N. Face of Notchtop and area - 10/31Yet all how beautiful!
Pillars of pearl
Propping the cliffs above, stalactites bright
From the ice roof descending; and beneath,
Grottoes and temples with their crystal spires
And gleaming columns radiant in the sun.
-- William Henry Burleigh
Ice above Bear LakeI love Burleigh's description of ice columns forming on a sunlit cliff face, it always makes me want to go ice climbing! But then again, his description leads me to thoughts of ice climbing in the sun and, at least in this part of the world, that's seldom the case. This time of year the sun melts whatever snow we have and this turns to ice only when it dribbles into some north-facing aspect. So I've been running around checking out various north faces around the Park to see what's coming in, if anything. There's been a lot of doom and gloom floating around on the internet about how bad the ice is going to be this year. It's true, the ice hasn't formed as early as usual but that's due to all the splitter Fall weather we've been enjoying. But despite all the sour predictions, the ice is coming in...it's thin but on it's way.
Close up of Notchtop's N. Face routeMy apologies in advance for the quality of some of the photos; the zoom on my camera isn't the best and I was often shooting into the sun. You should be able to get the idea. :)
Pillars and flows on the Guides' WallWe've had some interesting weather in the final weeks of October, with up to a meter of snow in some areas of the Park. I didn't believe it; I was in Indian Creek at the time. But I've seen the photos, heard the accounts, and been out there myself since then. In the trees near Lake Helene a few days ago, there was well over two feet of snow in most areas. A friend skiing out as we hiked in said he'd dug a snow profile that was 5-6' deep near the base of the Ptarmigan Fingers. Other hikers lamented their lack of snowshoes as they tried to go off trail in the deep snow. Sunday night the Park was forecasted to receive another 5-6" of snow with blustery winds.
Hot Doggie and areaMy hands were going numb trying to get some of these photos as the winds were pretty strong. It was cold on Sunday! Today it was literally t-shirt weather even at 9000-10000'. This trend looks to continue at least through the week and this may mean that snow continues to melt, ice continues to grow, and the climbing will be fat. Or, on the other hand, it could all melt and fall down. We shall see.
Grace Falls - 10/31I hiked up to the N. Face of Notchtop to see how it's faring (which actually faces more NE). With fresh snow on the face, it was difficult to see how much actual ice there was but it didn't look like the lower portion of the Face was in. The upper pitches appear to have some ice. Below the N. Face, ice is forming in the Hot Doggie area and at the Guides' Wall. Grace Falls is small but certainly frozen. If you were to hike up there for the N. Face, you'd at least be able to climb something in the Odessa Lake area if nothing else. Otherwise, there is ice forming in places I've not seen before (speaking from 5 years knowledge). The warm weather is causing snow-melt to form ice along all sorts of north-facing crags where we may not normally find ice. Is it climbable? It's hard to say, I guess, depends on how bold you are.
Smear-of-Fearesque pitch above Mills Lake
Not much ice on the Crypt
From the road, even from the Safeway parking lot in Estes, you can clearly see that All Mixed Up has ice on it. It appears to be "in" so I decided to hike up there today to check it out. There is lots of coverage on the route but it looks quite thin up to the last pitch which looks pretty good. There's also this 100' Smear-of-Fearesque pitch just above Mills Lake that looks pretty cool. The Jewel Lake (aka Overflow) ice is also in but equally thin. Reflections, Black Lake Slabs, the W. Gully area, as well as Yellow Tears, etc will definitely have ice as well though I didn't go up to see for myself today.
Ice smears on Otis' East Face
World Cup WallI did run up to the Loch and was able to walk across the lake to get views of Necrophilia, Deep Freeze, Thatchtop's NW Face, and the Loch Vale ice crag. Hopefully the photos speak for themselves as I wasn't able to get a closer look. I didn't see Vanquished but did notice some ice on the lower right side of the Cathedral Wall. Freezer Burn area is just wet and one, lonely, detached icicle is all that exists in the Crypt area. Loch Vale ice is thin, forming, and should probably not be climbed for another bit considering this venue's popularity. Mixed Emotions has some ice and the ice is beginning to form across the wall.
Loch Vale and Mixed Emotions
More of Loch Vale areaIt appears that a mixed line is possible on Otis' 800' east face, with various thin-ice smears spread across the wall. Greg Sievers' World Cup Wall is actually looking fairly promising, at least from the trail. There's lots of ice, lots of coverage but, again, it looks fairly thin. This is the story all over Glacier Gorge, ice in all sorts of shaded, cliffy areas. Some of it was falling down in today's warmth but much of it looked like it was going to hang around for a while. What's caused this? My theory is the new, high-moisture snow followed by relatively warm weather. Hopefully freezing temps at night continue to feed these formations. These ephemeral smears are literally all over the place right now. So far at least we're off to a great start for the RMNP alpine ice season. It's time to get out there and send!
Looking at at Deep Freeze
Last pitch of Deep FreezeFor you die-hard, backcountry skiers, it's de-sending time. Coverage is fairly thin throughout the Park but I've seen more than a couple parties out getting after it. Areas that endure lots of wind-loading obviously have better coverage. The Ptarmigan Fingers is one such area. The Hourglass Couloir on Flattop's N. Face also looks skiable. The S. Face of Hallet looked like it was filling in nicely as well. It sorta sucks to have to deal with the heinous winds around here but at least things get covered quickly when it blows.
Ptarmigan Fingers, filling in quickly (compare with last week)
More of the FingersIf you have observations from your own forays into the Park or if you just have questions, please feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com. I'll be out climbing and skiing every day this week but off to the desert soon enough...can't get enough rock climbing. So, my apologies in advance for any delay. I will update this report each day as necessary and plan on rolling out weekly updates throughout the winter. I'm looking forward to a great winter!
I updated the conditions report on our website, Nov. 3rd & 5th.
Andrew Councell is a CMS Guide and year-round Estes Park resident