By Eli Helmuth, Climbing Life Guides
Tyndall Gorge has long been a favorite destination in Rocky Mountain National Park for high-quality backcountry skiing, ice testpieces such as the Squid, abundant bouldering, and classic big-wall cragging on Hallett’s north buttress. Easily accessed from the Bear Lake parking lot, the Tyndall is truly a mountain playground for all seasons and interests. But few climbers explore beyond the crowded classics. One of my favorite alpine play spots in the park is the east buttress of Hallett Peak—specifically the many little-known moderate mixed climbs on the north face of this couloir-striped buttress. And we’re just getting into prime season for these fun spring mixed routes.
Located at a relatively low elevation—the base of this shaded buttress lies near 10,200 feet and the “summit” ridge crest is about 11,000 feet—the east buttress of Hallett is small and accessible enough to be climbed in a more relaxed manner than the typical alpine wall. Or you can do multiple morning laps while training for bigger terrain. One of my favorite aspects is that the east buttress has the shortest approach in RMNP for a significant alpine climb— just two miles from the Bear Lake trailhead at 9,540 feet. And with a well-traveled trail system to Emerald Lake, you don’t even need flotation during most weeks of the year, even though most of the trail will likely be snow-covered from November into mid-June.
Like the other spring routes in the park, the mixed climbs on the east buttress come into best shape from mid-April to late May or early June. Clear nights lead to frozen névé snow conditions. Still, very early starts are key for avoiding the problems associated with heat in the mountains: cornice collapses, avalanches, rockfall, deep snow climbing, and unconsolidated ice. Plus, the descent couloir to the west of the buttress, splitting the east buttress and the First Buttress on Hallett, is steep and avalanche-prone near the top, so be prepared to stay engaged until the parking lot is reached.
Of the half dozen or so lines on the right-most side of the buttress, the Cleft is the most dramatic one I’ve done to date. Be aware that the second pitch quickly becomes a funnel for sloughing avalanches when snow is falling. Other directissima lines on this wall beg to be explored. The rock quality deteriorates as one moves farther east, and so the right side is most recommended for routes where one can get in a few interesting mixed moves per pitch.
1. Left Gully Edge, 250m, M1 60°
2. Left of Cleft, 300m, M3-4 60°
3. The Cleft, 300m, M3-4 60°
4. Right Bypass, 300m, M1 60°
5. Right Runnel, 250m, M1-2 60°
Editor’s note: In addition to these routes, there’s also the good-looking line called Tastee Freeze (3 pitches, M4), which follows a left-trending chimney on a cliff left of the main east buttress. No doubt other lines have been climbed on these accessible buttresses.
Internationally certified mountain guide Eli Helmuth is the founder of ClimbingLife Guides. Click here for more info about Hallett’s east buttress and other alpine routes in Rocky Mountain National Park.