Medicine Bow Peak trip report


I had completed 3/4ths of my goal of climbing MBP in four consecutive seasons in March, and I figured that I would have no problem with the spring climb. Well, Mother Nature had other ideas. Here in Laramie, we got a half-year's (5+") worth of precipitation in about 6 weeks in April and May, much of it snow. Presumably all of it was snow up in the Snowy Range above 10000ft. On top of this, I've developed a knee problem and have been doing exercises to keep this at bay. The road over Snowy Range Pass was finally opened Memorial Day weekend, and several of us went up there to take a look. In places, the snowplows had left 10-foot snow cliffs and the general depth around 10500ft was about 3-4 feet. More impressively, the face below MBP itself was covered with fresh avalanches, presumably from cornice failures. Even though it was not quite in the same area, that pretty much scared me away from my March route, but the route I had taken the other two times looked safe.

I finally got around to climbing it, but it took me two tries. Saturday night, we got nearly 0.5" of rain with temps in the low 40s. Even though I knew there would be fresh snow in the Snowys, I decided to still try it on Sunday. Skies were clear everywhere I could see, except over the Snowys. I arrived at the Lake Marie West Parking Area, which is the trailhead for the Medicine Bow Peak Trail. I started up at about 6:15, with the cloud deck licking the tops of the mountains. The snow wasn't very consolidated and in addition to sinking into the 5" of fresh snow, I was also sinking in another 5" or so into the old stuff. There are poles marking the trail above treeline, but I ended up away from the trail.

As it turned out, as I was ascending, the clouds were descending and we met at about 11100ft, a third of the way up. Visibility had been good, but now it dropped to 100ft, less when the wind gusted and caused blowing snow. I ascended a little ways further and hid behind a big boulder. I originally thought I might wait there for a fairly long time, but after 10 minutes I realized that the blowing snow was rapidly covering up my bootprints. I didn't want a repeat of my descent last October in a snowstorm where I had to use my compass to get out and ended up a long way from my car. I hurriedly retraced my steps (this was difficult in spots), and it wasn't until I descended to 10800ft that I got back out of the clouds. I ended up back at my car about 2 hours after starting, and headed home. From Laramie, I noted that the tops of the Snowys were in and out of the clouds until at least noon.

I moped around a bit, but then decided to give it a shot two days later on Tuesday, the day before the solstice. The day dawned clear in Laramie, but it had been clear here on Sunday too. However, shortly after starting my drive at about 5am, I got my first good look at the Snowys, and happily noted that they were clear of clouds as well.

I started up a minute before 6am, and found that the snow had a good solid crust. On this route, the only moderately steep part is the first 300 feet or so that gets you up near the ridge. After this, the route stays on the north (back) side of the Snowys just below the ridge. I made my way up and even managed to find the trail partway up. Despite there being 3' of snow, it was just like an easy trail hike due to the snow conditions. Well, except for one spot where I walked by a boulder and suddenly found my left leg thigh-deep in the snow (and my foot didn't even hit bottom). Oops.

I was making great time and after only about an hour I had made it to what I thought was the summit pitch. This turned out to be the case, and at 7:11am, I summitted Medicine Bow Peak for the fourth season in a row. The views were gorgeous, with nary a cloud in the sky. My new hand-held wind gauge was reading a steady breeze of 18 mph from the south, and the temperature was in the mid 30s, perfect mountaineering weather.

My camera has a 10 second timer for pictures, so I decided to take a picture of myself sitting at the summit cairn. I set the camera on a boulder, and as I was trying to hurriedly walk around the boulder, I punched through the snow and whacked my right knee on the rock. OWWWWW! @#$%#$%!!! Luckily, I didn't really hurt it very much, just a minor bruise and couple of raspberries. I felt like an idiot, though.

The trip back down was uneventful, except I was able to do a couple hundred feet of glissading down the face to the parking area, which I reached at 8:18am. It's pretty neat when you can go climb a mountain and still make it in to the office before 10am!

It was certainly a nice closure having completed the four-season goal, but I plan to keep climbing this mountain at least once a season as long as I'm here. [Well, that was a noble goal, but it didn't quite happen.]

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File last modified: 22 January 2006

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