Peak(s):  Taylor Pk B  -  13,153 feet
Powell Pk  -  13,208 feet
Post Date:  04/14/2012
Modified:  07/08/2015
Date Climbed:   03/31/2012
Posted By:  kimo

 A Tale of Two Peaks: Andrews Glacier in RMNP  

Note: Taylor Peak was climbed in October, 2011. Powell Peak was climbed in March, 2012.


A cool spring wind washes over the summit of Powell Peak. I drop my pack and take refuge behind a stack of rocks next to a view that goes on forever. I close my eyes and reopen, focusing more closely on the dirty boots that got me to this sublime place. On the snow, next to my boot, is a butterfly. I turn to my side and shimmy over to it. The bug's fragile legs grip tiny grains of snow in the swirling tempest, its delicate wings twist and turn like a gold aspen leaf in the wind. The wind must have carried the butterfly up here to this cold and barren place. I want to save the butterfly, grab it, put it in my pocket, and carry it down into the trees where it belongs. Instead I watch it curiously, even poke at it with my finger. It makes no effort to fly. I quietly ask Boreas to show mercy on this beautiful creature of spring. I turn and walk away - down, down, down - hoping with all my might that the butterfly is carried off the mountain by the wind, not the same wind that imprisons it there, but a warm spring wind that is vibrant and life-giving in the subtle afternoon light. I imagine the creature fluttering beside the creek, among the fresh leaves and grass of spring, going from place to place, always on the move, exactly how a butterfly is supposed to be. Its wings wet with dew.

The Glacier:

Andrews Glacier is located in magnificent Glacier Basin of Rocky Mountain National Park. Read more about it here:

This is my story of two ascents of Andrews Glacier in two different seasons: Taylor Peak last October, and then Powell Peak at the end of March.

Captions on top of photos.

Rocky Mountain National Park and the Continental Divide appear in full winter dress. Taylor Peak and Powell Peak are cloaked behind white lace near the top-center of the photo. Longs Peak stands tall on the left. Photo taken from the summit of Emerald Peak in late February, 2012.

Andrews Glacier seen in winter conditions. Taylor Peak rises high above the glacier. The summits of Powell Peak, McHenrys Peak, and Chiefs Head Peak are seen along the left skyline. Photo taken from the top of Otis Peak in early March, 2012.

The Taylor Peak route is in red (13 miles roundtrip). The Powell Peak route is in blue (15 miles roundtrip).

Artist's rendering of Rocky Mountain National Park during the last great glacial period. (Rocky Mountain National Park Archives)

First up...

Taylor Peak - 13,153 feet
Ranked 468 in Colorado elevation
413 feet of prominence

Climb date: October 16, 2011.
Trailhead name: Glacier Gorge TH, approx. elevation 9,240 feet.
Total distance: Approx. 13 miles roundtrip.
Net vertical gain: Approx. 4,000 feet.
Route difficulty: Class 2 including snow travel on glacial snowfield.
Weather: Dark clouds stream overhead like a ghost ship on stormy seas. The weather is threatening. Winter approaches.
Rocky Mountain NP homepage: mountain page:
Summitpost mountain page:
LOJ mountain page:

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. - Albert Camus

Taylor Peak is the monarch of Loch Vale. The summit doesn't get much press as a destination, but the technical routes on the mountain's steep faces are world famous. The rugged Sharkstooth Ridge offer some of the best mixed ice, snow, and rock routes in the Park, including classic technical climbs on famous features like Petit Grepon. If your desire is steep snow, the "moderate my ass" Taylor Glacier splits the distance with Powell Peak.

Taylor Peak is seen here from the paved road to Bear Lake. It's 8:30 in the morning.

Leaves catch fire in the warm morning sun.

The trail to Loch Vale.

Alberta Falls in late autumn glory.

I reach the Loch by 10am. The summit of Taylor Peak is barely visible above Sharkstooth Ridge. To the right of the photo are The Gash and Andrews Glacier. I take a good long look at the glacier.

I walk a little faster in anticipation.

The trail splits from Vale Brook and turns up Andrews Creek.

I break from the trees into a primal landscape. The Gash curves up and away to the left. The headwall for Andrews Glacier lies straight ahead.

The headwall is braided with many paths. To my left is ranked Sharks Tooth, a minimum 5.4 climb to summit.

Andrews Tarn sits above the headwall. The glacier is beyond. The trail curves along the shore to the left.

Approaching the glacier. I put on my crampons and grab my axe.

Options: Go straight up the steeper center bulge or traverse to the left or right.

I follow a route to the left. The dirty snow is hard like ice.

My crampons grip the rock-hard surface. The slope angle lays back after a few hundred feet. Andrews Pass and the Continental Divide come into view. Grey clouds roll past like giant waves.

