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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. 

March 11th Conditions:

Springtime is in the air in Estes Park this week, yet just a few miles to the west in Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s been more of a hint than a reality as temperatures at Bear Lake have only risen above freezing in the last 48hrs.  The last weekends  temperatures were averaging in the low 20’s with the previous weeks average being closer to 15F so this still- winter weather has kept the ice in good shape in most locations and likely will continue to do so for a while.

Image

Kevin Tobin on ice for the first time at Hidden Falls with "The Dangler" at far right above.  This one pitch route is mostly rock, starting in a thin-crack dihedral from the ground, through a strenuous OW and finally a stout roof to this dangling curtain which has only formed occasionally in the last 10 yrs.

Today at Hidden Falls, temperatures stayed below freezing for the entire day, despite high’s in Boulder of 68F, the cold westerly wind and colder night time temperatures have kept the shaded snow and ice in frigid form.  Just right of the main falls, the route "The Dangler" M6/7, WI6 has been waiting for a second ascent as the strong team of Kevin Cooper and Topher Donahue scooped the FA some 6 years ago in a ground-up siege (which involved some big whippers) when the upper ice curtain was in leaner form.  Kevin says the wide crack (8") approach to the ice was the M crux and that he left a couple of pitons in the roof and that other small cams were helpful for protecting this upper crux.

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The Squid still standing on March 3rd and back to its leaner, meaner WI5+ form.  An accident up here on 3/2 resulted in an upper-ledge impact which caused femur and tib/fib fractures to the injured leader who was evacuated by her partners and RMNP rangers.

Amazingly enough, last week’s heat spell did minor damage to the classic ice route Jaws, and we spent an excellent day on March 4th, enjoying a tranquil scene and ample ice for a full-day of "swinging and singing".  The furthest left variation is showing rock near the top again and with some air space between the ice and rock, the hollow "thunk" in this spot is a reminder that the clock is ticking on this big best of an ice cascade.  

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    Fox war correspondent, Mike Tobin taking a little R & R from the action in Lebanon with a day on Jaws
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                             Brent Honea getting it done on the WI 4 variation to Jaws on 3/2/08

It looks like Sunday and Monday this week would have been the days to be up high on the north face of Longs, Martha or the Diamond as wind speeds dropped down to below 5mph for all of Sunday and only picked up moderately on Monday.  Avalanche conditions have lessened prior to this upcoming storm and the approach slopes into Chasm Lake have stabilized considerably as a result of this sunnier and overall warmer weather.  The current forecast for the rest of the week and weekend is for cold and snowy weather which will suck for rock climbing in t-shirts but will continue to prolong the ice season in the park and hopefully give us some improved skiing conditions as we have haven’t seen significant new snow for over a week.  The wind is currently howling outside my window here at almost 9,000′ just east of RMNP and it sounds again like another winter storm is arriving with some force.  Kite flying could be another prime activity in this hopefully final windy month of our winter and windy season.

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A view across the east end of the Loch Vale ice area on 3/1 with the Great Pillar and Spiral Routes in solid shape.

The Loch Vale Ice Area was in great shape last week when Dan Welch and I spent a full day working on mixed climbing techniques and systems with the entire place to ourselves on a Saturday!  Conditions were perfect and the ice was still growing on the Great Pillar route and on the far-right (west) end of the ice area.  The snow piles up deep in here and snowshoes or sturdy gaitors and some willingness to posthole might be necessary for just the last bit of the approach from the creek bed up to the base of the routes.  This place should stay in great shape for at least the remainder of this month and I have climbed solid ice there into late-May during the cold and snowy spring of ’05.

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                     Dan W. on the "Loch-Lusting" ice route on the eastern end of the Loch Vale ice area

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 line-up. 

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The All Mixed Up cirque on March 1st in still-great shape and with minimal snow on the upper approach slopes.  Photo courtesy of Jeff Shafer who climbed the route this day and proclaimed it great!

Please contact me at  eli@climbinglife.com  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          

Hidden Falls 

   WI 3- 

  Loch Vale

   WI 2-5

  M 1-8 

  Jewel Lake 

   WI 2+

   Image

        Image

   Image

  IN  
 (bit stepped-out)
IN
          IN

Jaws

WI 3-5

 Squid

    WI 5+

  Crypt 

   WI 4+  

     Image

 Image

 Image

IN
IN
     IN

                                                            

  Necrophilia

WI 5, M5

Deep Freeze  

WI5, M5

Black Lake Slabs

 WI 2

ImageImageImage 
  OUT    
OUT
IN

MODERATE Avalanche Danger 

 All Mixed Up 

WI 3  

 

 West Gully 

WI 3 

 

 Martha 

WI 2,  M 1

 

 

 Image

 

Image

 

Image  

 IN
             IN    
  IN  

               

Dark Star 

WI 4+, M4

 Hallett’s Chimney 

WI 5,  M4

 Field’s Chimney 

WI 5, M4

 

Image 

 

Image 

 

Image

 

OUT
 (usually July)
 

OUT
 (usually June) 
 

OUT

                                                      

  Grace Falls

WI 3-4

 Image

 

 

IN
(growing)

 

CONSIDERABLE Avalanche Danger

Alexander’s Chimney 

WI 4,  M4

Smear of Fear

WI 5+, M5

 

New Beginnings 

M5, WI5

 

 

 Image

 

Image

 

Image

                         OUT
(due to high
avalanche danger)
 

OUT 
   
                OUT

  

The Window

WI 5,  M4 

 

Vanquished

WI 5,  M4 

 

  Hot Doggie

WI 5+

 

  Image Image Image
 

 OUT 
 

OUT
 

OUT

HIGH Avalanche Danger 

East Face of Notchtop

WI 3+,  M1

 

 Image
 

OUT
(due to high avalanche danger)
                   
North American avalanche Danger Scale
Danger Level
(& Color)
Avalanche Probability and Avalanche Trigger Degree and Distribution of Avalanche Danger Recommended Action
in the Backcountry
…WHAT... …WHY… …WHERE……WHAT TO DO…

LOW

(GREEN)

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

MODERATE


(YELLOW)

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).

CONSIDERABLE


(ORANGE)

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

HIGH

(RED)

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.

EXTREME

(BLACK)

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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