As winter’s powder metamorphoses into névé and melt-freeze ice from April though mid-June, couloir and chimney routes in the high mountains come into prime condition. Jack Roberts in Boulder is the author of the Colorado Ice guidebook and is one of Colorado’s most experienced mountain guides. We asked him for his five favorite spring alpine routes, all of which happened to be in Rocky Mountain National Park.
• Dreamweaver. For me, Dreamweaver on Mt. Meeker is the perfect high-mountain couloir route. The steep hike to it usually takes three hours. The climbing in the couloir isn’t difficult, but you still need to pay attention. Exposure is constant but never overwhelming. Once you complete the climb, you can either go home or link it up with Martha on Mt. Lady Washington or the Notch Couloir on Longs. Which is also the beauty of Dreamweaver. You can ascend it and enjoy it for its own merit or you can push your luck.
• Hallett Chimney. An ultimate classic. Forget the fact that it doesn’t always come into the perfect condition that you want for an intermediate mixed alpine route. Forget for a second that the climbing isn’t really very technically demanding. That it is a climb that requires skill and cunning rather than the brute strength and power developed on a campus board. Success on this climb is more dependent on the ability of the experienced leader to figure out how to tread gently on snow/ice and rock when conditions are less than ideal and protection is not always exactly where you would like it to be. But the length of the climb (1,000 feet) comfortable belays, interesting climbing positions, and total alpine feel make this one of the top five alpine routes to do in RMNP.
• Right-side Chimney of Mt. Ypisilon. Often overlooked and ignored due to a lengthy approach and its remoteness, this climb is simular in character to combining Alexander’s Chimney to Field’s Chimney. Perhaps the best eight pitch mixed chimney climb in all of RMNP. The climbing is in a prominent chimney system that drops from the right side of the summit wall. The snowpatch at the top often holds enough snow that there is a constant drip into the gully, and the desired ice and snow conditions continue for seven pitches. Never more difficult than WI4 and usually easier with good protection. The best overlooked classic in RMNP. Similar to Vanquished but technically easier and probably more dependable conditions-wise. I did it with Michael Bearzi in 1997 and we couldn’t believe our luck. Something to consider when there is a lot of snow late in March and April…
• East Face of Notchtop. Usually done in the fall, but it’s a great spring route. In fact, it’s better in the spring than in early winter because the avalanche conditions are safer and the days are warmer and longer. Also there can be snow melt further to the left of the regular route and that can open up other mixed variations. The exposure on this route is spectacular. The approach is not more than a couple of hours, and unless the weather is changing, there is no need to rush and spoil the experience of being on a beautiful alpine climb
• Brain Freeze. This new route on the south face of Mt. Otis has five or six pitches of ice and snow, chimneys and chockstones. It appears that it came into shape last week. I think this has got to be the kind of route that will come into condition almost every spring when the snowpack is average or better than average…whatever average is!
Visit the Jack Roberts Climbing Adventures website for conditions reports, tech tips, and information on guided climbs.