Black Lake West Gully — RMNP

Some Colorado ice climbing.

The route. About 150–175 meters of ice. 3 pitches w/ 70m rope.

The Details

West Gully is a 3-pitch ice climb in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. It is located above Black Lake, roughly a 5.5-mile hike from the trailhead. It’s pretty far back there.

Still, worthy prey justifies the hunt!

West Gully RMNP

Where: Black Lake Ice. Start at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead.
Approach: Long.
De-proach: Way longer.
Grade: WI4, III
This report: 12/9/2020

Approaching the start of the route. Note the person at the base of the boulders for better scale.

The Equipment

I took a GoPro Hero 8 camera out on this expedition, but did not use a helmet mount. So no action shots. Still, I found the little camera packs quite a punch! I have included a few 4K videos. (affiliate link).

As far as climbing gear, we used 2x 70-meter 8.1 Beal Ice Line Ropes. The axes shown in the video are Cassin X-Dream Alpine ice tools. We climbed the route with our full mountaineering packs on our backs, since we planned to walk off and not return to the base of the icefall.

The Pics

Black Lake (frozen).
Left and right-side options on the second pitch.
The third pitch. An endless sea of 70-degree ice. Most of this flow was around 10–15 centimeters in thickness. A FULL 70 meters to the end of the ice.

And a short video from the top!

Black Lake Ice Third Pitch — Endless Slab.

The Descent

Spearhead cirque above Black Lake — RMNP.

From the top of the climb, we walked off towards Spearhead, a nearby peak which has some stellar summer rock climbing routes. The walk-off offered unforgettable scenery in the shadow of Longs Peak…

but…

objectively, it was a miserable bushwhack, with blowing wind and plenty of tedious postholing in soft untracked snow. It took us two hours to reach the base of the climb in the morning, and almost three hours to return to the shores of Black Lake AFTER finishing the climb!

The ice was too thin to rappel with v-threads.

Longs Peak is the large monolith on the left, while Spearhead is the arrow-shaped pinnacle on the right.

The Takeaway

Everything went great for us on this climb! There were minimal dangerous moments, we moved with rhythm and control and our time was respectable.

  • This is an excellent route to attempt if you are a competent ice climber wanting to test your skills at altitude (3,232 meters) and after a long approach. Start early!
  • In mid-winter conditions I would carefully evaluate the avalanche risk. This has been an exceptionally dry year in Colorado, with record-breaking wildfires this summer, and really minimal snowfall so far this winter. As you can see from the photos, there’s not much snow present. The ice quality was ok. Thin and thoughtful in places.
  • That GoPro takes very cool video. I may have to start bringing it along more often.
  • However, I still have a soft spot in my heart for the film camera. The final photo below was taken on film. Note the different feel, color grading, and film grain compared with the sharp, cold feel of the GoPro.
  • And finally…
Always thank your climbing partner!!

All photography and video my own personal works. All rights reserved. This post originally appeared on Medium.com.

3 thoughts on “Black Lake West Gully — RMNP

  1. Thanks for the nice post and for the short video!

    I am very happy to see people being able to go for ice climbing! Here in Greece, we are for 2nd time in prolonged strict lockdown, and it seems, we might loose the season!

    Thus, I look forward to your upcoming posts too.

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