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Up-to-date information by Eli Helmuth on climbing route and trail conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park and throughout the Estes Valley of Colorado.  Avalanche forecasts and skiing conditions in the alpine region are also reviewed.  

Warning:  Route conditions change constantly, especially in the mountains.  Climbing is dangerous.  Be flexible in your climbing plans and always prepare for the worst.  Be experienced enough for what you are doing. Seek qualified instruction and use proper equipment.  We accept no liability for your decisions in the peaks.  


February 28th, 2008     


As this transition season between winter and spring begins, the high country can go from warm and sunny to full-on winter temperatures and wind within a few hours.  It looks like the upcoming weekend will have both of these elements if the storm systems follow their trajectory and the drop in temperatures could be more than 30 degrees between these two days.  New snow is always good as we typically receive the majority of our water, in the form of snow during the spring months of March, April, and May and we are a bit "below normal" at the moment.  As Dan notes in this week’s Weather Report, on Tuesday, Bear Lake received .5 inches of water in the form of 6 inches of snow and at Emerald Lake I skied through  more than a foot of snow (approx. 1′ water) just two miles west of the Bear Lake Snotel Site.



        The windstorm exposed at sunrise on the Continental Divide just north of Longs Peak on 2/27/08  


This last week was a good one to have avoided in the alpine zone along the east side of the Divide as average wind speeds were well above 40mph for most of the week and with gusts exceeding 70mph,  blowing snow that was freshly deposited on Tuesday, it has been a maelstrom of turbulent wind in our beloved Windy Mountain National Park.






 Wind speeds recorded this last week just  south of Longs Peak at the 11K Niwot Ridge Meterological Station


The skiing season in Rocky Mountain National Park is in high gear with new snow accumulations nearby Emerald Lake this last Tuesday exceeding 12 inches and in these ideally loaded spots where the deep snowpack has increased the overall stability, there are more than 12 feet of total snow covering many of these slopes.  This very localized, deeper snowpack negates much of the lower and mid-snowpack instability issues and so it is primarily at the new snow interfaces where the highest probability of loose snow or soft slab avalanche dangers is located. 



The Dragontails covered with a 6 inch thick, wind hardened knife density slab prior to the storm on 2/26  


The highest avalanche danger areas on the east side of RMNP will currently be the steeper (35-45 degree), most lee-loaded locations where there are cornices above or cliffs below that weaken slab support and tension which are key elements of slab release probability.  The slopes that are traversed below the east side of the Loft, the south-facing slopes that cover the trail into Chasm Lake, and the large "glacier slopes" such as the Tyndall and Ptarmigan Glaciers will contain avalanche danger at the CONSIDERABLE Level.  (Human caused avalanches probable).



   The mostly thick and very skiable snowpack on the east side of Otis Peak nearby Lake Haiyaha in RMNP


Avalanche danger can change quickly with new snow, wind, or temperatures above freezing, so remember to stay alert and not take anything for granted when making decisions involving travel in avalanche terrain.  Always consult the CAIC website for the latest updates on avalanche danger here in the Front Ranges and throughout the state of Colorado.



                Skinning up below the "Otis Redding Couloir" with the A-team on 2/23


Due to heavy wind scouring over the last five days, the higher elevation routes such as the North Face of Longs, East Ridge of Meeker, west faces of any of the peaks, and many above treeline locations will have LOW to MODERATE avalanche danger and with lower winds and warmer temp.’s forecast for tomorrow and next week, this could be a prime time to make those bold winter ascents, while winter is in it’s most favorable mood.  Plus, you’ve been training all winter for this, right?



                                     The east and north faces of Longs Peak on 2/26/08



                              A close-up of the Diamond Face of Longs in the sunrise light


Following a windstorm like this last week’s, the below treeline areas in the park like the Banana Bowls on Flattop Mountain and the Terrain Park below Lake Haiyaha are the spots where much of the windblown snow returns to earth and here the snowpack is mostly deep and relatively stable.  The yellow lined slopes below would have CONSIDERABLE Avi danger currently and the green lined slopes would be in the MODERATE Avalanche danger category.    




If you are interested in a training program in any or all of the climbing and skiing arts, please feel free to contact me at eli@climbinglife.com to discuss the complete range of techniques practice and itineraries that might best meet your climbing or ski mountaineering goals. 


Best of luck with all of your backcountry plans this week!



North American avalanche Danger Scale
Danger Level
(& Color)
Avalanche Probability and Avalanche Trigger Degree and Distribution of Avalanche Danger Recommended Action
in the Backcountry



Natural avalanches very unlikely. Human triggered avalanches unlikelyGenerally stable snow. Isolated areas of instability.Travel is generally safe. Normal caution is advised.



Natural avalanches unlikely. Human triggered avalanches possible. Unstable slabs possible on steep terrain.Use caution in steeper terrain on certain aspects (defined in accompanying statement).



Natural avalanches possible. Human triggered avalanches probable. Unstable slabs probable on steep terrain.Be increasingly cautious in steeper terrain.



Natural and human triggered avalanches likely. Unstable slabs likely on a variety of aspects and slope angles. Travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended. Safest travel on windward ridges of lower angle slopes without steeper terrain above.



Widespread natural or human triggered avalanches certain. Extremely unstable slabs certain on most aspects and slope angles. Large, destructive avalanches possible.Travel in avalanche terrain should be avoided and travel confined to low angle terrain well away from avalanche path run-outs.



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