I reach the top of Andrews Pass. Taylor Peak, seen here, is a mile to the east. I stash my crampons and ice axe behind a boulder, and then turn and head straight for the highest point, scrambling over easy terrain of fresh snow, golden grass, and dark talus.

I reach Taylor Peak's summit after one mile and 1200 vertical feet of hiking from the pass. From here, one seems to stand eye-to-eye with Longs Peak.

I feel excited and vulnerable here, in total control of everything and nothing.

Little rocks aspire to be higher.


I leave the summit to nature's way and return to the top of the glacier. Crampons go back on, axe is in hand.

Walking the line.

The dirty snow is bulletproof. Andrews Tarn is below. The Loch is further down valley.

If I could carry away my footprints I would.

Andrews Tarn.

I circle around the tarn. The glacier is a beautiful sight in the afternoon light.

Sharks Tooth.

Thatchtop towers over the Loch.

Half past autumn has arrived. Soon the blue skies will turn grey. Winter is not far away.

I take my sweet time on the descent, enjoying nature's bounty before it is veiled by mantles of snow. The warm autumn light lingers with me.

Lonely Alberta Falls provides one last respite before leaving the wilderness for the pretensions of civilization. It's rare when no one else is at the falls. I've been on the trail for ten magnificent hours. I have not seen another person since passing the Loch early in the morning. I walk off the trail and smile. I know I will soon return to this remarkable place.

And last...

Powell Peak - 13,208 feet
Ranked 425 in Colorado elevation
388 feet of prominence

Climb date: March 31, 2012.
Trailhead name: Glacier Gorge TH, approx. elevation 9,240 feet.
Total distance: Approx. 15 miles roundtrip.
Net vertical gain: Approx. 4,000 feet.
Route difficulty: Class 2 including snow travel on glacial snowfield.
Weather: Partly cloudy, with a cool gusty wind from the west. The final day of March exits quietly. Summer approaches.
Rocky Mountain NP homepage: mountain page:
Summitpost mountain page:
LOJ mountain page:

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! - Sitting Bull

Powell Peak is an elusive peak hidden deep in the folds of Glacier Gorge. Its shy summit is not visible from the floor of the gorge. The mountain's appearance may not inspire, but the magnificent view seen from its summit will stir the soul. Rugged ridgelines emanate from the top of the mountain. From the summit, McHenrys Peak appears close enough to reach out and touch while Longs Peak demands all of the attention. It's a special place.

The trailhead at 11am on a Saturday in spring. Only a few cars are parked in the lot. Where is everybody?

Although there is a well-beaten path, I seem to have the place to myself. I make good time going up the trail.

The mantle becomes a cascade.

The view up Loch Vale. Thatchtop is the bulky peak in the mid-ground. Further back is Sharkstooth Ridge and Taylor Peak.

I reach the Loch at 12:30pm. Sharkstooth Ridge and the Gash steal the show. Andrews Glacier is the modest spoon-shaped snowfield at photo-right.

I see two climbers approaching the top of the glacier. I meet up with them later at Andrews Pass. It is Aron Ralston and his partner. I first met Aron by chance last winter on Flattop Mountain. He's a nice guy who seems to love the Park. I think I understand why.

It's after noon. I start punching through the softening snow. I put on my snowshoes and continue toward the glacier.

The old tree says to Thatchtop, "let us hold each other and dance in the warmth of spring!"

Snowy super highway.

The super highway continues towards Sky Pond. I turn and follow a few footsteps up snow-covered Andrews Creek. Soon the dense tree cover breaks and the glacier comes into view. The impressive south face of Otis Peak rises high on my right.

Approaching the lower headwall. I put on my crampons and grab the axe.

The view up the headwall.

The snow slope steepens. I follow faint tracks to the right.

The slope angle measures at 40 degrees. Sharks Tooth stands like a sentinel.

The snow is not too hard or too soft. It's just about perfect for walking up in crampons.

I reach the top of the headwall. The tarn and glacier come into view. I pass to the left of the tarn and start up the glacier.

A steep snow slope rises above the left edge of the glacier. A four to six-inch avalanche crown splits the slope. A large cornice guards the top. I stick to the center of the glacier.

The snow remains perfect all the way to the top of the glacier. I encounter none of the bulletproof conditions that I experienced in October.

The view to the west from Andrews Pass.

Taylor Peak is a mile to the east. Powell Peak is on the other side of Taylor Peak and cannot be seen. I begin to make an ascending traverse around the right side of Taylor Peak.

I continue the ascending traverse across mild talus slopes.

The talus hopping goes on for an hour before Powell Peak comes into view. Powell Peak is the high-point on the the left. The dramatic mountain on the right is Chiefs Head Peak.

The east face of Taylor Peak rises on my left.

Sharkstooth Ridge.

