| 13er tour
Wanting to get out on a holiday weekend without having to deal with crowds led me to the idea of doing a 13er tour around Breck. After debating on which ones and how, I came up with a circuit hike that would start at the Mayflower Gulch trailhead just south of Copper Mountain. From the trailhead I would head to "Drift" peak, drop down into the east basin to catch the west ridge up to Fletcher, drop into McCullogh Gulch to head up to the "Atlantic"-Pacific saddle to hit "Atlantic" first then head over to Pacific. If I had the time and strength I would then head to Crystal via the SW ridge then head down SW towards Mayflower Hill and the truck. The plan was to hit all of these peaks without doing the technical traverses between "Drift" and Fletcher, and Fletcher and Atlantic. What I liked about this plan was that from each of the summits there would be a reasonable Class 2 exit strategy to the west that would lead back to the truck if weather got ugly. The tough part would be the elevation lost dropping down to avoid the two technical traverses. Without Crystal, the loop was looking to be about 5200 feet of elevation gain; more than I've done in one day all season.
Left Denver at 3am and got to the upper lot and trailhead about 4:30ish. The turn into the lower lot and start of the 4x4 road is very easy to pass in the dark. The mileage Roach gives in his 13ers book is pretty accurate, but I still ended up flying by it the first time. The 4x4 road up to the upper lot is pretty tame and I think most vehicles with good clearance could make it with careful driving. The worst of the road comes after only a few 100 yards, just past the first fork in the road (go right). Once you can get past that, you're pretty much home-free to the top. Started up the old mining trail up towards the west ridge at 4:50, about 10 minutes earlier than I planned. The clear skies and a very bright half-moon made it very easy to follow the trail without the headlamp. Once I topped out on the saddle between Gold Hill and Drift I couldn't find a defined trail. However, it's pretty easy to guess where you are going as the west ridge is pretty easy to pick out. At this point the first surprise came: the hike up to Drift is pretty steep. Climber trails popped in and out of view in the dark but for the most part a stayed high on the ridge and headed straight to the SW face which would lead to the summit. Towards the top climber trails lead you to the summit. I had hoped to summit in 1.5 hours but it ended up taking almost 2 hrs and more effort than I expected. Feeling like I was a little behind I snapped a few quick pictures and started heading down. Heading south off the peak towards the East Couloir and the combo route Roach calls "East Winds" was pretty obvious as there's a pretty visible trail off the summit. After dropping down about 150 ft or so I came to the top of a gully that had broken segments of climbers trail leading down to the basin I needed to get to. I knew this was not the right gully, according to roach's description, but feeling like I was a little behind schedule I decided to give it a shot. MISTAKE #1. After dropping down about 50 ft, the gully just kept getting steeper and looser. Not wanting to take any chances I headed back up to stick to the original plan. Once back on the ridge, I headed to the low point of the ridge between Drift and 13698. The gully here wasn't much better but it was a little less steep.
Looking down the east couloir
About half way down this nightmare (I really hate this type of hike) a spine of rock to the left (north) came into view and I decided to down-climb that instead continuing down my current course. The spine wasn't perfect, but it was mostly solid class 3 and 4 rock all the way to the bottom. There were a couple of spots were you could move back into the gully to avoid the harder moves but since the rock was decent, I decided to stay on it all the way down. Once down, it was time to head to the west ridge of Fletcher.
Looking back at the exit. Green line shows the class 3 and 4 rock I took.
The hike from the base of the gully to the saddle between 13515 and Fletcher is a beautiful and gentle alpine hike. According to the GPS, I dropped down to about 13200 before slowly regaining elevation towards the saddle. Once on the saddle, I was surprised to find a pretty decent trail that leads you all the way to Fletcher's summit. The hike up to the summit is pretty straight-forward. From Drift to Fletcher, it took about 1.5 hours and was now about 815. At this point, I had done roughly 2900 ft of elevation and was starting to feel it.
