I prefer winter and fall, when you can feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.
Here in Estes Park, residents often complain about the number of tourists that descend on our little valley town like a ravenous horde of so many locusts on a ripe corn field. They come to see the mountains glistening with distant snow, the water shimmering in the warm summer rays, the alpine wildflowers, etc. Those are all good things. But they miss out on the real deal: winter. I’m not sure you can really know a place, really enjoy a place if you haven’t spent a winter there. In winter you feel more and work harder to experience the landscape; in essence, you have to give more of yourself. And, I think, you get more in return or, at least, the rewards taste a little sweeter. Maybe that is the “something” Wyeth talks about, that the return on your outdoor investment isn’t as obvious as in the summer. It doesn’t immediately show itself like the summer flowers do. Personally, I think that’s what makes the winter better.
And it sure feels like winter up in the Park right now, especially when you’re up on a north face and the wind is blowing 30mph. With the successive storms from last week and early this week, the Park appears to have picked up about 6″ of snow. On solar aspects much of that has melted while the winds have piled up snow into deep drifts on lee aspects and shaded aspects hide their snow from the sun’s sublimating rays. Over last weekend (when most sane people were indoors), CMS Guide Steve Johnson was up in the Chasm Lake cirque and reported 50-60mph winds. Cornices and deeper drifts of this when the sun came back out. In the latter part of this week we’ve enjoyed successively warmer days though Wednesday morning was quite cold (one website forecasted 9-degrees F on Longs’ summit). Today was nothing short of brilliant here in town, with no clouds, light winds, warm rock…a great day for rock climbing!
I spent Wednesday night high in Glacier Gorge and was keen to see how any of the alpine routes were shaping up, if at all. On the hike in, there wasn’t much but a few smears where “Reflections” will be, a couple of icicles on “All Mixed Up” and not much to speak of near “W. Gully” and the Black Lake slabs.
On the hike out, however, there was a little more ice and it looks like these areas will continue to build now with moisture to feed them. If you’re itching for the discomforts of alpine snow-scratching and dulling your new picks and crampons, there’s lots of real-deal alpine climbing to be done in the Park right now. McHenry’s looked pretty sick as did the Spearhead. Burly! Hopefully with the continuation of warm days and cold nights we’ll be enjoying a fat November. Maybe Steve and I will be able to get out this week in the Chasm Cirque area and give you an update on what we find.
It looks like more snow is on the way for Monday so if you’re able to get out in the mountains this weekend, this may be the last shot at Fall before the winter fully sets in.
If you’ve been out in the Park and have observations you’d like to share, please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or if you just have questions, shoot me an e-mail. My apologies if this report is a little too short, just got back from a relatively late night (for me) at the Rock Inn and I’m ready for bed. Thanks for reading and, as always, play safe out there this weekend!
Andrew Councell is a CMS Guide and year-round Estes Park resident