This was to be our first major climb of the 2005 season and we were very pumped as we left Denver at 6:30 in the morning for the quick drive up Loveland Pass. We arrived at the trailhead and quickly readied our gear for the hike ahead. We had heard of the huge in-bounds avalanche at A-basin that had killed one snowboarder the previous, and we hiked this hike specifically because it wouldn’t expose us to the extreme avalanche conditions. Indeed just in driving up the pass we saw a dozen natural slides that had gone off the previous day. We quickly set off up the ridge immediately to the east of the pass. The wind was blowing softly but not so that we could really feel it. It steadily increased as we climbed higher, and by the time we reached the top of point 12,915 the wind was blowing so hard that standing was hard. I jumped a rock pile to shelter myself from the wind and was blown three feet further than expected. We hunkered down this rock pile and took a little break.
The wind was howling, so we decided to head down to the saddle as quickly as possible. To be able to walk straight we had to lean far into the wind. On the rare occasions when we did stop we were able to practice our best matrix impressions by leaning into the wind. A half an hour after leaving the summit we were able to take shelter from the wind behind the summit cairn on Cupid’s summit. After some sips of water and a chocolate bar we were on our way down Cupid’s south slopes. Near the bottom we encountered the crux of the climb.
The class three rocks were covered in slide prone snow and cornices on the east side and dropped steeply and loosely on the west side. We knew that avalanche conditions that day were as bad as we’d ever seen them, and that venturing out on the snow might be fatal. However, the snow was hard and seemed fairly stable, and was well anchored onto the rocks so we decided to venture out sticking very close to the rock wall. One at a time we crossed until we were able to regain our footage on solid rocks. We descended the rocks carefully and made our way down to the saddle between Cupid and the small sub peak directly north of Grizzly. Here we had to actually cross a slide path that had snow in it. It was only about twenty feet wide at the top but we were afraid that the snow was so sensitive that it might part and slide when we stepped out onto it. We decided that since the snow was still pretty firm we would risk it and we stepped out onto it one at a time.
After crossing the slide path we climbed up over the last small sub peak and down into the saddle before the final summit pitch. Here we took a nice long break on the grass to soak in the now warm sunshine. We stayed here for a long time, soaking in the spectacular views and just chilling, and contemplated staying here forever, and ditching the summit. Ahead of us the trail climbed steeply up the seven hundred remaining feet to the summit. We were able to see how big the cornices on the eastern edge of the ridge were, and made sure to stay well away from the edge. As the warmed up we had seen several cornices break off, and collapse to form either wet or slab avalanches.
Fortunately the trail was clear of snow and so we decided to carry on. A half hour after leaving the saddle we were on the summit, and we had it all to ourselves. The view revealed more slides on all sides, and made us glad to be above all of them. We found a nice patch of tundra and laid down to rest and eat lunch. After a few summit shots, we headed back down the way we came. We crossed back over the small sub peak and were then faced with the challenge of climbing back up the class three rocks to Cupid’s summit. By now the snow had gotten slushy and so we decided that it would be much safer to simply contour around the western edge of the rocks, staying near the crest of the ridge where the rocks were more stable.
After the rocks we made our way slowly back to the car. Coming back down the final slope after the first sub peak we had passed in the morning, we saw people in shorts and t-shirts who were out enjoying the now seventy degree weather. There was even a guy up there flying his kite. Such hot weather had also contributed to the dramatic increase in avalanches that we were noticing on the surrounding slopes. The slopes that had had only a few slides in the morning were now covered with them. We were marveling at the fact that we could see ski tracks on such slopes. We finally made it back to the car very happy with our great day.
By the way, today we see multiple natural slides on multiple aspects. According to guidelines laid down by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, such conditions warrant an avalanche danger rating of extreme.
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