24 forum posts
2010 Annual Igloo Trip
I normally do a ten night igloo trip every year and this year I had ambitious goals of sleeping on the summits of Otis, Taylor and Powell Peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park. I had planned the trip and worked up a picture overview (http://www.grandshelters.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=199 ) of the entire trip but this year’s partner, David Knight, didn’t have enough vacation time accumulated at his new job for any more than a six night trip.
Cutting the trip from 10 to 6 nights required some changes in plans to be reasonably certain we would still be able to sleep on Otis and Taylor Peaks with a day trip to Powell Peak.
The original plan was to go part way up Otis Peak and build an igloo camp that we would acclimatize at for two nights and then go to the 12,486 ft. summit of Otis to build a second igloo camp where we would spend two nights before heading over to 13,155 ft. Taylor Peak where we would again build another igloo camp to stay in for two nights before heading to Powell Peak for the fourth igloo camp.
Well, in order to have a chance at spending more nights atop the Continental Divide, a group of us went up the weekend before and built an igloo at the base of the climb up Otis’ NE ridge. This igloo would give us an easy start to the trip so we could make the nearly 3,000 ft. vertical gain, from the 10, 300 ft. base camp, and build an igloo in one day.
It was a glorious day as we built the igloo a week before the trip:
We started the trip the following Sunday on what proved to be another glorious day of fun in the woods. Four friends joined Dave and I for the day to help us break trail to base camp and give us an even easier day in preparation for our grueling summit day:
We arrived at camp around 12:30, which gave us plenty of time to shovel the walk and do some socializing before the others headed back to the trailhead just before 3:00 pm. There was one more trick we could pull off to help us on the next day’s summit bid and that was to break trail up the crux of the climb just above camp. After the others headed back, we headed out with shovels in hand to help chop our way up/through several nearly vertical drifts in the crux area. We made good time packing/building the trail but I got a bit worried when we got above the crux and I saw how low the snow conditions are this year. I had been up the route the previous two years and was able to go up these rocks:
I studied the area a bit figuring out how we could avoid those rocks before we headed back down to camp. We felt pretty satisfied that we had built a trail that would give us easy traveling up the crux area on our summit day.
I had been studying the weather forecast for the week prior to the trip and was expecting the weather to be fair enough with the occasional predicted snow showers but the jet stream concerned me. The jet stream had been blowing both north and south of us with little wisps of high winds cutting across from one to the other main jet streams.
Well, that evening we checked the weather forecast again on my PDA and it had changed radically. Very high winds and major storms were forecast for later in the week while we would be on the Divide. With the new forecast and the low snow conditions we saw up higher we decided to alter our trip just as radically as the weather forecast had changed. We decided to abandon our summit trip and stay below treeline for the entire trip.
We decided to stay in our base camp igloo for two nights before heading onward to our second igloo camp.
We slept well enough in spite of Dave having a mild headache from the altitude and I figured it was just as well we didn’t head any higher for him.
We awoke to a very nice day and headed down some 300 ft. to Lake Haiyaha to do some exploring for the day. The lake is unusual because it freezes over early in the winter and then drains out through the winter dropping the lake level and ice nearly 15 ft. The lake also contains a lot of very huge boulders that tend to look like they are erupting up through the ice:
Looking up Chaos Canyon at the Divide showed that some of the winds were already kicking in:
After checking out the ice on Haiyaha, we headed up the ridge that runs north of the lake to the spot I had built my Thanksgiving igloo in November.
The view from the ridge showed Otis Peak and the weather that was moving in for the afternoon:
We also got a view of our previously proposed route up Otis and the snow was very scant amongst the rocks on top of Otis’ top ridge:
Looking south from the ridge, we could see Longs Peak and Thatchtop Mtn:
Looking west we could see up the ridge we were on that is attached to Hallett Peak:
We were also just above my Thanksgiving igloo and Dave filmed me going down to the igloo:
We headed back to our igloo on Otis and ended up crossing Chaos Creek just below Haiyaha:
Looking west from the creek at the late afternoon sun showed what looked like some weather still moving in:
We made it back to our igloo plenty early to eat and sit back and enjoy the evening. Dave took a picture of Estes Park’s lights:
We even had a snowball fight:
The next morning, Tuesday, we slept in a bit knowing we would have an easy day going to the West Glacial Knob to build an igloo and our second camp. We headed down, off our high perch on Otis, while traversing on some rather steep slopes on the trail we had already broke and traveled three times.
