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| | |-+  September 16, 2017, Andrews Glacier (12,000'), CO
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Author Topic: September 16, 2017, Andrews Glacier (12,000'), CO  (Read 1129 times)

Posts: 509

September 16, 2017, Andrews Glacier (12,000'), CO
« on: 09/19/17, 08:28 PM »

Andrews Glacier (12,000’), RMNP
September 16, 2017
Day 2

September Powder! 

It had been 17 years since I’d been up to Andrews Glacier in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Not since stumbling up to Andrews Creek campsite with brother Wayne, Jones and Mitchell, drinking beers the whole way and being loud and stupid (at least me) in the merry month of October 2000.  We had chosen Andrews because early season turns were at least a certainty at this high pass along the Continental Divide, and even if the skiing was not very good, Wayne and Jones had flown in from across the country and we couldn’t let them down.  It was late October in not so great a year and we did’t have much to choose from (if you’ll recall the year 2000 in your mind’s eye, having just survived the threat of the Y2K bug and in the black hole of communication, it being several years before the invention of the iPhone.  How did we survive?) We needed something kind of gentle in case the glacier ice was rock hard and scary, something very high to catch and keep the meager 6” of early season Colorado snow.  And something easy to get to from Boulder where I lived.

So Andrews Glacier was where we went.

Seventeen long years ago.  It was good to see the glacier hadn’t changed all that much in all that time, even though I had.  Mostly.  I am still an arrogant, obsessive cuss, but I did leave a few things behind in my “youth”, if 30 could still be considered my youth.  It certainly feels like it now.  Well, to a certain degree we all stay the same, and yet change every year.  Just like the glacier.

I needed to add some positive memories to this beautiful oasis of snow, less drunken debauchery and more mountain grace.  And of course I had the same dilemma of what to choose in my search for early season turns.

Way early season turns. 


Timing is everything in the high and dry Colorado Rockies.  Timing, and a good spin of the karmic wheel.  A long day in the mountains was juxtapose the arrival of the Rockies first snowstorm, the very night before my long day in fact.  Beautiful serendipity.  The karmic wheel of fortune landing on “Grand Prize!"

I left the house at 425 am and was on the trail above Bear lake parking lot (9,450') just before 6.  The sun hadn’t yet graced the sky, and there was a gentle snow falling as I cruised up the trail.  I made the Lake Haiyaha Trail turn off in blistering time, the snow really only starting to stick to the barren trail above 10,000’.  I was amazed at how easy the trail was, the tricky bends above the cliffs from Dream lake unnoticeable without the 6 feet of snowpack and treacherous double fall lines with glaze ice.  At this hour I met only 1 person, the throngs of the afternoon a few hours away.

From the Lake Haiyaha turn off it was a descent of 400 VF and maybe a mile of hiking to get to the Glacier gorge trail and the route to Andrews Glacier.  I realized I could have parked at the Glacier gorge trailhead and maybe knocked off a mile or two, but my single-minded interest in checking out the area below Lake Haiyaha without its deep winter snowpack blinded me from such efficiencies.  I would question this myopic approach as I approached and exceeded the ten mile mark on the hike out.

Once on the Glacier gorge trail, the snow began to pile up (an inch or so, but so crazy wonderful and welcome after another dreadful summer) and so did the people.  I met and said hi to about three groups making their way up to the scenic Loch area, but I was minding my own business, chugging along to LCD Soundsystem’s first album and at this hour everyone was pretty serious about their destinations.  Once I turned off onto the Andrews Glacier trail (now about 4.5 miles into my hike) I was the only person on the trail, confirmed by the lack of footprints in the virgin snow ahead.  As I approached the campsite where we had our fun in 2000, three folks were coming down after a night out.  They were all thrilled by my snowboard and we cheered each other on for a great day in the mountains.

From here, the snow got deeper and I had forgotten how steep the final climb up to the Andrews tarn was.  The rocky talus below the tarn headwall was a tricky mess in the new snow, the cairns providing good way points to follow for the best footing.  As I climbed the steep headwall, below me a lone hiker approached.  I commented on the fierce gale blowing overhead as he neared, and prepared for the tempest before stepping onto the flat plateau of the tarn.

The wind was extreme, making my snowboard a bit awkward and I leaned forward or turned sideways to not get blown back over the edge.  The tarn was completely ice free, a testament to how early in the season I was, and there were white-caps forming in the short span before the edge of the void.  The lone hiker raced ahead of me and took shelter behind a large boulder and I took refuge myself.  It was the perfect spot to put on the crampons and get re-hydrated.  My coffee was still piping hot and so welcome in the frigid temps and wind.  The hiker was from Lyons, the town next to me, and he was contemplating an ascent of Taylor, the 13’er at the top of the pass.  We both questioned the sanity in this wind. He left first and I followed a little behind.

Regardless of the weather, I had some skiing to do.

I let out a war cry as I gained height on the glacier, noting the long fingers of new snow blown into shallow depressions that were sure to produce powder turns on the descent.  It was a damn good thing I was early and the snow had little time for effect from the September sun.  The ascent was certainly well timed, if clipping a bit of the exiting storm.

I continued my wind-foil ways, leaning and turning into the gusts until I reached the pass after 600 vertical feet of climbing.  The edge of the glacier was a wonderful couple inches of snow and I enjoyed dropping the board for a quick seat, taking off the crampons and getting the pack ready for the descent.  Above me, the lone hiker moved above the pass and into the tempest on his way to Taylor.  He and I exchanged waves before he disappeared.

