| Frozen Ocean – Pacific Pk. from Mayflower Gulch via North Ridge.
Mountain: Pacific Peak - 13950 ft / 4252 m
Date: December 17, 2011
Start time: 7.45
Return time: 4.45
Gear and equipment: Microspikes, Ice Axe, Snowshoes, Poles, Crampons (I did not need them), Gaitors, Balaclava, Propper Clothes, Hand Warmers.
Information resources: Roach’s Colorado 13ers, Summitpost (very helpful was a trip report from thatnissanguy who I was honored to meet at one of 13er hikes organized by globreal here), personal information from my hiking friend Aaron (AndYouSeeMe).
I came to Colorado in 2006 and I discovered there is something called fourteeners in late summer 2007. I’ve hiked all of the easy peaks and several class 3 since then, however my life temporarily changed on Christmas 2009 when I dislocated both of my shoulders on Pikes Peak. I’d been struggling with them until I had two surgeries - the last one in June 2011 and after that I had to wear a sling for 6 weeks and I was forbidden to climb until December 2011. Staying in the sling for almost the entire summer, I felt like an animal in a zoo. Captured, not allowed to do fun stuff. So I made a plan for my after-sling time. Not allowed to climb meant not to go for those remaining difficult 14ers - so I decided to “downgrade” to gentle 13ers. Good move, I discovered an entire new universe with beautiful peaks, solitude, peace, bushwhacking, route finding etc.
In late September, I decided to hike Atlantic and Pacific Peak from Mc. Cullough Gulch trailhead, the sky was blue until I summited Atlantic. Then, stormy looking clouds formed pretty quickly and it started to snow. I continued towards the Pacific, ignoring the snow but when I reached that little hill where Pacific East ridge joins the ridge connecting Atlantic and Pacific, I heard a thunder and then multiple thunders and so I ran down and did not summit Pacific Peak. Since then, it was on my bucket list.
North-East Face of Pacific.
I decided to climb the 3rd weekend in December and when I looked at the options, I choose to hike from Mayflower Gulch to the saddle between Crystal and Pacific, climb the North Ridge, return to the saddle and climb Crystal and maybe Pk. 10 as well. It is shorter distance and less elevation gain and the weather forecast was just great which I hoped could help me to succeed. I was too optimistic with that.
My biggest concern was that I am going solo. It means that even a small accident can turn into a big disaster, so I was ready to return at any point when I would feel uncomfortable with the terrain, snow, weather, avalanches, anything. I left a message and exact description of my plan to my friend with a note that If I don’t show up or call till 8 pm, I’m likely in troubles and he should call for help. I took a lot of extra clothes, lots of food (5 snickers, sandwiches), lots of water. Another concern was the climb difficulty, especially the summit part looked difficult, steep and exposed and I found only few not very informative pictures. Still, Roach classifies it as class 2, other people agreed talking about maybe one class 3 step. My plan was to try it and if I find it too difficult, return to the saddle and hike Crystal only.
Thanks to my drunken roommate and another friend, I got only about an hour of sleep. I woke up at 4.50 a.m. and hit the road at 5.40 because sometimes during that night, they lost my keys and I could not find them. I had to use my spare car key. Anger from this situation and a bucket of coffee kept me awake through the entire drive. I got to the Mayflower gulch at 7.30 after missing it the first time (returned at Climax mine) and I hit the trail at 7.45. The first 1.1 mile is simple hike on the snowy road and it took me about 25 minutes.
Mayflower Gulch road.
Then turn left across the gulch toward the Pacific Creek drainage, it’s easy to spot and there was a trench made by previous hikers.
Pacific Creek Dreinage, see the trail?
Great, I did not know that this is so popular. I saw a group of 4 people in front of me and a group of 2 passed me at the tree line. Unfortunately, later I realized that the crowds are climbing west ridge of Atlantic while nobody continues farther to Pacific & Crystal. After I crossed the west ridge of Atlantic Pk., I was alone and there was no footprint in the snow. From there to the Pacific West ridge, the snow was hardened on the surface and it was an easy hike with the snowshoes on.
West Ridge overlook.
Pacific west ridge was a gate to the frozen kingdom. This side of Pacific stays in shadow for most of the day this time of the year and the predominant west winds blow tons of snow there. Roach’s guide says: Contour 0.7 mile northeast under Pacific’s impressive northwest face… Looks easy, right? It starts with down climb from the ridge. It’s pretty steep and the amount of snow made me concerned about possible avalanche, so I took time and picked a pretty nice line.
