Wednesday, June 22, 2011

RMNP Conditions Report - June 22, 2011

A view northwards into the Park from Longs' N. Face (6/6)
I look out to the east of the Colorado sky
The canyons are throwin' dust in the storms eye
And the storms gettin' angry I know that its so
It's fixin' to blow a little more of Colorado 
Chris Ledoux
Dominik rock climbing on Lumpy's Left Book on a windy, chilly day (6/14)
Summer has arrived on the calendar but winter fights to hold onto the mountains.  The wind has been blowing hard, making for cold climbing conditions throughout the Park.  It snowed about 4-6" on Trail Ridge Road a couple days ago, reminding us all that the mountains and weather don't care at all what the calendar says.  For those of us who love the snow and playing in it, this extended winter/spring has been a blessing.  But the winds, oh the winds, just can't seem to take a hint and die down.  Winds make an otherwise balmy day of cragging at Lumpy Ridge into a shiver-fest and turn the alpine world into a screaming nightmare.  However, aside from good spring skiing, another benefit to the cooler/wintry weather has been a general absence of the vicious afternoon thunderstorms that are often the norm come summer.  This isn't to say we haven't had a few t-storms here and there but nothing like what is often the case around here. 
The amazing Flying Buttress soaring through the clouds (6/4)
A weekend-trip into the Chasm Lake Cirque last week gave us awesome climbing conditions on a few of the classics.  Dreamweaver on Mt. Meeker was in fairly good shape, with the lower cruxes being mostly filled in with snow.  Looking too easy, we opted to climb a steeper mixed line about 50' to the right of the standard start, which ended up being WI3ish/M5ish and a fun/hard variation to the climb.  You could take an ice-screw for Dreamweaver but you probably wouldn't need it; lots of rock gear around.  The descent down the Loft is about as easy as it gets right now, with the usual 60' cliffs being mostly buried.  I've heard of people rappelling this area recently (and we did find a hopelessly awful "anchor" pinched between to small boulders that I wouldn't hang my hat on) but careful downclimbing through the steeper sections gives way to 1000' of glissading into Chasm Meadows. 
Looking up our mixed, harder variation to Dreamweaver (6/5)
Looking down the same pitch as Roger sends (6/5)
Roger nearing the top of the hard climbing on good ice (6/5)
We also linked Martha's on Mt. Lady Washington in the N. Face on Longs, which ended up being a great link-up.  Martha's, however, was on its last leg with delaminating ice and lots of loose rubble to contend with.  CMS Guide Bob Chase guided it a few days ago and suggested that the route is done for the season, too much objective hazard to guide safely. 
Nearing the top of Dreamweaver (6/5)
The N. Face on Longs was great climbing on firm snow.  There are three bolts exposed on the old Cables Route and lots of boot-tracks to suggest possible route options to the summit.  We enjoyed a near-windless summit (oddly) and I was able to get a look at the upper Keyhole.  The Homestretch had substantial snow on it with the current line of ascent traversing on snow higher than the typical dry/summer climb.  The Trough looks like it's all snow from top to bottom and most of the ledges and the boulders up to the Keyhole are covered in snow.  The Boulderfield is melting out but most of the campsites remain under snow.  Upper Glacier Gorge remains pretty snow-locked as well but the east faces of the various peaks are definitely much less snowy than two weeks ago.  Black Lake and the lakes above are all pretty frozen still.
 Approaching Longs' N. Face
 Looking up at the Cables Route, bolts exposed (6/6)
Descending the N. Face of Longs
In general, in the Chasm Lake area, south-facing snow routes are pretty much done.  Flying Dutchman, Lambslide, the Notch, and Kieners all look awesome and fairly snowy.  The Flying Buttress (5.9) appears to be dry as are some of the NW-facing rock routes high on Meeker's N. Face.  The Yellow Wall on the Diamond looks good but getting up there would be the crux.  I don't know how it looks currently but the Window route was in fat last week.  Of particular note, I witnessed a couple of climbers running for their lives while crossing the snow-field under Mt. Lady Washington's S. Face as a large rock came bounding off the mountain above them.  This was at 10:30am.  Falling rock is a very real hazard and prudence suggests quick passage below suspect cliffs; "pepper" on the snow below cliffs suggests how active rockfall may be but it's still worth moving quickly in those spots.  You never know. 
