Saturday, July 18, 2009

RMNP Conditions - July 17th, 2009

"The pleasure of risk is in the control needed to ride it with assurance so that what appears dangerous to the outsider is, to the participant, simply a matter of intelligence, skill, intuition, coordination…in a word, experience. Climbing in particular, is a paradoxically intellectual pastime, but with this difference: you have to think with your body. Every move has to be worked out in terms of playing chess with your body. If I make a mistake the consequences are immediate, obvious, embarrassing, and possibly painful. For a brief period I am directly responsible for my actions. In that beautiful, silent, world of mountains, it seems to me worth a little risk."
—A. Alvarez

I was thinking more about the Pat Ament quote from last week, stumbled across this one, and found it relevant. Our society, our culture, the times, whatever you want to blame it on, the prevailing authority pushes us toward a never-ending pursuit of security. The idea is that we can somehow increase our longevity and enjoyment of life by curbing any experience that might put us in harm’s way. Ironically, the successes of real life are found on the edge and not in some expensive, self-created cage, stamped and approved by our peers or society. To poorly paraphrase an oft-used quote, “A ship is safe in the harbor but that’s not where is was made to be.”

The foreseeable forecast is brilliant. Warm temps and clear, sunny days are staying around for the next week. It looks like there may be a couple of rainy days before the end of the month but by then maybe we’ll all be happy for something to cool us off. The high snow-melt is pretty much over and one can already see the rivers starting to subside from their full and frothy banks. Here in Estes, the wilflowers are still in full bloom, looking like nature’s fireworks only spread over the landscape instead of obscuring the stars and much more lasting. Alpine rock season is pretty much in full swing at this point; a visit to many of the popular trailheads at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning will confirm this with 3-4 parties hurridly stuffing their packs by headlamp.

I climbed the Cathedral Wall last week for the my first time, via a route called “Tourist Tragedy,” a 5.9 or 5.10a depending on what you choose. A relatively short approach, almost 1000’ of climbing, and a fabulous view of the rising sun under wispy skies made for a magical morning. The next day we were up on the “South Ridge” of Notchtop, also my first time on that peak. I didn’t know this route was so popular but rather supposed it kind of an obscurity compared to the Petit, Hallet, or the Diamond. An early start is advised. Fun climbing on an exposed wall, the “South Ridge” is a must do if you’re climbing at the grade.

Timberline Falls and area is still very wet, though not flowing quite as full as two weeks ago. You may be able to to get to Sky Pond with dry feet. There is still some snow that needs crossing to get there, but not much by now.

A party was up on “D7” on the Diamond recently and reported that having mountaineering gear for the N. Chimney was a bonus. Apparently unable to complete to route due to wet conditions, the party also reported that the N. Chimney was very loose and “was the worst it’s been in the last 15 years” or something along those lines. Lambslide is all snow, no ice poking through, and there is still some snow on Broadway and in the Notch Couloir. All routes on the Diamond have reportedly been wet with the possibly exception of the Yellow Wall. The approach to Chasm Lake has been made a bit easier by the Park staff digging a 3-4’ deep trench along the final snow traverse to Chasm Meadows. Thanks guys! From where I’m sitting right now, I can see quite a bit of snow on Longs’ North Face still, although always receding. The Trough still has some snow but the Narrows and Homestretch are snow-free at this point.

The approach to Notchtop requires a bit of snow crossing at the Banana Bowls area but otherwise is easy going right up to the base of the climbing. There is very little, if any, snow on the walk-off descent although the rappels are a nice way to go as well. From Notchtop I got a good look at the Ptarmigan Fingers area and it’s looking really good right now. Lots of route options and fun alpine snow climbing to be had.

Two weeks ago, it sounds like the “Culp-Bossier” on Hallet was completely soaked. The latest is that pretty much everything is dry with only minimal amounts of seepage. CMS Guide Mark Kelly was on “Better Than Love” and “Love” and reported dry conditions all the way. He also mentioned to be watchful about loose blocks.

One thing many of the alpine guides have been warning each other about via e-mail this season has been the amount of loose rock. While there is always loose rock in the alpine, it seems to be a bit worse this year than usual. On pretty much every alpine route I’ve climbed this summer, there has been substantial loose rock to contend with. While rapping down from Notchtop the other day, I saw a huge oven-sized-but-maybe-truck-sized boulder smashing down the Notchtop Couloir, melted out of the mountain from above. It seems that the more-wet-than-usual spring has had an ill effect on the bonding quality of many alpine rock routes.

As conditions begin to stabilize in the Park, these conditions reports will be less and less frequent, in case you haven’t noticed. Internally, we guides do a great job of keeping each other updated on conditions we see while working in the Park. However, it’s always helpful to know what you’re seeing out there too. So if you have any info you’d like to pass along or if you have any questions, please shoot me an e-mail at I’d be happy to hear from you!

Andrew Councell is a CMS Guide with shrimpy T-Rex arms and year-round Estes Park resident


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