Yeah, I was a little excited for this one. Something medium in difficulty to work on my leg, but high on the thrill factor...a perfect plan, especially since I got to hike with Kevin the certified mountain man.
I picked him up in Boulder at 4:35am and we headed up to RMNP. Got all geared up and hit the trail at 6am. A little later in the sunrise process than I had hoped, guess I wanted some alpenglow shots, but I really had no idea what time sunrise was actually expected, so I must have not cared THAT much. We took a casual but quick pace for about an hour on the easy RMNP trails until we hit lake Haiyaha at the base of Chaos Canyon. Quite a beauty of a lake, especially in the morning light. We weren't sure where to cut in, but for once G. Roach came through and we
shortly recognized his "house size boulder on the south side of Lake
Haiyaha" to know where to make a right into the canyon.
Here is a picture of Kevin, our fearless leader, and you can see a overview of the route. Yes, we are headed WAY up there to that little patch of snow, which is Chaotic Glacier. To the right is Hallett Peak, to the left is Otis, but you can't really see them well from here yet. Just last week when I looked across the valley from twin sisters, I do not think that band of exposed rock just underneath the glacier was there, it was solid snow. The big melt is happening quickly. There were some hit/miss trails for the first half of the canyon, but it was mostly a lot of crawling through big boulders and bushwhacking to get through. This slowed us (e.g. me) down a bit and we cleared the boulder mess and made it to the snowfield by about 8:45-9am, I think. Then we got to gear up for snow and the fun began. We didn't really need to gear up at this point because the slope was still very gentle, but Kevin wanted to give me some tips and practice for above.
From here, we are about 2/3 up. Here's the rest of the way, a better shot of the snow climb to come. We were both sorta eyeballing that couloir on the right of the pic, but we couldn't see well enough what that big break in the snow was all about to head up it. I'm sure Kevin would have rather gone that way, but we played it safe since today he was responsible for me, the technical climbing tard. We noticed once at the top that we could have gotten through ok, with maybe a little trickiness due to exposure...maybe next time, when he's not afraid I'll tard out and bite it at any second. At this point, I was a little tired, but I knew I'd get a second wind when the snow climb was here. Adrenaline goes a long way in this sport.
The snow wasn't too steep, G. Roach said 35 degrees, but Kevin thought more like 40 degrees. That doesn't sound very impressive until you're hanging there on crampon points. I had a few nervous moments when the snow was soft and slipping a little, but Kevin had kicked steps all the way up for me so I felt pretty solid overall. He had me go up the tard way, also known as "pied au canard" which I believe is "to walk like a duck" in French. I remember learning this on Mt. Baker. You drive your axe in directly in front of you with two hands and then take two steps up to meet it, which requires that you open your feet up like you're waddling, repeat. This is typically reserved for steeper slopes, but it's safer for a beginner. After the lesson, I briefly explained that I didn't want to go up the tard way, because I'm cooler than that. But then just decided to shut up and listen to Rocky Mountain Beowulf.
The snowfield was short and probably only took 15 minutes. We topped out at 10am. A big Marmot was there to greet us with screeches. Here's the view across the valley to the Never Summer Range, not too shabby, eh? Lots of snow over there, maybe I should go there next.
We ate a little bit and discussed the plan. I offered to go tag Halletts while he dropped back down and came back up the side couloir mentioned earlier and meet back here, he but declined. I do believe he briefly contemplated doing it though. We decided there wasn't enough time to get Halletts and Otis since I had to be back down by 3pm, so we started up Otis. Here's a pic of the next canyon while peeking over the edge of the approach to Otis. Yeah I'm right on the edge...looks much scarier than it was...unknot panties now...
Are we sick of pics of Long's Peak yet? No way, you say? Ok, here's one from the top of Otis Peak. I had to put it in because it looks particularly bad-ass from this angle. See that rocky slide-looking area just to the right and below the summit block, where the snow comes in a ways down? That's the trough, if you've ever heard me talking about that. It's the crux, in my opinion, of the Long's climb - make it or break it. 700 vert of pure loose, class 3, straight up mess. There was probably, I'd say, about 100-150 people suffering in there at the time of the pic.
So we got down off of Otis and made our way around to the next canyon where Andrews Glacier is. It's much bigger than Chaotic Glacier, but only about 20-25 degrees in slope. Glissade time! My favorite!
Here's a pic looking down the glacier about half way down. Kevin slid down ahead of me..you get a good perspective on how big everything is up here.
Here's a shot looking back up after we passed the lake. You can only see about half way up the glacier. We meant to get a shot of the entire glacier once we were further down, but we forgot. If you look at the bigger version of this shot you can see two tiny little people just to the left of the snow by the lake. Good perspective again.
Probably 20 minutes after this, we were back on trail. We went into "get the hell down" mode and started motorin. We passed through the Loch and by Alberta Falls on the way out. Absolutely stunning scenery. I used to think Yosemite was the prettiest place I'd been, but I'm starting to change my mind....We hit the car by 2pm. 8 hours round trip. Not great, not bad.
I get the distinguished honor of being the person to get Kevin to eat McDonalds for the first time in 12-15 years by his estimate. He didn't even know what they had or what to order and freaked the cashiers out by asking a bunch of questions. How very honored I am, indeed. I learned a few more things about Kevin on the way home. Like he did the whole trip today with two sprained ankles, sprained because he had to dive out of the way of a falling boulder on his couloir climb last weekend. Like he dislocated his shoulder very badly last fall while in a 24 hour mountain bike race, but finished the race one armed anyway. After all, he only had 10 more miles to go! Like he also went climbing at the bouldering gym about 6 days after this dislocation, but before he went to see the orthopedic surgeon...?!??!??!? Like he refused the surgery to bolt his arm back on appropriately because that might limit his range of motion for rock climbing and has a giant lump on his shoulder instead. Like he was planning a 90 mile bike ride with some buddies for today if the weather was nice. Only adding to the legend...
Thanks for the hike Kevin. Someday I won't be such a tard and we can go up something cooler to you.