Mt. Bancroft’s rocky east ridge is a terrific mountaineering adventure for Front Range climbers, beginning less than an hour from Denver. The 13,250-foot peak is relatively close to the road, and avalanche danger can be easily managed, making this perhaps the most accessible technical winter summit on the entire Front Range. The east ridge offers knife-edge snow ridges, much third-class scrambling, a rappel into a notch, and a very short fifth-class wall to surmount. Superb!
Length: About 8 miles round-trip
Elevation gain: 3,000 feet
Trailhead: Take the Fall River Road exit off I-70 (toward St. Mary’s Glacier), and turn left into the hamlet of Alice after about 8.25 miles. Drive one mile and look for Stewart Road (aka Loch Lomond Road) on the right. This road is not plowed in winter.
Route: Follow Stewart Road west and then north toward Loch Lomond, about 2.25 miles from the car. In summer or fall, you may be able to drive part or all of the way to the lake (high clearance). In winter, the road is often hard-packed or blown clear for first mile, but then there’s likely to be some deep snow in the woods. You can leave snowshoes or skis at the foot of the ridge. From Loch Lomond, climb onto a spur that angles to the southeast, just above Lake Caroline, avoiding any potentially dangerous snow slopes.
Once on the ridge, the way is obvious. Most of the climb is pleasant snow hiking and short Class 3 and 4 rock steps. At around 12,300 feet, a prominent notch splits the ridge. A 75-foot rappel from slings gains the notch.
On the far side is a near-vertical cliff about 25 feet high, with solid rock and good cracks for protection—somewhere around 5.2 or 5.3 in difficulty. (In summer the rappel and step can easily be avoided by Class 4 scrambling, and strong climbers may not bother with the rope.) Above, more snow and scrambling gain tundra slopes at about 13,000 feet, leaving a final plod up Bancroft’s summit cone.
Descend by the southeast ridge (often snow-free much of the way). In safe snow conditions, you can plunge-step or glissade down the bowl between the ridges. Either route eventually brings you back to the south end of Loch Lomond, where you can pick up the road (and your skis) and return to the car.
You can add three pitches of technical climbing by crossing Loch Lomond and continuing toward Reynolds Lake. Above this is a large, broken wall at the very foot of the ridge, to the right of the normal start.
Three long pitches (with a bit of simul-climbing) on good rock, snowy ledges, and frozen turf gain the normal route. It’s impossible to rate this kind of climbing accurately, but each pitch has a step or two that is at least as hard as the crux of the normal route. See more details here.
Gear: A single 50m rope is fine for the normal route; a longer rope is useful for the direct start. The fifth-class step takes small to medium nuts and/or finger-size cams. Snowshoes or skis for the approach if there’s been recent snow.
Map: Empire 7.5′
Guidebook: Colorado Snow Climbs, by Dave Cooper