Capitol Peak snow; Is it termination dust?

Snow now covers Capitol Peak and the Elks. Will this end the climbing season for most Summer climbers? The Alaskan phrase for this phenomena is “Termination Dust”.

9/29/2021 view of Capitol Peak by Ann Driggers.

I suspect the answer comes down to how much risk climbers are willing to shoulder. Other peaks that are less technical like Quandary (“walk-ups”) will continue to be frequented.

I’ve climbed Capitol in all conditions and I find October climbing tricky. There’s not enough snow yet to cover all the rocks so stability is an issue and climbing is mixed.

Will it melt? Some will early (especially southern aspects). Looking at October, I foresee overnight lows on the 14ers permanently below freezing after October 4. And, I’m forecasting about a foot of additional snow on Capitol Peak and the Elks during October.

Snow hits Alberta/BC high peaks

Light snow dusted the high peaks in Alberta/BC overnight. This includes Mount Athabasca, Mount Andromeda, Mount Rundle, Banff and Lake Louise higher terrain, and Kicking Horse.

Columbia Icefield, 7:15am 9/28/2021

Why? A cold front is moving through. How much more snow will fall in Alberta/BC? I’m forecasting another 1-3 inches through Wednesday on the highest peaks.

Kicking Horse, 7:20am 9/28/2021

This front will then dive south through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado where the higher peaks will get dusted with new snow. Some of the very highest peaks could get 6″ or more. Forecasting for a few more locations:

  • Big Sky, MT: 1″
  • Kings Peak, UT: 6″
  • Berthoud Pass, CO: 4″
  • Wolf Creek, CO: 4″
  • Taos Ski, NM: 1″

La Nina Watch continues

Snow is falling at Whistler/Blackcomb this morning. This snow will drop into the northern Rockies this week including Banff, Colorado, Idaho, and Montana.

Snow at Whistler/Blackcomb at 6,069ft, 9/27/2021

We’re still waiting on the official arrival of La Nina. Current water temps in the South Pacific near the equator are running “neutral” (-0.3C NINO3.4). La Nina and El Nino are normally cyclic in nature, but this will be the second straight winter with La Nina in control.

Historical look at the cyclic nature of La Nina and El Nino.

Why does it matter? La Nina can influence the position of the winter storm track across North America. Said another way, La Nina can stack the odds where the heaviest, most consistent snow will fall this winter. I go into more detail, explain the forces at play, and look at ski area snow odds in my full winter forecast video here.

The latest forecast from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center and International Research Institute indicates a 70-80% chance of La Nina during this winter season.

NOAA ENSO Forecast Odds, September 2021

NOAA released their Fall outlook for temps and precipitation on 9/16. I’m in agreement with most of their assessment with one difference. Temps will be warmer than normal OCT-NOV with precipitation drier than normal, but I think by December we’ll start to see a snowier pattern take hold across the West.

NOAA Fall Outlook OCT-DEC 2021

The Long Run

I’ve been a runner for over 20 years. This morning I read a quote by Tiger Woods and I started reflecting.

I’ve had every running injury in the book. It can be brutal and depressing at times. But, on the other hand I know many runners who somehow escape injuries and run for years without issue. I’ve read scientific studies that show it’s actually good for bones and joints. So, what to believe? Like most things, it probably comes down to each individual person.

Putting in the trail miles, August 2019.

I love quotes like this because they make you think. There’s wisdom in what Tiger is saying. It also makes you ponder aging and what comes next.

Manaslu summit push

Most teams on Manaslu (8163m/26,781′) will push for the summit next week. This includes my good friend (and client) Ryan Kushner and teammate Jeff Heiderer. Colin Miller was also part of the team but had to leave early for health reasons. Jeff was with Ryan on G2 in 2019.

Ryan shot this stunning video after a round of acclimatization at Camp 3 (~22,000′).

The weather has been abnormally wet/snowy on Manaslu from the start of Ryan’s expedition. I sent a note to the team two weeks prior to their departure saying, “I’m glad you’re not leaving for another two weeks because it’s incredibly wet/snowy over there right now. Looks very Monsoon-esque.”

Well, that pattern continued during the early parts of their trek into basecamp. The pattern is gradually improving now with more “dry” days mixed in. Summit winds remain incredibly light with most days featuring low clouds socking-in the valleys.

Ryan and team are climbing to raise funds for Alpine Rescue Team (ART) in Colorado. ART saved Ryan’s life two years ago after a fall. I’ve worked with ART over the years and seen them in action. They are first-rate professionals. Please consider donating at this link.

October hiking in Colorado

I consider the month of October to be part of the “shoulder season” in Colorado. Cold fronts hit more frequently – every 3-4 days in the Mountains. This changes the complexion of hiking and mountaineering on the 13ers and 14ers.

