Climbing high in Longs' Notch Couloir in July"It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing. It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive."
-- Oriah Mountain Dreamer
Coming down the trail from another beautiful day in the RMNP mountains yesterday, my guest-for-the-day and I were talking about climbing and how the overall focus has shifted over the years. It used to be that climbing was about other things like nationalism or first ascents or simply for the sake of exploration. It didn't seem to matter (as much) what the outcome, it was done in the name of adventure. These days, on the other hand, so much focus seems to be around the numbers; it's V-this or 5.that or reaching some arbitrary altitude that matters to no one in the world except climbers. It's easy to obsess about numbers, like the fifty-something 14ers in Colorado for example. Rather than climbing a mountain because it's inspiring or not climbing a mountain because it's ugly or boring doesn't matter when all one cares about are the numbers. You might forgo a trip up an amazing-looking 13er because it isn't "tall enough" and instead choose to busy yourself with some slag-heap that barely tips out at 14,000'. For many, it's just so that they can say, "I climbed all the 14ers," or "I climbed all the 8000m peaks," or some other completely arbitrary, number-based claim.
Columbine in full bloom in the RMNP alpineWe as climbers love numbers. Hey, I'm guilty too. I'm always trying to climb the next number-grade. I find myself eschewing some beautiful-looking line because it's not hard enough, for example, and that's silly. Seems that we should be climbing after the bigger picture, in the name of exploration or just plain fun. That's what's awesome about climbing in the Park. There are so many unclimbed walls and routes, so much that remains undone, so much potential for adventure. So, as much to myself as any other climber, I say let's leave the numbers behind and aspire only to explore, to have an adventure and to have fun!
Climbing high on Zowie's S. Face route
Other aspects like the Ptarmigan Fingers and Lambslide are also still in great shape. We haven't had many freezing nights in the high country but there are still occasional freezes to keep things firm. Some guides are reporting good foot-penetration with just approach shoes on; still, others report icy steps, firm snow and good cramponing. One report reads: "Ptamigan Glacier and the Fingers are still in great condition for snow routes - no evidence of icing in any of them yet and all the cornices seem to be gone or melted back enough to not be an issue. The left finger (Brad's Gully) still has snow all the way down onto the upper tarn." There was a rescue on Lambslide recently where a climber slipped on firm/icy snow; fortunately, he was able to arrest his fall but injured himself in the process.
CMS Guides Eric Whewell and Mike Soucy have each spent a couple days on Longs Peak this past week and sent in a good report. Mike sent in this report for the North Face (Cables Route): "The crux is running water but the rest of the route is in good shape with mostly-avoidable snow. What snow remains has huge bucket steps in it." They didn't use crampons on their climb but did have axes. For his day going up Lambslide/Broadway-to-Notch Couloir: "Worth noting is the large snowfield traverse on the trail underneath [Mt. Lady Washington], still there and was frozen yesterday [morning]. The steps through it are not great and the fall would hurt. Keep that in mind and gear up appropriately [beforehand]. Lambslide is in perfect condition now, styrofoam at 5:30. Broadway is dry and cruiser. The Notch was also in great shape, mostly snow [with] a couple of spots of alpine ice. [The climbing was] all rock at the dogleg with a moderate passage...The south ridge is dry rock. Keiner's is snow free." He went on to say that he saw a number of parties on the Diamond climbing the Casual Route, Pervertical, D7, and Yellow Wall. Apparently he talked to someone on the Casual Route and there are still a few wet spots but reportedly mostly dry. Eric was talking with climbing ranger and friend/fellow guide Josh Gross and he said that Kieners was still wet in spots and that the Casual was totally dry. Josh Wharton just freed the Dunn-Westbay at 5.13b; that's a proud send. It's Diamond season!
CMS Senior Guide Bob Chase also sent in a couple of good reports from some days elsewhere in the Park. He was on the "Love Route" on Hallet a couple days ago and had this to say: "There's still some snow to deal with to reach the base of "Love," "Better Than Love," and the ["Culp-Bossier"]. I pitched both short sections of snow, but it was all [doable] in approach shoes (for me and my clients). The moat at the base of the route was perfect to hang out in and put on climbing shoes before starting the climb. The route was totally dry except for a couple of minor drips here and there on the 5.7 pitch - they were easy to avoid. The crux was bone dry. Both rap anchors (bolts/chains at the top and the intermittent anchor) are in great shape. The descent is dry except for a 20 foot section of snow at the very bottom (and that won't last long)."
Bob sent in another report from Notchtop, I think 4 days ago? He says: "The approach is dry up to Lake Helene (except for snow at the [Banana Bowls], below the east flank of Flattop and a few places where melt-water runs down the middle of the trail). There's low angle snow above Helene for 100+ vertical feet before you pick up the normal climber's trail through the krummholtz. Kicking steps with my approach shoes was very reasonable, but extra care might be needed for [climbers] who are inexperienced on snow if we had a freezing night. The rest of the approach is dry, as is the route and the entire descent gully.
"I totally replaced the junk show at the top rap anchor - it's now two separate pieces of climbing rope and two rapid links. The 3-pin anchor between the top anchor and the first bolt anchor...still seems really good and I did some minor work on the rigging - it's now various slingage/cordage and two rapid links. Each of the bolt anchors are a combination of one totally tight bolt/hanger and one loose hanger (but none spin more than an eighth of a turn)." Awesome, thanks Bob!
Alpine rock is dry and crisp...a bit looser, perhaps, with a wetter Spring behind us but overall a great way to spend the day climbing and escape the heat of the valleys. I've spent a couple days around Andrew's Creek this week. The Sharkstooth itself appears dry but the Gash is still quite filled in with snow as is the approach. The S. Face of Otis sports lots of great, sunny climbing; we did a quick ascent of Zowie, which was a lot of fun.
I rec'd a report from skiers recently as well. The report was from a trip in the Indian Peaks but the snowpack and terrain are similar enough to be relevant. Jason Matthews sent in this report: "[I] can confirm there is still a lot of snow if you are willing to hoof it. [We] skied east aspect of Jasper on Friday...seemed like an 8 ft base; skied very well, nice corn on top of a solid base. [We] skied Northstar on North Arapahoe on Saturday, [which was] a little softer, perfect spring skiing. Snow was much less dense immediately adjacent rock faces but firmed within a foot. [I] saw only a single sluff off a rock face the entire weekend. Neva looked great in the distance; a couple of skiers threw down some nice turns. If you have any diehard clients, you should let them know there is still some great skiing to be had."
So there you have it, something for everyone these days. Some alpine ice, some great scrambling, some dry alpine rock, and even still some snow-climbing and skiing. For climbers, mountaineers and skiers, RMNP is a great venue this time of year. Conditions continue to change rather quickly and, even with a dozen guides in the field every day, it's difficult to stay updated on it all. So if you see something you think we should know about, or if you just have questions, please feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com. I'm always psyched to hear from readers and happy to help out where I can! Do yourself a favor, get out climbing in the Park now 'cause this is about as good as it gets. While you're at it, forget about the numbers for a while and just let yourself return to the essence of climbing, where it's all about fun, exploration and adventure.
Andrew Councell is a full-time CMS Guide and year-round Estes Park resident