Solo Trip up Dragontail

A trip meant to kick my butt

August 9, 2003

The route summary:

  • Esmeralda trailhead (gateway to Ingalls and Stuart)
  • over Longs Pass
  • east along the trail paralleling Ingalls Creek
  • ascend north off trail, parallel to Porcupine Creek (stay right/east to minimize bushwhacking!)
  • meander around basin below Colchuck and Dragontail Peaks. (bring climbing gear and play more next time!)
  • go up Dragontail
  • return along same route (minus some bushwhacking)

The stuff:

I woke up in my car before 4am at the Esmeralda Trailhead, commonly used to access Ingalls Peak. I'd meant to wake up at 4am and be hiking by 4:30am, but a half dozen fellows getting ready to go up Stuart woke me early. So I was on the trail by 4am. The stars were gorgeous, but I was in a hurry and couldn't look at them much with my headlamp on.

I ascended and descended the 2200ft Longs Pass; and 3 hours into the hike waved a greeting to the last people I would see until my return. The trail along Ingalls Creek is almost flat and easy.

The pain started after I'd turned to follow Porcupine Creek, off-trail. The ascent from the trail to the subalpine meadows above involved something near a mile of heinous bushwhacking. By "heinous" I mean standing on branches a foot or two above the ground, faced with a uniform wall of branches and choosing how to squeeze between them. Occassionally I'd step into a patch of ferns taller than myself and think "how nice" -- because they were soft and easy to part. Next time: stay right (east) of Porcupine Creek and avoid nearing the creek itself. That's more or less what I did on the way down and vastly reduced the amount of bushwhacking.

In avoidance of lush vegetation, I ended up on a dry ridge that leads towards Colchuck. There, I saw a buck. Cute.

I also saw some random stakes in the ground. Why? This area was criss-crossed by deer trails, but it was quite rare to see something that might have been human footprint. Why put stakes here? And two of 'em -- one was clearly more weathered than the other.

I headed up the ridge towards Colchuck 'cuz it was fun. The rock was solid, the climbing pleasant.

The turnaround point came for me when I reached a 5.7-ish crack. I was in my hiking boots. The 5.7 move was high enough up the body-sized crack that had I fallen, I would have gotten banged up on the way down, and the landing wasn't great. So I bailed and descended (slightly) into the basin between Colchuck and Dragontail.

It looks like there's a lot of nice climbing on the east face of Colchuck.

I found a cool rock between Colchuck and Dragontail. I think I'd like to climb it. I took more photos of the rock and the specific cracks that looked most appealing.

I crossed the basin and scrambled up Dragontail. Now, it turns out Dragontail has about 4 peaks. I knew the tallest one was also the furthest from the direction I was approaching, so when I gained the ridge I climbed the one north of me.

There was one little 5-ish section crossing to the other side of this peak. It wasn't very hard, but sure was exposed.

From the first peak I ascended, I could look out towards the main peak. In the foreground, you can see part of the peak I was on.

I could also see the 2nd tallest peak (not even 80ft shorter than the real summit). It looked like better climbing and more solid rock -- more fun. So in a moment of climbing heresy, I chose to climb the 2nd tallest peak instead of the true summit. Ack!

People have complained I don't have enough pictures of me among my trip photos. So I shot one. (No climbing partner -- I went solo.)

The descent down the subalpine meadows was just grand. Here, I was thinking to myself how surprising it was that a trip this long could feel mellow.

The ascent up Longs Pass at the end of the day. Here, I was thinking that thanks to the pass, the trip was fulfilling its purpose of kicking my butt. I was tired. A 2200ft pass at the end of what-would-be a 15 hour day feels hard. Coming down, I realized that if I jogged, I'd get to sit sooner. So I jogged most of the last 3 miles.

The following were shot from Longs Pass. The left-most mountain is Stuart, and to the right stretch a bunch of other peaks rising above Ingalls Creek. East is right; west is left. I had descended from where the photo was taken and walked right along the trail on the valley floor.

The stats:


esmeralda trailhead


longs pass


ingalls cr @ longs


ingalls cr @ porcupine



total gained/lost: 2100 + 4700 + 2200 = 9000 ft


parking to longs pass

3.0 miles

longs pass to ingalls cr


along ingalls cr


ingalls cr to dragontail

2.0 (as the crow flies)

Total (one way)


Total (round trip)

17.6 miles

Time: 4am - 6:45pm, 14:45 total

  1. 5 elk
  2. 1 boy deer (buck)
  3. 1 girl deer (doe)
  4. 3 grouse (or whatever those chicken-like birds are)
  5. 1 marmot
  6. lots of little birds
  7. oodles of ground squirrels and chipmunks, some squeaking at me
  8. humans, but only in the first 3 hours and last 3 hours.

© Anna Mitros
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