Friday, May 21, 2010

RMNP Conditions Report - May 21st, 2010

Climbing is one of the few sports in which the arena (the cliffs, the mountains and their specific routes) acquire a notoriety that outpopulates, outshines and outlives the actual athletes.
-- Jonathan Waterman

It’s true. How many routes in Eldo or on the Diamond have a reputation that far exceeds the reputations of the climbers who did the first ascent? Sometimes the legends of both are so intertwined it’s impossible to think of one without the other. Think Hillary and Everest, for example. But more often than not, we know much, much more about the peak, the route, or the scary pitches than the people who climbed them first. I’m sure that annoys some climbers but I think it’s appropriate. It puts the mountains on a pedestal they deserve, in my opinion. Forget about those of us who mar them with our grimy hands and triumph over our little accomplishments. The purity, rawness and beauty of the mountains will long outlast any of us. We will come and go but, for the most part, the mountains will remain the same (maybe a little less snowy). That is an encouraging thought (except for the climate change part).

It’s been a busy week here at the School where many of us have been out climbing and skiing in the perfect weather. “Perfect,” you snort? Well, sure: it snows and we go skiing; the brilliant sun rages through the clouds, dries everything up, and we go climbing. The mountains dictate and demand obedience. To those willing to listen there is no such thing as a “shoulder season.” Powder (in May!) and corn skiing have been good so far this month. The temps are cold and crisp in the various canyons, making rock climbing superb.
This time of year, the snow/skiing/climbing conditions change very rapidly and I do my best to keep up. If you’ve looked at an extended forecast recently, you’ll see that it’s hard to predict weather this time of year too. In the last week we’ve had incredible, perfect-weather days…and we’ve had heinously wintery weather. The Park is working hard to open Trail Ridge Road but, to my knowledge, they are still not yet to the Alpine Visitor Center. The road had been open off and on to Rainbow Curve. Even from this point, it’s easy to access the instant alpine that Trail Ridge offers on Sundance. Of course, the weather this time of year is always rather jumpy. The extended forecast promises another week of mixed weather, which is typical for May. What has been a bit surprising (even for a hardened Estes local like me) has been the high winds lately. I mean, we’re talking mid-winter-style winds. With the last storm came winds gusting to 80mph in the Longs Peak arena. This weekend looks to be windy as well, so hold on to yer hats!
I spent a couple days in the Chasm Cirque this week, right in the middle of the last storm that came through. The forecasted snow (up to 7”) didn’t happen but we did rec’v about 3-4” of new during Tuesday night. We camped near Chasm Lake with the intentions of climbing something on Wednesday, but the mountains clearly had other plans. As we crawled into our sleeping bags at 8pm we heard a party of climbers pass by, no doubt returning to the trailhead from an epic. A moderately violent thunderstorm came over Longs on Tuesday afternoon. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere up high. As it was, the simultaneous flash-booms sent us scurrying. It seems to me that the May thunderstorms are some of the worst!
Longs is very snow-covered on it’s N, E and W faces(I didn’t get a look at the S or SW aspects). All climbing routes look to be in full-winter conditions. “Stettners” actually looks like it’d be an awesome mixed-climbing adventure! We put in an attempt on “Marthas” but the winds loaded it with what little snow we did get Tuesday night, making drifts 8-10” deep. This made climbing conditions less than ideal but that isn’t what turned us around. The nuclear winds took care of that. Check it out, there’s a cool little mixed route right of “Marthas” too (see the photo below). With south-facing routes still having so much coverage I wouldn’t even consider north-facing routes like “Dreamweaver” just yet.
Skiing is still the activity of choice for the Park right now. The Loft, “Flying Dutchman,” and Lambslide all looked like good skiing. Chasm Lake is still plenty frozen, making access easy and quick. There’s still snow to the trailheads at 9500’ though it’s going to melting quickly in the coming warmth. So it’s possible to ski from summits to trailheads. Hopefully we’ll get a good melt-freeze cycle going and enjoy the corn skiing that will produce. As the term implies, a melt-freeze cycle is clearly, clearly dependent on temps; a clear, warm day followed by a clear, cold night is the ticket.  Cloudy coverage insulates and often impedes the freezing process.  This time of year it’s easy to forget that avalanches are still possible. We rec’d a cautionary e-mail this week about some weak layers found in the high alpine, notably on Longs. Trust me, I tried sleeping in it, the alpine is still plenty winter. I’m still unclear if the rescue on Copeland last weekend was due to an avalanche or not but let’s not get careless out there.
I expect an update from the Longs area in the near future. I’ll repost when I get it. If you have any observations to share or have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at Again, this is the time of year when conditions are rapidly changing and can be difficult to keep up with. That’s my disclaimer! :) Thanks for reading and I wish you excellence in your adventures this weekend!

Andrew Councell is a CMS Guide and year-round Estes Park resident

1 comment:

Haliku said...

Thanks for such a complete report on conditions in the park. Cheers!