peak in the central Cascades of Washington State. The route was established in 1989 by Bob McGown and Wayne Wallace, who free-climbed up to 5.11 but used some aid.
Last summer, Holsten and Wertkin repeated the route, likely completing the first alpine-style ascent, in a 20-hour round trip from the car. After eight pitches of steep climbing, with a roofy three-pitch headwall, the route ends on the northeast buttress, which climbs another 2,000 feet to Dragontail’s summit. The two men free-climbed several of the pitches, but found the cracks too dirty to attempt a full free ascent.
“Although there was a ton of lichen on route, we knew that out of all the lines we had been playing on the last few years, this was the one,” Holsten wrote at his blog. “The splitters, the position, the seriousness, the 2,000-foot ridge to a real summit...this was the big daddy.”
This year they returned and dedicated two days to scrubbing the crux pitches. On July 22, after a night at Colchuck Lake, they started climbing in midmorning. A 5.10 and 5.11 pitch led to the crux: a bouldery face leading to a leaning, tight-fingers corner. “I felt strong on the pitch, but almost fell when a tiny foot chip I was standing on broke, leaving me to do a one-arm on a finger lock,” Holsten wrote. “Back in the crack I punched upwards, really going for it, gear not a concern. Soon I was at the belay.”
Above some easy ground lay the Great White Headwall, with pitches of 5.9, 5.11a, and super-steep 5.11c/d. Once on the northeast ridge, the pair continued up the 2,000-foot ridge to the summit.
In all, the route has three 5.11 leads and one 5.12 pitch, but Holsten said the route stands out not so much for its difficulty but more for the combination of Yosemite-like granite climbing and Cascades alpine ambience.
“There are no bolts and no fixed gear besides one pin placed by Wayne and Bob long ago,” he wrote. “The climbing is steep, sustained, and, while never too difficult technically, requires a cool head and total control of the grade.”
Central Cascades peaks have seen a burst of hard climbing energy in recent years. Two 5.11 routes, Solid Gold and Der Sportsman, have been climbed on Prusik Peak. Blake Herrington and Sol Wertkin climbed The Tempest Wall on Colchuck Balanced Rock at 5.10 A2, and it likely soon will go all-free at 5.12c. And Herrington, Holsten and Wertkin recently climbed a 5.11- new route, Gorillas in the Mist, on Mt. Stuart.
Date of Ascent: July 22, 2009