Playing tourist in the awkward season

Glacier Gorge across Mills Lake


This is an awkward time of year for alpine pursuits: it rained yesterday in Estes Park, then snowed overnight. The result was about 4″ of fresh snow at treeline, often with a skim of ice underneath. Mine was the only car at the Glacier Gorge trailhead when I took off at 7:30, thinking of perhaps climbing the Pagoda-Chief’s Head couloir.

It was a slow but straightforward hike to Black Lake and, surprisingly, the trail beyond there was visible under the fresh snow. The area west of Long’s Peak is spectacular, with views of the wall between McHenrys Peak and the Arrowhead to the west, Longs to the east, and the Spearhead straight ahead. The couloir looked more like powder over rocks than ice (not fun), but I saw what looked like a class 2-3 spiraling ramp up the Spearhead.

I stashed my crampons and axe, and started scrambling up the ramp. Unfortunately, the first part was covered with powder and a thin layer of ice. I made some progress by carefully pulling myself along the wall and stepping on less-icy parts of the rock. This worked right up until my foot slipped and I took a 20-foot slide, bruising my hip. Somewhat shaken, I looked at the ramp for awhile, then decided I had had enough. I might have been able to make some progress with crampons and axe, but it’s not easy to deal with a film of wet ice on slabs. With alternating warm weather and storms in the forecast, it looks like it may be awkward season for awhile in RMNP.

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2 responses to “Playing tourist in the awkward season

  1. It may be a difficult time for alpine pursuits, but the scenery is beautiful. Love that pic of sunrise on Longs.

    • I didn’t think you could see the diamond from that side, so I was surprised to drive around a corner and see it in full alpenglow. Luckily I was the only person in the park, so I could stop in the middle of the road to take pictures.

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