Saturday, June 15, 2013

RMNP Glacier Lollipop

A glacier lollipop? Man, on a hot day, doesn't that sound so satisfying? It was...

Mark suggested we knock off a Gerry Roach Rocky Mountain National Park classic and suggested the Taylor Glacier climb. I'd never done it before and I wanted to test out Kahootla crampons on my new Xplorer Mid GTX - the boot I'm considering for the Mittellegi Ridge on the Eiger, which Homie and I will attempt the end of July, weather gods permitting, of course. I tried out these boots yesterday when I scrambled Seal Rock. They scrambled fine on this 5.2 slab and felt really nice running downhill. I was happy to have a more substantial sole under my wimpy feet and if made a mistake and stepped on a pointy rock, I didn't pay with pain.

Mountain Project seemed to think the route was pretty easy and I suggested two tools and no rope. Mark insisted on the rope and I demured, as he tends to be a more sober mind when it comes to gear. I let my overwhelming laziness rule my decisions instead of reasonable caution. To each his own, I guess, but Mark's call definitely saved the day.

We met in north Boulder and drove to the Glacier Gorge parking lot. We were hiking a bit after 6 a.m., already in shorts, which we'd be in all morning long. It is light by 5 a.m. these days so even though I was up at 4:15, it felt like we were getting a late start. We saw two others in the parking lot, but not a soul on the 4-mile hike into Sky Pond. Here we saw a party a couple of pitches up the Petit Grepon, but no one was on the Taylor Glacier.

We donned crampons and pulled out one axe at the start of the snow climbing that led to the upper bowl. Once there I stopped to shorten up my crampons one more notch and we pulled out our second tools. We kept the rope in the pack at this point.

The snow was nearly perfect. A bit soft, but just barely. At least until we got near the top. The climbing at the very top gets pretty steep 60+ degrees where we went - doing the direct finish. We heard a sluff-valanche to our right and I was glad we'd be off the snow soon. This glacier faces east and had been in the sun since nearly 5 a.m. I was glad it was a bit soft since my crampons didn't have front points and my boots were very soft, but I didn't want the slope to slide, obviously. I think we hit it nearly right, though an hour earlier might have been ideal.

I got to the 15-foot rock band at the top and was stymied a bit. There were no positive holds, though the rock was really solid. We could have stayed on snow all the way but, as I've said, it was getting just a touch too soft for my comfort level and I craved the rock. But I wanted handholds and footholds. I stowed my axes but couldn't pull off the crampons since I was still standing on the rapidly weakening snow. I had to be solid here or risk a 1500-foot fall down the face.

I backed off a couple of options, not feeling confident smearing my minimal crampons on the rock. Mark offerred a belay, but we didn't have any gear to anchor with. We had thought we'd just use boot-axe belays if needed, but now the snow was too unstable for that. I was literally ten feet from flat ground at this point. Mark found a way to jam his axes in the rock and I pulled out the rope, tied in, and tossed the rest down to him. With the security of a belay, granted twenty feet below me, I cranked the two hard moves to a good hold and was soon on flat tundra. Mark followed, concurring that not a rope added a lot to his enjoyment of this last section. Or at least greatly diminished the terror. Who was it that insisted on the rope again?

On the Divide the wind was chilly and I put on my jacket. The boots had performed very well, though my feet were quite cold now, having been soaked a bit by standing in wet snow for the last 30 minutes or so. They warmed up fast, though, as we made our way an additional 500 feet higher to the summit of Mt. Taylor. The weather was perfect with cloudless skies. Longs Peak is particularly impressive from the north and we marveled at this great mountain before continuing north on the Divide to the top of the Andrews Glacier.

At the top of the glacier we spotted some hikers headed our way from further north, probably from the Flattop Trail. We descended this super fun snow slope, via some boot skiing and some butt glissading, down to the Andrew Tarn, an extremely beautiful mountain lake, where we picked up the trail. But soon the trail was buried in snow. The snow was mostly still firm enough to stand on, though we did plunge in over our knees a few times. We lost the trail a couple of times, but footsteps directed us back on track and down to main Loch Vale trail, which we followed back to the car, passing more and more people out enjoying the beautiful day.

We did the 11.5-mile, 4500-vertical foot lollipop in 6h20m. We trotted a bit on the way out, at a really slow, conversational pace. We couldn't just hike out though. We are Minions after all.

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