The month of July ended up being my "assault on RMNP's Continental Divide." I began with Hallett Peak via Andrews Glacier, then came Flattop via Tyndall Glacier, and on the final day of July, I opted for Taylor Peak via Taylor Glacier.
I had been roaming SummitPost since Wednesday for information on the glacier which was scarce; all I knew that it was steep, maybe as steep as the route I took on Tyndall the Sunday before. I told myself that if it got too hairy, I'll just back out.
I was at the Glacier Gorge TH early, around 4:30am. I decided to get a little shuteye before I took off. Five AM rolled around...I slowly geared up and hit the trail - I would wake up when I started workin' a bit. I scoped out Alberta Falls, then it was on to the Loch. It was very peaceful at the Loch, and it gave me a good look at Taylor Glacier. At 6:45, I laid eyes on Timberline Falls, which is the most beautiful fall that I've has the chance to see up close - the small pool at the base and the boulders on the sides are just righteous. After a few pictures, I scaled up the side, and hopped to Lake of Glass, then onto Sky Pond. I was so glad I had my trekking poles, I appreciate them more everytime I use em (for those of you lookin for poles, REI Peak Ultralites...carbonfiber is strong as hell! Well worth the $130 tag.)
I found a good rock patch at the foot of Taylor Glacier to rest and gear up with crampons, axe, and helmet. When I started the climb at 8am, the sun had already set itself on most of the glacier; I wondered how the snow would treat me later on in the climb. The first section was fine, but I was surprised at how quickly it steepened. Using the spike on my axe was not working anymore, so picking with solid steps, I began up to the right...this was the last time I remember anything besides "pick, kick, kick" during the climb.
The higher I went up the route, the more I saw that I may have trouble backing out if something happened, or worse...if I slipped. The route had put me above rocks, and the steepness of the route made me question if I could stop myself if I really got goin down it.
I reached the fork in the route and found a "safe" place to rest. The right side of the fork was shorter, but looked steeper and had much less good snow - the edges had melted out against the rocks, creating vertical "crevasses" and giving tight, wet, Class 4 climbing to anyone mental enough to try it. The left side had plenty of snow to climb, so I headed up the left.
By this time, I had to frontpoint, pick with one hand, and put the other hand down in order to feel balanced/stable...I've been kicking myself for not getting a clinometer to see how steep it really was! It took 3 or 4 kicks to establish a good foothold by this time, which was a bit draining. I was glad to have my mp3 player playing - I just tried to find a rhythm to ignore the heat, fatigue, and the rocks below.
As I neared the top at turtle speed, the crux became apparent: a small stretch of very thin snow leading to about 8 feet of very steep climbing to reach the flat where the snow melted out. I was now using all fours, and leaning on downed, numb knees to advance up the glacier. After passing over the thin snow, I was then digging a handhold for every left hand to keep a good hold on the mountain. My calves were on fire, and my axe hand was tingling from gripping the axe so tightly. Sweat soaked the bandana under my helmet, and my glacier glasses were fogging.
When I heaved my ass up over the lip and onto the flat, I was stoked beyond words, and I was glad I was done climbing. I began the climb at 8 and topped out at 10:30 - nearly 2 and 1/2 hrs of solid climbing. The view of the Sharkstooth was unbelieveable! I was really proud of myself for finishing such a tough route, but I was humbled by its magnitude the whole way up; I know I shouldn't have gone solo/not used real pro, but I had no falls and no major slips, reinforcing my belief in good technique. I was gonna call my parents in South Dakota, but there was no way they could fully understand how righteous the experience was. They can see the photos later.
I geared down and had a rest on the rolling slopes of the Divide. There was no way in hell that I was going to try to glissade back down the route, so once I summitted Taylor Peak at 11:15, I decided to continue on and descend on Andrews Glacier, which provided a slow glissade and funny looks from some hikers coming from Hallett. I sat on a rock at the Tarn, ate some fruit, and listened to the whooping of the hikers as they tried their hands at glissading...I reckon they picked up shorts full of snow on the way down!
The trail section from the boulderfield to the TH was a clusterfuck of hikers...one guy gave me a crack about walking fast as I passed him, so I told him I was training for Denali; he didn't have much more to say after that.
I arrived back at the TH at 2:00pm, rehydrated, and had a snack. Reflecting, I was impressed at how well I had held up as a whole; mentally, I kept a cool head on a tough climb, and physically, moving quickly on the descent after Andrews with no resting...possibly my longest round trip to date. I had a small headache from minor dehydration but nothing major - I guess 2 liters of water wasn't enough this time.
I hope to climb Taylor Glacier next year when there's more snow, but next time, I'll probably not be goin solo and definetly not without more protection! Super Stoked!