Drift Peak from Fletcher
Atlantic, Pacific and Crystal from Fletcher
At this point I had to make the biggest commitment of the hike. Because I would have to head east towards Quandary's west ridge and then drop into McCullough Gulch I would be hiking in the opposite direction of the truck and putting a 13200 foot ridge between me and my way home. Knowing that it was still early and the clouds were virtually non-existent I decided to make a go of it. At this point, I had already started to eliminate Crystal from the itinerary. At 830, I started the decent towards Quandary's west ridge. There is more or less a trail to follow down. Once I hit the low point of the saddle I was standing at the top of a gully that would have shot straight down to the lakes below. I stood there for a good few minutes trying to decide if I should take it down as there appeared to be bits of trail leading down. MISTAKE #2? Feeling a little gun shy after the gully off of Drift, I keep going up the ridge in hopes of trying to find the faint trail I could see from Fletcher's summit that leads from McCullough Gulch to Quandary's west ridge route. If you look at Roach's map detailing this route, it appears that you should skirt the harder parts of the ridge on the north side which will eventually lead you to a gully around 13200 that you take towards the lakes below. I, however, kept to the trail that went around the south of the ridge's hard stuff. Unfortunately, these rock towers shields your view of the basin and any potential exit towards it. After climbing up to about 13400 on the ridge the basin came back into view and I could see the faint trail about 200 ft below and to the east. Not feeling like continuing up the ridge to find where that trail meets up, I started angling down in a generally NE direction through a boulder field to get to the basin below. This boulder field was quite nasty and you couldn't assume the boulder, no matter how big, would be stable.
Route I took off of the West Ridge
Eventually I ended up on a grassy bench to the south of the lake labeled 12555 on the topo map. From here I skirted to the west of the lake on a series of benches and rolling hills.
At one point I came up to about a 10 ft high band of rock that blocked my path. It could have easily been bypassed by losing some elevation and heading east a bit but it looked like it would be fun bouldering to get to the top. After four moves, I was up and on my way to the start of the accent to the Atlantic-Pacific saddle.
Eventually, I intersected a faint trail that led up to the saddle between Atlantic and Pacific. It was now 1015 and the adventure down Quandary's west ridge had really worn me out. Darker clouds were starting to form and I had a nice blister forming on the ball of my foot. By the time I got to the start of the accent I had already decided that Crystal was off the table. But with the weather and my foot, I was starting to feel like Pacific was a long shot as well. From Fletcher, the west ridge of Atlantic looked pretty gentle and it would lead down relatively close to the parking lot. But before I could even start to think about that, I had to climb up the loose scree trail up to the saddle. Once at the saddle, the weather seemed to be turning towards the worse. It was now 1045, my foot was killing me, I've done about 3800 ft of elevation and Pacific looked like it was 50 miles away. So, easy decision, head to Atlantic and get off the mountain before the weather turns. From the saddle, there's more or less a trail that leads you all the way to the top. With fresh legs I would have said that this would be a nice, gently slope up the summit. But being tired and trying to hump it up to the summit, I was cursing the slog up. However, once on the summit, the nice views of the surrounding peaks really made up for it. I topped out at 1115 and for the moment the weather didn't appear to be getting worse so I was able to sit, eat and enjoy the views.
Drift and Fletcher from Atlantic
After 15 minutes I started heading down the west ridge of Atlantic. This is a pretty easy ridge and never goes more than class 2. There are broken bits of trail that will skirt harder parts either on the south or north. At some point I dropped down on the south side of the ridge to avoid some scrambling but it led to some loose nastiness so I ended up climbing up to regain the ridge and joining up with another broken piece of trail. I think at some point I was supposed to drop to the north but oh well. I never really saw a safe early exit off the ridge so I just took it all the way down to the mining relics by Pacific Creek. From here if you head mostly south you will hit a trail that cuts SSE and will lead you through the willows and back to the upper trailhead.
Look back at Atlantic and its west ridge
All in all, this was a very cool hike. The loose, dangerous exits off of Drift and Fletcher were made up by beautiful lakes and views. Walking below the Drift-Fletcher and Fletcher-Atlantic traverse lent to some amazing views of very rugged terrain. It was also amazing that on Labor Day weekend, I didn't see anyone else the whole day. I also thought that for such straight-forward hikes to centennial peaks with awesome views, the complete lack of a defined trail was a testament to the fact that if its not 14k, it doesn't get climbed by the masses (to which I can be guilty of as well). While this loop can be kept at a class 2, be aware that you are above tree line the entire time and for half of it you are separated from you car by an 800 ft high ridge. Mind the weather carefully and know what your exit strategy is.
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