My way down from the ridge.
West slope to contour.
The contour line continues over a boulder field filled with pretty large boulders. There are some micro basins with deep (3 feet) soft snow in the middle, I found it a bit easier to hike around them, on the rims. It was tricky, because holes between boulders were also filled with deep snow and I never knew if my snowshoe is going to land atop of a hidden boulder or sink three feet into the hole.
Look back at the contour under west wall of Pacific.
After about 0.3 miles, the boulders get smaller but the slope steepened. There are ribs made of somewhat unstable talus, the rocks were covered with snow and it took time to check each step and find stability. Between the ribs, the snow was deep and steep and later in the season, I’d expect avalanches there. This time it was only very time consuming.
This is my morning contour line. Its visible in snow and i drawed it where invisible in boulder fields.
Finally, at 10.15 I got to a flat area under the saddle. I stashed my snowshoes and poles, put on microspikes and started using the ice axe.
Look towards the saddle between Crystal and Pacific.
The slope is steep but stable, snow was shallow there and hike was not difficult at all. I got to the ridge at 11, south of the saddle and continued on the North Ridge. The ridge is steep, not exposed, pretty stable and in some places it is covered with small snowfields. It was still in the shadow and it was a bit windy, I got cold so I put my hand warmers into my gloves and it was enough to heat me up. At some places the snow was solid and good to kick steps in, sometimes it was fresh powder and I was able to reach the rocks at the bottom. The higher I got, the steeper the slope was, but it was still a very comfortable hike in comparison to the previous deep snow.
Finally, I got to the false summit and the views were spectaculars. I overviewed the climbing options and realized that it’s overall not difficult. I climbed into the notch and picked up a line towards the summit (line #1), the rock is grippy, hard, sharp, ideal to climb. Exposure is not a big deal.
False summit from the truth summit.
Me at the summit.
I summited at 12.35, ate my sandwiches, took tons of pictures, enjoyed myself and decided that I am short of time for Crystal. Unfortunately, I had to go get back my snowshoes and poles, otherwise I’d go back over Atlantic. On the way down the summit, I picked up line #2, there was one long step but again, very easy to climb, maybe a little more exposed.
I picked this line up to the summit. Class 2+.
I picked this line on my way down, its more exposed with one long step but easy. Class 2+.
Summit panorama. I climbed it up using line #1 and down using line #2.
Here are some pictures from the summit:
Democrat, Fletcher, Atlantic, Drift. Beautiful mountains.
Look at the west ridge.
West slope is pretty steep.
I hiked down to the saddle and took some pictures of the north ridge:
Typical terrain on the North Ridge.
Those small snowfields are easy to deal with.
Down to the stashed gear, I put the snowshoes back on and decided to avoid the contour line and follow the Humbug gulch all the way down to the water trench and than follow the thench over to the Mayflower gulch.
I ascended this part of west slope, a bit south of the actual saddle. Taken from the place I stashed my snowshoes
I went down this dreinage - Humbug Creek gully.
The snow in the gulch was shallow and hard. Really easy to hike on. I was thinking it was a genius idea until I reached the tree line. In the forest, snow was deep again and the bushwhacking took the rest of my energy. Eventually, I got to the water trench that contours Mayflower Hill towards Mayflower Gulch, I followed it to my car. I was there at 4.45, completely exhausted but very happy that I was able to hike that wonderful peak.
Nice view of both Pacific and Atlantic from the Humbug Gulch tree line.
I got there after long bushwhacking, really tired.
Overal, it was a beautiful day in the mountains, lots of solitude, the climb was not too easy but it was not too difficult either. I did not climb Crystal and Pk. 10 as I originally planned, but I don't feel sorry for that. This was what I could do safely, return to the car before sunset.
Whoever wants to do the same climb, be really careful about the snow and possible avalanches in the area. Knowing about the snow below the tree line in Humbug, on the way back, I would now use the Humbug gulch in the beginning just to bypass the west slope of Pacific and before it drops too low, I would hike up to cross the west ridge and hike down via Pacific Creek and Mayflower. However, the snow condition may change at any time.
I hope, I made this trip report as informative as possible. It's my first, I feel it's redundant to post a report about some notoritious mountains that everyone can find easily on the internet. I myself had hard time to find out how difficult this climb might be and all the way up I had to think about the summit climb. Here, I tryed to show the options I found and confirm that it's not as bad as it looks. It's actually comparable (by technical difficulty only) to Sneffels' Lavender culoir.
Estimated route, yellow up, blue down.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):