MOUNTAIN: Mt. Bancroft (13,250')
ROUTE: East Ridge Direct
RT GAIN: ~3,000 feet
RT DISTANCE: ~8 miles
RT TIME: ~8 hours
CLIMBERS: Brian (BrianC), John (JohnP FTC), Jeff (SurfNTurf)
I like snow. It's December. Dave Cooper's book describes the East Ridge of Mt. Bancroft as an enjoyable snow climb in December. So, duh. When Brian (BrianC) posted about an attempt on Dec. 10, it seemed enticing. When the forecast called for a high of 24 degrees and no wind, it seemed too good to be true. How could I say no to that?
East Ridge in profile
I can't thank Brian and John enough for allowing me to tag along. I have the requisite gear and some experience with Class 5, but the East Ridge would be by first true attempt at "alpine climbing." I explained my newbie status to Brian after he posted about trying the route. His gracious response was, "Come along!"
We drove up I-70 early Saturday, enjoying views of the lunar eclipse before we lost sight of it in the booming metropolis of Alice, CO. John was able to drive about 1/3 of a mile from the turnoff before parking near the closed winter gate. The brisk hike to Loch Lomond alternated between frozen scree, insidious ice and knee-deep snow. We covered it quickly and stashed our snowshoes, which we never used, at the lake. A few Class 2 switchbacks later we were on the ridge and staring our objective dead in the eye.
Brian and John nearing the ridge proper, in adorably matching Nano Puffs
Frozen Loch Lomond
Brian starting the fun
Brian and me beginning on the ridge (photo by John)
(photo by John)
The snowy talus was easy to negotiate and the weather felt more like September than December. Before long, we were down to baselayers and worrying about sunburn. I wondered why I was carrying mittens. The wind reminded me of Tim Tebow's long-term future in the NFL -- something that doesn't exist. A few Class 3 moves later, we were breaking out the rope for the technical crux, an 80-foot rappel into a notch followed by a 30-foot pitch of Class 5. The conditions in the crux were almost eerie. In a spot notorious for hellacious wind and cold, we strutted around in only one or two layers.
Brian setting up the rappel
If I'd known this was my "stance" at the time I would have had to change pants (photo by John)
Me, rappeling into the notch (photo by John)
Down comes John
The biggest nuisance of the day became apparent once we landed in the notch: the snow sucked. The many knife-edges this route crosses comprised either bare, slick rocks or loose snow that probably couldn't support the weight of a feather. Our crampons stayed in our packs. Brian started leading up the Class 5 face, but the normal 5.2 route was much stiffer than that considering wet mountaineering boots and snow-covered ledges. Brian instead led around to the left up a pitch consisting of an ice-and-snow chimney, which was too narrow for our winter packs. Brian left his on a ledge to be hauled up later, and I chose a face slightly to the left after trying to pull a move in the chimney and getting stuck. John cast a spell or levitated or something and climbed up the chimney wearing his.
Brian getting creative on lead, before we went around left
The notch is the route's technical crux, but it wasn't the most attention-grabbing section. It was immediately followed by a knife-edge of icy rocks and unconsolidated snow. Unlike Kelso Ridge, the scrambling was relentless. Hundreds of feet of Class 3 and Class 4 scambling later -- including some very awkward moves over considerable exposure -- we topped out on the ridge and stashed our technical gear in favor of trekking poles. In perfect weather, the summit was a foregone conclusion.
Brian and me crossing the knife edge immediately after the notch (photo by John)
Me, going "a cheval" on terrible snow (Photo by John)
Difficulties over -- the true summit beckons for John and Brian
Longs Peak, RMNP and the IPW
Group summit shot, looking tough (L-R John, Brian, Me)
We descended the much mellower Southeast Ridge, though not without negotiating some annoyingly unconsolidated snow. Luckily none of our incessant talus postholing resulted in anything more than a few curse words. Once we gained the road, it was an easy cruise to the snowshoe stash and John's car. Back in Denver before dark! Thanks once again to John and Brian for an amazing, memorable day.