I had been talking for a while about getting out and climbing something with Chris (mitzflip)
. Our schedules finally matched up and about a week earlier we began to plan a couloir climb in the Indian Peaks Wilderness (IPW) for Sunday the 1st of May. As the week progressed several storms moved through and deposited a great deal of new snow on top of what was shaping up to be a great base for snow climbs. With that in mind we started discussing alternate options that would allow us to get out and get on top of something without risking avalanche danger. After a great deal of research and debate over the many options we decided on a combo climb of St.Vrain Mountain and Meadow Mountain on the northern end of the IPW. We were hoping for great views of Elk Tooth, Sawtooth Mountain, Mount Audubon, Mount Meeker, Longs Peak, Pagoda, Keyboard of the Winds, Mount Alice, and other peaks to the north in lower portion of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Due to the amount of new snow on the roads in Allenspark we were forced to park just over half of a mile from the signed St. Vrain Mountain parking area. We left the truck at about 6:45AM and began to snowshoe through about 10” of new snow. The first mile from the trail head was well marked by a skier from a day or two earlier who seemed to know the trail well.
As the trees began to thin out and the angle began to increase, the ski tracks disappeared and the snow became deeper. Our estimate was that some areas had 18” of new snow from the couple of days prior to our climb. Chris and I took turns breaking trail with little assistance from Denali and Yukon (my Samoyed dogs). We continued to trend to our right and away from the creek as we headed for a point between the Meadow Mountain
saddle and the UN 11,478 (See TOPO Map Here)
We stopped to take a break and fuel up and noticed that the mountains were completely silent. It was almost eerie to experience the mountains without any noise at all. Though Chris and I had discussed the night before our climb how conditions many times make a climb far more challenging and offer a greater sense of accomplishment, I was secretly glad to be out climbing mountains without strong winds for a change! The past winter, as winters often do, offered several opportunities to climb in extremely adverse conditions. Mount Lady Washington, Hahns Peak
, and my first attempt at James Peak all fell into the extreme weather conditions category.
The clouds were lying very low and by about 8AM we were above many of them. As we neared the shoulder of UN 11,478 we were able to make out Twin Sisters and many of the landmarks in RMNP as the clouds quickly moved through. I was able to get a quick shot of Elk Tooth
off as we began to drop toward the rounded east ridge of St.Vrain Mountain.
The clouds moved closer and by the time we reached about 11,800 we were in a total white out (see photo above). This was not the typical white out condition that I had experienced. The entire slope that we were climbing on was well covered with the recent snow and though it was only about 18 degrees steep the cloud that had settled over the peak made everything blend together. I had difficulty seeing Chris from even 15 feet away and making out contours in terrain was entirely out of the question. We continued to climb and eventually made the summit. The temperature on the summit was much warmer at 50 degrees than we expected it to be.
Chris and I found ourselves in tee-shirts and still overheating though snow was falling on our decent. We hiked the contour from the base of St. Vrain to the saddle below Meadow Mountain where we left our snowshoes. The remaining 450 feet to the summit of Meadow Mountain were pretty uneventful and the view was as poor as it was from the summit of St. Vrain due to the continuing cloudy skies.
The decent was pretty uneventful (just what you are looking for in a decent) and by about 2:45PM we were back at the truck. Two Summits, 8.3 miles, and about 4,000 feet! Another great day in the Colorado Rockies.
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