I’m often asked: what’s your favorite route in Rocky Mountain National Park? In all honesty I can usually say, “Whatever route I’m climbing today!” If you’ve done much climbing in Rocky, then you know there’s enough to keep you busy for years…and that’s if you only focus on the classics! However, while there are phenomenal classics here, some of my most memorable adventures have been on hidden gems in the Park – those infrequently (or never!) visited routes that aren’t in any guide book.
Having been a CMS guide for almost 25 years now, I’ve gotten to explore my fair share of the nooks and crannies of Rocky. And while some of them are remote (think Hayden Spire from Trail Ridge Road!), the crazy thing is that many of them aren’t. Having said that, I’ll also say that I’m only going to share one of my favorite gems…I mean, one of the things I love about these babies is the solitude that anonymity provides! I’m also not going to give you too much beta, because my assumption is that if you’re looking for unknown routes, then you’re looking for adventure…and as beta increases, adventure decreases!
In this installment I’ll share an old standard of mine – a winter/spring mixed (snow and rock) objective on the north side of Flattop Mountain. No, I’m not talking about the Ptarmigan Fingers! This is further to the east. Just above Lake Helene there are two prominent rock buttresses with a gully between them. The gully itself is pretty mellow: 30-35 degree snow. But if you split off of that main gully to the right (west) or left (east), you’ll find some awesome snow and rock mixed lines. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination. A few perks of these routes: 1) they’re short enough to be done on a winter day and long enough to be real technical objectives (approximately 500 vertical feet); 2) you can generally choose the difficulty of your line as you climb – if things look too hard above you, there’s usually an easier variation close at hand and vice versa; 3) if you find the avalanche conditions spicy, then you can choose the rockier lines and avoid the snow….and still have a great outing. A word of advice: the rock quality (on a 1-5 scale) is a 3 so be prepared to tiptoe a bit. These routes protect with rock gear reasonably well (at least at the cruxes), but expect to run it out at times and to deal with tricky gear occasionally. At this point, I’ve guided 10 or 15 independent routes up there, a few of them many times because they’re full value and super fun alpine adventures.
I’ll leave you with that tidbit to stimulate your adventure climbing desire. If you want some other hidden gems of RMNP, let the CMS office know…I’d be willing to part with other ‘diamonds in the rough’ if there’s enough interest out there. In the meantime, climb safe and enjoy Rocky!