April Showers Bring May Blizzards: Winter on Hallett

Zambo approaching the Continental Divide. Mother nature has other ideas.

It’s been quite a whirlwind of weather, outings and new climbing partners since getting back into the full swing of things thanks to my good friends, Ben and Brian. East Partner in the the Gores, New Mexico’s high point, Silverheels, Hagar, “The Citadel”, and a Crystal outing never to be spoken of again, just to name a few, and all within the past month or so. More importantly, at least for me, it is just as much about the company in these hills as it is the mountains themselves, and since I don’t write all that many of the trip reports, I just wanted to take this time to say thanks amigos. Let’s make that “I snowshoe with skiers” bumper sticker. 2014 has only just begun.

With another cataclysmic weekend weather forecast, and a “ski” trip to the Elks and/or the Gores not exactly safe or logistically possible without a long wait at the car for that guy on his snowshoes, Zambo and I decided it was best to stay close to home and hit the Park. Thoughts of Taylor Peak from Bear Lake danced in our heads. Along the way we could take in the views from Flattop, Hallett and Otis.  It had the makings to be a great morning if we could just get that small weather window that had been forecast for Saturday AM. After much thought, we left for the Park and decided we’d get up to the Divide and play the rest by ear based on conditions. At the very least it would be time well spent getting to know the Zambino and there is technically no such thing as a bad day in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Peaks of the Park: Flattop Mountain A (12,324′), Hallett Peak (12,713′)
Date: May 10, 2014
Start/Finish: Bear Lake TH
Distance: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,324 ft.
Participants: David Yarian (Zambo), Dillon Sarnelli

Bear Lake parking lot. No gapers here (yet)!

We left the parking lot at about 6:30 AM. We carried the snowshoes on our packs. Fortunately, that is where they would stay all day. The winds were swirling up high as is usually the case near Flattop and the Divide. My first trip to the summit of Hallett in November of ’12 consisted of 40-50 mph winds and what felt like razor burn from being pelted with snow to the face. I was prepared for the worst, as was Zambo. This would be David’s first trip up Hallett, or so we think. The jury is still out. He has definitely visited Flattop Mountain with his wife Katie once previously and may or may not have continued on.

Emerald Lake overlook with storm clouds beginning to settle in.

Leaving treeline on our ascent to the Continental Divide.

Approaching the Divide. Visibility going to the cr@pper.

After touching a few of the tallest rocks that we could find within the vicinity of unranked “Flattop Mountain”, we headed for Tyndall Glacier which lies on the saddle between Flattop Mountain and Hallett Peak. It is here we reevaluated our situation. Even though we couldn’t see Hallett (or anything more than 20 ft in front of us) we knew it was less than a mile and only a few hundred feet vert. There would be no views from the summit, but we were both warm and it was still relatively early so we pushed on.

David (or some ninja) at Tyndall Glacier.

Dillon at Tyndall Glacier.

We rounded the corner to the east, scrambled up a few hundred feet or so, and 20 minutes later found ourselves on the summit of Hallett. Let’s call this Zambo’s 2nd 1st ascent of the peak. He still has no idea and I still have no idea what a view from the summit really looks like. We hunkered down and rallied for a few minutes, ate some food, made fun of our mutual friends, joked about how incredible the views from this vantage point might really be, and then began the trek back to Bear Lake.

Visibility… zero.

With conditions deteriorating, we stayed close by and had some good talks. At one point I said something like “Is this Heaven?”. It was eerily white everywhere.

Hallet Peak as seen from below treeline on the route back to Bear Lake.

As we approached treeline, and eventually Bear Lake, the surrounding peaks below 13k faintly came back into view. The lull in the storm was a nice reprieve from the blizzard-like conditions we had just been subjected to. Back at the lake it was evident that Bear Lake might be the Capital of the Gaper Kingdom. Zambo tells me that I may even have had my first broville sighting. Despite the conditions and the lack of views, it was quite an adventure and another solid day in the Park with good company. Thanks for being a good sport, Zambo.

Ed’s Cantina once again served up an excellent burrito, bison burger and brews. More importantly, it’s nice to see Estes Park looking more and more like the Estes Park of old on each trip up there.

Thanks for reading!

17 thoughts on “April Showers Bring May Blizzards: Winter on Hallett

  1. Jay Dahl

    Dylan! I was @ Bear Lake on Saturday with 3 others. We also left the parking lot about 6:30 – don’t know how we missed each other. We were heading up to do Dragon’s Tail Couloir but ended up bailing out (snow conditions looked iffy – turns out it woulda been OK, tho). Looks like you and Zambo had a GREAT day! Jay521

    1. Dillon

      Jay! Great to see you over here. Thanks for the comment. We were in Zambo’s black Xterra. I’m sure we probably were right near each other and didn’t put it together. Oh well. It’s only May. Based on history, I’m sure we’ll run into each other on a summit soon! And I still owe you a beer (or 6) for that picture you sent me on my finisher. Cheers!

