Monday, March 19, 2012

Mount Lady Washington

Less than ideal weather conditions continue to hinder my attempts to ascend peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park this winter. On 4 March, I arrived at the trail head that leads up to Flattop Mountain, with the goal of ascending Hallett Peak once again. However, just like my last attempt, a passing upper disturbance resulted in strong winds, blowing snow, and blizzard conditions above treeline. I settled on a nice hike through the snow toward Fern Lake, but didn't reach that goal because of ever deepening snow covering the remainder of the trail.

On 5 March, the upper disturbance passed east of the Front Range, but even stronger winds were forecast to occur above treeline, with gusts up to 60-70 mph. However, my goal this day was Mount Lady Washington, where snow would be packed, making whiteout conditions less likely. The hard snow packed trail leading through the Goblin's forest was totally relaxing, and I made good time to treeline. I then ran into intense head winds above treeline, but struggled forward toward the base of Lady Washington. Snowfields covered the eastern slopes of Lady W, so I secured my treking poles and broke out the ice axe. Sloging upwards through knee deep snow on a 30-40 degree slope was an incredibly time and energy consuming ordeal. To make matters worse, the rock was horrible...for every couple of feet I moved up on dry ground, I slid back about half a foot due to the loose scree that covered the slope. I felt demoralized in the fact that I was not covering much terrain due to the wind, snow and rock conditions, and my energy reserves were rapidly being depleted. Given these factors, as well as daylight slipping away, I decided to turn around near 12,800-13,000 feet, just a couple of hundred feet from the summit. Immediately upon turning around, I lost my balance on the loose rock, and slammed my knee into a boulder, while my ice axe slipped out of my hand and flew 20 feet down the mountain. I whimpered at my throbing knee for about 5 minutes, then got back up, retrieved my axe, and continued down.

Next time I attempt this mountain, I will probably approach the summit from the long northern ridge...where the slope is less steep. I discovered that my layering system works perfectly in the cold. I used a cap-3 as a base layer, a Marmot Genesis softshell, and an Arc'teryx Beta AR hardshell. The upper body stays completely warm with these layers, and a big down jacket isn't needed, thus I won't bring it next time to cut down on weight in the backpack. In addition, I tested out a pair of La Sportiva Nepal EVO GTX mountaineering boots. These things are indestructible, comfortable, and very warm. Even though I fell, I blame that on the terrible rock, not the boots. I don't think I'll ever buy another pair of mountaineering boots, La Sportiva is the real thing.

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