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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.  


March 7th, 2008     


What is the old proverb regarding the month of March?  In like a lion and out like a lamb!  Well, this last week’s storm had a bit of a bite to it with hurricane force winds and new snow to increase avalanche danger in the high peaks.  And for some, the wind was a show stopper last weekend, primarily in terrain above treeline where it would have been impossible to stand-up, let alone crampon up an icy wall in gusts which exceeded



                       Wind loading fresh snow onto the east face of Thatchtop Mtn (12,668′) on 3/1/08


This last week was another good one to have avoided in the alpine zone along the east side of the Divide with average wind speeds once again well above 40mph for most of the week and with gusts exceeding 70mph.  Wednesday the 5th was the exception as the winds slowed to a crawl for the entire day  (see below) and an ascent of the north or west faces of Longs Peak were splendid.     





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


From four to six inches of fresh snow from the evening of the 4th covered the alpine landscape and on the morning of the 5th it was calm, sunny and with a light covering of fluffy white, sliding or climbing in the high peaks was very inviting and relatively benign for a winter day.  The winds quickly returned to peak at  60mph yesterday which again has scraped most of the high terrain clean and there is again a substantial deposition in those lee areas which are mostly east-facing or south/north variations on east aspects.  It’s in these spots where the current avalanche danger is rated CONSIDERABLE.  In all other above and below treeline locations, the current avalanche danger is rated MODERATE.



                 Lumpy Ridge and the Twin Owls in the morning sun on 3/5/08 after a small snowstorm  


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 (250cm) and very skiable snowpack on the north side of Flattop Mtn. near Two Rivers Lake


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.




         The Diamond Face of Longs Peak framed by the east faces of Mt. Meeker and Mt. Lady Washington

Due to consistent wind scouring up high over the last 24hrs. plus an entire winter of hurricane-force winds,  the higher elevation routes such as the North Face of Longs, East Ridge of Meeker, and any of the west faces of the Continental Divide peaks, along with many above treeline locations will have LOW to MODERATE avalanche danger.  The lower winds and warmer temp.’s forecast for Sunday and into this next week could be a prime time for those smarter winter ascents, while winter is in a more favorable mood.  The Diamond could be prime for a winter ascent in next week’s projected mild heat wave?!  Kieners on the east face is a couple of grades harder and great training for the Alaskan testpieces in its current conditions. 



   The east and north faces of Longs Peak with the lower slope of Mt. Lady W. and Chasm Lake pass on 3/3/08


The skiing this weekend might be best on south-facing slopes in sunny areas where heat-softening could make for a good sliding surface.  Otherwise, there might be a mix of "crust on dust" or worse yet, sastrugi wave riding.  There’s still plenty of ice out there and if the weather is warm, Lumpy Ridge or Eldorado Canyon will be in prime shape with the former being much more peaceful.  Have you climbed on the Crescent Wall yet?  Lumpy’s best-kept cold weather secret…



   Rapping over the small rock band in the upper Dragontail Couloir in current conditions


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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