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830 Cold and Windy 2013-07-08

Notchtop Mountain hidden in the clouds

After a few days of rock climbing, we were ready to go back in the mountains. The forecast wasn't great so we decided to do a snow climb instead of an alpine rock climb. Amy had a new pair of crampons and, though they seemed like they fit her boots, we needed to try them out just to make sure. There is not much worse than standing in the middle of a snow slope with one crampon detached from your boot!

Leaving the Bear Lake Trailhead at 6, we started the 3.5 (or so) hike to Ptarmigan Glacier. No one else was on the trails that morning. We did see a couple of guys who seemed to be leaving on a big adventure, I assumed they were headed to Hallett's, but the approach is on a different trail than the one we were taking.

As we left the trailhead, we were cold and were wearing several layers. Then, not long up the trail, we started shedding clothes until we were down to the base layer shirt. It was going to be a great day. At an opening, talus field, the trail crosses through we got our first view of Notchtop, a neighboring mountain. Well, it was a view but not a very good one, the mountain was covered in clouds.

Continuing up the trail we reached Lake Helene in 1.5 hours, despite many clothing adjustment stops. As soon as we had taken off all our layers while warming to the grade of the trail, then we began to make stops to add the layers to adjust for the cooler temperatures. It was a typical day in the mountains.

krumholtz and rocky slabs

As we left Lake Helene, we had on all of our layers. It was really cold and very windy. The climb through the exposed rocky slabs and krumholtz should have warmed us, but we were still chilled as we reached the small tarn, below Notchtop. We assumed it was Notchtop above, it was still in the clouds though.

We found a large boulder to give us a bit of shelter from the wind, as we discussed our plans. If we continued, we would have been very cold. We were dressed for typical summer alpine conditions, but it was so windy, the temperatures seemed much cooler than usual. One thing for sure, if we continued we would not have had fun. It was not going to be a frolicking day in the mountains. It was going to be serious climbing with full on conditions.

snow practice on the lower snow fields

So we decided to test the crampons on a lower snow slope somewhat protected from the wind. Yes, we wimped out. We had no real "gotta climb it goal" for the day and were not willing to risk all for a crampon test.

For us canceling the climb was the right decision. If one of us sustained an injury, we did not have the gear to keep the injured person warm, while the other one went for help. A simple injury - like a twisted ankle, could have been serious (because of hypothermia) in the weather.

Ah, but don't worry, we still had a good time playing on the more protected snow slopes and even had time to spend the afternoon doing laundry. There's not much better than a fun filled afternoon at the old laundromat!

Happy Cold and Windy trails


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