Thursday, March 3, 2011

RMNP Conditions Report - March 3rd, 2011 (updated March 6th)

 Mike Alkaitis and Bruce Miller enjoying early-March snow yesterday (3/2)
There is no mastery. No one is a self-proclaimed master. You don't have to master yourself. You don't have to corral yourself. You simply have to let go of all the trappings you have added to yourself...all the imitations you have copied. There is no imitation you want to be.  It is Truth you want to be.

You don't have to master anyone else either. You don't have to be master of another. You don't even have to be master of your child. Better to be a wayshower, a guide, and let those who choose, follow. Lead without saying one word. Point to the stars, and everyone will look up. -- Anonymous
Bear Lake TH on the morning of Friday (2/24) with over 12" on the ground and snow falling all day
Winds blowing February away along the Continental Divide on Monday (2/28)
Much of the last month, for me, has been spent outside of RMNP.  In the last 10 days, I feel like I've just been playing catch-up on the conditions here in the Park.  First off, I'll offer a quick recap of events and then we'll take a look at the current conditions.

Overall, RMNP is snowier than usual...what a difference from last year.  Be assured, you can still find buried rocks with your skis but the snowfall and subsequent coverage are better than usual.  This latest storm (2/24-2/26) came in relatively warm and gave the Park nearly 18" of snow.  Friday, the 25th, was the deepest skiing I've had in the Park in a long time, requiring an avalung just to ski and breath at the same time. 
Enjoying a warm, Spring-like day in the mountains skiing yesterday (3/2)
There have been both natural and skier-triggered avalanches in the Park since the 24th (with the latter being relatively small, thankfully).  Naturals ran in the Dragontail Couloirs, below Hallet's N. Face, and below the Continental Divide on the Tyndall Glacier.  I'm sure there are plenty of others I didn't see or hear about.  Stability tests have been giving a wide variety of results (even on the same slopes) depending on the aspect and elevation.  However, in general, stability seems to be building.  We seem to be in something of a Spring cycle, with warm temps before and after each storm.  Oddly, the sun is shining high in the sky as snow flakes are falling here in Estes. 
Small avalanche released by a solo skier in the Terrain Park on Friday night...death wish?
Currently, the primary concern for avalanche danger in the Park remain (surprise) windslabs formed around and above treeline.  As is the norm for our neck of the woods, the winds raged after this latest snowfall and hard windslabs have appeared even in usually sheltered areas.  Some of these windslabs offer challenging "breakable crust" skiing, others are supportable.  On steep, solar aspects you'll also want to be thinking about wet, loose-snow activity from the warm temps and sun.  I haven't seen anything too big coming from the toes of cliffs and trees but if you're low in big terrain, a wet sluff from above could entrain a lot of snow by the time it reaches you.  Elsewhere (ie, around sheltered treeline areas and lower, Northish aspects), the snow has settled nicely and still offers a creamy, but dense, traveling surface.  If you're looking for fresh'll be looking hard. 
Ricardo choking on snow Friday evening in the Terrain Park
Ice continues to form in north-facing areas but anything facing the sun is rotting out.  With 40+ degree temps and direct sun exposure, routes like Jaws, the Squid, and the Crypt are either gone or more akin to vertical slush than ice.  The Crypt is only 20-30' tall, the majority of the climb buried under snow.  CMS Guides, Mike Soucy and Steve Johnson, went up to the Freezer Burn/Cold Storage area over last weekend and reported good climbing.  In the Loch Vale ice area, Crystal Meth is partially formed up with a scary-looking detached pillar on it's right side, last I saw it.  Mixed Emotions doesn't appear to be in and Mo' Flo' Than Go is mostly covered with snow.  Jewel Lake ice and Black Lake ice are reportedly all still looking good with the various smears en route in as well.  Hidden Falls is looking like proper swiss cheese with the curtain on top only 3-4' wide.  However, this area seems to be growing with a lot of newer ice forming up in the cleft to the left.  I hear the Big Thompson ice is in but I haven't been to check it out myself.  And, last but certainly not least, Vail ice continues to swell.
Neal Kleiman on "Crystal Meth" at the Loch Vale ice area
I don't have any news from the Longs Peak or Chasm Cirque areas.  I would imagine that we haven't quite had enough warm-cold swings for notable ice in Martha's (on Mt. Lady Washington) yet.  The best conditions I've seen it in, for example, have been in May and June.  But I'm no "conditions master" and it could be good; I get surprised all the time around here.  I'm pretty sure everything at high elevations on N-aspects will still be wallowing rather than climbing. 
The Crypt, "in" but mostly buried
Looking up at Thatchtop's N. Face...beautiful but not much ice
We're entering in to what many consider the ultimate season for Colorado: great skiing conditions in the mountains, awesome rock-climbing temps along the Front Range.  The weather is generally more amiable as the days lengthen, the temps warm, and the wind speeds decrease.  But in this season, as in any other, the mountains remain a dangerous arena in which to recreate and we can never fully let down our guard.  I'm looking forward to a safe and fun-filled March!
Neal slaying some Colorado ice!

-- Update March 6th -- 

The Park hasn't received a ton of new snow but the winds have been working steadily near and above treeline, building drifts and wind-slabs of varying densities.  As I found out yesterday while poking around, some of these fresh wind-slabs and cornices are fairly sensitive.  I triggered multiple "test" (or indicator) slopes by stomping off chunks of cornice onto the slope below.  Most slabs didn't release very deep (4-14") but did propagate; in my mind, these smaller slopes indicate what could happen in bigger terrain and above treeline on more exposed slopes.
 R2-D1 triggered via cornice drop on a N-aspect east of the Loch
Failed within Wed/Thurs snow, now capped by a dense wind-slab
As for ice, as I suggested a few days ago, the Squid is pretty much gone though the Crypt and the Freezer Burn/Cold Storage area still looked great from my vantage on the Loch (with the Crypt still being mostly buried).  The Loch Vale ice area doesn't seem to have changed at all since I last saw it, with some good ice around.
 2nd slide I triggered with cornice drop, R1-D1.5, below Otis' E. Buttress
Sensitive cornices reactive to moderate stomping
Hidden Falls is either building or falling down, I can't quite figure it out.  It's been very warm and lots of water is now running down the main flow, with fresh, chandeliered ice forming over all the holes and pockets made by hundreds of climbers.  So that's good.  But all the free water is eating away at the top of the route, making the curtain detached from the earth in some spots.  So that's not as good.  Anyway, that's the latest.
Pit graph from yesterday with test results

As always, if you have questions or observations you'd like to share, feel free to e-mail me at  Thanks for reading!

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

No comments: