I was expecting full winter trail conditions and was not disappointed. The snow depth is between two and four feet pretty much everywhere but fortunately was well packed on the trail. I found that having Yak Trax and a pair of trekking poles was indispensable throughout the approach. The section up to Emerald was pretty straightforward but above that was a bit more involved. If you head up the first switchback to Lake Haiyaha, note that there is a specific wind-formed ridge of snow that cuts off the usual trail, making for 75 degree frontpointing traversing moves. Better to go west a bit on the lake and head straight up through the trees. The remainder was easy enough except of course for the super-exposed slabs near the end. Take care here. Without crampons or other similar footgear like Micro Spikes or Yak Trax, they could be very dangerous, especially going down. Definitely a bit alpine up there.
|The view east from the Skyscraper Boulder|
|The top of the Skyscraper Boulder|
|Topping out Skyscraper with a really fat landing|
|Looking west across Lake Haiyaha and into Upper Chaos|
|Working on Element of Surprise V12|
Sheltered from a stiff breeze coming from the west and basking in full sun, the boulder was totally climbable and I worked out all the moves again, wishing I had brought another pad, owing to a relatively complex landing. Most Chaos regulars tend to shy away from this problem, probably because it is very thin and super sharp, as well as very technical. I will be back on it however as soon as I can, since late winter/spring conditions are best for this crimping testpiece.
So the verdict? Lower is pretty much closed out. Tommy's Arete could be dug out and made climbable pretty quickly but it would be pretty cold. Virtually everything else will have to wait a long while. Upper Chaos holds its own secrets but I hope to be up there to investigate soon. My guess is that for most, it is not worth heading up to Chaos for the next month or two. The snow pack is substantial and March and April typically see a lot of additional snow.
But for me it was a great opportunity to get out of town a bit, get thrashed on a proper approach hike, and breathe the thin clear air of RMNP among a solitude broken only by the wind and the gentle whisper of a raven's wings flapping overhead. It's good to be be back up there again.