Forecasts predicted a good long freeze so Chad and I rolled the dice again at RMNP's tables. Knowing full well that reality or the new snow wild card might leave us just taking the tools for a walk, we rolled out of Westminster at 4am. Twilight comes early these days and 5:30am trail head departures no long need a headlamp. Good thing too, I hadn't been to Loch Vale in a while and was hoping not to get us lost on the short cut trails that exist in winter. I even spotted Kevin's car in the parking lot though our two groups were the only cars to be seen.We followed Kevin and his partners tracks, at least we thought, until somewhere just beyond the Loch but we never saw them. Hope they were out getting after something good.
The short cut trails are melting fast now. Don't fall into the creeks which most of them follow!
Here, just past the Loch, we broke right towards the South Face of Mt.Otis. The well featured face has at least 10 couloirs running up it. We headed towards the prominent pair in the center/right of the photo.
A short bushwhack without too many mistakes found us following Kevin and Ryan's few day old tracks towards a route called C.O.U.S aka Chockstones of Unusual Size. This hard m6-7 route was put up last year and occasionally features a WI4 pillar bypassing the crux first pitch which Kevin had climbed a couple days ago. I liked the look of the pillar and a chance to snag an awesome line but very shortly I realized it was not our day for C.O.U.S. When sun hit the walls above the couloir ice chunks began raining down. Safely tucked between our two options we watched both gully's shed ice as the sun came up. After gearing up it was obvious that the large chunks were all coming out of C.O.U.S and that today Wham was looking much better.
Not a bad place to sit down and gear up for a climb. Sky pond and company pictured below.
I racked up and got ready to tackle the first pitch. This is the water ice start to the Wham Couloir but there wasn't much good ice today. The climbing wasn't bad but it was hard to protect and thus slow for me. I moved carefully and climbed on the far left as much as possible to be sheltered from any ice fall. Finally I peeked around the corner at the top of the ice, saw a good opening, found some decent tool placements and jumped around the corner. Here I was able to move to the right side of the gully away from the fall line and also finally get in a decent piece of pro. I ran out the easy snow climbing on good neve for almost the full rope length. Debating between forcing Chad to simulclimb a little and setting up an unsheltered belay I went with the former option. I found a great #2 camalot placement, pulled a physical move on snice over a chockstone to the left (after finding the right corner completely filled with rotten ice) and made it up 20 more feet of easy snow to a sheltered crack system. I put Chad on belay as quick as possible and before long he joined me at the ledge. I'm sure he was happy to be climbing as it was a bit of a slow lead on a long pitch one.
Knowing that the crux was likely over based on the route description, Chad set off with all the gear and when it continued to be easy climbing I dismantled the belay and we simulclimbed further.
Somewhere up there is Chad. We placed protection between us so that if either of us fell, we would eventually stop, but not as quickly as with a standard belay. The advantage to this when climbing is easy is that falls are still protected but you can move much more quickly. Moving quickly is key in the alpine environment and it also lets you switch back to a standard belay much faster than when soloing since the rope is already out.
Looking back down from a few pitches up.
A nice short ice and mixed section in the middle of the couloir.
Chad bringing me up. When Chad ran out of gear there was only easy ground to the top so we stowed the rope and rack and finished up unroped.
An over the shoulder view from near the top of the couloir.
Chad finishing up some easy mixed ground.
Sunrise starting to warm the upper couloir.
Looking back down on Zowie and Wham towers. They look like fantastic rock climbs for this summer.
Looking down the route from the top.
Once we topped out we had to find our way down. Luckily the snow was not too soft yet and we down climbed through the obvious notch in the center/left of the photo.
Then we got some wet glissades down back towards the Loch. A little bit of switchbacking to find an easy line, some postholing and a few more glissades and we found ourselves sneaking around a fast melting Loch to the trail.
Looking back at the Loch. If anyone is just looking for a beautiful hike in the summer, it's about ~3 miles to Loch Vale and there is a good trail up Andrews Creek as well (goes past what we climbed). Until the next good weather day...