  2. Dave B

    Nice job Dillon and David. Look like some challenging conditions.
    I had given a similar thought to trying to hit that small weather window on Saturday morning. Pretty glad I drank beer instead.

    1. Dillon

      Dave, thanks man! How about next time I bring 6 beers to the Park and we head there together? Great to see you over here and for the comment. Much better than Gapebook!

  3. Brandon Chalk

    Dillon! Nice work, buddy! Less than ideal conditions and you still made a great day out of it. Missed ya in the Gores, but like you say in your TR it would have been a seriously long day on snowshoes. It was already a long day (9+ hrs on skis). You da man!

    1. Dillon

      Brando! No you da man! I know this because I’m now subscribed to your blog and did some reading on you yesterday. haha. Thanks for the comment big guy!

  4. Darrin

    Glad I got to spend some time with you on Friday night instead, and I swear I gave you a link to check that forecast…Looks miserable in a mountain fun sort of way. One of these days we will get you on a rope so you can spend days like this basking in the warm sun at 5,000 feet.

    1. Dillon

      Darrin! I was glad I got to spend some time with you and Keri too. It had been way too long. How about when you stop drinking sour beers and Keri stops liking vodka, I’ll consider coming back down to 5,000 feet. haha. nah. Good luck in Alaska man. You’re going to have a sweet trip even if the CO weather gods won’t let you train!

  5. Rick

    Fun looking adventure Dillon! Battling mother nature sure does make the climb more memorable!!
    Oh, and sour beers are delicious!!

    1. Dillon

      “Oh, and sour beers are delicious!!” <— spoken like a true contrarian! haha. Adventure indeed. seeya in 3 days! Ruby called dibs on my bivy.

  6. Brian

    Is this Heaven? No, its Rocky Mountain National Park.
    Despite those white out conditions, if you can imagine big sky views, mind bending rock formations, elusive 12ers and views of Longs that made your knees weak – then you have Bighorn Flats. But I don’t need to remind you of that Sarnelli. You know the drill.
    Nice work in the park and the post climb meal. Hope your feast treated you well. One of these days, we should get 7 or 8 people together, all split a condo at the Woodlands at Fall River and spend a weekend hitting Desolations and then the Milner Pass to Bear Lake traverse we’ve been dreaming about for years now. It needs to happen.

    1. Dillon

      MILLER! It will happen. Desolation has to happen! Milner to Bear, Wild Basin to Grand Lake… so much left to do! Our knees get better with age buddy. Hot sauce helps. “No it’s Rocky Mountain National Park” – couldn’t have said that any better boss!

  7. Floyd

    Nice climb, I can’t say the same for your post-climb selection… HaHa I haven’t ventured up Hallett yet but it’s been on my radar since before I started on the 14er list. It needs to happen soon and hopefully I can tell you about the views (since I lost my camera) if you aren’t along for the ride.
    Brian’s recommendation on a weekend of festivities seems like an absolutely wonderful idea. My 2014 is already full, but I’m game for 2015. The YMCA has multi-bedroom cabins for dirt cheap in the shoulder seasons. Just sayin…

    1. Dillon

      Scot, thanks! I have to rotate the Estes post climb meals! Chicago’s Best is next. You’d really like Hallett and that part of the divide. I’m sure you’d have no problem turning it into a 25 mile slog, and when you do, call me. See ya in 3 man! We’ll work on your “new” used camera and charger.

  8. Ben

    Second 1st ascents, Ed’s Cantina, and a rime encrusted Tyndall Glacier sign – sounds like you guys had a great time up north! It’s amazing to see the variations in Saturday’s weather from RMNP, to the Gores, to other locations farther south. I think it’s clear the storm came in from the north! Glad you guys were able to make the most of it :).

  9. DKYarian

    Awesome lil write up Dillarino! Those pics make it look pretty gnarly. All the way from the Gaper Kingdom Capitol to the heart of a fine May blizzard and back. No bad days in the park indeed…
    I went back to look at my old pics and I still have no idea if that is my 1st or 2nd time up the peak. Guess I should update my LOJ profile a bit more regularly. Regardless, we still have no idea what it looks like from the top. 🙂
    Anyways, thanks for the great day out there man.


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