After spending all of the spring getting ready for our June wedding we were in definite need of a snow climb. Thankfully with this years record snow fall there was plenty of options for a moderate climb to get back in the swing of things. We were already staying in Breckenridge for the Holiday weekend and wanted to stay close. Over the winter we had fallen in love with the 10 mile range from our backcountry ski/snowboard outings, and knowing that it would be crowded on the local 14ers that weekend we chose the Atlantis Couloir on Atlantic Peak.
Like any snow climb an alpine start is a must and since the temps in the 10 Mile had been hot for the past week we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to get the climb in before everything turned to mashed potatoes. We were up and out of the condo on main street Breck by 3:45am and headed up highway 9 to the Blue Lakes road turn off. In my early morning haze I didn't drive far enough up 9 and after driving in circles for a bit we finally made it to the gate at the end of McCllough Gulch Trail Head at 11,080 feet. After a quick nap and last minute pack adjustments we were off at 4:45am (we will come to find about 50 feet from the top of the couloir we should have hit the trail at 4:00am)
Katie is excited about the pre dawn start!
The sun was rising faster then we wanted so we tried to pick up the pace.
looking back through McCllough Gulch
Katie and Quandary
As you reach the junction in the trail in which a left will take you to the falls and continuing straight will take you further into the basin. This is the first point were you start to gain some moderate elevation. Just before reaching the second lake there is a snow field that you need to cross where the angle reaches 30 or so degrees for about 20 feet (you can navigate around the more inclined areas if you go south but we wanted to play in the snow!)
Katie making it up the snowfield below the lake.
After making it up this snow field and over a small rock wall we reached the lake which is in the general vicinity of Quandary's North Couloir which didn't look like it was in anymore. We worked our way to the NW end of the lake were we ran into a rather interesting snow bridge spanning the creek into the lake, this was our easiest way to gain the other side.
Snow bridge crossing
We evaluated the snow which was rock solid and decided to cautiously give it a go. One at a time, I was the first to go and slowly made my way the 30 foot or so bridge section staying as close to the rock on lookers right as possible. Once I was safely across, Katie made her way over without incident.
After crossing the bridge we spent the next hour making our way further into the basin on a continuous snowfield that led all the way from the end of the lake to the base of Atlantis. However, once we reached the upper basin we were running into pockets of softer snow and began postholing. Quickly becoming tired of this we began island hoping the scree piles that were sticking out for the last 1/4 mile.
Katie on the snow field with the majority being really firm
Finally, we were at the vantage point to take in the East face of Atlantic peak.
Atlantic's East Face. Atlantis Couloir is hidden from view by the buttress just to the right of the large "V" couloir.
From this vantage point you cannot see the Atlantis Couloir... it is a sneaky couloir. We didn't see it until we were at the base of the peak. According to Roach's Colorado Thirteeners, Atlantis is .03 miles to the lookers right of the large "V" Couloir. Once you are at the base follow what Roach says and you will see an obvious moderate, aesthetic line this is Atlantis.
Me on the approach.
Once we found Atlantis (I should probably call someone about that haha) we stopped and had a nice snack of Italian Dry Salami, Wheat Thins and Easy Cheese yummmm, rearranged our packs put the crampons on and headed up!
Looking up Atlantis
The apron to the couloir was nice and hard giving us good feelings about the conditions of the climb.
g Katie on the apron
The first section of the couloir was in perfect form, not hard enough to front point but hard enough to kick solid steps. About 1/4 the way up the couloir it steepens to about 45 degrees for 30 feet or so then mellows back to about 40 until the remaining 50-70 feet.
Katie little over 1/4 the way up
after the 1/4 way point the couloir mellows out until just past the rock wall on the right the steepens back up again.
By the time that we got to the steeper snow near the end to the rock wall the snow was softening up so we traversed closer to the wall were it had been protected form the sun and we found great snow until the opening past the rock wall at which point the snow was fully exposed to the sun.
Katie nearing the end of the rock wall
Once past the rock wall we realized we were spoiled by the shade in the lower 3/4 of the couloir. The snow at this point (70 feet from the top) was deteriorating rather quickly and we decided it was time to put it in high gear and get out of there (hence my earlier comment about wishing to have started 45 min sooner). We made it out the top in a matter of about 15 minutes from that point and were very glad and proud. another safe snow accent!
Katie finishing the last 50 feet or so.
Looking out from the top of the couloir
After catching our breath and relishing in our snow climbing, we snacked on some more crackers and cheese and decided to make our push for the summit. At this point it was a ¼ mile trek through some scree that would lead us to our prize.
Climbing through the scree
We made short work of the scree field and were finally on the summit around 10:45
Looking towards Holy Cross
After spending 30 min or so on the summit we decided to make our way back home. We had originally planned to get Pacific too but we were a little out of shape from our honeymoon and wedding. There were two lines of snow from the summit leading down about 500 feet or so that were perfect for a glisadde (or Colorado butt skiing!) Katie had never done one before and was really excited we could cut some hiking out.
After this first mild glissade we made our way down to the saddle between Atlantic and Pacific. much to our pleasure it was still covered in good snow with nice run out at the bottom. We decided to kick it up a notch and add another glissade.
bad pic but me on the glissade
After we made it to the bottom of the saddle we decided since it was hotter now to hug the north wall of the basin in order to stay on dry land and avoid the snow fields. It was the right choice just before leaving the snow for the rocks surrounding the unnamed lake at the base of the saddle (not pacific tarn the lower lake) I punched through into the stream good thing I had my Gore-Tex Asolos on.
We were very much rewarded by choosing to hike along the north wall, the unnamed lake was beautiful and still had ice flows on it. we were also able to make it almost to the falls while avoiding the now sloppy snow.
Reaching the unnamed lake
We were back at the car by 2:00pm and headed straight for Breck Brewery and the hot tub. We did not see a single person on the way in, yet another amazing day in God's Country and a great way to spend the 4th of July!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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