Mt. Bancroft, 13,250 ft

East Ridge, Class 5.2,  ~8 miles, ~3000 ft, April 16th 2006 (Jared, Jen, & Dave Pneuman)

Dave Pneuman and I had been planning on hitting this route for the last month or so.  Our first attempt suffered from what my wife, Jen, calls the 'Two Men In A Truck Syndrome' wherein we attempted to cut through a plow burm only to find ourselves high sided and spending 4 hours or so digging out. Fast forward one month and we find ourselves on a lovely, 50 degree April day.  The temperatures had spent a good few days in the 70's in the high country, with no snow, and a final return to below freezing at night so we figured we would have some fantastic snow ahead of us.  I had also been wanting to introduce Jen to her first mixed snow and rock climb and figured this was the perfect place for it.  

The East Ridge of Bancroft is a seldom traveled rock scramble that can includes a 5.2 crack, some 4th class, and a lot of 3rd class.  Couple this with good snow ridges and an approximately 100 foot rappel and you have the makings of a great day.  We all planned to meet up around 7:30 Sunday morning and head up to the trailhead. We packed snowshoes, crampons, ice axes, two 35 meter lengths of 8.9 mm rope, a few draws, a cordellete, harnesses, rappell webbing, and 6 smaller cams.  I even brought along an ice tool just in case. As it turns out the snowshoes were unnecessary as was the ice tool and crampons.  I never touched the cordellete, used 2 cams (one would have sufficed the second was to protect the follower from swings) and left one 20 foot section of webbing at the rappell point.

Normally this route goes at 3.5 miles and 2300 feet but, as snow still exists, we had to park 20 feet down the road that normally leads to Loch Lomond and walk.  Dave arrived at my house at 7:30 and we all headed off.  As usual we stopped at the Idaho Springs for food.  I bought my usual sheet of beef paper and a Skor bar (which almost met with tragedy later on).  Dave grabbed a McGriddle Sandwich, Jen a pack of Pop Tarts, and we headed off.  We arrived at our start (20 feet ahead of the plow burm we had spent 4 hours digging through a month before) at ~9:45 and packed up.  We decided not to bother with the snowshoes which turned out to be fortuitous as they were not needed.  In fact the snow along the whole route was beautiful neve and absolutely bombproof.  If we had known the conditions before we could have skipped crampons as they were not needed either.

Below is a picture of the route we took.  We descended along the gentle slopes south of the peak until we reached our initial steps.

The initial hike consisted of  following the road for two miles.  For the most part the snow was solid or totally melted but the beginning of the road has some snow banks which are  totally impassable right now so don't bother trying to get up it. Unfortunately I didn't record times so all I can say is we left at 10:00 and got back to the truck around 7:30.  Since it was Jen's first real mixed climb I was more concerned with keeping her comfortable than making tiime.

We hiked up the road until the east ridge became clearly visible at which point we started gaining the snowfields.  I was concerned about heading directly up from the lake as it looked like we had to lose some elevation before starting to gain and my fitness level isn't what is was a few months ago so we headed up to the left of the lake.  Except for very intermittent parts, the snow stayed below 30 degrees and we were all quite comfortable without axes.

The ridge we climbed is in the picture below.

It is funny how everything looks farther or closer than it is when you are at elevation but we thought the region in the picture below was a much bigger, steeper entrance to the ridge.  When we got there it was funny because it was about 10 times smaller than we thought.   In our defense there was a good 6 foot section of 75 degree snow to overcome.

The huge cornice at the entrance to the ridge

As soon as we had gained the ridge proper I knew it was going to be a great route.  There was a ton of narrow, exposed, but very solid, knife-edged snow to cross for the rest of the route.  The whole thing picked up a great alpine feel from the start. Granted, none of the climb was to dicey or spicy but it was a ton of fun.  

Dave coming up the ridge just past the entrance

 Jen heading up to the rappell notch

The rappell notch on the ridge comes pretty quickly and is about 80 feet long (but bring a 60m rope to be safe).  It looked quite downclimable to climbers left or looker-downers right but given the snow we decided to play it safe.  I pulled out a long piece of webbing and slung a bomber rock while Dave joined the two sections of 35 meter rope we had brought.  

I had expressly intended to bring Jen on this route because I want us to be able to do more of the things I love to do together and I knew it would be within her ability level but maybe outside of her comfort level.  To be safe I had Dave go down first and then walked Jen (who has only rappelled twice before) through the set up.  Once she was on rappell Dave threw her on a fireman belay and she was off.  Granted, there was a bit of cursing at me but she made it down just fine.  I headed down afterwards and stopped on a neat little snow ridge in the notch.

