Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Taylor Glacier, Powell Peak, Taylor Peak, Otis Peak, Hallett Peak, and Flattop Mountain.

The last time around, I'd written about one of the more difficult glacier/snow climbs in RMNP.  But, of course, there was one more on the list: Taylor Glacier.  Gerry Roach has called this "moderate my ass glacier", and I have seen estimates in the 50-55 degree range, though 60 seems to be most commonly agreed on.  Foster says 60 degrees, AI3.  Rossiter says steep snow, AI2.  The author of this report actually measured low 60's in the higher up sections, and 68 degrees near the top.  That is steep!
Again, I did as much online research as I could, and there are actually a few trip reports out there, and they seem to range the full gamut of human experience.   
This one, which my friend Gary was a part of, is more toward the "this was an awesome life affirming experience".  In this one, a very experienced climber talks about being happy they had a rope along, which they almost didn't bring.  This one calls it "the worst mistake I've ever made", and unreassuringly, starts with a short letter the climber had written his family while clinging to rock near the top.  This one describes a fall and near fatal injury.  And this one, a sobering reminder that it could happen to any of us, and that skill is no replacement for good judgement.
I went to bed planning on about three hours of sleep, but felt nervous about the day ahead and didn't sleep well.  I was up fifteen minutes before my alarm went off, and on the way to Estes earlier than planned.  
In Lyons I had the second oddest gas getting experience of my life, right behind the time the pump didn't shut off when my tank was full and gas was going everywhere.  Fortunately, I was able to get to Estes with what I had left and fill up there, but this took twenty minutes, and negated my earlier than intended start.
But soon enough I was at Glacier Gorge, and headed up, taking the Fire Trail shortcut.  I made good time to The Loch, where I was greeted by twilight.
Early, early morning.  I love this photo.
From The Loch on, I'd face some snow, and got out the microspikes.  They certainly helped on the steeper slopes around Timberline Falls.
Getting close to the falls.
True sunrise hit right as I got to Sky Pond.  Sometimes I hate getting up early on little sleep, but then I am reminded that it is worth it to get to see the very first light of the day from somewhere special.
First sun on Cathedral Spires.  Like seeing god.
I was able to get the first good views of the goal for the day, lurking at the back of the gorge.  And from this vantage point things didn't look so bad.  It's always hard to tell with snow, as I have seen steep things be flattened out, or look steeper than they are.
I stayed on microspikes as I walked on the apron of the glacier, stuff in the 20 degree range.  But it soon became clear that things were turning up, so I stopped to change into crampons, don a helmet, and get out an ice axe and an ice tool at around 11,500 feet.
Still looked pretty okay.  I'd take the right finish as described in the TR Gary was along on, and I could not see that from here.
Two days before, I'd looked down at this option, but the snow isn't continuous to the top, and the rock looked slightly loose.
I started up the glacier, getting into a rhythm of movement and breathing.  I felt like I was moving pretty well, and my tracker shows that in the first twenty minutes of the climb, I'd taken down about 500 feet.  Not bad. 
I found a small depression to rest in and take some layers off.  I was in direct sun, and the wind I'd encountered earlier on was completely gone for now.  What a beautiful view. 
Looking to the south, you can already see how steep things were at this point.  Looks like slightly more than 45 degrees.
I continued up, and travel slowed remarkably when the snow became firm enough that I couldn't kick steps in.  I had to use the other side of my ice axe to chop in some steps, which of course took alot of time. 
I was now clearly entering the steeper sections of the climb.  I started to get jimmy leg, and made my way right to some rock for a rest.  Since I am more comfortable on rock, I stayed on this for a bit, moving up slowly but surely.
Eventually I reached a place where I could not continue up on rock, and got onto a small snow platform to examine the options.
I had stopped for a snack at the rock band right of center on the way up.  It looked pretty far below now.
I was looking at this to continue up.  I was so close!  But this stretch was super steep, and I could see a near vertical headwall at the top.  I looked at the rock across from me, but it looked too slabby and not featured enough for my tastes.  I felt a down climb would be extremely dangerous.
Looking across from this platform.  Now things looked steep!
I geared up again, and moved out onto the snow carefully and purposefully.  The good news was that it had now softened up enough to allow me to kick steps directly in, and the movement was quicker.  At this point the snow was steep enough that my knee would hit the slope in front of me when I stood up on the step I just kicked in.
I got to the headwall, which was taller than me.  I started right, but then decided to look left.  That didn't look like a viable option, so right it was.  I put the axe in around a corner, and then the tool in over the top.  I pulled in, and got the right heel up to sink the crampon in.  Yes, I found myself mantling at the top of a 1,200 foot tall snow field!  One or two more hand movements, and I was on flat ground.  I was pretty happy to be there.
I inexpertly stitched three photos together to give this complete view from the top on down. 
