Friday, June 17, 2016

Chaotic Glacier, Otis Peak, and Taylor Peak.

I am in the middle of a week or so off between jobs, and have been enjoying some time in the mountains.  It seems as though I have inadvertently left some of the most difficult destinations in the park for last. With a fair amount of snow hanging around, I thought I'd use this time to tackle two snow climbs I have yet to do.  Unfortunately, these are both toward the steeper and harder side, and with sunrise about as early as it can possibly be, this meant a very early wake up to ensure firm snow from bottom to top.
There were some thunderstorms at the beginning of the week, but good weather predicted for the rest.  Monday night I got to bed late with my alarm set for two am.  I hadn't been able to find much on Chaotic Glacier, the snow and ice headwall that lies at the end of Chaos Canyon, home to Lake HaiyahaThis page talks about Chaos Couloir, which directly ascends Hallett Peak, but also mentions Chaotic Glacier as 60 degrees AI2.  This page talkes about skiing down it.  And this page does actually talk about climbing it, though she says 35-40 degrees and mentions it only took 15 minutes!  Foster says 50-60 degrees, AI2.  Rossiter says steep snow, AI2.  That's about all that's out there on the internet and in books that I own.
Because I could find lots of ratings but only one account of someone actually climbing it, I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  There is a big difference between 35 and 60 degrees of course, but from the photos I could find, it looked closer to the latter.  Consider 35 degrees is around what you'd find on Ptarmigan Glacier, or on the easier sections of Tyndall Glacier.  It definitely looks steeper, though it's always hard to tell.
I left the car at Bear Lake shortly before four and set off.  I didn't sleep well the night before, I think due to nervousness about the day ahead.  But I felt pretty okay. 
Presunrise from the trail.  There was still some snow here and there, most notably after passing the turnoff for Dream and Emerald Lakes.
I lost the official trail as I neared Lake Haiyaha, but all I had to do was go around the lake and head up, so it was pretty easy.  Easy in the talus hopping scramble sense.  
Above Lake Haiyaha as a new day starts.
There was pretty consistent snow from the lake on up, and I generally tried to say on that.  I wore microspikes for this.  Things were firm and looking good.  Except for the lingering weather, hanging on the continental divide.  I was pretty far up the canyon before I was able to briefly see the glacier, and determine that there definitely wasn't a cornice at the top.
It's almost directly in the middle here, not that you can tell!
Some avalanche debris visible near the bottom.
I stopped at a rock before things got too steep and got geared up.  Helmet, crampons, ice axe, and just in case, an ice tool.  
The entrance to the glacier wasn't too bad, I'd say up until that rock band in the middle nothing more than moderate.  I took this photo from that band.
Here's what things looked like from that band.  Doesn't even look like 45 degrees here.
But all I had to do was look up to see that things were going to get steeper.  
From closer to the top, but still not at the steepest section.  
Looking down from there.
I definitely felt having a second tool added a sense of security, and I was able to move more confidently though the steeper stuff.
At the top.
The weather prediction was high of 49 and sunny.  Yep.  It was around 30, windy, and either gently precipitating, or blowing whatever had fallen the day before all around.  In other words, I was glad to have brought some colder weather gear, as I almost hadn't, and the day would have been pretty miserable without it.  As it was, I was right on the edge of discomfort.
Since everything was covered in a thin layer of ice, I put the microspikes back on.  From here I planned to summit Otis, and then go to Taylor before returning to and descending Andrews Glacier.  I'd already done the thing I came for, but figured some time at altitude working hard couldn't hurt.
Going up Otis.
Very close to the summit, which almost looks like being on another planet.  
At the summit of Otis Peak, 12,486 feet.
Now it was a short descent to Andrews Pass.  Since I wasn't going up and generating as much body heat, I felt a little chilly, again right on the edge of being cold.  But I was able to get below the cloudline, and while still quite windy, enjoy some sunshine and warm up a little at Andrews Pass.
This sign says something about how descending Andrews Glacier can be dangerous.  
Looks nice down there!
There is a small boulder at the pass, which was a nice wind block.  I put on the last layer I had, ate a snack, and shivered.  I wanted to go down, but Taylor Glacier was also something I intended to climb in this week, and I wanted to get a look at that.  Well, if the clouds broke.  I could not see the summit of Taylor from where I was.
Which made it look reasonably shorter.  This is one of those peaks that just doesn't seem to end.  It is less than a mile from Andrews Pass, but around 1200 feet of gain, so it takes some time. 
Sky Pond from Taylor Peak.
Taylor Peak summit cairn, June 14, 2016.
I headed down the other side for a short distance, and was able to catch a few glimpses of the Taylor Glacier through the clouds.  It was enough to tell me it looked good to go.  Well, steep and intimidating, but without a dangerous cornice at the top.
I headed back around Taylor, staying on snow almost the entire way down to the pass. 
The clouds briefly broke and I got to see Hallett for the first time this day.
Andrews Glacier was already pretty soft at ten thirty in the morning.  I had a nice glissade down some of it.  I was surprised to not see anyone at the tarn. 
But not surprised when I saw the slope below the tarn, which looks to be steeper than Andrews Glacier.
There was a fair amount of snow from here back to the trail to Sky Pond, and I lost the broken in trail.  No worries though, I just had to descend into the valley to pick up the trail.  From there, I started seeing the first people I'd see this day.  I took the Fire Trail down, but then had to take the trail back up from the Glacier Gorge intersection to Bear Lake.  I must've passed thirty people on this trail.  Bear Lake was teeming with people.  It's always strange to come back to that after being alone most of the day.
So, about that glacier.  I would say maximum of 50-60 degrees, which comes shortly before you reach the top.  To my eyes, the side to the right (north) looked slightly steeper than the side on the left.  It took me exactly 50 minutes to ascend from 11,350 feet, what I would consider the apron of the glacier, to the top at 12,040 feet, so we'll say 700 feet of climbing.  It really didn't feel too bad overall, but of course you must make sure you have the experience and equipment necessary to climb this glacier.  This would not be a good place to learn how to self arrest, and a fall could certainly result in serious injury or worse due to some of the lower rocky sections.  I found a second tool to be of great benefit while climbing.  I'd suggest late spring as a good time to go, as conditions were great and the snow coverage above Lake Haiyaha definitely made the approach alot easier.
There you have it internet world.  Some definitive information on climbing Chaotic Glacier.  Do with it as you will, have fun, and be safe out there!
Chaotic Glacier, Otis Peak, and Taylor Peak (distances as part of the loop):
Chaotic Glacier, 11,350-12,040 feet: 3.15 miles to apron, 2590 foot gain to top.  700 feet of climbing on 50-60 degree snow, AI2, second class.  Strenuous.*
Otis Peak, 12486 feet: 3.8 miles, 3036 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
Taylor Peak, 13153 feet: 5.3 miles, 3703 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
As a whole, this hike covered approximately 10.6 miles with 4700 feet of elevation gain.  Strenuous.
*= Again, I will say this requires special equipment and skill.  Do not attempt this climb unless you have both. 

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