Type: Trad, Mixed, Ice, Snow, Alpine
FA: unknown
Page Views: 22,434 total · 104/month
Shared By: ClimbandMine on May 25, 2001 with updates from Bogdan P
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac

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Dragon's Tail Couloir is the first of two couloirs on the south face of Flattop Mountain, above Emerald Lake. Snow up to 50 degrees is possible, as are a few rocky steps that may or may not be iced over. 1,800 feet of "fun" snow climbing interspersed with a couple short, steeper steps puts you near the summit of Flattop, with some incredible views of the park. Climb it in the early season, it may be threatened by a cornice.


Pickets and a set of nuts.
Dragon's Tail and most of the surrounding route by Emerald Lake have a fresh coat of new snow.

The snow only accounts for a few inches near the base of the climbs but reaches over three feet in the middle of the climbs. Most of the top portions are clean and are rotten ice.

Avalanche conditions seem slim but PLEASE check the slopes before committing to the route. More snow fell today while we climbed and the temperatures dropped as the day progressed. There is a layer of loose granular snow on the bottom then a thick, consolidated four or five foot section and then the fresh snow.

The new snow has made it difficult to move up without requiring major route setting...post-holing. If the temps run high over the next week then the south facing routes should be firm for next weekend. North facing routes will require additional time to reach favorable conditions.

Axes did not bite into the fresh powder and self-arrest would have been nearly impossible. Wind is depositing major drifts in the center of the climbs so do not rely solely on base conditions.

Be safe and enjoy the season...it's going to be a short one! Apr 28, 2002
1.2.03Scary!! - Went to take a look, scouting for a winter ascent. The Dragontail Couloirs were looking like a avalanche waiting to be triggered. However!...the couloir further to the right of these guys was in sweet AI3/M3??. Climbed it twice over the holiday break. Better to rap down the couloir than to try and follow Flattop Trail back to Bear Lake!

Lates! - JWClimbs Jan 2, 2003
Scott Bower
Fort Collins, CO
Scott Bower   Fort Collins, CO
Climbed today 5/3/03. Lots of snow in the park this year. The snow on the route is fairly consolidated, although there are spots of softer snow. Recent wet slide activity is very evident. There is enough snow in the couloir to completely avoid climbing on any rock. It should be in better shape next week. May 3, 2003
Climbed Saturday 5/17.

Dug a pit 50' above the base of the climb and the snow was consistently 1/2 of a gloved finger depth for the 5 out of the 7' we checked. Another guy there thought he found a weaker layer around 1' deep. I'm no expert. Dig your own pit.

The first half was fairly cruiser, around 30*+. Good snow and steps helped

There is a trough dug out by lava flows of snow coming from the first right branch. Note a nice cornice is at the top of the first right branch. We saw 4 or 5 flows of snow go on by, each lasting a minute or more. Scary. 100' vertical below this fork, there seems to be some snow bridging - stay left (left of the trough).

We took a left at the first fork and finished off the route on some 45*-50* snow. We stayed right at the next fork, as I think left was mixmaster. There were some sections of really soft snow, but most of it was fairly good. You can avoid any mixed, with the exception of about 5 minutes worth.

Ran into about 7 other climbers.

Given the snow conditions, I prolly would go back there and climb for another week given good weather until then. Maybe two. Also, start the climb earlier than we did (8AM) if you think it's going to take you 3.5-4h too.

It was a warm day, with no winds until 200' feet or so below the summit. Snow pants, a long sleeve light weight shirt, and wp gloves were perfect. A visor helped too. We kinda lost the trail on the way down so we just came down the north side. I think that was faster anyway.

We roped up on the upper half with a 30m half rope. 3 pickets, set of nuts, and the 3 smallest tri-cams worked well. May 18, 2003
I climbed Dragon's Tail on 6/8/2003. Crampons and an axe were necessary, but since I was alone, I didn't bring a rope or gear. The snow was in prime condition and continuous up to the last 200 feet of the climb.