Another shot of the headwall and the last section of climbing.  You can see the small platform I stopped at near the lower right hand corner.
While I climbed the first 500 feet in 20 minutes, it took me about an hour and forty minutes to cover the remaining 700 feet to the top.  An hour of the was spent on the final 400 feet alone.
This climb was definitely the hardest snow climb I've done to date, and I would say right at the limit for me.  I think having better/nicer boots and crampons would have made a difference, but the only way I will ever climb this again is with a partner and protection.
I cooled off some in the wind on the continental divide.  Powell Peak wasn't too far away, and I decided to go visit it again. 
Near the summit of Powell, with McHenrys center, Longs left, and Chiefs Head right.  I had packed pretty lightly, and needed to keep moving to stay warm with the wind.  This kind of sounds like an amateur mistake, but I know what I am capable of, and how fast I can move, and often trade comfort for less weight and the ability to move quicker.  Which of course, keeps me warm.
I broke one of my hiking poles on Powell.  This peak eats them, as last year I'd broken one of my previous pair on the same peak!
Looking back to Taylor.
From here I didn't know what to do.  I could descend Andrews Glacier again, but it was now getting pretty late (relatively) and I felt like the slope below the tarn is steep enough to slide.  And I was mentally done climbing snow!  That of course, left one option- traverse back to Flattop and take the trail.  Why not.  This would be a good period of exercise above treeline, and still get me home at a reasonable time.
I could see Lake Nanita and Nokoni from here, with Ptarmigan Mountain above.  Some fun times there.
Cathedral Spires from above, with the Mummy Range visible behind, and Sky Pond, Lake of Glass, and The Loch down in the gorge.
Getting close to the summit of Taylor Peak.  The second time I would stand on it in three days.
Taylor Glacier looks steep as insert swear word of your choice here.  You cannot see the exit I took, but you can see some of the stuff I climbed at the bottom middle of the photo.
The more mellow snow slopes of Andrews Glacier and Otis Peak behind.
Otis Peak again.  The long ramp up Taylor behind. 
Since it was all cloudy two days before when I climbed it, here is the top of Chaotic Glacier.  It looks steep for sure, but not as much as Taylor.
Down Chaos Canyon.
This sign probably once said something about danger and steep snow fields.  It has worn in a pretty unique and beautiful way. 
I made it to the top of Hallett, which provided the requisite great views in every direction.  I would certainly suggest Hallett as a great more difficult moderate hike. 
To the north.  The snow has melted significantly in the two weeks since I'd last been there. 
It was slow going down Flattop.  I wasn't motivated to really try, my knees were feeling it, and there was still a fair amount of snow below treeline, though it is melting quickly.  It was pretty wet overall.  I'd like to get back up there this week, but I think I'll wait until the snow is gone completely.  It took me about two hours to descend back to the Glacier Gorge th, which seems average.  I was really looking forward to getting back to the car!
What a day!  While I can certainly look back on some days that have pushed me to the limit mentally or physically, I think this was one that really pushed skills and equipment to the limit.  I was definitely a little freaked out once I got up high and looked around to see how steep everything was.  I did the best thing I could do for me, which was to just think about the options and examine where I was.
I would suggest Taylor Glacier to be one of the most difficult non technical snow climbs in RMNP.  This was definitely a step above Dragonstooth or Chaotic Glacier.  I would suggest AI2, as that grade equates to consistent 60 degree slopes, while AI3 suggests sustained 70 degree slopes, with even steeper sections.  I feel the top few hundred feet are definitely 60+ degrees, and depending on exactly what exit you take, you will likely have a few feet of near vertical climbing, as seen on the photos from higher up.
Of course, there are other thoughts out there, and I have linked to some of those reports.  But most of these TR's seem to indicate what I feel.  This is the real deal, people have died climbing this, and you must be prepared.  Absolutely do not head out to this glacier without a helmet, two ice tools, and good crampons and boots, my weakest link.  I would really suggest bringing and using protection.  But this is one persons opinion, and we all have our own comfort levels.   Decide on yours and climb on!
Taylor Glacier, Powell Peak, Taylor Peak, Otis Peak, Hallett Peak, and Flattop Mountain (distances as part of the hike):
Taylor Glacier, 11500-12700 feet: 4 miles to apron, 3520 foot gain to top.  1,200 feet of climbing on 60+ degree snow, AI2, fourth class.  Strenuous+.*
Powell Peak, 13208 feet: 5.5 miles, 4028 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Taylor Peak, 13153 feet: 6.9 miles, 3973 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous. 
Otis Peak, 12486 feet: 8.4 miles, 3306 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
Hallett Peak, 12713 feet: 9.5 miles, 3533 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
Flattop Mountain, 12324 feet: 10.2 miles, 3144 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
As a whole, this hike covered approximately 14.8 miles with 5945 feet of elevation gain.  Strenuous. 
*I felt the rock I climbed was fourth class.  If you stay on snow all the way to the top, it'll be second class.  Again I will state that climbing Taylor Glacier requires special equipment and skill.  Do not attempt this climb unless you have both. 

No comments:

Post a Comment