Monday, November 28, 2011

RMNP Conditions Report - Nov. 26, 2011

Winter is once again resting it's icy mantle on Rocky Mountain Nat'l Park.  This year, the process seems to have been more varied than usual, with heavy snows in October and a prolonged rock climbing season (thanks to a series of "Indian Summers" punctuating the snowfalls).  As we march into the final days of 2011, the weather looks to keep things interesting with a "chance of snow" hovering ever-elusively on the horizon.  Skiers moan and groan, itching to try out the newly bought gear yet stymied by a slow start to the season.  But ice climbers rejoice, not having to wallow hopelessly through avalanche-prone drifts or scratch desperately at powder covered rock faces with dulling picks.  Alas, for all Park users, the most prominent feature of our northern Colorado winter is alive and well: the wind.
The classic All Mixed Up on Thatchtop's E. Face
After an unprecedented wind event a few weeks ago, what snow was laying in the Park was stripped from the windward slopes and firmly deposited on the leewards.  A super-hard wind slab was the result, providing the benefit of a good base for subsequent snows.  We've had another 20" of snow since then but the winds have been hard at work again and new wind slabs have formed all over the Park.  With multiple layers in our shallow snowpack already, avalanche concerns should be at the forefront of our planning.  Last week, while powder skiing at Hidden Valley, a group of us noted a number of shooting cracks and even a small natural release.  There's no need to wander into steeper terrain with observations like that. 
A climber gets doused by spindrift on AMU
One party climbed Deep Freeze on Thathtop's N. Face is deep, wallowy snow; then another party climbed the same route in fairly dry conditions.  The first party roped up on some slopes due to avalanche concern whereas the latter party was able to simply walk on rock.  This is just one example of how varied conditions can be in just a matter of days here in the Park.  In this case, the winds stripped the rocks bare.  Yet another party climbed Deep Freeze yesterday and it sounds like the ice is diminishing, no longer being fed by melting snow.  Elsewhere in the Park, ice is in moderately good shape, better than some years but not as good as others. 

CMS Guide Mike Soucy climbed All Mixed Up (also on Thatchtop) recently and found good climbing, though the route required a bit more rock gear than some years.  By now, the Black Lake area will have substantial ice and even the steeper lines (like Stoneman) are looking good.  Jewel Lake ice should be climbable as well.  The Loch Vale ice is coming in but has, again, been climbed too soon and as a result will take longer to come into decent shape.  Still, climbs like Dr. Wazz and Mixed Emotions are looking good.  In the Longs Peak cirque, Dreamweaver is all snow, Martha's is the same and the Smear never touched down.  The good news is that Alexander's has been in better shape than in past years.  Go figure.  I've had no news on Hidden Falls but it seems a bit early for that formation as well.  Besides, when the Front Range temps have been as balmy as they have been, why swing at fragile ice when the rock climbing is so good?  We have plenty of winter to go.
Skiing at Hidden Valley last week
I've been surprised twice by the quality of backcountry skiing this month at Hidden Valley.  Breaking trail in knee-deep snow isn't something I'm accustomed to doing in November but it's a good problem to have.  That being said, things are still super bony out there and the base of my skis could prove it.  It's fun to ski in November, sort of a novelty really, but your gear will suffer for it.  It's possible to ski elsewhere in the Park (Tyndall Gorge for example) but our snowpack is thin and our obstacles abundant. 

Outside of the Park, the ice around Summit County is looking good.  Lincoln Falls is always the first to form and it's looking like a good start to the season up there.  A recent report from Ten Mile Canyon along I-70 reported lots of ice in various gullies that will soon be too avalanche-prone to climb safely.  The Vail ice is also coming into shape with lots of routes already in.  One report said the Fang was touching but may have been referring to Rigid Designator.  There is a new cable for the Fang to form on but even so, it's the earliest I can think of.

I'll be keeping this report updated as new information comes along.  Your observations are certainly helpful; feel free to sent them along to  Thanks and stay safe out there!

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

1 comment:

Ben said...

Andrew - thanks as always for your thorough and thoughtful reports. I look forward to tuning in to your writeups this winter.

- Ben