Wednesday, June 9, 2010

RMNP Conditions Report - June 9, 2010

Eastward the dawn rose, ridge behind ridge into the morning, and vanished out of eyesight into guess; it was no more than a glimmer blending with the hem of the sky, but it spoke to them, out of the memory and old tales, of the high and distant mountains.
J.R.R. Tolkien

These have been a busy couple of weeks around Rocky Mountain National Park. The summer season is underway and many of us guides are out in the Park, climbing rock, snow, and a little bit of ice. For those of us who never say die, there’s still skiing to be had as well. There are so many facets of this report to update, my only fear is that I’ll leave something out!

I was in Moab for a brief vacation and during that time (last week) we began a very warm period that is ongoing. We haven’t had freezing temperatures at night in at least a week and if you’ve been paying attention to the news you’ll know this has wreaked havoc on the alpine snow. Rivers are flooding or near flooding, bridges are buckling, and citizens are putting out sandbags to help stem the rising tides. In the alpine the snow is disappearing at a record rate. Despite the heavy snows we rec’d in early May, the winter was overall a fairly poor one. Areas that normally have huge wind drifts have less coverage and what snow is left will soon be gone at this rate. This coming weekend we’ll enjoy a respite from the warm/hot temps with cooler, overcast weather (complete with a chance of snow!).
As far as the alpine climbing scene goes, conditions will improve again once the nightly temps drop to below freezing. But it’s too late for many routes, like Hallet Chimney and Martha’s Couloir. For such routes the window of good conditions basically lasted a week. Now, I could be wrong and I hope I am; it could get colder again but I think these routes are done for the season. We’ll see. CMS Guide Eric Whewell was guiding Longs’ North Face over last weekend and had this to report: “We found good climbing conditions, mostly ankle deep boot penetration as there was no freeze overnight. The crux was a few rock steps with a ribbon of rotten ice/snow and all 3 eyebolts were showing. The rest of the climbing was pretty much all snow to the summit.”
I was guiding “Dreamweaver” on Mt. Meeker today and found very similar conditions, though I’d say we were sinking in a little deeper at times. The snow-climbing was fine despite this and we made good time. The chimney sections of the route are half-melted, half-ice, half-snow with lots of running water. As a result of the newly melted snow, there were lots of loose rocks to tip-toe around. The route did get better as we went higher but I’d guess that unless we get good freezes at night, “Dreamweaver” may only be in for another week. We enjoyed a calm summit and great views of the Indian Peaks and Longs.
The Loft still has quite a bit of snow in it. We opted for the Bypass though many tracks go directly down the Loft itself. The Bypass is wet and has lots of loose, muddy, slippery rock to negotiate but can be crossed without having to travel on snow. We were able to glissade 1000’ back to Chasm Meadows, saving our knees just a little bit. Chasm Lake is nearly melted out but snow remains on the shoreline. The “Notch Couloir” looks great but would require a very early start in these temps. Broadway Ledge still has lots of snow on it but is patchy. “Kieners” is largely covered with snow but it’s possible to stay higher and avoid it. “Flying Dutchman’s” crux is wet rock, running with water. The Longs Peak trail is mostly dry with some snowfields below and above treeline but overall pretty easy going. The “Keyhole” is, of course, still considered to be in technical conditions. I could see the Homestretch today and it’s got a couple long stretches of snow on it still.
CMS Head Guide Dale Remsberg has been instructing an AMGA Alpine Guides Course for the last week here in the Park. Yesterday they climbed “Blitzen Ridge” on Ypsilon. He reported that the route itself was mostly dry but that the snow below treeline was terrible, isothermic heinousness. Fortunately, most of the trail into Chipmunk Campground is dry. Dale went on to caution: “We have witnessed many cornice collapses and numerous (recent) wet and slab avalanches. All of the slabs seem to have been caused by large cornice releases. Yesterday on Blitzen we saw no less than 10 slides. Keep an eye on steep slopes especially ones with cornices above them. The cornices on the ‘Y Couloirs’ still had areas that were over 15 tall.”
Skiing hasn’t been the greatest lately. Without nightly freezes, there hasn’t been any corn skiing. I was skiing on Sundance a few days ago and it wasn’t amazing BUT it was still skiing! Many of the classic ski descents around the Park still have good coverage, we just need those cold temps. This is the most beautiful time of year in the Park (in my opinion) and the views from the various summits are spectacular, only made better with a pair of skis on your feet.
Finally, Trail Ridge Road is open but is under construction on a 19-mile section beginning at Rainbow Curve. We’ve had to wait briefly the last few times I’ve been up there as the road is one-way in certain sections. But it hasn’t been too bad. Forget about taking your road bike up there though. Be sure to add these delays to your time plan.

As always, feel free to e-mail me at with questions or updates; I’m always happy to help and grateful for your observations. I will continue to update as I get more information, so stay tuned. Thanks for reading and stay safe!

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

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