Back on March 13th, 2017, my son, Steven, and I hiked into Emerald Lake, in Rocky Mountain National Park, to get some beta photos and a good look at Tyndall Glacier and the Gorge. We wanted to try a spring snow ascent here in April or May, but I’ll admit, it looked more strenuous than I expected. Getting up the gorge looked like a real lung buster depending on the snow conditions. Even so, on May 8th, Steve and I left the Bear Lake Trailhead at 7:00 AM to give it a try. The photo below is one of the beta shot we took in March.
We were just past Emerald Lake and entering the gorge at about 8:00 AM when the angle of ascent became a real cardio workout. Right after the first steep section on the left side of the gorge, we were discussing the fact that Colorado has very few crevasses on its glaciers, when I suddenly dropped right down to my chest in the snow, stopped only by my outstretched arms. I thought, "What the hell! We aren’t even on the glacier yet!" My feet were dangling in the air, and the sensation was a little freeky; I had no idea how far off the ground I was. I felt a boulder in front of my feet and used it to get myself out. My first guess was that the boulder had been responsible for the formation of the bubble that I fell into, but then I remembered that there is also a stream that runs down this side of the gorge, so I might have been walking over that. It was ironic though, based on our conversation at the time.
After the initial steep entrance into the gorge, the rest of the slow uphill hump to the back wall was just a great scenic tour. The sun was extremely hot though, and we had completely forgotten to use any sun block, so by the time we stepped up onto Flattop Mountain, hours later, we were toasted. This shot of Steve taking photos looking back down the gorge, with Dream Lake in the distance, was taken on a short break at about 9:45 AM.
About halfway up the gorge, we noticed that there were only two sets of track, about two or three days old, still going up. The good skiing was below us, so I suspected that the track owners had an objective similar to ours. As we reached the back of the gorge, with our first unobstructed view of the roughly 300 foot glacier wall, we could see the tracks leading diagonally up the wall from left to right to about three quarters of the way across, and then straight up the last 50 feet or so. It was kind of cool to see that only two others had done this ascent recently. I took this picture right before we started up the wall at about noon.
I liked the path our predecessors had taken up the glacier, so we followed the same route. Due to the soft snow though, we had to restomp or rekick every step. When we finally topped out, it was about 12:45 PM. The weather was deteriorating fast, so after a short rest and a few more pictures, we hurried over to the Flattop Mountain Trail heading back down to Bear Lake. This photo was taken from the north end of the glacier wall looking back down the gorge.
Thirty minutes down the trail, in our loosing effort to stay ahead of the lightning, thunder and groppel, and still above timberline, we lost the trail in the snow. With the lightning getting closer, we needed to continue going down, so instead of backtracking and trying to find the trail again, we scrambled down the north side of Flattop to merge with the Odessa Lake Trail, which cost us an extra hour or so, but at least we were still in one piece. This shot of the storm, moving in from the west and overtaking the mountains on our north side, was taken shortly before we lost the trail.
We made it back to the trailhead by about 4:30 PM, for a total time out of 9 and a half hours, and a round trip distance of roughly 9 miles. Oddly though, my GPS showed a total altitude gain of about 3,600 feet at the top of the Glacier, if I remember right, but back at the trailhead, due to a big drop in barometric pressure I suspect, it was now reading a total elevation gain of over 8,000 feet! Wow, no wonder I was tired. Anyway, despite our afternoon storm detour, this was another great day.
National Park Service - Rocky Mountain National Park - Climbing and Mountaineering