Monday, January 4, 2010

RMNP Conditions Update: January 2nd and 3rd, 2010

"The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards." G.K. Chesterton

It feels weird to write “2010” in the date now. For some reason it never feels like the new year has arrived, to me anyway, but I appreciate the holiday nevertheless. Most of my holidays were spent out of town, away from the Park and it’s ever-changing conditions. But I’m back and am resolved to keep this page as updated as possible.

As my little red “X” marks marched steadily towards the end of December’s dates on the calendar, so did ice climbers descend on Park ice like so many locusts. Popular climbs like “Hidden Falls” and “Jaws” have been, uh, very climbed and definitely show it. This is much to the chagrin of better ice climbers but for anyone still looking to learn, such conditions are quite amiable. With still so little snow in the Park, relative to other years, good ice climbing conditions still exist. The Big Thompsons’s “Upper Flow” is reportedly in good shape, albeit well-climbed; the “Lower Flow” hasn’t made an appearance in some years. Maybe this year? “The Squid” has made no improvements and still just has ice in the final pitch of the route; bummer, hopefully that’ll change soon. I may have news on “All Mixed Up” soon, so check back for updates. For the most part, since my last couple of reports not much has changed in the Park in terms of ice conditions with the exception of higher avalanche danger.

What has changed, however, are the skiing conditions. Heretofore, they’ve been pretty crappy. But the last couple of days have been promising. While avalanche conditions have been “High” the last two days, we’ve been out skiing our faces off in the Park. At and above treeline yesterday, the snow wasn’t anything to write home about: typical, wind-blown sastrugi with patches of chalkier stuff here and there by which to gain an edge. However, the trees (especially N-NE aspects) were deep and soft, even allowing for a little air time. Today, the skiing was noticeably better.

Moderate-to-strong winds were blowing at the trailhead early in the morning but after a couple hours (9am) the winds died down substantially and remained relatively so throughout the day. Periods of relative calm were punctuated by moderate snowfall throughout the day, up to ~1” per hour. Then moderate winds would pick up again briefly but, overall, a very mellow day in the Park (that being said, we could hear the wind ripping through Tyndall Gorge in the afternoon…still, it ended up being a lot of bark without much bite). New snow totals varied widely, from 2-3” to maybe 5-6”, but once again the N-NE-E aspects held good snow from previous storms which made for some really fun turns. We are heading up again tomorrow and Monday as well.

Is the skiing great? Well, yes and no. The snow is good but coverage is still mediocre at best. This is definitely one of the boniest January snowpacks in recent years, so expect to hit lots of rocks. Overall the trails have good coverage. The “Banana Bowls” or “Drift” area on Flattop has lots of bare patches that are just now getting covered with new snow; I’m sure the winds will expose these rocks buried just below the surface but for now, look out! Lots of stuff to ski there, though. Most of the really short, almost not-worthwhile skiing near Nymph and Dream Lakes (ie, Terrain Park area) is doable but still lots of rocks to hit. Same with the Haiyaha area. The short runs off the East Buttress of Otis are likely not filled in considering what I saw today. Above Emerald Lake, some of the more wind-loaded areas are starting to fill in but there is still a ton of rocks and bushes uncovered below the Dragontail Couloirs. Given the danger ratings and having been out of town for so long, I haven’t yet been up to the higher alpine terrain (Ptarmigans, Tyndall, etc). But soon.

We saw few signs of instability today despite knocking off many cornices onto loaded slopes. We also skied relatively steep (mid-40 degrees) slopes that gave us pause but never actually produced anything. Compared to the end of December, we observed little whumpfing throughout today though we definitely felt a few. Nevertheless, conditions remain sensitive and we should continue to travel cautiously in the backcountry. Many of us have been ripping out our hair in frustration with the snow, or lack thereof; others, of the wealthier ilk, have taken to travelling to other places to ski. Today a couple of us saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
UPDATED Jan. 3rd – Great skiing today in even better conditions than yesterday! Another few inches fell overnight bringing our storm totals up to around 8” above treeline. Our tracks from yesterday’s skiing were buried as well as a few of the rocks I’d hit. My poor skis. The new snow hasn’t been blown around too much yet but that’ll change soon enough. Cornices comprised of this new snow are very sensitive and we felt significant whumpfing throughout our tour today. Still, we saw no signs of recent avalanche activity, human-triggered or otherwise. As CMS Guide Mark Kelly noted today on our tour, “The Dragon is still sleeping.” The danger is still out there but, apparently, we haven’t had enough snow to see these tender slabs release naturally. CMS Guide Dale Remsberg was out climbing in the Park yesterday. On approach to “All Mixed Up” the clouds parted enough for him to see the route: “it’s mixed all the way,” he reports. The trails were fine until the big hill above Mills Lake where they broke trail part of the way before bailing and going to Loch Vale. This is also thin and, as Dale noted, “Loch Vale was the thinnest I’ve seen it since I moved to Colorado.” It’s pretty much not even there.

If you have any observations or questions please feel free to shoot me an e-mail at Thanks for reading and stay safe out there!

Andrew Councell
Colorado Mountain School Guide
AMGA Certified Rock Guide

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