 Cornice-triggered slab in Wild Basin
 Looking west towards a snowy Keyhole
 Ice dribbling out of rock on Longs' N. Face (6/6)
 Looking down the Homestretch
 Looking down on Lambslide from the summit of Longs
 The Window on Longs
A snowy Boulderfield (6/6)
Snow-climbing is better than most years, with a longer-than-usual period of warm days and freezing/clear nights.  With Trail Ridge Road open (unless another rogue snowstorm blows through), snow-alpine routes are easily accessible all over the area (Sundance, for example).  This area is popular with both climbers and skiers and offers some great terrain.  The Never Summer Range is also a lot more accessible for us Front-Rangers now; they are living up to their name, looking in full winter conditions.  I wish I had a day off so I could get up there and ski some of the lines I've been ogling for years!
 Looking across the N. Face of Sundance
 More of the N. Face of Sundance, looking west
Climbing steep snow on Sundance N. Face (6/13)
I was recently guiding around the Crestones in the Sangre de Cristo Range just outside of Westcliffe where the snowpack was overall much thinner than the central/northern parts of Colorado.  We endured 50mph winds for the three days we were up there and although many people turned around as a result we managed to get up a more than a few mountains.  Overall dry conditions lended nicely to rock climbing but the screaming winds kept us off our main objectives for the moment.  Looking northwards towards Crested Butte/Aspen, the mountains looked much whiter. 
 Snow climbing on Sundance Mt's N. Face (6/13)
AJ on Sundance
I was just talking with the Aspen Expeditions guys and they were saying that they have huge cornices in their area.  This ties into our area because we, also, are dealing with a fatter-than-usual snowpack.  Large cornices are hanging precipitously all over; in both Aspen and RMNP these monsters are dropping with little warning.  The scary thing is that these events don't seem to be tied to a time of day; for example, some are dropping in the night, others in the heat of the day, and still others at 8:00am.  A recent report from the Ptarmigan Fingers suggested great snow climbing but noting a fresh cornice release and minor wet-loose activity at 10:30am.  Noticing a pattern?  With these warmer days upon us, pay special attention to any terrain that leads you to climbing underneath these natural guillotines. 
Large cornices like this present a big hazard, ready to fall off and obliterate
Finally, summer feels like it's arrived with blazing-hot temps along the Front Range valleys.  While Eldo and the Flatirons continue to heat up and become uncomfortable to climb in the afternoon, climbers will be turning their attention to the alpine.  The Petit S. Face is reportedly climbable/dry as is the S. Ridge on Notchtop.  Even if you're just alpine-rock climbing, it's probably worth wearing boots and bringing the mountaineering gear (at least an ice axe) for the approach/descent...just in case.  CMS Guide Eric Whewell just got back from the Tyndall Gorge area and wrote in: "Hallet appeared to be climbable...but still lots of snow on the descent."  There is lots of dry rock in the Park but you should be prepared for wet stuff too; this may mean "new-routing" or deviating from the typical routes. 
 Nearing the summit of Humboldt, Crestones behind (6/19)
 Bighorn sheep below the Crestone Needle
The complex and steep E. Face of the Crestones
Obviously Lumpy is all dry but I keep hearing about the ticks up at McGregor Slab.  I'm keen to head up to Wizard's Gate on Twin Sisters which seems to have finally dried out.  There's so much to do in the Park, too much.  The only bummer is that there's not enough time to get out and do it all.  The conditions change so quickly and this season is just too short.  The mountains are alive and demand respect (it's been a tragic year in other mountains these past 6 weeks) so let's keep it safe up there.  Send it!
Looking towards the Crestones from Kit Carson's summit (6/19)

Fresh snow on the Crestone Needle in...summer? (6/20)
If you have any observations from RMNP or have questions, please feel free to contact me at  It's great to hear from readers! 

Andrew Councell is a CMS Guide and year-round Estes Park resident
 The Never Summer Range living up to its name (6/21)
Upper Forest Canyon looking snowier than usual (6/21)

No comments: