Saturday, January 22, 2011

RMNP Conditions Report - Jan. 20, 2011

Making turns in the RMNP backcountry
Whoa…I haven’t updated this report in over a month! This just goes to show you how busy I’ve been guiding and traveling in the last 4 weeks. Today is the first day I’ve had off in that time, so my apologies for the delay.
 Ice high on the World Cup Wall, Jan. 9
Right around the time of my last update, before Christmas, the Park received a major winter storm with feet of snow. Come the New Year, we hadn’t had any snow but did have lots and lots of strong winds. Around the 7th, we got a nice shot of snow (about 8”) to freshen things up a bit but the winds picked up again soon after. It got frigidly cold (and windy) around the 11th with the mountains getting a bit more snow off and on throughout the week. Since 15th, the mountains have been getting a little of snow each day with increasing amounts. On the 18th and 19th, the Park was hit once again with a major snow storm which greatly improved riding conditions but also caused the avalanche danger to skyrocket. That’s a quick recap of the month so far.
 Ice climbers at the Loch Vale area, Jan. 8
The skiing right now is quite good on most aspects and elevations, with the higher lee-facing aspects capped with wind-slab of varying densities thanks to 90-mph gusts. In the more protected trees, the snow is dreamy, creamy and deep with reports coming in of knee-to-thigh deep turns. This is notable for us (unless you’re a tele-skier in which case all conditions are knee deep). Also notable is the “High” avalanche danger in our mountains. The third avalanche-related fatality for the season became official yesterday. These are scary and real events that remind the rest of us who love the winter mountains how dangerous they can be. It’s hard. I feel my heartbeat elevate as I start searching the news to see if the accident involved anyone I know. I breathe a sigh of relief when I don’t know the victims but then I feel guilty for my relief. And then I just feel sad, putting myself in the shoes of the families and imagining the tragedy of the loss of human life. Avalanches do happen and, right now, the danger is high. Let’s be careful out there!
 More turns above Dream Lake in RMNP
With the high winds and super-cold, ice climbing conditions have been rather unpleasant. With all the new snow, climbing ice continues to be a hearty endeavor. Many of the areas we frequent are in or near avalanche paths: Black Lake area, All Mixed Up, the Crypt, Loch Vale area, etc. With all the new snow, it may not be wise to attempt these routes/areas until the danger has subsided (which may be a long time). Hidden Falls, free from avalanches, is a good option…except for it’s subsequent popularity. The Overflow (aka Jewel Lake) ice area could be another good option.
 Hidden Falls on Jan. 17
I was guiding ice in Vail yesterday: the Fang is touching but I wouldn’t call it “in;” the Designator is in but a little thinner than usual; the Spiral Staircase area is also a little thinner than usual for this time of year but all routes are in and offer fun climbing. And even here in the Park, little smears and flows continue to melt and pop up again all over.
 The Fang and Ampitheater at Vail
 Spiral Staircase area at Vail
 An unnamed (unclimbed?) ice smear in RMNP
The next 24 hours or so looks to remain relatively clear but more snow is on the way for the weekend. By Monday morning, we could have yet another 12-18” of snow to contend with. Pull out your fat skis! The faceted snow that formed during that cold, clear period around the 11th isn’t buried so deep that it’s not a concern. With weak layers like this, and more snow in the forecast, it doesn’t look like the avalanche danger will be going down in the near future. So keep your eyes up and your ambition in check this weekend!

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

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