| Mid-July Snowclimbing!
Saturday—July 16, 2011
Climbers: Me and my Axe
Atlantic Peak (13,841’)
(Note: above picture was taken on June 19, 2011 while approaching Fletcher’s E face snow routes.)
Trailhead: McCullough Gulch
Route: E face, Y couloir—left branch
Distance: ~6mi RT (round trip)
Elevation Gain: ~2700’
Gear: daypack w/Essentials, crampons, ice axe, helmet
The first time I did Atlantic Peak, it was in the winter of 2008 via the W ridge. On that trip, visibility was poor and when we topped out we were pretty sure we were on the highest point. It was a cold & cloudy day, with light snow, but it was a good feeling to top out on a new centennial in winter!
l. to r., Chris Duval, Bill Tarvin, Greg Glick, & Rel (chefrel) on the summit of Atlantic, March 2008
Descending W ridge of Atlantic on March 8, 2008
Well, here we are in the middle of July 2011, and the snow in the Tenmile Range is still climbable! Sweet.
While on a climb of Fletcher’s E face back in June with Mike (Chicago Transplant), the E face routes on Atlantic looked appealing too. I tucked that thought away for a future possibility, and maybe climb Atlantic sometime soon.
I started out planning to climb the “Atlantis” route on Atlantic, but the left branch of the Y couloir looked more appealing to me. After exiting the couloir, I would stay on snow all the way to the summit; whereas the “Atlantis” couloir would exit onto dry ground, or so it looked to me. I wanted continuous snow. I got it.
I slept in my bivy at the TH on Friday night, anticipating an early start. Alarm went off at 3am, finally crawled out at 3:15ish. I was on the trail wearing shorts in 40 degree-ish temps, with a full moon over head.
Full moon over Quandary’s W ridge
The moon setting over Fletcher Mountain
It was a warm morning, but I was greeted by hardpack/icy snow at the headwall below the first big lake in McCullough Gulch.
Since I was wearing my summertime hiking boots, and I had brought my aluminum strap-on crampons, I was curious how they would do kicking steps. The last time I wore summer hikers and the aluminums on a spring snow climb, I wasn’t as confident on hard snow. I’ve been using my mountaineering boots and steel crampons for the past few years, and I like the efficiency of them in addition to the confidence they give me. (But I don’t care for the weight of them!)
I’ll deal with the boots (and my confidence) once on the climb….
I reached the apron around 6am, and took a break while the sun softened up the climb. I strapped on the crampons, got the axe out, and clicked the straps to the helmet and started up sometime around 6:30am.
The cairn marks the start
By the time I started, the snow had softened a little, plus the surface features of sun-cups & shallow runnels provided steps along the way. Other times the runnels were a nuisance, thwarting a good rhythm while climbing up the couloir.
Textured snow in McCullough Gulch
Start of the “Atlantis”
The “Atlantis” branched off to climber’s right as I entered the couloir. At this point, I decided to continue up the Y, and take the left branch because the right branch looked melted out near the top.
Looking up the Y
Near junction in Y
The snow surface had softened, so kicking steps wasn’t an issue (for my sissy-self), and the climbing was pretty good overall. I didn’t measure the slope angle, but I’m guessing it ranges in the mid-to-high 30’s.
Sun reflecting off of the upper lake in McCullough Gulch
In the left branch of the Y, near the finish
Once out of the couloir proper, it’s a stroll to the summit on low angle snow.
It’s pretty green to the west, and still white in the Sawatch
Hazy to the east
Maybe I’ll go there soon
Pacific Peak (13,950’) on the left
The summit was a pleasure to spend some time on, and I had it to myself! Unlike the crowd I could see on Quandary, and the line of people made me think of ants marching, and for the rest of the hike the song “Ants Marching” by Dave Mathews Band was on the brain! I like the song and all, but for the rest of the hike?
"I smell food"
"C’mon, just give me some of those pretzel M&M’s. Just one…uhh…make that two—no, make that 4 or 5, and I’ll be on my way."
After an hour on the summit, I headed N towards the saddle of Pacific and Atlantic, and descended a moderate snow slope there. The snow was just right for plunge-stepping.
I descended this slope
Another look at the 13ers in McCullough...
Fletcher’s left branch still looks good!
Atlantic’s Y couloir (or it could be a V)
Pacific’s long & fun E ridge
While hiking out, the dayhikers were all curious if I had made it to the lake. Um, yeah, I did! (And a little beyond.)
Thanks for reading,