I don't venture into the Front Range very much, but with a very dry season thus far and a favorable weather forecast, Kristine & I met our good friend Jesse Hill from Denver at the Bancroft TH for some east ridge direct fun. I know so many skiers are bummed with the current Colorao snowpack, but honestly I have been enjoying all of this dry, warm winter weather and taking advantage of it by rock climbing some and getting out high on some peaks. The skiing is just not worth it to me inbounds or in the backcountry right now until we get lots of snow, which is absolutely fine. Just means more climbing. I've heard this was a fun route in summer by some friends of mine and is in Cooper's Colorado Scrambles book, but I thought it may be more interesting & exciting in winter. The ridge definitely did not disappoint and provided awesome winter scrambling with some technical spice thrown in. After parking on the Stewart Road at 8:30am, we hiked the mostly bare 2.2 miles up to the summer parking TH at Loch Lomond. There was some semi-deep snow before Loch Lomond, but it was manageable in our plastic boots without snowshoes. The wind was whipping in the valley, so my hopes were that it would die down before we hit the east ridge. Thankfully, it did. We then made our way up to the base of the east ridge in the howling wind.
The east ridge direct route to Bancroft's summit
The initial portion of the ridge (up to the infamous notch) was fairly straighforward with some fun class 3 moves if you stayed on the ridge proper.
Kristine climbing the initial class 3 portion of the east ridge
We then approached the rappel station on the east side of the notch and found a party of two climbers setting up their own rappel. We had been gaining on them all morning and decided this was as good a place to pass as any. So, I threw my 60m, 8mm rope around a flake of rock at the top of the east side of the notch and we all rapped down with me going last. In all honestly, I should have tied some webbing and set up a rap anchor, but we wanted to get ahead of the party of two climbers and the rock was smooth enough that the rope would easily pull, so I just ran it over the rock. Not pretty or textbook, but good enough for just one rap.
Jesse & I approaching the notch and rappel station
Kristine on rappel with Jesse below in the notch
Me rappelling down past the party of two climbers on the left
Once, we were all at the notch and pulled the rope, Kristine put me on belay as I led up the 1st crux 5.2 headwall pitch west out of the notch and back to the ridge proper. I only placed a #1 cam and the 25 ft pitch wasn't too difficult and very fun despite climbing in my Koflach Vertical plastic boots. Great hand/finger holds and the rock was warm enough for me without gloves. I then set up an anchor, belyed Kristine & then Jesse up, and then coiled and stashed the rope in my backpack.
Me belaying Jesse up the 1st crux 5.2 headwall pitch out of the notch
Having passed the supposed crux of the route, the real difficulties seemed to be ahead of us. I was excited. What followed was a few hundred feet of mostly horizontal knife-edge ridges, some snow covered and some dry. This was some exciting scrambling for sure as there are serious drop-offs to the north & south. We never donned our crampons, though in retrospect, it probably would have been a good idea. This was the most treacherous section of the ridge, in our opinion, especially being in plastic boots on lightly snow covered rock. Obviously, in summer, you would just skip across this with approach shoes, and in spring, I can see this being much easier as there would be a large corniced snow ridge you can basically trudge across with your axe.
The remaining portion of the east ridge from the top of the 1st crux 5.2 headwall pitch
Jesse & Kristine on the ridge
Jesse crossing a knife-edge snow ridge
Me looking back at Kristine having crossed the knife-edge snow ridge
Jesse & Kristine almost done with the knife-edge ridge and to the base of the 2nd crux headwall pitch
I had read a route description of the east ridge which said there was a pair of chimneys that go at 4th to low 5th class on the ridge's right (north) side. However, the ledges and holds were pretty snow covered, and not feeling the motivation to put my crampons on, I chose to head slightly left of the ridge crest just a few feet and found a doable yet severly exposed dry low 5th class route up to a snow covered ledge. This 30 ft headwall definitely had a few low 5th class moves over big air. In retrospect, I really should have led this on belay. With the damage done, I set up an anchor, threw down the rope, and belayed Kristine and then Jesse up to me.
Me scoping out the 2nd crux headwall - I climbed up around the corner to my left
Me belaying Kristine up the 2nd crux low 5th class headwall pitch
Once past the 2nd crux headwall, we spotted the party of two climbers just starting the knife-edge ridge after the 1st crux 5.2 headwall pitch. They were belaying the knife-edge ridge, which just seemed so painstakingly slow. Turns out they turned around shortly thereafter and likely descended down the couloir south to Lake Caroline from the notch. They returned to their cars at the trailhead 15 minutes after we did at the end of the day.
The party of two climbers seen from above the 2nd headwall crux
We then climbed some fun and blocky class 3 rock up the ridge to a tower. Jesse had scoped a small snow covered ledge around to the tower's right (north) side and so we took the ledge route. In retrospect, we should have just climbed up the remaining 20 ft to the top of the tower and proceeded on the ridge crest as the 30 ft of climbing we endured on the ridge's north side back up to the ridge proper once the ledge ran out was quite spooky and involved some pretty treacherous moves over slick rock. Once back on the ridge proper, we covered some more fun knife-edge ridge, which soon terminated into the easier class 3 climbing of the upper ridge.
Kristine back on the ridge proper - a large party can be seen approaching the rappel into the notch right of center
Jesse & Kristine back on the ridge proper
More knife-edge ridge
The easier class 3 terrain of the upper ridge
We saw a large party rappelling into the notch from the upper ridge, though we're not sure how long on the ridge they pressed and whether they made it or not.
Close-up of the large party rappelling into the notch
The east ridge from the class 3 terrain of the upper ridge
Kristine on the upper ridge
Jesse climbing a fun little class 4 section on the upper ridge
The easier class 2 section to the flat summit plateau
We finally reached the large, flat summit plateau below Bancroft's summit and endured some pretty stiff west winds through the col.
Jesse bracing against the strong winds
We topped out on Bancroft's summit around 1:30pm in clear skies but strong winds.
Kristine almost to Bancroft's summit looking like a ninja
Mt. Bancroft summit (13,250')
Looking north to James Peak from Bancroft's summit
After 20 minutes on top, we descended the very mellow southeast ridge back to Loch Lomond and then hiked out the 2.2 miles down the road arriving back at the trucks at 4pm.
One last look at the majority of the east ridge with the obvious notch as viewed from the southeast on our descent
All in all, a wonderful day on a pretty challenging route given the conditions albeit very exciting and fun. For those looking for a ridge run with some technical spice, I would highly recommend this route as I am sure many others would as well. Hopefully, this TR may help others plan a winter ascent up Bancroft's east ridge direct. I may just have to start venturing into the Front Range more often
Thanks for reading,