August 3, 2018

Early Alpine Starts More Important Than Ever

Debris field beneath Colfax Peak on the Coleman-Deming route. 
A new ranger report of the Colmean-Deming route is in, which discusses important information about a nearly impassable crevasse at 9000ft, check it out here.

A recent ice avalanche on the Coleman-Deming route serves as a good reminder to start your summit attempt early and get off the glacier before the hottest part of the day. Many weeks ago, the hanging glacier on Colfax Peak released a very large chunk of ice, producing an avalanche that hit the main climbing route and left a big field of debris on the Coleman Glacier. Ice avalanches happen in this area every year, but this event was notable because of its size. If mountaineers had been beneath Colfax Peak when the avalanche occurred, they would have had little chance of escape. Thankfully, nobody was there.

The lesson we can draw from this event is that early alpine starts are very important, especially during the warmest months of summer. Climbing when temperatures are cooler mitigates some of the hazards associated with melting snow bridges, seracs, and moats. It is also more comfortable and will reduce the chances of heat exhaustion and sunburn.

One of the best ways to calculate the time you should depart for your summit bid is to estimate the total time of your climb and count backwards from the time you would like to return to camp. For example, if you want to return to camp by noon, and you expect your climb to take 9 hours roundtrip (average time), then you should depart no later than 3 a.m. On particularly hot days, you may want to depart even earlier. Some climbers also like to add an hour to their expected travel time to account for any contingencies.

Finally, be sure not to take breaks or have lunch beneath Colfax Peak. More ice avalanches are possible, so move through this area as quickly as possible and break on either side of the hazard. Have a plan for what you will do if icefall does happen and keep your ears open for cracking sounds that may indicate an impending collapse. This is the worst objective hazard on the route and smart mountaineers will use travel techniques to reduce the risk as much as possible.

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