Monday, December 6, 2010

RMNP Conditions Report - Dec. 6th, 2010

Pitch 2 of the Flattop's S. Face
"Life is so short, and I think one should make a good time of it if one can. The only thing I enjoy now is Nature, especially spring in the mountains, and letters from friends. Sometimes I think I have seen too much for a poor man...It occurred to me that after all I was a rich man, even if I had no money."  --Conrad Kain
Eric Whewell skinning in the backcountry

I was doing a little research this past week and stumbled across this quote from this famous Austrian uber-guide who made numerous first-ascents in the Canadian Rockies.  What a life he lived, hey?  Amazing.  Well we are about as far from "spring in the mountains" as one can get right about now.  Still, I doubt Conrad would've be bummed if he'd been out skiing or climbing with us today. 
Ice forming in the Terrain Park, Tyndall Gorge
Wind has been the word on everyone's mouths lately, and lots of it.  Boulder and Estes have been taking turns getting trounced by these winds in the last week and the high alpine has really been raked clean of new snow.  All along the Continental Divide, tundra is exposed with growing, hard wind-drifts blooming behind little islands of "krumholtz."  On lee aspects (NE-E-SE), the winds have deposited snow into large drifts and wind-slabs of various densities.  These drifts can be sensitive to a traveler's weight and avalanche.  Because of such a prolific wind event, these wind-slabs are forming larger, deeper, longer, and lower down than usual.
Ice on the S. Face of Flattop
Strong winds typically equate to very hard wind-slab and sastrugi, both of which can make travel on skis difficult and/or dangerous.  Around treeline, the snow remains soft in areas of relative shelter and, below treeline, creamy riding conditions can still be found.  Fortunately, our new snow-load has been relatively incremental so far this year which has allowed the snowpack, overall, to adjust relatively well.  As you should always do, check each day's avalanche forecast before heading into the mountains and heed their warnings; you can find that information here: Colorado Avalanche Information Center
"All Mixed Up" as of 12/5 - photo: Eric Whewell
Many of us guides have been climbing in the Park recently, mostly ice but some mixed terrain as well.  Unfortunately, it looks like another thin year for the famous "All Mixed Up."  CMS Guides Steve Johnson and Russell Hunter were up there recently and reported good climbing but thin conditions, recommending small cams.  CMS Guide Eric Whewell was guiding at the Jewel Lake Ice area (aka Overflow) this weekend and reported good ice conditions there.  Reports indicate that Loch Vale is slowly coming in and, despite the thin conditions, Hidden Falls is getting climbed lots as well.  No word yet on "Jaws," but it seems too early to me.  Steve and I were both in the Tyndall Gorge this weekend on different objectives and we both noticed more ice than usual forming on features around the Gorge. 
Jewel Lake ice climbing - photo: Eric Whewell
There is quite a bit of ice forming above the "Terrain Park" area and the ice pitch "Olympic Games" appears to be in as well.  There is ice on the Nymph Lake ice area, with 3-4 distinct pitches in.  From across the way I could still see ice on the World Cup Wall and the "NW Face" on Thatchtop had a very fat last pitch, clearly visible from across the valley.  "The Squid" is touching down but still looks a little thin near the middle of the first pitch.  It's already been climbed this year.  "Tentacles," I believe it's called, further to the right also appears to be coming into shape.  As you can see in the photo, another blob of ice is forming to the left as well.  All along Flattop's southern side, ice smears are appearing in corners and gullies making for some fun ice and mixed climbing conditions. 
The Squid area on 12/5
The start of pitch 4 on Flattop's S. Face
I was guiding a line on Flattop's S. Face this weekend and it was in the best shape I've ever seen it.  We typically only get one good pitch of ice on that line but on Sunday we enjoyed 4 pitches of ice!  No outing would be complete without the token scratching about frantically on rock slabs or wallowing in crotch-deep snow but we had a great day nevertheless. 
Looking down the 5th pitch of Flattop's S. Face route
That's a quick update from around our area.  If you're in the Park and have observations to share, please feel free to e-mail me at  Or if you're headed this way and are looking for a little beta, I'm your Huckleberry.  I'll update again as soon as new information warrants it.  Thanks for reading and have a great week!

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

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