Below is a picture of Jen wishing she had a free hand to give me the finger

In the notch I looked around and decided that trying to go around left or right might be a little dicey due to the steep snow so I asked Dave to throw me on belay and headed up the 5.2 crack.  The climbing was easy and in dry conditions with rock shoes quite soloable but with snow boots and wetness felt harder than it's grade.  I put two cams in but only placed the second in case the rock above was loose. Near the top of the crack I stemmed left to avoid what looked like some loose rock at the crack's exit.   At the top I sat down, stuck a cam into a crack behind me, tied into it, and belayed Jen up.  As this was her first time climbing in snow boots she was not to pleased with me.   I quickly learned that every time she called me all sorts of unpleasant names it meant she had moved forward and to take in slack.  After Jen was up I untied her and threw the rope to Dave, who subsequently flew up the crack.

As the next three pictures show there was a goodly little bit of steep snow edges to cross after the notch.  The snow was bomber and has me dreaming of knife ridges at 6000 meters, Chopicalqui..... Toclaraju....... SOON :)

Dave coming over the snow ridge before the chimney to the ridge
A beautiful knife edge ridge

Over too soon

After passing the great snow we came to a point where we could traverse left and gain the ridge by scrambling up steep, wet, exposed rock or by going right and choosing one of three options.  The first was 4th/5th class face climbing, the second was going up a  4th class chimney a bit right of the face, and the third was down climbing a couloir a bit to get to third class rock.  Well, the face climbing would have required roping up for general safety and the third class section required too much slip and fall risk so I opted for the chimney.

As this was Jen's first mixed route I insisted she tie into one end of the rope and wait below.  I headed up approximately 30 meters and hip belayed Jen up the steep rock and snow.  Dave quickly followed unroped.  Since my wife on exposure seems to bother me much more than myself on exposure, I  insisted she stay roped to me for a while.  Dave patiently waited while I would scramble a 100 feet and hip belay Jen up before coming up himself.  While I was scrambling up to the ridge proper Dave took the time as an opportunity to scout out the route around the side of the ridge.  He ended up on some dicey, loose snow covering wet slab and took a direct 4th class line to regain the ridge when he noticed 60 degree and steepening snow slopes below him.

Heading up past the chimney with Jen roped up and waiting  to follow

Once back on the ridge proper I shortened the rope between Jen and myself to 30 feet and let Dave pass.  In this fashion we all passed over the ridge which was mainly 3rd class but nicely exposed.  I took the opportunity to practice my simul-climbing rope handling and usage of ridge features as anchors. 

We quickly made it past the more exposed portions and looked back on the route we had passed.  Just beyond the point in the picture below I unroped Jen.

Topping out on the ridge

After the picture above there  is a third class scramble to another saddle which is covered by extremely red (think Sunshine in the San Juans) rock which leads to a short 3rd/4th class area before approaching the false summit beyond which Mt. Bancroft really lies.  After all of this we finally made it up to the peak. Thanks to Dave we had purchased a thermos and enjoyed a heavenly draft of steaming hot tomato soup on a beautiful Sunday far from the concerns of normal life.

The trek back to the car went easily as it was easy to plunge step down 2000 feet of wonderful snow.  It was my first time back at altitude in awhile and Jen's first mixed route.  I was very proud of how she handled the day given that I had wanted to push her comfort level.  She may have screwed herself though because I keep thinking of heading back to the Blitzen Ridge with her this summer.  

As usual it was a pleasure to climb with Dave who easily handled the route and patiently waited while I made sure Jen was comfortable.   We all headed back home around 7:30.  Jen got her first mixed climb, Dave got another day in the peaks, and I got my love of the outdoors, which left, as it usually does with the long winter, put right back into me.

I'd heartily recommend this route to people with a bit of experience. It was a ton of fun and close to Denver.  I'd really recommend people hit it when there is good snow on it.  I doubt it would have been as fun if it was all rock.  The only potential tragedy was that my Skor bar had gone missing, after a frantic 30 minutes of searching at the truck I was reunited with my love.  It was a close call but all turned out well in the end.

PS-I'd recommend Dave as good partner for this type of route but then he might have less weekends to hit the peaks with me so I won't.  

PSS- Just kidding, Dave is a great partner with a good bit of know how, experience, and judgement, I easily recommend him.

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