Lost in the shadow of Otis

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jan 25, 2005
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Winter

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This was more of an impulse, something to do to prepare for the following day on Longs. So, I got a bit of a late start, about 1030 am. The route was to be fairly simple, up through Loch Vale, up Andrews Glacier, and tagging the summit of Otis. The down trip depended on time, if I had enough I would have liked to have tagged Hallet and come down the Flattop trail. But that didn't happen, not by a long shot.
The hike up the winter trail was a winding one of moderate length. It offered some beutiful scenery, and some great shots of the western flanks of Longs Peak. The trail had been so heavily snow-shoed that it was like walking on a sidewalk. But step off it and you were up to your waist in soft snow. I passed quite a few people along the trail, all seemed to be sightseers, but ice climbers frequent this route for the large groundwater formations about half way up.
The trail condition changed just before the last stretch up to the Loch. This was about 200ft of a 40deg slope, and you could tell many people turned around. What they missed was nothing short of spectacular. I dawned the crampons and frenched my way up the slope. At the top, the striking veiw was amost immediate, pass a few treen and everything unfolded right before your eyes.
Loch Vale in the early...

I would have liked to have seen this at sunrise. It was noticably colder as I walked across the frozen lake, the wind blowing my crampons ice chips past me and away with the sound of a plastic wind chime. I crossed the pond and relocated the trail up to the glacier, it was now about noon.
Winding up into the gorge, the sun was no begining to warm things up a bit...but not in the shade. Passing out of the trees and into the sun warmed me up, but only to be cooled off again as I got deeper into the gorge and in the shade.
The snow was not as abundant as I though it would be. I sat for a breif lunch at the confluence of the gorge and The Gash. I pulled off my gloves and sat them on my lap. A gust of wind came up and I noticed somthing out of the corner of my eye. It was black, and looked like Thing from The Adams Family scurrying across down the snow slope into the trees....it was my glove liner. Damnit, luckily I always bring a couple pairs of spares. i started back up.
At this point I made the descision that ruined my day, or my summit attempt at least. The snow slope laid out before me had a more gradual slope to the left, and a much steeper slope to the right. Not consulting the Quad I had with me, I assumed these would both hook right and terminate at the lake at the base of the glacier. I took the more agressive slope, and up I went. Halfway up it came to me how high this slope was, I'd gained at least 100ft, and it looked like I had at least that to go. It got narrower toward the top, and I saw that it was now separated from the easier route by a rather steep heap of rock. I kept kicking away and finaly crested this slope at about 3:00. I was not happy with what I saw.
What I saw was a spectacular veiw of Andrews glacier and the frozen lake...from about 150ft above it. Damnit. What I had spend an hour picking my way up was a snow filled psuedo'trough that ended in a sheer rock face. Because of the lay of the land, I couldn't see its terminus until I was at the top, and didn't know I'd completely separated myself fromthe proper route. You get into the mindset of a machine when you're front pointing your way uphill at 11,000...machines aren't too bright.
I couldn't go up, it was probably 5.10 to get to the sumit from where I was. I couldn't descend down to the lake because it was far too steep and loose. I had to go back the way I came. I was able to glissade most of it, and god it was fun, I've never gone so fast on my own butt. But it was around 4pm when I'd gotten back to the ol' crossroads, I wasn't going to make any summits today. I hiked back to the Glacier Basic parking area and drove off in the faint glow of alpine dusk.


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