Monday, April 17, 2006

Springtime in the Rockies

Spring may be my favorite season in Rocky Mountain National Park. It's when some of the Park's best routes come into shape and the deep mantel of snow transforms ordinary climbs into beautiful and challenging outings. Yesterday, Greg Sievers and I climbed the Spiral Route on Notchtop. It's a pleasant mountaineering route in summer, with some 5.4 rock and scrambling, gaining a wild summit ridge. A storm the day before had brought cold temps, very high winds and a shot of snow to the Park, and the clouds and gusty wind lingered as we skied toward Notchtop. It wasn't looking good: The rime-covered peak looked like a tower straight out of B.C. or southeast Alaska and gusts were knocking me off my skinny skis. But the forecast was excellent, so we kept the faith.
By the time we started up the first rock pitches, the sun was out but the wind was still gusting. As we spiraled around the tower into the lee, the day got warmer and the clouds vanished. Crampons on, tools out, we entered the upper gully and slogged up some nasty unconsolidated snow to the final headwall. We chose a more direct line than the one I had followed before in summer, and it probably had some 5.7 or 5.8 rock. l got us halfway up before running out of rope and gear, and Greg got the crux, a couple of sketchy bare-handed moves on wet rock. All in all, a great climb in splendid alpine surroundings.

Much of the Park is dry in summer, but in the spring there's snow everywhere, and it's easy to visualize the glaciers that filled these cirques years ago. Spring is also ski season in the Park, and while we were climbing we watched three skiers headed up to the steep chutes and bowls at the head of the valley, and then ski out a couple of hours later. Once we crested the ridge, we could see their tracks right down the middle of the Ptarmigan Glacier. As we were rapping off, we heard a roar and watched all of the new snow slide off the glacier, obliterating the skiers' tracks about two and a half hours after they left them. With cornices looming over our own exit gully, we raced down as fast as we could and were happy to reach the skis safely and point them toward home.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for keeping the spirit alive! In a time when most climbing writers are spending both their print and blogging time trying to craft a slag-slinging persona, you're dedicated to actually bringing in beautiful moments. Thanks, and don't stop!