Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ice Climbing - Loch Vale

Map of Loch Vale from Google My Maps
You have to love ice climbing.  The silence of winter.  Snow covered trees and trail.  Brown rock peeking out from underneath a blanket of powder.  Mother Nature makes it worth your while to get out in the woods during the "dreary" months, sharpen your tools and hack some ice!!!

Rocky Mountain National Park has some great ice climbing.  You can find everything from short ice crags to long alpine mixed routes.  One of the best places in the Park is Loch Vale.  The ice climbing is along the Glacier Gorge trail which backs up to Longs Peak and either ends at Sky Pond or Black Lake.  The Loch is on the branch to Sky Pond and hikes in about 3.5 miles to The Loch where you break trail and wallow through deep snow up to the ice.  The crag is simply a relief on the South East side of the gorge.  Loch Vale is a sloping ridge with a treeline and perfect freeze/melt cycles.  The snowpack is very good here, which melts and freezes to become some good ice, but avalanche danger can be a problem after a big snow storm.

Video after the break...
The area consists of about 15 routes with a good mix of ice and mixed routes.  I headed up there about a week ago with Austin and we jumped on the main line, Crystal Meth (WI4/5), because it was one of the only routes that was in.  It's been a lean year at Loch Vale because of the cold temps and windy weather up in the Park.  We hiked in and had the area to ourselves for a few hours.  We climbed our main objective and decided to get one more climb in on a mixed route just to the left of Crystal Meth (~M4 WI4).  Another group showed up as we were setting up our second route and started up Crystal Meth.  They looked like a good group of climbers and one of the climbers was from Newcastle England on holiday.  He started to lead the route and as he got near the top he looked to be really pumped.  A tool blew and he took a large fall to about 6 feet off the deck!!!  His gear (ice screw) held and he was fine, but it was pretty intense.  Austin and I decided that it might not be best to hang around too long to see something else ridiculous, so we finished our second route and hit the trail back to the car.  It snowed all day and the ice was a little brittle, but it was fun and good to just get out and climb.


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