From The Loch on, I'd face some snow, and got out the microspikes. They certainly helped on the steeper slopes around Timberline 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
Lake Nanita and Nokoni from here, with Ptarmigan Mountain above. Some fun times 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.