| Closing the Opening Chapter
And then there was one.
Over the past three plus winters I have enjoyed many wonderful adventures among the gentle giants of the Tenmile/Mosquito Range. Today it was time to log the final entry in the opening chapter of Top-100 mountains, and what a place to do it!
Atlantic Peak has been an objective of mind for a couple years, yet somehow its always been passed over for the pleasure of climbing another mountain. One occasion in January 2007 saw me parade by Atlantic, by intended target for the day, as Pacific‘s West Ridge beckoned me onwards. None of that today, there‘s business which needs to be finished.
With a shorter route selected today, I slept in until 5am and hurry out of town arriving at the Mayflower Gulch Trailhead at 7:10am. Atlantic lords over the parking lot holding my attention while I ready myself for the unexpected cold of -2.
Atlantic, West Ridge in foreground, from the trailhead
7:30am finds my hiking up the expected well-packed trail towards upper Mayflower Gulch in snowshoes(I like wearing them). Without the extra effort of breaking trail, I‘m able to move quickly forward. Fletcher and Drift periodically peek through the trees.
Fletcher and Drift while crossing Mayflower Gulch
As treeline approached, Pacific and Atlantic begin vying for attention and my focus shifted to where would be the best spot to cross Mayflower Gulch.
Pacific Peak from across Mayflower Gulch, West Ridge highlighted in sun
Upon reaching a point directly across the gulch from the entrance to Atlantic‘s West Ridge, I made a beeline straight across.
The entrance to Atlantic‘s West Ridge
The snow was fairly firm making postholing non-existent outside one entertaining section(for other people) around the willows in the center. Hopefully the trees leading to the ridge would play as nice.
That didn‘t seem the case upon reaching the trees. The winds had been up to their usual tomfoolery above treeline throwing the leftover snow into the tall trees. This might not be too pleasant!
A postholing nightmare?
Fortunately, a rhythm was steadily maintained cranking out a knee-deep trench. As the trees thinned out, I stuck close to the remaining anchors while approaching bare rocks higher up. There I cached the snowshoes in preparation for the awaiting scree slog.
Looking down the entrance slope to the West Ridge
Loose, snowy rocks weren‘t too enjoyable yet they didn‘t prevent from reaching the flat area, and the sun, above 12,400‘. Now things were beginning to feel like the predicted forecast!
On the flats around 12,500‘ with the upper ridge in view
Lounging in the sun was cut short by the grand entrance of the wind. Up and at again! Once moving again, the wind had subsided.
After scooting up the next rocky slope, the upper ridge begins to take shape.
The beginning of the upper ridge
The rocks give way to a solid, wide snowpack. Travel goes smoothly until reaching the first narrow section at 13,000‘. Ice axe please.
For the first time this winter things get fairly interesting. This section has my complete attention as I slowly ease across. Left, Right, Left, Right. On the far side my heart rate eases as the terrain widens. That was fun.
Looking back across the first narrow section
Next, a sketchy-looking tower forces me to the south side of the ridge. My plastics are perfect for kick stepping as I move across facing inwards with the ice axe pick firmly planted in solid snow. The occasional rock hold helps immensely. Regaining the ridge, I find cruisable terrain for the time being.
Hidden difficulties waiting above
Minor obstacles come and go until the final, hidden section before heading to the visible highpoint. Here a snowy, thin section(dare I say knife-edge) presents itself. Wow, that‘s the attention grabber. With my ice axe in front, once again I find myself moving forward slowly, one foot landing on each side of the ridge. On the far side, I gawk back at the crux. It was more than expected!
The West Ridge winter crux, a snowy knife-edge
With the interesting sections behind me, the task of plowing through the remaining snowy scree comes to the forefront of my mind. The highpoint ahead is definitely a false summit. Crossing a snow wave, I decide to avoid the visible rocky couloir with a short scramble. All the interesting sections prove to have more bark than bite as only one third-class move is needed to finesse my way through. At the highpoint, the true summit comes into view.
Atlantic‘s summit in sight
Here I decide to drop off the ridge 30 feet and walk through the scree to the bare patch leading to the summit. Steady travel re-emerges and the summit appears at 12:25pm. A loud "Woo Hoo" is plenty celebration for completing this range. I drop my pack and go visit the summit cairn for a photo before returning to the higher snowdrift to lounge on the highest point.
Summiter! Fletcher and connecting ridge(5.7) in background
The mountain gods must have noticed my arrival as the dormant wind kicks up one more time. Oh well, time to boogie down. Trailhead in two hours?
The West Ridge from the summit
Down the ridge is much better. My body is adjusted to the exposure of the three crux sections and I move confidently across. The scree slope to the flat section is another animal altogether. It‘s a knee buster and I slam my left shin into a big rock. Upon gaining the flats, I decide to travel around the scree to my snowshoes. A 50-75‘ glissade aids the process and my snowshoes are quickly reclaimed. Whoa, there are lots of people in Mayflower Gulch right now! Shortcut out?
Reaching the valley floor, I find lots of ski tracks to and fro. Nothing holds well so my ascent trench it is. Soon enough, the Mayflower Gulch Track Highway is regained and I put it on auto pilot for the remainder of the way back. 2:45pm, impressive. That was quite the journey! Front Range anyone?