Thursday, May 27, 2010

RMNP Conditions Update - May 27

Andrew here, reporting in after a gorgeous day in the Park!  We went up to ski the Notchtop Couloir today, reaching the top at 9am.  Due to cloud cover and strong winds (of course) we sat and waited 45 minutes for the snow to soften up.  When it did, the skiing was amazing...perfect corn from top to bottom.  We skinned/climbed back up Ptarmigan Glacier and skied the steep, westernmost Finger.  Still under cloudy skies and cooler temps, we went back up again and skied Tyndall Glacier back to the Bear Lake TH.  Only once we hit 10,500' did the snow become wet, sticky and heavy...otherwise we enjoyed near-perfect conditions on a warm, beautiful day. 
We were able to get in a fair amount of skiing today but only because high clouds kept the sun's intensity at bay.  We observed no avalanche activity today other than the odd sluff from our turns.  However, in the very recent past (possibly yesterday) we have had many cornices collapse.  We're talking HUGE cornices here.  The entire width of the middle Finger has a large cornice on it, about 1/2 of which collapsed a few days ago leaving behind huge, car-sized blocks all the way down to the tarn.  Large cracks are evidence that many of the hanging cornices are on the verge of collapse.  These are everywhere. 
Another cornice collapsed next to the Notchtop Couloir, we think yesterday.  This in turn triggered a very large avalanche with a crown that was from 2' to 6' deep.  There was an amazing amount of debris.  It would have been a fatal avalanche had anyone been under it.  We don't usually see crowns of this size in late May but it just goes to show how prevalent the new snow combined with the winds have been.  There are many wind-loaded pockets directly underneath cornices just waiting for a sudden load.  We could get nothing to move under our weight but compared to a cornice we are about as heavy as dried leaves.
We saw other crowns around the Ptarmigan Fingers, all appearing to have been triggered by cornice fall.  The story was the same on the Tyndall Glacier as well.  The traits seem to follow a trend, at least: N-NE facing slopes, steep, above 11,000' and with cornices on top.  I've posted some photos here to give you an idea.  These are substantial avalanches that would pose a threat to skiers/climbers alike.  As it was, we scooted out from underneath any cornices as quickly as possible and skied with extreme caution.  In the end we were rewarded with one of the best days either of us has had all year.

Check out our Conditions Report page for further, more climbing-related updates.  Thanks for reading!

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