“The foliage has been losing its freshness through the month of August, and here and there a yellow leaf shows itself like the first gray hair amidst the locks of a beauty who has seen one season too many.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes
“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking successive autumns.” — George Eliot
Take a drive into the mountains these days and you’ll see these “first gray hairs” of winter blazing up avalanche paths and along streambanks. In many places, certainly the higher elevations, many of the aspens’ leaves have already fallen, carpeting trails in the Park with yellow petals. Once again the mountains are alive with stark juxtapositions of color; orange, yellow, red, green, white, and brown all in one perfect scene. You can breathe deep the cool, crisp, dry air, bask in the ebbing warmth of the sun’s weakening rays and feel the raw and dying beauty of Fall. This is my favorite time of year.
After spending weeks in the North Cascades of Washington, weeks in humid cold and rain, I’m very grateful to be living in Colorado. We have one of the best climates in the country! Unbelievably, the summer maintains a strong grip and we’re all enjoying warm, dry weather despite the late date. I don’t think you’ll hear many complaints out there. The weather has been amazing even up at 14,000′ these past couple of weeks but it looks like change is forecasted for the coming week. We could potentially see some snow in the alpine by the weekend and the early part of next week seems busy too. Ice climbers, keep your fingers crossed!
In my absence last month the alpine did receive a bit of snow; on the flanks of Mt. Ida there were drifts over 6″ deep last week, long after the storm. We found similar drifts on the N. Face of Longs Peak yesterday. But from Thursday on Mt. Meeker to being on Longs yesterday, one could easily see there was less snow. Various ledges on north faces throughout the alpine hold the only remaining snow. Overnight temperatures are certainly cold enough to be forming ice in the higher elevations. Reports of ephemeral smears of ice are popping up around our northern Colorado mountains. All we need is some snow to feed these smears and make them climbable. I can remember in years past when we were climbing ice in late September and here it’s October and we’re still climbing warm, dry rock. The way I see it, there’s no rush; there’s plenty of winter coming and let’s enjoy the prolonged summer as long as we can!
A few parties were climbing on the Diamond this weekend. Brrrr! Daytime temps in the shade barely got out of the low-40s but climbers on the Chasm View Wall enjoyed climbing in the sun pretty much all day. I talked with one party who spent the night on Almost Table Ledge the night before last. They were in good spirits but definitely looked a bit haggard. The Diamond is in the shade by 10:30am (if not before) and is really cold! Other north faces like Chiefshead and Hallet would be equally as cold whereas south-facing Petit and Notchtop routes would still be reasonable for those of us who aren’t quite as willing to suffer. Alpine bouldering is about as good as it gets all year right now though incoming weather may change that this week. In the Front Range, rock-climbing temperatures couldn’t be more perfect.
There’s still a bit of residual snow in Dreamweaver and with the new snow and cold temps it’s reasonable to assume that at least some of the rubble would be frozen in place. Could it be climbable? Sure, but it’s hard to say how enjoyable that would be. So far there’s only a few sporadic smears of ice in the Darkstar area. The most climbable ice I’ve seen so far lies in the Loft but it’s only 2-3″ thick from what I could see. Be desperate enough and you might make it happen but wait for a cloudy day. The N. Face of Longs has small pockets of snow down lower but it’s mostly avoidable. On the Cables Route itself there is are a few sections of water ice. Depending on your comfort and skill, it’s still climbable without crampons as the rock around is bone dry as of yesterday. We climbed Meeker then Longs and then rappeled the N. Face so we weren’t climbing the Cables Route but it seems doable. As of yesterday, the Park is rating the Keyhole Route “non-technical.” I doubt that’ll last very long. We saw no verglass on our Tour de Longs yesterday.
I hope to begin near-weekly updates of this report from now on in an attempt to keep up with the quickly changing conditions that come with this time of year. Guiding in the Park gives us accurate and first-hand knowledge of these ever-changing conditions. With so many guides in the field on a daily basis, I’m hoping to post the most accurate Park conditions available online. If you’d like to submit observations or if you have questions please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading and stay safe out there!
Andrew Councell is a CMS Guide and year-round Estes Park resident