Ice Climbing – Jewel Lake, RMNP

At the Top of My First Ice Climb
Ice Climbing Above Jewel Lake, RMNP
(Thanks to Josh B. for the great picture!)

Last year, I had so much fun climbing the Skywalker Couloir on Arapaho Peak, it made me want to do more snow climbs this winter/spring. In order to feel more confident on my crampons and improve on the steep sections, I thought I’d take an ice climbing class.

I admit, it may be a bit overkill, but if I’m climbing a steep couloir and encounter a band of ice, I will know how to climb it! Being prepared, and understanding the concepts of steep ice, will give me the knowledge to better handle the risks. At least I will know what I don’t know!

Here I Go - My First Ice Climb

Thanks to Kent Crites, of the Boulder CMC, for teaching ice climbing and to the assistant instructors Melissa, Doug, and James for volunteering and helping us newbies!

Mills Lake in Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park
Doug O. took this fantastic panorama of Mills Lake!

With a wake-up time of 3:45am, I can’t say I was overjoyed about our ice climbing field trip. Since I normally go to bed around midnight, there really is no point in trying to sleep. On top of this, whenever I try something new, I’m always so excited that I wake up every hour throughout the night. I’m like a child waiting for Christmas morning; is it time to get up yet? How about now?

Doug came by at 4:15am to pick me up. Thank goodness he was willing to drive! Soon after leaving my house, he tells me that he also woke up every hour last night. He had one of those dreams where you miss the alarm…so neither of us slept a wink. How comforting; I’m not the only one who will be sleepy and tired.

We meet up with Kent, and the rest of the ice climbers, at 5am. Around 5:20am we leave the lot and head up to RMNP. Kent expertly navigates the snowy, icy mountain roads up to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead.

On the way, I manage to choke down my egg sandwich. The calories are even more important on cold, wintery days when the body is trying to maintain the core body temperature. Normally, I have trouble eating food before 9am, but today I know it’s important to eat.

Glacier Gorge Trail Head
Doug and Kent grab the rest of our gear…and…we’re off!

We leave the trailhead at 6:40am. It is completely dark, snowy, and windy outside. I’m happy Kent knows where we are going as it’s really hard to see much of anything in these conditions!

Excited to Ice Climb in RMNP
About one hour into our hike, we take a short breather.

Hiking to Jewell Lake
Joshua and Melissa snowshoeing just below Mills Lake.

Time for Crampons - Crossing Mills Lake
Warming up my hands after I installed my crampons. It’s blustery on Mills Lake!
Nice picture from Josh.

Clare Traversing Mills Lake
Doug took this super picture of me crossing Mills Lake.

Once we crossed Mills Lake, it was a bit tricky getting to and past Jewel lake. There was a great deal of scrambling and bush whacking involved. Doug O. put his snowshoes back on to break the trail for the rest of us. Even in his tracks, I sunk up to my thighs a few times!

Doug Leading an Ice Climb
Around 10am, Doug O. started climbing.

He put up the first climb. It was very difficult climbing. The ice was very hard, so one swing was not enough to get purchase with the ice tools. The club ice screws were also not sharp enough, so Doug had a rough time getting those into the ice.

Doug Strategizes on Ice
Finally, he used his own screws, which were sharp and bit right away. He came down frustrated, but I thought his perseverance was admirable. It’s difficult to go first and in these conditions!

Steve Ice Climbing
Steve Ice Climbing

Ice Climbing at Jewell Lake
Jim Making it look easy!

Eventually, we had two climbs set up and it was time for students to give it a shot. One by one, we all climbed the two routes.

In the Middle Of My First Ice Climb
My First Ice Climb!

When I wasn’t climbing, I was huddled up at the base of a tree. It was really difficult to stay warm as we were bombarded by icy gusts, which came howling down Glacier Gorge. Psychologically, it was even worse because you would hear the roar of the wind, as it came ever closer. No matter what you tried to do to stay warm, it was futile. Bracing for impact, suddenly, we’d be blasted.

Clare at Jewell Lake Ice Climbing Wall
I made a vow to always bring a sleeping bag when I ice climb. It is essential to stay warm!

Deteriorating Weather in Glacier Gorge
Time to go home! Photo by Doug O.

Around 1pm, weather started deteriorating and things were getting very bad outside. Kent made sure we each got enough time on the ropes and then we headed back to the trailhead.

On Mills Lake Returning to Glacier Gorge
Bundled up and happy to be headed home. After a day in sub freezing temperatures, on the verge of numbness, I got my monies worth with the ice climbing class!

When we got back to the Glacier Gorge trailhead, I left my mountaineering mittens hanging in the bathroom. I didn’t realize they were left behind until we got back to Boulder.

These are the second pair of ~200 dollar mittens I have lost in less than a year. Dismayed and pissed off, I shout obscenities. Doug and Kent both try and calm me down, but I’m livid. What a way to end the day!

There is a good chance they will still be in the bathroom the next morning because there was only one other group at the parking lot when we left. I remembered there being a group of girls heading back to their car, and I don’t recall any other vehicles in the lot, so I decide to head up to RMNP first thing Monday morning.

I get up to RMNP, before the Ranger station is even open. Running into the bathroom at Glacier Gorge, I am upset (but not surprised) to find that they’re not there.

Well, I think to myself, somebody really scored…If anybody did get them, I hope against hope they will return them to lost and found or post something on 14’

I file paperwork with the lost and found, but I doubt I’ll ever see them again. My next stop is REI, where I drop my third 200 buck installment in less than 2 years, on a new pair of mittens.

From now on, I will secure my mittens to my backpack or jacket. I simply can’t afford to keep losing my mittens!

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