Friday, December 24, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
There is nothing in the world like going out onto an untouched, open, virgin mountain slope drenched under a thick blanket of new powder snow. It gives a supreme feeling of freedom, mobility. A great sense of flying, moving anywhere in a great white paradise.—Hans Gmoser
Amen…and, lately, there’s been a lot of this! Our winter season was off to a good start with early season snows and we continue to do well in this latest series of storms. Already this year we’ve enjoyed numerous powder days in some of the most secret stashes in the Park and Indian Peaks. As long as the snow keeps falling, you can be sure a posse of us will be religiously laying our fat skis prostrate in whooping worship. Benjamin Franklin once said “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” But I disagree…I think it’s more accurate to swap the word “beer” with “powder skiing.”
Surface hoar forming near treeline last week
More surface hoar from the 17th, great skiing when it's on top...dangerous weak layer once it's buriedWe kicked off our avalanche education season last weekend with a full 3-day course in RMNP, enjoying fresh snow, relatively stable conditions, and good turns. We had an even bigger course this past weekend. It’s encouraging to see so many people taking avalanche education seriously and taking the time to learn how to stay safe and make wise decisions in the backcountry. It’s for good reason…and just in time! Colorado is getting walloped with lots of new snow this weekend with totals being measured in feet (finally). The avalanche danger will be substantial for the coming week, perhaps even more so once the winds pick up and this storm blows out of here. Today in the Park, students witnessed an avalanche in the Dragontail Couloir and had results on numerous test slopes. The snow continues to fall and the inches are adding up. How much? Well it’s at least a foot at this point but there’s more on the way!
The Crypt as of 12/17Ice conditions are somewhat mixed but where the ice is good, it’s in fat. CMS Head Guide Dale Remsberg reports that the Loch Vale ice area is “anemic” and scratchy. But then I got another report that said “Mo’ Flo’ than Go” was fat and fun. It sounds like “Mixed Emotions” is in from this report but much of the ice further to the right remains thin. Dale went on to say that Hidden Falls is fat and forming with the peripheral ice routes still coming into shape. I know another CMS crew was in that area today but I haven’t talked to them yet. I was at Jewel Lake (aka Overflow) ice area on Friday and it was COLD. So cold, in fact, that I snapped a pick in the ice. But the ice was good with a few fun variations to multiple top-ropes available. As has been noted in previous reports, the W. Gully and Stoneman remain in great condition. I was able to see the Crypt the other day and it appears to be in; I’d assume there is ice in the Freezer Burn/Cold Storage areas as well.
All Mixed Up as of 12/17All Mixed Up is thin in the middle but the left and right variations appear to be mostly ice with the probable mixed sections in the 3rd pitch. Another report today indicates that the Squid is in fat. I’d assume that if the Crypt and Squid are in that Jaws may also be climbable but I don’t know of anyone who’s been up there yet this year.
Ice climbing at Jewel LakeOverall this has been another beautiful week in the Park despite strong winds and brutal cold. In fact, I think I’ve enjoyed some of the best weather of the season in the last week or so. All the new snow and growing ice climbs feel very much like a perfect gift, just in time for the holidays.
Steve Johnson teaching an Intro to Mountaineering course this weekendI try to keep this report updated regularly throughout the month but can easily fall behind with back-to-back days in the mountains. If you have questions or observations, please feel free to e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org. I try my best to respond as quickly as I can. Thanks for reading and stay safe out there!
Andrew Councell is a CMS Guide and year-round Estes Park resident
Friday, December 17, 2010
Friday, December 10, 2010
Monday, December 6, 2010
Pitch 2 of the Flattop's S. Face
"Life is so short, and I think one should make a good time of it if one can. The only thing I enjoy now is Nature, especially spring in the mountains, and letters from friends. Sometimes I think I have seen too much for a poor man...It occurred to me that after all I was a rich man, even if I had no money." --Conrad Kain
Eric Whewell skinning in the backcountry
I was doing a little research this past week and stumbled across this quote from this famous Austrian uber-guide who made numerous first-ascents in the Canadian Rockies. What a life he lived, hey? Amazing. Well we are about as far from "spring in the mountains" as one can get right about now. Still, I doubt Conrad would've be bummed if he'd been out skiing or climbing with us today.
Ice forming in the Terrain Park, Tyndall GorgeWind has been the word on everyone's mouths lately, and lots of it. Boulder and Estes have been taking turns getting trounced by these winds in the last week and the high alpine has really been raked clean of new snow. All along the Continental Divide, tundra is exposed with growing, hard wind-drifts blooming behind little islands of "krumholtz." On lee aspects (NE-E-SE), the winds have deposited snow into large drifts and wind-slabs of various densities. These drifts can be sensitive to a traveler's weight and avalanche. Because of such a prolific wind event, these wind-slabs are forming larger, deeper, longer, and lower down than usual.
Ice on the S. Face of FlattopStrong winds typically equate to very hard wind-slab and sastrugi, both of which can make travel on skis difficult and/or dangerous. Around treeline, the snow remains soft in areas of relative shelter and, below treeline, creamy riding conditions can still be found. Fortunately, our new snow-load has been relatively incremental so far this year which has allowed the snowpack, overall, to adjust relatively well. As you should always do, check each day's avalanche forecast before heading into the mountains and heed their warnings; you can find that information here: Colorado Avalanche Information Center
"All Mixed Up" as of 12/5 - photo: Eric WhewellMany of us guides have been climbing in the Park recently, mostly ice but some mixed terrain as well. Unfortunately, it looks like another thin year for the famous "All Mixed Up." CMS Guides Steve Johnson and Russell Hunter were up there recently and reported good climbing but thin conditions, recommending small cams. CMS Guide Eric Whewell was guiding at the Jewel Lake Ice area (aka Overflow) this weekend and reported good ice conditions there. Reports indicate that Loch Vale is slowly coming in and, despite the thin conditions, Hidden Falls is getting climbed lots as well. No word yet on "Jaws," but it seems too early to me. Steve and I were both in the Tyndall Gorge this weekend on different objectives and we both noticed more ice than usual forming on features around the Gorge.
Jewel Lake ice climbing - photo: Eric WhewellThere is quite a bit of ice forming above the "Terrain Park" area and the ice pitch "Olympic Games" appears to be in as well. There is ice on the Nymph Lake ice area, with 3-4 distinct pitches in. From across the way I could still see ice on the World Cup Wall and the "NW Face" on Thatchtop had a very fat last pitch, clearly visible from across the valley. "The Squid" is touching down but still looks a little thin near the middle of the first pitch. It's already been climbed this year. "Tentacles," I believe it's called, further to the right also appears to be coming into shape. As you can see in the photo, another blob of ice is forming to the left as well. All along Flattop's southern side, ice smears are appearing in corners and gullies making for some fun ice and mixed climbing conditions.
The Squid area on 12/5
The start of pitch 4 on Flattop's S. FaceI was guiding a line on Flattop's S. Face this weekend and it was in the best shape I've ever seen it. We typically only get one good pitch of ice on that line but on Sunday we enjoyed 4 pitches of ice! No outing would be complete without the token scratching about frantically on rock slabs or wallowing in crotch-deep snow but we had a great day nevertheless.
Looking down the 5th pitch of Flattop's S. Face routeThat's a quick update from around our area. If you're in the Park and have observations to share, please feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com. Or if you're headed this way and are looking for a little beta, I'm your Huckleberry. I'll update again as soon as new information warrants it. Thanks for reading and have a great week!
Andrew Councell is a CMS Guide and year-round Estes Park resident