Climbing Mt. Alice
Climbing Mt. Alice. 5.8, Grade IV. 13,300 ft. 9 pitches. Unholy loose rock, lichen fest with some quality climbing mixed in…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
We approached Saturday afternoon after having decided that morning that we would attempt a route on this rarely visited peak in RMNP. The approach, a little under 9 miles and ~3,400 ft of gain, really emphasized that point. We pitched our tent at the base of the boulder field that stretched about 1/2 mile from Alice’s feet. The only flat, not-too-rocky ground within a square mile! Alice loomed above us, more intimidating than we imagined.
As we made dinner and prepped gear, we wondered about the best approach to the start of our climb, the Central Ramp (5.8): should we take the sketchy long ramp? the absent snow tongue that was now just a steep scree field? or pitch out the base, adding around another two pitches of supposedly “easy” climbing. A decision for tomorrow we figured.
We fretted a bit during the night when rain came in, for what seemed like longer than comfortable. Would the cracks be iced up? Would the summit be snowy? The east facing aspect of Mt. Alice did calm our nerves somewhat but recent stories from climbers getting off the Diamond in wintry conditions were fresh in our minds.
Game Time for Mt. Alice
We set the alarm for 5am but ended up snoozing until 545am-deciding that it was still “too dark out” (or being lazy!). After breakfast and packing all of the gear, layers, and food we would need, we headed out to the boulder field around 630am.
Let the Sketchiness Begin
We decided to opt for the additional 2-ish pitches and started at the base of the rock face. “Pick your own adventure” led to one false start and then a horribly sketchy free solo by Jeff where a fall could have plucked us both off the wall nearly 200 ft high. No bueno. I guess that’s alpine climbing for you?
After two pitches of those shenanigans, we found ourselves at the base of the first pitch of Central Ramp. Jeff fired up the 5.8 dihedral with slippery lichen feet, and suspect rock quality. He had a scary moment at the top when he pulled on a large boulder, it moved towards him, and then had to push it back into place to keep it from teetering over the edge onto me below.
The next two pitches followed a similar pattern. Luckily the climbing was not too difficult, because I found myself delicately grabbing holds and placing my feet, careful to put as little weight as I could on any one piece of rock. Anything I knocked off would fall directly onto Joe–wildly enough, there was a group of four who had also decided to climb this route this weekend.
Given that Mt. Alice sees about 20 technical summits a season, it was serendipitous timing that we all chose Sunday, September 10 to attempt the climb!
Mt. Alice Isn’t all Harrowing
Overall, the route involved a lot of very loose, runout climbing; however, there were several sections of noteworthy features and moves. One pitch began with a tenuous traverse over a small roof and into a grovely sort of offwidth with some redeeming face holds out on the left. The other pitch was a handcrack/lieback up to a small bulge with a large flake: grab the flake, get a high right foot and heave ho over the bulge!
The last pitch was possibly the first time someone had taken that line as it was definitely not the standard 5.6 finish. The consensus among our group was that it went at 5.10+. The lichen and the grass cluttering the crack certainly didn’t help. Tired and mentally drained from the accumulated stress of the long day and terrible rock quality, both Jeff and I aided through the crux. Relief poured over us as we sat on the summit, basking in the at least temporary safety. Worry about the descent could come later. We would enjoy this moment.
Sometimes it seems like to fully appreciate something you may otherwise take for granted, it must be taken away from you. When you get over being sick, you realize how wonderful it is to be healthy. A meal when you feel starving after a long day in the mountains is so much more satisfying. Safety from objective hazards, like rock fall, feels so tangible when you emerge from that heightened sense of danger and stress.
The Mt. Alice Descent and Walk Out
The descent was long, but thankfully uneventful. From the climb’s summit, we scurried up a large boulder field towards Mt. Alice’s true summit. We then descended the South Gully back to camp. Focus and concentration were still needed to safely get down the steep, loose, scree field. We were dreaming of water and a gentle, predictable hiking trail.
Upon reaching camp, we packed our bags, which we had left hanging off a #3 camelot plugged into a giant boulder safe from marmots, and set off for the truck at 530pm. Four hours and 9 miles later we arrived. Feet sore, legs tired, but otherwise in great spirits. And so ended our biggest climb of the season.
Now winter is closing in, bringing with it shorter days and colder weather. Time to escape to the desert!