An alpinist’s maiden voyage
There are few perfect introductions to thin alpine ice climbing. Most are too thin, too slabby, or too fat. All Mixed Up is one of the few. Situated high on the east face of Thatchtop in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park, All Mixed Up's 700 feet of ice flow from a gash atop a stadium-sized amphitheater and fan into several classic frozen tentacles of variable difficulty.
The Park’s mountainous backcountry makes the climb (usually done in four pitches) appear insignificant when it first comes into view from the Black Lake Trail during the three-mile approach. The final stretch of the hike involves a thousand feet of steep bushes and chest-deep snowdrifts — this section has moderate avalanche exposure, so precautionary tactics and basic avalanche education are highly recommended (visit geosurvey.state.co.us /avalanche/ for current conditions). On an average day, the easiest line often sports a runout first section of WI2, no more than a few inches thick. Then, a series of overhangs — covered with fragile curtains — form the crux second stretch. In fat conditions, you will faintly notice the crux, but in lean conditions the bulge lives up to the route’s name, with a mixed boulder problem on steep terrain finishing with a tricky topout onto a veneer of brittle ice. Savvy climbers use rock protection to climb the bulge safely (all you need for the route is a standard rack with a selection of different-length screws).
On a busy Saturday, All Mixed Up will see as many as 20 visitors, but thanks to the variations on the lower wall and the snow ledge (which catches ice falling from the last pitch), this classic climb can accommodate a large number of people, as long as parties climb with consideration [see P. 74 of Climbing Issue No. 255 - February 2007 for Donahue’s Tech Tip on ice etiquette].
From the top of the ice, nearly a mile of windy tundra and spectacular landscape draws your eyes toward Thatchtop’s 12,668-foot summit and the rewarding views. Although the complete ascent to the summit rarely gets done (most climbers choose a delicate descent on snowy talus to return to the base of the ice, rather than tackle the up to three hours of extra hiking and climbing), a go at the summit is always the best way to end a classic climb.
> Guidebook RMNP, The Climber’s Guide, High Peaks Edition, by Bernard Gillett
> Guide Services Colorado Mountain School; (970) 586-5758, totalclimbing.com
> Gear Estes Park Mountain Shop: (970) 586-6548, estesparkmountainshop.com; and Trail Ridge Outfitters: (970) 586-4595, trailridgeoutfitters.com
Five Classics Near All Mixed Up in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), Colorado
by Topher DonahueWest Gully (WI4), Black LakeThree long pitches of usually fat ice. Ice rack with a few rock pieces.
Dreamweaver (M2), Mount Meeker1,500 feet of classic alpine snow and ice. Light rock rack and maybe a couple of screws.
Alexander's Chimney (M4), Longs PeakFive pitches of harder than the grade indicates mixed climbing. Full rock rack with five to six screws.
Notch Couloir (M3), Longs PeakThe classic alpine climb in the front range. Over 2,000 feet of mostly moderate snow and ice in the springtime. Combine with Alexander's for a big day. Standard mixed rack and a lot of food.
Jaws (WI4+), Moraine ParkThe approach to Jaws is a flat, two-mile walk from the winter trailhead, a mere 15-minute drive from Estes Park, Colorado. When Jaws is in, two pitches of classic water ice with harder variations possible exist. Standard RMNP mixed rack.