Due to my clumsiness, I slipped and wiped out on the trail only to slide down the hill with my pulk sliding beside me. I ended up in a bit of a tree well on one side of a large tree with the pulk ending up on the other side of the tree. This wipe out ended up with some extreme stresses on the pulk that cracked/tore the pulk right at the main stress point where the tow poles are attached to the pulk. I was clear that going any further with the pulk than the West Glacial Knob was out of question but we were able to use some tape to help pull the load and stop any further tearing of the pulk.
The day turned out to be a very glorious sunny day and we took it easy with the limping pulk and also stopped lots of times so I could point out things to Dave. We arrived at camp on the West Glacial Knob about 5:15 pm with only a slight breeze blowing and mostly clear skies:
The snow on the knob was mostly wind drift and needed to be worked into loose snow making it a rather slow igloo build. I was also showing Dave some of the finer points of building igloos and we stopped for snacks and just general enjoying the evening.
The moon started coming up behind Half Mountain and Dave got a shot of Half Mountain just before the moon came out and gave us light to build the igloo by:
We built late into the night and slept in the next morning planning to get up and just hang out around camp for the day. We woke up to partly sunny skies with Mummy Mountain to the north of us:
The top of the knob is interesting with all the dead wood from the 1927 fire that decimated the area and the glacial erratics that were scatted about. It was a very lazy day indeed:
There was a name carved into a tree that looked to be prior the 1927 fire:
The old dead wood and the erratics made for what looks like a very harsh environment:
By 4:00 pm on Wed. we could see the weather moving in over the Divide when looking past Loch Vale and up at Taylor Peak:
The weather also seemed to shed some magic on some of the views with most of the clouds just high enough to look into the distance under them. Again, Mummy Mountain looked cool to the north of us:
Sometimes it just feels good to take it all in:
There were a few clear spots in the clouds that let the light through. This picture makes it feel like home and is looking towards Taylor Peak (hidden behind the igloo) with Sharks Tooth wearing a blue hallo:
Another clear spot lit up Mummy Mountain to the north of us:
We slept very well and got up Thursday for sunrise pictures only to find nearly perfectly clear skies to the west and the moon going down alongside Sharks Tooth:
The skies were so blue with the early morning light but some clouds were visible to the north of Flattop Mountain:
The first rays of the sun started hitting the north face of Longs Peak on what was turning into a beautiful sunrise:
Although the sunrise was beautiful, along with it came the clouds from below:
The clouds started moving up the canyons and it was amazing to watch:
Dave filmed a 360 degree video while the coyotes howled below us:
It didn’t take long before we were nearly engulfed in clouds:
We ate our breakfast, had coffee and headed out towards Andrews Pass. We could see the weather was moving in pretty fast and knew we weren’t going above timberline but the weather was still plausible as we reached Lock Vale:
By the time we cross The Loch, the weather turned and we started getting snow with wind but we went into the protection of the woods and headed up towards Andrews Pass but we were turned back by high winds and heavy snow at the large meadow just below timberline. It was a veritable blizzard and the snow came in quickly covering the sun crusted snow for a great trip back down the hill.
We stopped at the top of the steep descent down to The Loch on top of a small couloir that gathers tons of snow where I broke a trail out on a steep slope so Dave could film me going down the couloir:
Going down the steep couloir was fun but I kept hooking my snowshoes on the crusty snow below:
The snow gathering on the pines changed the world into a winter wonderland:
Just before reaching The Loch, we found some soft snow with a northern exposure where I was able to powder shoot down some of the boulders:
We traveled all the way back to camp in a blizzard and shoveled nearly a foot of snow off our patio in front of the igloo. It was a cold evening and we spent most of our time in the igloo drying out our damp clothes from the day’s excursion.
When we got up Friday morning, we again shoveled the patio, had breakfast and headed out on a day’s excursion.
We first went to The Loch again and then descended the stream coming out of the lake. It runs down a steep chasm and soon intersects the creek coming from Mills Lake. We went up to Mills Lake and Dave filmed this of the winds we had at Mills Lake:
After experiencing those winds we headed back down and over to Joyce’s Pond where we got a view of our igloo on top of the West Glacial Knob:
Dave also filmed a video from Joyce’s Pond:
From Joyce’s Pond, we headed west back to our trail we had gone up to gain the West Glacial Knob when coming from the Otis Peak igloo. We basically circumnavigated the knob on Friday.
The weather was again cold and we spent most of our time in the igloo Friday night.
The weather was still ragging Saturday morning as we had breakfast and then headed back to the trailhead:
We had some lovely deep snow on the way down and Dave had the chance to film me powder shooting with the pulk in tow: