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Monday, January 05, 2009

Winter Jollies

Sunday's forecast for the Front Range called for cold (high about 8°F at 12,000 feet) but no wind. That sounded like a good day for some winter mountaineering, so Paul Gagner and I laid plans for the east ridge of Mt. Bancroft, a 13,250-foot peak I discovered in Dave Cooper's excellent Colorado Snow Climbs. The peak is relatively close to the road (2.5 miles) and has limited avalanche danger. The normal east ridge is a great moderate mountaineering route, with some knife-edge snow ridges, much third-class scrambling, a rappel into a notch, and a very short fifth-class wall to surmount. When Paul and I arrived at the foot of the ridge, the air was absolutely still, as promised, and both of us kept staring at the large broken wall that forms the right side of the lower ridge. We only had a single 9mm rope, three cams, and one ice axe apiece—just enough for the 5.2 step on the normal route—but the climbing did not look difficult and we decided to give it a try.

This turned out to be a great way to add some technical interest to this mostly non-technical route. We did three long pitches (with a bit of simul-climbing) on good rock, snowy ledges, and frozen turf. Impossible to rate this stuff, but each pitch had a step or two that was at least as hard as the crux of the normal route (photo at left). Because of our limited rack, all of this was must-not-fall terrain, but it was very enjoyable climbing.

The ridge itself was pleasant snow hiking and scrambling. In summer, most experienced climbers wouldn't even need a rope (the rappel could be skirted with moderate down-climbing). But in winter conditions the route had ample appeal. Toward the top, the wind kicked up and clouds began piling up against the Continental Divide from the west. After tagging the summit cairn, we started down and then spotted a circular rainbow in the clouds below us to the north, complete with a faint and tiny brocken spectre—our own shadows cast against the fog. We weren't lingering for the intriguing atmospherics, however. The wind chill was now well into the negatives, and after a round of bare-handed summit photography my fingers stayed numb until we were halfway back to the car.

Below, a pan of Bancroft's east ridge, with the crux of the normal route at the obvious notch in the middle. Our variation start is down and around the corner to the right of the base. 


Anonymous said...

Nice variation on the east ridge route. I did that ridge on Columbus Day in pre-winter conditions a couple months ago. Fun, but I might have to go back and do your variation which looks more exciting.

High Power Rocketry said...

: )