I have had my sights set on Andrews Glacier in Rocky Mountain National Park all year. Specifically the lower portion of the apron below Andrews Tarn. The area is no picnic to get to. If travelling to this area from the bottom up, you will trailhead at Glacier Gorge. From there, the winter bypass to the Loche Vale. From the Loche, this time of year, you want to stay on the south [left] side of the Loche as the sun angle is deteriorating the ice on the north [right] and you may find it inconvenient if you punch through the ice.
Once to the far [west] side of the Loche you will follow the standard route to Embryo Lake which also serves Sky Pond high up the cirque. The cut off for Andrews Glacier is not well marked and typically this time of year the snow height exceeds the sign. Basically you will want to follow the drainage up in to the narrow gorge known as The Gash. If you can’t find the route, it really is the only way up the gorge between the Loche and the Cathedral Wall which you will hit in a clearing. We decided to take a “challenging route” on a 50+ degree incline prior to the standard route. Normally I would call anyone crazy that would attempt this route, but we surveyed the snowpack and it was well consolidated. This area was too steep to skin – even making switchbacks, so we boot packed the last third.
Once in to The Gash, you will continue to follow the drainage depression, Andrews Creek, in to the narrow gorge area. If you come upon a remote water monitoring station (looks like a SnoTel site) next to what is usually a lake you are on the right track. The gorge opens up exposing Andrews Glacier west in front of you, Otis Peak and the various gendarmes to the north, and Taylor Peak to the south along with The Sharktooth & Petit Grepon. Depending on the time of year you venture in to this gorge, be conservative about your route finding. The slopes on both sides of this gorge can be potential terrain traps in high avalanche danger. It would be easy to remote trigger a slide low in the starting zone all the way up this gorge.
Once to the outwash plain of Andrews Glacier you will climb a moderate 35-48 degree slope north toward Otis Peak [north] on the terminal moraine. Keep in mind, you are on an east facing slope within a gorge [be cautious!]. You will need to test the snowpack in this area if it is anything above Level 2. The approach is in a slide area, and the evidence will be all around you.
Once you crest this area (on top of the terminal moraine), you will be at the terminus or Andrews Tarn, in the summer months this is a lake – in the winter you will not see it. Just after the Tarn on the approach up the glacier lies at least two crevasses that are enormous. They are located past the lateral moraine just prior to the ablation zone. You could easily lose something the size of a school buss in both of these. If you are on this in the winter months, you will likely not see them since a snow bridge will hide them. I would not recommend travel on this glacier if you have not been on it in the summer / fall months and you are not familiar with the crevasse locations. Smaller crevasses form lower in the zone just prior to the tarn.
The drop from this area is amazing though, and the views are priceless. For the most part you should be able to ski or ride several miles back all the way to the west side of the Loche. Then you will be able to ski or ride the three miles from the Loche to Glacier Gorge trailhead continuous.
I will caution in advance this is not an intermediate route in the winter. Conditions inside The Gash can range from perfect to wicked. The Loche is known for high winds and brutal weather, and this route takes you 2200 feet in total elevation gain. You may encounter a mixed bag of perfect snow, slush in the spring, or glacial ice in the fall. It is not uncommon for all these conditions to exist in a single day. This is definitely an area that you want to be on top of your avalanche terrain travel game.
We encountered perfect weather – but I have been patient with this area. The snow was consolidated, yet you could still ride or ski the five miles out in one [almost] continuous run. I would recommend this route, just know what you are getting in to and play it safe. You are looking at about 9.5 miles if you drop from Andrews Tarn.