I left the trailhead at 6:00 am and started climbing about an hour later. Emerald Lake was still partly frozen and the scariest part of the day was traversing along the snowfield at the edge of the lake. At the bottom of the climb, I noticed a guided group getting roped up by one of the large boulders. I cruised up the easy snow to get past them and never saw them again. Some more moderate snow led to the narrower and steeper upper section of the climb.

Guarding the entrance to the narrow section was a rock that had lost most of its snow. Careful step kicking and a little bit of front pointing got me past it on snow, but I doubt if the small finger of snow I used will last more than a few days in the heat. This will most likely be the crux of the climb as it melts out.

Once I was safely past the rock section, a few hundred more feet of steep snow gave way to a steep rock gully. A few low 5th class moves got me off the snow and onto the crumbling, grassy rock ledges. This was followed by lots of scrambling and a few more 5th class moves that led to one last short snow field that in turn popped me out onto the vast slopes of Flattop at 10:00.

If you're planning on doing this climb this year, expect more exposed rock over the next few weeks, but there should still be sufficient snow. If the entrance to the narrow section is melted out (you can see this a few times from the approach but not from the base of the climb, bring binoculars), I'd consider bringing a short length of rope and some rock pro. If you're belaying, make sure to belay from the sides of the climb and not the nice rocks going up the middle. There were scattered rocks all the way up the climb and getting hit by one wouldn't be fun.

Overall, this climb was a blast and if you're into the whole snow climbing thing, I highly recommend it.

-Chris Jun 10, 2003
Continuous snow up to the last 200 feet. There will most likely be a rock step in the middle by now. Snow was solid, crampons required, kicking steps not an option from 7-9:30 am, softer and possible to kick steps at the very top.

For a moderate snow climb, this one is hard to beat. Jun 10, 2003
This route is much better as a ski descent. Nov 14, 2004
Andy Leach
Denver, CO
Andy Leach   Denver, CO
I climbed Dragon's Tail Couloir on 5/6/06. It was nice consolidated snow the entire way except for the 20 feet of rock step near the top. This was third class-ish and did not require protecting.

Photos: leachfam.com/securearea/sub…
Movie: leachfam.com/securearea/1mo… May 8, 2006
Timmy Pearl
Longmont, CO
Timmy Pearl   Longmont, CO
Classic route even after first snows in Oct. Climbed on Oct. 30, 2007 (snow, M3-). Enough snow to eliminate all but beginning scree and added a bit more rock work for excitement. 1 mini-pitch with 3 small pieces required after overhang/cave section in left branch. Def. a fav for a while to come. Oct 31, 2007
Lynn S  
Ski it in the Spring, get on it early, lots of sun. Mar 17, 2009
Eli Helmuth
Ciales, PR
AI6 M13+ X
Eli Helmuth   Ciales, PR
AI6 M13+ X
Just to be clear about the difficulties typically encountered on this route as the guidebooks and this website are far from accurate.

Since the rock climbing is on par with the 3rd class of Long's Peak Keyhole route, this is a 3rd class climb with snow up to 45 degrees in steepness for a few short sections.

Avg. snow angle for the couloir is in the 35 degree range.

In thirteen years of regular visits (mostly on skis), WI has never been seen and there is nothing in the M1 (5.7) range on this route, at most 5.1 if you want to use a rope. Jan 2, 2013
Eli Boardman
Boulder, CO
Eli Boardman   Boulder, CO
Climbed right fork today. The cornice is easily passable at this time.

In terms of the angle/difficult/etc.: I used a phone inclinometer to measure an average angle of 45 degrees near the fork and an average of 50 degrees (ranging 49 to 57) at the top of the right fork. I'm not sure how this works out to an average of 35 degrees as stated in the comment above... I did not encounter any mixed climbing in the right branch. Apr 17, 2017
Don Morris
Golden, CO
Don Morris   Golden, CO
Climbed Sunday, February 18, 2018. Snow conditions were fine. Feb 19, 2018
Kayleen Castelli
Denver, CO
Kayleen Castelli   Denver, CO
Get it while the gettin's good! Climbed 4/18/18 - snow continuous to the summit. Apr 19, 2018