It was time for some turns!

The first couple turns were ok where the new snow remained guarded from the wind, then the top 1/3 of the glacier was a little treacherous in icy, wind-scoured conditions, and finally, down toward the bottom third, I found glorious long fingers of POWDER wind blown in on the right-side edge.  My spirits soared as I swung the board back and forth in a quick S along the rocks and the neve snow of summer.  Real honest-to-pete powder.

Glorious September powder!


Back in the early 90s my brother had a t-shirt that he loved, well, that we all loved.  On it was a list of Top 10 Answers:

1. It’s a snowboard
2. Yes, I really can ride a lift with this
3. No, I don’t ski anymore

You get the picture.  In the late eighties and early nineties, just as the term “extreme" came into vogue and was ascribed to everything a person endeavored to do that had nothing to do with “team sports” (which we dirt baggers and introverted children of the 70s and 80s were loathe to join in and be associated with), which included Rock Climbing, Mountain Biking and especially Snowboarding, snowboarders were exotic fare, and everyone wanted a bite.  Heck, snowboards were even “outlawed” at most ski areas back then.  If you had one of these swinging from your hip, you were bound to get questions.   Who wouldn’t want to talk to an “Outlaw”?  They must be anti-socialites, and certainly non conformists.  (well, perhaps they were right in that thinking) But not many knew how to handle interaction with such strange creatures as snowboarders.  They were aliens for sure.   

Perhaps nothing has really changed?

I thought of that t-shirt as I passed hundreds of hikers on their trip up into the wilderness on the descent (most starting near or past noon, mind you, and with everything from jeans to sneakers to a poor Japanese Mom fielding three little squids all under age 8 a good 2.5 miles from the trailhead with Papa-san reading his email on his iPhone as he waited - somewhat impatiently it seemed - for his little clan to catch up.  I almost felt obliged to stop and carry a couple of the little critters so they wouldn’t be scarred for life and cry uncontrollably every time they think of the mountains), and just about every one had the same questions as they saw my pack, helmet and snowboard flying high overhead.  Over and over again, the same questions, as if no one had even seen a snowboard in the mountains before. 

(Well, ok, it was September 16th after all, so I had to give them a small break.)

I went wayyyyy out of my comfort zone and greeted every one with the cheery “Hi!” and grin and tried to answer with enthusiasm as I sped by. 

My top three answers:

1. “Ohhhh, Yessss,” said with huge smile on my face…(“Did you get to use that?")
2. “On the glacier there was!” (“Was there enough snow for that?")
3. “Of course!”  ("Did you go snowboarding?" - My retort was said with just the right amount of sarcasm; I just couldn’t bear to use another of my usual gems like, “Did you hike up here?” - it just wasn’t the day for that!) 

Almost everyone was excited for me (must have been my victory smile), with a few select folks asking if I had been up to the glaciers, while just about everyone said something like “That’s great!”  I usually left them with an “Ohhh, Yes!” and a big laugh as I kept up my pace downhill.  I mean, If I had milled around to answer everyone’s questions, I’d still be there, so I didn’t give many a chance for a follow-up question.  I was hoping to leave a good impression on the youth, after all, a day of ski mountaineering was much better than watching TV, that’s for sure.  The white stuff on the skyline wasn’t made up stuff and illusion, and when I could, I would look that way when I answered the folk’s questions to drive my point home, so people would open their eyes a little more to the opportunities in front of them. 

I reached the car at 130 pm, 7 1/2 hours after leaving it, with something like 3,500 VF in the bag and 11 or twelve miles behind me, depending on which map you read.

* Sun_breaking_out_as_I_complete_the_descent.JPG (119.89 KB, 640x480 - viewed 594 times.)

* Whitecaps_on_the_Andrews_tarn.JPG (115.77 KB, 640x480 - viewed 580 times.)

* Andrews_Glacier_with_september_snow.JPG (97.01 KB, 640x480 - viewed 588 times.)
« Last Edit: 09/29/17, 12:52 PM by MW88888888 » Logged

Posts: 888

Re: September 16, 2017, Andrews Glacier (12,000'), CO
« Reply #1 on: 09/19/17, 09:29 PM »

Sounds a lot like the walk down from Colchuck Lake with skis on your back! Almost celebrity status. Looks like a great ski.
Charlie Hagedorn

Posts: 1883

Re: September 16, 2017, Andrews Glacier (12,000'), CO
« Reply #2 on: 09/20/17, 08:43 AM »

Smiley. Keep 'em coming. There's no TR quite like an MW8 TR.

Way to precede the PNW on fresh snow touring, too!


Posts: 104

Re: September 16, 2017, Andrews Glacier (12,000'), CO
« Reply #3 on: 09/20/17, 09:04 AM »

Hell yeah!!  Feeling more stoked after reading that TR.  Awesome!
Steve C.

Posts: 109

Re: September 16, 2017, Andrews Glacier (12,000'), CO
« Reply #4 on: 09/20/17, 04:00 PM »

Very cool. I skied Andrews on October 31, 1992 with 12 inches or so of new. We left at 4am, got home at about 5pm and proceeded to go to Mall Crawl where the three of us dressed as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Pearl Street and stayed out until 7am the next morning. I'm actually surprised the "glacier" is still there but it looks almost the same to me. Mall Crawl is long gone...
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