Group Development Session in Estes Park

- JD Merritt


From the 18-21st of April we kicked off the third round of Alpine Mentors. Eight potential mentees met with Steve House, Steven van Sickle, Colin Simon, and Buster Jesik. The previous mentees had returned as mentors. Topher Donahue was also able to meet up with us for a day.  We planned to have an “ice breaking” day rock climbing at Lumpy. The snowstorms rolled in, so we changed our plans from breaking the ice to trying to climb some of it. We got a pre-dawn start to climb mixed routes in Tyndall Gorge, skiing from the road. This was the first time in years I had returned to the beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park, or RMNP.  After often making the trip up there to climb during college, my friends and I have come to pronounce it as: “Rah-Mu-N-Puh”. The climbing there is complete with cold, ripping winds, some longer approaches, and wonderfully featured rock. In the winter the crowds subside and RMNP becomes its best self. 

Day One

The first day I was paired with Noah Mckelvin and Buster Jesik. The buttresses of Hallett were covered in fresh snow and the place was looking very alpine. We climbed a crack system left of Bullet for two pitches of (possibly unclimbed) steep cracks and roofs. It was an interesting warmup, with everything from edging to overhanging offwidths, and even a roof clearing move that necessitated cutting feet and swinging on a mossy picklock. We continued on to the top of Bullet. If this is new terrain, I propose the name Hollow Point in reference to some rattly blocks I had to trundle.


Day Two

The next day I was paired to climb with Kat Vollinger and Steven van Sickle. The focus of this day was shifted away from harder mixed cragging, and would be an experience in efficient movement on moderate terrain. After picking out the Spiral Route on Notchtop peak, we finished the long approach and stopped to deliberate. It was unanimously decided that the approach couloir would be an unsafe proposition after the new wind loading. We instead scrambled a wind-scoured ridge across from Notchtop, finding interesting sections of climbing on frozen moss and broken gneiss. 

Day Three

After two days in a row of predawn starts, we all took it easy on our third day and went to Lumpy Ridge for a little bit of rock climbing and a lesson in rescuing the fallen leader from Buster. This was an important review for most of us. If you’re in doubt, ask your climbing partners if they know self-rescue and go practice with them. It’s vital for trying more committing routes, and can be a sobering experience--it’s not easy. There are factors outside your control in climbing, and knowing how to help an injured partner gives you a chance to manage the situations no-one wants or expects. For those of us who are guides, this stuff is a job requirement and by now second nature. For people like me who aren’t engaged in any kind of guiding, it’s important to practice self-rescue simply to become a safer and more dependable climbing partner. 


Day Four

 We closed out the day on some of the best pitches at the Book. This was a fun way to close out the session, and at this point everyone was relaxing and getting in good pitches on the funky, cryptic, and polished granite of Lumpy.




            I was initially nervous for what seemed like a “tryout” for some sort of alpine climbing team. Instead it was more of a social experiment. After a while we started to relax. Everyone got to know each other and did some great climbing. I’m psyched be a part of the next round of Alpine Mentors, and I’m looking forward to two years in the mountains with an amazing group.