Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Early Spring in the Park

After a long office hibernation forced by too much work, it was great to get out Sunday and climb in Rocky Mountain National Park. Greg Sievers and I climbed a probable new route on Andrews Tower, the big rock formation just south of the frozen tarn below Andrews Glacier. We'd been eyeing this one for over a year, and it was fun to have it come together more or less as planned. Our line took a hidden gully on the north face, just left of the skyline in the photo; we descended snow on the east face (facing the camera) and then down right along the lower northeast face.

The route began with some easy snow climbing and then three mixed pitches up the north face (the right-hand line in this photo). The crux second pitch was steep, sustained M4 and M5, and the third pitch required some artful dodging to bypass the three big cornice pillows that sat atop the face. We chose this climb for Sunday in part because it hadn't snowed in the Park for over a week and the forecast was for cloudy skies (wrong), so we hoped the cornices would be stable. Nothing budged, but we were happy when we finally got out from under them. A long moderate snow and mixed pitch gained the rock saddle between Andrews Tower and the main ridge, and then a short pure rock pitch led to the top.

We had expected to climb out of the notch and continue across the ridgeline to the Continental Divide, but it was already midafternoon and the ridge looked much harder than we'd expected. After a bit of debate, we decided to downclimb the snowy east face. The sun was off the face and the snow conditions were excellent, and we were able to simulclimb the whole way down in two long "pitches," reaching the ground in less than an hour. This face would make an excellent moderate mountaineering route in good snow conditions, with the final rock climb to a rarely reached summit giving it a true Alpine feel. Ideally, you'd continue out of the notch to the Divide, but that would add at least one more technical pitch (probably several) and a few hours of climbing.

Yesterday I was very tired and nursing blisters on both heels from skiing up to the tower in my climbing boots, but it was so worth it to get out and once again explore some new ground in old, familiar places.

1 comment:

Deb Kingsbury said...

I just found my way here from a link on HikerHell.com. We'll be visiting Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time in August, but not tackling anything like this adventure. (We're more hikers than mountaineers.) Anyhow, I've enjoyed your post and photos. Always happy to find a good, new outdoors blog.