Taylor Glacier splits the face between Taylor Peak and Powell Peak. Powell Peak is seen here as a modest rise in the distance.

It's a long and easy walk across snow, grass, and rock, to reach Powell Peak.

Approaching the summit.

The spicy fourth-class ridge that leads to Thatchtop.

The Mummy Range rises high in the distance.

I turn to the east and nearly fall in. The true summit of Powell Peak is just a short distance away. It could be the most spectacular 100 feet I have ever walked.

Like silver and gold: Longs Peak and McHenrys Peak.

Another view of utter magnificence.

The highest point on Powell is marked by a modest cairn.

The register is dry and accessible. Not too many have signed in since Ben and Brian were up here last September.

The teasing view into Wild Basin. Mount Alice is closest, followed by numerous 12ers and 13ers that stretch south into Indian Peaks. The distinctive shape of Navajo Peak is obvious in the distance.

A closer view of the rugged northwest face of Mount Alice and its Hourglass Ridge.

Before leaving, I turn my attention to Longs and McHenrys for one last photograph. The summit of Powell Peak is a stunning place.

It's 5:30pm. I start down from the summit.

I walk fast and reach Andrews Pass at 6:30pm. The modest summits of Hallett Peak (left) and Otis Peak (right) frame the view.

Hazy and lazy. The sun gives its warmest light in the late afternoon.

I put on my crampons and drop onto the glacier. Andrews Tarn and the Loch are visible below.

I leave only footprints.

The day will not leave so quietly. The sky turns every color in the spectrum as I pass through the darkening forest.

I walk around the Loch and into the dark.

I whistle, strike my poles, talk to myself, and make a cacaphony of noise on the dark descent. I hear the bears are out, and I imagine they could be cranky at this time of year. We don't need any suprises. My apologies for disturbing the cute couple who were making out in the dark below Alberta Falls. Ahhh...spring is in the air!

Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush. - Doug Larson

Thanks for reading.


  • Comments or Questions

Awesome...     04/14/2012 19:08
as usual, Kimo!


needed this....     04/14/2012 20:09
Your report took me on a vicarious trip to the mountains on this Saturday afternoon when I find myself holed up in the city. Thank you for that.

Neat to see the same area in two different seasons. What a gem the Park is. I see photos like this and wonder why I even bother going anywhere else.

Great report and two strong solo efforts, Kimo. Thanks for posting!


Wow!     04/14/2012 20:55
Both of those trips looked amazing, and your pictures are always top notch. It really is amazing how much the park has to offer away from the crowds, thanks for the inspiration to get up there again soon!


Stunning!     04/14/2012 21:25
Beautiful, Kimo! I've loved that initial quote by Albert Camus, but didn't realize he was the actual author. Don't think I could ever live in a place that only has one or two seasons. I love all the seasons in their due time and the changes and color they bring.

Also loved your opening photo with the clouds washing over the distant ridge line - fabulous! Like rocks in a stream, only on a much grander scale. Thanks again for your contributions!

Kevin Baker

sweet     04/15/2012 00:34
Sweet shots as always, Kimo! A tale of two hikes for sure. That's one of my favorite areas of RMNP. Thanks for refreshing my memory!


Magnificent!     04/15/2012 23:08
Love photo #1 - just sucked me right in!
Another excellent TR and pics. Thanks for a virtual tour!
I have not explored RMNP enough.


Awesome pictures     04/16/2012 00:32
I love Andrews in the summer, always wondered what it was like in the winter. I'll have to stumble on over to Powell just for that sweet view of McHenrys.

How was the snow to the N Longs Peak trail? I'm playing around with the thought of climbing to the summit of Pine Ridge sometime this month


Nice...     07/17/2012 13:18
That view from Emerald Peak was fantastic wasn't it. Enjoyed the mix of 2 separate climbs in this TR. Ummmm, ”following the line” in the snow....


Great Report...     04/16/2012 19:36
I did Powell with Taylor Pk via Andrew's Glacier on 12-20-2011. I didn't get to take many photos as the winds were crazy that day so I thank you immensely for all the awesome pics. I can use them as a reminder of how intense that day turned out to be. I can remember reaching Powell and collapsing with relief then coming to the realization that I was only halfway finished. Needless to say it was an extremely long day. I have to admit, I never thought I would see that summit register with my name on it again!


Your Photography is Truly a Gift     04/17/2012 04:02
you're not a bad storyteller either. Thanks for sharing.


Fantastic ...     04/18/2012 15:00
Always a nice mixture of light, shadows, color and contrast. Just as we discussed, your patience to stick it out in the evening paid off ... cranky bears (and smooching couples) or not. Thanks for posting. Happy trails!


Great TR     05/18/2012 17:18
”My apologies for disturbing the cute couple who were making out in the dark below Alberta Falls”

HAHA, Awesome

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