I’ve experienced these rapid October weather changes over the years. Here’s a flashback to Fall 2014 and a traverse of the Maroon Bells with a coating of snow above 13,700′.

Fall 2014, Maroon Bells, Colorado. Photo Jon Kedrowski.

I remember this traverse vividly with Jon. Back in 2014 it was customary to use conditions like this as a test of mountaineering skills. Training in difficult conditions forces you to improve a wide range of skills quickly.

Maroon Bell traverse, Fall 2014. Navigating the Ledges. Photo Jon Kedrowski.

You see this “snowcone” effect often in October with new snow coating the 13ers and 14ers above a certain elevation. It can be dry and quite pleasant at lower elevations.

Meteorologically, we see significant changes above 13,000′ during the month:

  • <32 permanently by mid October above 13K
  • 15 degree drop in high temps overall
  • Most daytime temps in the 40s at 13K by mid October
  • Baseline wind speeds increase
  • Cold fronts every 3-4 days
  • Stronger gusts with cold front passage
  • Dustings of snow on 13ers/14ers

Here’s another example from October 29, 2016 with friend Ryan Kushner on one our favorites, Kelso Ridge. It had snowed an inch or two, clouds were swirling, wind was blowing to 40mph, and air temps were in the 30s.

October 2016, Kelso Ridge.

We’ve come to enjoy these conditions, strangely, over the years. Ryan seems to feel right at home. A testament to his mental fortitude.

Changing conditions like this in October force you to start taking more gear. Heavier gloves, footwear, jackets, gaiters, goggles, traction, and ice axe to name a few.

Have fun and see you on the summit!

October forecast: Loveland Ski Area

Last year Loveland Ski Area experienced its latest opening date since 1979: November 11. Each season they shoot for late October or very early November. What does this season hold?

November 5, 2020. Photo by Dustin Schaefer of Loveland Ski Area.

Here’s a list of previous opening dates.

2020: 11/11

2019: 10/25

2018: 10/20

2017: 10/20

2016: 11/10

2015: 10/29

2014: 11/1

My Forecast

Overall, temps this October at Loveland will run warmer than normal (+1F to +2F each day). Overnight lows will permanently stay below freezing after October 5th. The overriding pattern this Fall/early Winter attempting to take hold is La Nina. My official 2020-2021 winter forecast video is here.

Total October snow at Loveland: 10″ (high-end 20″)

Heaviest Period: After the 14th

Opening Date: Late October

Overnight lows <32: After 5th

10 Day Precip Outlook: Dry start to Fall

The start of Fall stays warm and dry across most of the West with high pressure in control through October 6. Drier than normal areas are shown in the brown colors.

There are two areas to watch for heavier than normal precipitation (green-blue areas). 1) British Columbia, 2) Great Lakes and Northeast. Some of that precip will fall as snow in British Columbia on the higher peaks.

Tomer hand-drawn weather features on GFS interpretation of total precipitation anomalies through October 6, 2021.

The red “L” represents lower pressures, while the blue “H” represents higher pressures. The blue line represents approximate position of the Polar jet stream.

In Colorado, October is an important month. We normally see the first freeze and first measurable snow in a number of the major cities. This indicates a shifting jet stream. Right now it’s just a waiting game.

Loveland Ski Area and Arapahoe Basin will start making snow in October and then race to see who opens first.

Dusting of snow in Colorado

Longs Peak looking good this morning with a new dusting of snow. The actual first measurable snow of the season fell on 8/19/2021.

A dusting also hit the Indian Peaks, higher parts of the Divide, Gore Range, and 10-Mile Range. The view in Grand Lake this morning from friend John Williams:

Another great photo here from Steamboat by Larry Pierce.

Snow can fall any month of the year on Colorado’s 13ers/14ers. We’ll see more frequent cold fronts in October and November – every few days. These fronts will have progressively more wind above treeline. October-January is the windy season in Colorado’s mountains. Wind gusts this morning are reaching 50mph over Berthoud Pass with air temps in the low 20s.

Berthoud Pass wind gusts 9/20/2021

My belief is that October-November will be abnormally warm and dry across Colorado’s mountains. “Real” winter may not arrive until December as La Nina kicks in.

Calendar Fall officially arrives on Wednesday (9/22).

One place I like this winter

La Nina seems likely this winter. This should position the wintertime jet stream across the northern tier of the Rockies from December through March. If you missed my full winter forecast you can find it here.

That said, one place I like this winter is Jackson Hole, WY. You might recall they did well last winter with a similar La Nina pattern in place.

Total snow 2020-2021 in Rendezvous Bowl: 524″

For context, Loveland Ski Area in Colorado’s Central Mountains recorded 287″. Loveland’s seasonal average is 422″.

I have a special place in my heart for Jackson Hole. I’ve skied there, trail run the beautiful trails on the apex of the range, and climbed the Grand and Middle.

Summer 2018.