Ice and avalanche conditions for the more popular ice routes in Rocky Mountain National Park are updated regularly by Eli Helmuth; Estes Park resident, IFMGA licensed mountain guide and AIARE trained avalanche educator and forecaster.
WARNING: Ice and avalanche conditions change constantly and the information provided here should not be the final say in making the best decisions in regard to your risk management in the mountains. Climbing Life and its contributors accept no liability for your decisions based on this information. Ice climbing is very dangerous and one can easily kill themselves in this sport.
February 28th Conditions:
We finally had another significant storm on Monday evening, the 26th of February which despite only dropping a measly .5 inches of moisture (snow water equivalent) at Bear Lake, as noted in Dan’s weekly weather report, new snow totals in the Dragontails where I visited early Tuesday morning were in the 35cm or 12" range (approx. 1" of SWE) and with the wind already starting to blow in this above treeline location, transport and loading was occurring on all aspects due to winds seemingly from all directions of the compass and simultaneously during my visit. I wished once again that I hadn’t left my goggles at home as the sunglasses weren’t quite doing the job and I had to time the downhill runs with the lulls in the wind so as to avoid the overwhelming sensation of vertigo while floating on that sweet, white fluff. (We’re speaking only of snow here in case you Boulderites were wondering!)
The east face of Longs Peak on Feb. 26th before being consumed by the wind
Avalanche conditions in the high country are still a wide range from LOW to CONSIDERABLE with the highest danger being in steep and lee avalanche terrain above treeline, especially on unsupported slopes which have either cliffs below (like the east face of Notchtop) or a lack of tension from above due to cornices, (such as the Tyndall and Ptarmagin Glaciers). We lost most of our visibility above treeline this last week due to the typical pre and post-storm winds which have raked this alpine terrain since Tuesday the 26th, and when the clouds once again part, no doubt the same places as usual will be well scoured and mostly snow-free. So routes on the north and west faces of Longs Peak, the east and west ridges of Mt. Meeker, and much of the Continental Divide including Flattop Mountain will be well scoured and these highest slopes will consist of mostly firm, sustrugi-ridged snow that is most unpleasant to ski on but great for firm cramponing and lower avalanche danger.
Looking up into the snow-filled Hallett Chimney route on the North Buttress of Hallett Peak
For the most up-to-date avalanche forecasts and accident reports for the entire state of Colorado, please consult the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website for daily updated reports.
The ice season is still going strong in RMNP despite the balmy temperatures currently influencing the Front Range. Thick cloud cover and strong winds have effectively blocked the sun and conspired to keep the above treeline world cold and crisp. Hidden Falls today on 2/28 was in great shape and still growing strong on the far left and far right sides where multiple WI5 and high-end mixed routes have recently come into shape and are awaiting some strong and brave suitors to have a go at these testpieces. The Jaws Falls, being the lowest elevation ice in the park and south facing are likely in critical shape and only a serious cold snap (which is forecast for next week) could save this enormous chunk of ice from a wet and deafening crash onto the slopes below. Probably best not to be near it when this happens as it would be a painful way to leave this world.
The classic and in 2008, long-lasting ice testpiece; The Squid on 2/26/08
Due to it’s higher and colder location, the Squid was still going strong on 2/26 when I skied below it and friends have climbed it recently in what they described as thin at the bottom and solid-above conditions. Some large cams (#3 and #4 camalots) can help protect the initial difficulties although longer runners or two ropes might be useful for this protection strategy. Otherwise treating the bottom like a high-ball boulder problem and then sewing it up with many screws above would be a more lightweight and possibly more reasonable solution.
All Mixed Up and the many variations in this high cirque are all in great shape and the wallow up from Mills Lake continues to be the crux of this moderate, but classic multi-pitch ice route. The Organ Pipes and other variations to the right of AMU are looking good, and with balmy weather, a rack of pins, nuts, and cams- this is an ideal location to get in some exciting, but protectable and on solid rock mixed climbing.
Steve Johnson hammering it home on the final pitch of Organ Pipes on the east face of Thatchtop
We are still likely some weeks away from the type of warm-cold, melt-freeze weather regime that is required for the beginning of ice formation in the highest elevations of the park where ephemeral classics such as Womb with a View, The Window, Hallett’s Chimney, Vanquished, Necrophilia, and other similar ice and mixed testpieces reside. In the meantime, we will have to make due with scratching around on other slabby and featureless faces of granite and gneiss in preparation for the desperation of when these routes are "in-shape" which could be soon, later, or not this year depending on how the stars and melt-freeze line-up. Luckily there’s always Eldorado Canyon or the Diamond available if the mixed doesn’t happen and we really just want to scare ourselves a bit without all the sharp stuff strapped to our bodies.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss training in ice or mixed climbing, avalanche education, or any type of rock climbing, ski mountaineering or guide training programs.
Routes are sorted by current Avalanche Danger Level:
LOW Avalanche Danger
(at 3+ to 5)
WI 5, M5
Black Lake Slabs
CONSIDERABLE Avalanche Danger
WI 2, M 1
(HIGH avi danger
WI 4+, M4
WI 5, M4
WI 5, M4
| || || |
WI 4, M4
WI 5+, M5
| || |
(due to high
WI 5, M4
WI 5, M4
HIGH Avalanche Danger
WI 3+, M1
(due to high avalanche danger)
|Avalanche Probability and Avalanche Trigger||Degree and Distribution of Avalanche Danger||Recommended Action |
in the Backcountry
|…WHAT...||…WHY…||…WHERE…||…WHAT TO DO…|
|Natural avalanches very unlikely. Human triggered avalanches unlikely||Generally 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.|