Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mixed Climbing at the Bear's Den - 11.6.11

Last weekend I got up into Rocky Mountain National Park with a few friends for another day of ice and mixed climbing.  Myself, Ryann, Dan, Austin and David were hoping to get out to Loch Vale and see how much ice had come in since the weekend before, but the weather was calling for high winds and low temperatures.  Typically the Glacier Gorge trail system shields some of the wind, but with the hike pushing 3+ miles we decided at the last minute to go to a small mixed climbing area reached from the Bear Lake Trailhead.  This area boasts some good mixed terrain and very fickle ice.  This early in the season usually affords more ice because of the temperature changes and so we thought we might get lucky for the day and find an ice route or two and a plenty of mixed routes.  The hike is much shorter and the cliff aspect is east, so winds aren't usually a problem.  We got to the base of the cliff and saw that a couple lines were being equipped and development was definitely taking place.  The Bear's Den has about 4 established bolted or otherwise, routes to climb.  There is so much more potential, but overall not much has been equipped because gear can be used or top-ropes can be setup.  We elected to setup top-ropes on a few different routes.  We got on three routes specifically, a great, but difficult M6, a fun ice gully/corner and a cool M5 arete.

The first route I had tried before and so I let everyone else give it a go.  Austin had tried it before as well and got about halfway up it again.  Dan and David had never been to the area before and so they both tried it as well.  It is very overhung and extremely technical with pick and crampon placements.  The route uses a broken crack that hangs almost detached from the wall.  After the lower section the headwall comes in with a wider crack and the terrain gets easier.  Getting through the bottom though proved difficult for budding mixed climbers like ourselves.
Austin on the overhung face
After our feeble attempts on the first mixed route I wandered around the cliff looking for easier terrain for all of us to enjoy.  Just up and left of the main cave was a great blank face that ended in a dihedral.  The corner had stepped ice and rock with a pillar hanging behind it.  It offered some technical ice and very sketchy mixed climbing.  Not particularly difficult, just different and challenging.  I hiked around the ridge and hung a top-rope for us to get on.  It was a great opportunity to introduce David and Ryann to mixed climbing.  David had been on a couple routes and Ryann had never mixed climbed before, so the mixed dihedral and the mixed arete were great opportunities.  We all did extremely well and climbed both routes with relative ease.  The mixed gully was like mushroom tops crowding a rock corner gully.  It was more about body position and technical movements than strength.
Me in the mixed gully
Dan gettin' it
David playing with the new Edelrid tools I got...Ryann,
Dan and Austin looking on.
The little ice gully was fun and a good easy warmup and introduction to the area.  We all ran a couple laps on it, doing slight variations and get some good swings.  I really want to go back and explore soon because there were corridors that had ice in them all along the cliff line.  There are probably a dozen mixed lines that vary from rock faces to ice smears.  The arete was the next route and we all worked out the beta before getting on the route.  Ryann and David wanted to watch first to get some idea of how to climb the route so we all looked it over as I roped up to give it a go.
Dan on the M5 arete
Austin pulling hard

Ryann mixed climbing for the first time!!!

The Bear's Den is a great mixed climbing area and i am excited to get back and check out all the untouched lines that exist with smears of ice and great dry tooling potential.  The short hike, sheltered cliff line and relatively good weather make this place a great full or half day crag.  Plenty of potential and adventure to be had.


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