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I hadn't been up into the high country since Marble Mountain with Barry and Alan so not only would this be my last winter ascent of the season, it was also my first. I was a little nervous about my fitness and not embarrassing myself too badly. I thought the right amount of challenge would be Otis Peak - a cool little mountain on the west side of Glacier Gorge flanked by Taylor and Hallet Peak. Inquiring after some partners on the SummitPost.org message board netted me four SPers from the Denver and Boulder area who were willing to join me. Our plan for the day was to head for Otis Peak via Andrews Glacier and if we were feeling good to continue on to Hallet Peak.
I rolled into the Glacier Gorge Trailhead parking lot at 6:00am to meet Brad, Fabio, Peter, and Jared who had driven up together from Boulder. I hustled to get my stuff together and then we set off. Brad set a brisk pace as we headed away from the trailhead. I hadn't been up to the area since the construction finished and it took us only about five minutes to reach the old Glacier Gorge Trailhead. We found the shortcut and made our way up toward Loch Vale. The trail was well packed and we didn't need our snowshoes. Before long we arrived at Loch Vale.
After crossing the frozen lake we encountered our first deep snow and decided it was time to strap on the snowshoes. Flurries had started as we approached Loch Vale and by the time we had left it behind us it was snowing steadily. Although the snow destroyed the potential for good views it was rather pretty in it's own way. We were all thankful that there was no wind, YET.
As we pushed onward toward Andrews Glacier we were able to follow tracks, which made the going easier. However, as we neared the base of the steep snow slope below Andrews Glacier the tracks suddenly ended. From there onward there was no sign of human traffic.
As I experienced from climbing Taylor Peak the previous winter, the steep snow slope below Andrews Glacier turned out to be the crux of the day. The slope was relatively steep and the fresh snow was relatively deep. At this point Brad and Peter had assumed the trail breaking work and Fabio and I were struggling to follow in their path. It was very difficult to get traction and progress was laborious. However, as much trouble as we were having, Jared was having an even more difficult time. He had elected to take is Randonee ski setup instead of snowshoes. This slope was too steep to ski up, and after he took off his skis he was post holing to mid-thigh. After struggling for several hundred feet he decide to throw in the towel. Jared yelled up to me that he would meet us back down at Loch Vale.
The rest of us continued on and as we made our way up the steep snow slope the wind and snow steadily increased. By the time Fabio and I joined Brad and Peter on the shore of Andrews Tarn the wind was whipping snow at us in full furry. We had a quick bit to eat and then continued on. As we crossed directly over the top of Andrews Tarn we were amazed to find what looked like frozen swells in the tarn. I'm not talking about little ripples, but two to three foot swells - almost like the surface of a stormy ocean. It was really neat. We speculated that a combination of freezing/thawing and the pressure of the glacier upon the tarn might have caused the phenomena.
After crossing the tarn we plodded up the glacier. At this point I was having trouble with my sunglasses. They were fogged up and moister on both sides of the lenses and I could hardly see anything through them. However, the wind was blowing so hard in my face it hurt not to have them on. It didn't really matter anyway as we were in near whiteout conditions and I couldn't see much of anything without my glasses either. As we struggled up the glacier, signs on the divide came in and out of view and I headed toward the one closest to the Otis Peak ridge.
Upon reaching the top of the glacier we decided to ditch our snowshoes and continue on toward the summit without them. For some reason I was thinking that it was going to be a quick straight shot to the summit but it seemed to take a long time to curve along the ridge until we were headed straight for the summit. Of course we could only assume we were headed straight for the summit because we couldn't see it with all the blowing snow and clouds. Brad led the way as we plodded toward the summit, slightly north of the ridge crest. Visibility was real low as we approached the summit - perhaps 100 feet. I wasn't entirely sure we had reached the summit but for the summit cairn. We sat and ate a few bites on the summit and Fabio took the requisite summit shot. While we packed up to leave the summit the clouds parted for a moment and we all whipped out our cameras to shoot The Sharkstooth. As quickly as the clouds parted they closed back in and we headed off the mountain.
Throughout the day we had toyed with the idea of also going after Hallet Peak. At this point I was pretty cold, not to mention a little tired, and had ruled it out for me personally. I believe everybody else came to the same conclusion so we headed back to our snowshoe stash at the top of Andrews Glacier. On the way down the wind was blowing directly into our faces again, but the descent was still much easier than the ascent.
The wind was absolutely howling on the divide and we collected our snowshoes and headed down as quickly as possible. Once off the crest of the divide the conditions weren't nearly so violent and the clouds were beginning to part - giving us our first rays of sunshine all day. We all made valiant efforts to glissade parts of the glacier but none were successful. By the time we made it down to Andrews Tarn the weather was fairly nice allowing us to take some nice photos. Attempts to glissading down the steeper snow slope below Andrews Tarn met with much greater success and soon we were down among the trees heading back to Loch Vale.
At this point the weather was downright pleasant and I made mental plans to remove all my warm cloths at The Loch. We made our way down to The Loch and then across it. At the far end I set my stuff down and started removing layers of clothing. However, no soon had a taken off my pack and shell the clouds rushed back in and the wind gusted up. I resigned myself to putting back on the fleece and leaving my Gore-Tex pants. After our rest break with no sign of Jared we made the conclusion that he'd headed back down to the car. We followed suit.
This was the first time all day that we hadn't been huffing and puffing uphill or unable to chat due to the weather. We took advantage by chatting about our climbing goals for the near future, our favorite areas of the state, etc. The conversation made the miles fly by and we quickly arrived back at the car to wake Jared from a nap. We peeled off all our climbing stuff and headed down to Ed's Cantina for a much needed snack.
I had another great day out in the mountains and it was my pleasure to make the acquaintance of four more SPers. I hope to do it all again real soon!
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