Tuesday, July 27, 2010

RMNP Conditions Report - July 27, 2010

When men climb on a great mountain together, the rope between them is more than a mere physical aid to the ascent; it is a symbol of the spirit of the enterprise. It is a symbol of men banded together in a common effort of will and strength against their own true enemies: inertia, cowardice, greed, ignorance and all weaknesses of the spirit. -- Anonymous

This is one of the highlights of guiding, getting to share this bond with all sorts of people, helping them achieve goals that, whether they know it or not, run deeper than the physical mountain they're climbing. Ahh, the things that mountains teach us.

And there are so many good climbing objectives here in the Park, so many mountains and each one with it's own lesson. For a recent trip report up one such mountain, Pagoda Mtn, check out my blog. There you'll find photos of the route we climbed and surrounding area.
This time of year conditions are relatively stable and there aren't many updates. There's less snow than there was when I last posted. Stone Man Pass on McHenry's is melted out now, no longer a continuous strip of snow (though there's still plenty of snow). The base of Spearhead still has a little snow to contend with but probably not for much longer. CMS Owner and Guide John Bicknell was recently up in the Ptarmigan Fingers area in between Flattop and Notchtop. He reports: "I was up on the Ptarmigan Fingers yesterday. They are in good shape and should be so into August. It was a windy day, so the mosquitoes were quiet." I was up there on Notchtop on Sunday and got some photos of the area. There were old ski tracks coming down from Ptarmigan Glacier but you can't quite ski all the way to the tarn right now. The west-most Finger is looking melted out in the middle section but that could just provide good mixed/alpine climbing. As the photos show, the other two Fingers remain all snow.
As John mentioned, the mosquitoes this year are really quite something. I've been taking along a little bottle of bug spray with me during trips into the alpine. I'm no biologist so I'm not sure of the reasons why the bugs are worse than usual...but they certainly are voracious. Bouldering in Chaos, bivying below the Spearhead, and gearing up to climb Notchtop, the mosquitoes didn't seem to mind my typically sour disposition. So be prepared.
Despite my predictions to the contrary and the hot temperatures, the good weather seems to have stuck around during the last two weeks. This is not a typical summer where we often have heinous t-storms every afternoon. Instead, we either have a brief/mild spat or a picture-perfect day. I've got no complaints! However, it does seem like we may be getting a little more inclement weather this week. So far this summer, the weather has been truly excellent.
CMS Guide Mike Soucy was leading a 7-day Mountaineering Seminar and it sounds like they had a great time. One little-done route they climbed was the ridge traverse from Arrowhead to McHenry's. Mike reports:

"Just returned from two nights at the Spearhead Bivy and wanted to report on the Arrowhead-McHenry's traverse. We started on the South Ramp route of Arrowhead, which is 3rd-class with a pitch of easy 5th on nice rock. It's mostly walking up talus/grass ramps in the middle of a huge face. Fun and casual. Then we walked from the summit of Arrowhead down to the NE Ridge (aka Arrowhead arete) on talus with low-angle slabs with a couple spots of 4th-class. Things get interesting when the ridge steepens. We stayed climbers' right of the crest to avoid the up/down on the towers and found a lot of 4th-class. The rock gets solid again towards the summit and kicks back to 3rd-class. We descended the SE Ridge, which, with good routefinding, only has a couple of 4th-class sections. We descended Stoneman Pass a bit south of the pass proper, following grass ledges and a couple of 4th-easy-5th downclimbs, all the while trending southeast. We brought axes for this, but could have gotten by without them. This is a great day up high, with lots of variety and awesome scenery."

If you read my trip report on the aforementioned blog, you'll get another shot of Glacier Gorge climbing conditions.
Finally, the Park can be a dangerous place. There are people lost, injured, and/or stuck in some difficult place on a near-daily basis up here. Sometimes people are killed. I hear about many of these incidents by talking to various Ranger friends and it's pretty amazing how often their assistance is needed. Please don't let that be you. Plan ahead and prepare, tell someone where you're going, make sure your objective is within your abilities and, if in doubt, hire a permitted and certified guide to help out. A guide is, after all, much cheaper than a hospital bill.
If you have conditions-related observations you'd like to share with me or if you just have questions, please feel free to e-mail me at acouncell@totalclimbing.com. I'm always happy to hear from readers and help out wherever I can. Thanks for reading and stay safe out there!

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

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