| From Sea to Shining Sea - The West Ridges
Peaks: Pacific and Atlantic
Routes: Pacific's West Ridge (Class 3), Traverse to Atlantic, Atlantic West Ridge Descent
RT Distance: 6.7 Miles
Elevation Gain: 3,430 Feet
A school policy of mine: three day weekends are not to be taken lightly. Every three day weekend must be seen as an opportunity to go to something fun and preferably lengthy so as to make use of the extra time off. My original plan for Labor Day weekend was to meet up with a friend and climb Mount Meeker, but in the end my friend couldn't make it and I was on my own. I didn't feel like making a climb as long as Meeker by myself, so since I needed to go to Denver anyway I started looking at what mountains wouldn't be far out of my way. That's when I remembered looking over at Pacific Peak from Jacques Peak last November. I recalled how sharp and impressive the peak looked, and knew it had a class 3 ridge. Ok that sounds like fun. Hmm, looking in Gerry Roach's book, I find that Atlantic Peak is only a ridge away, and that gives me the option of returning to the trailhead without downclimbing Pacific's West Ridge. It will be a traverse between oceans! Sounds like a plan.
Pacific and Atlantic Peaks seen from the west on Jacques Peak last November
Friday evening I left Gunnison and drove up over Fremont Pass to the Mayflower Gulch trailhead. I was going to park in the parking lot right off the highway to car camp, but once I got there I realized how ridiculous it would be to camp so close to the road and try to sleep. Well the 4wd road doesn't look too nasty at first, let's see how far I can drive up. Oh a full 200 yards to a pull-off? Good enough. I parked and looked around a little, then set up the back of my Volvo for the night. I read a chapter for my Recreation Leadership class and went to sleep.
I woke up a lot that night, as the temperatures plummeted. Why didn't I bring my 0 degree bag? Oh well. It also didn't help that in the early morning a lot of other cars started to show up. I was surprised and slightly annoyed by the disturbance as at least five cars and three ATVs came up before my alarm went off at 5:45 AM. Still tired, I pulled my hiking clothes on and immediately started to shiver. Heck with a relaxed breakfast, I'm going to get moving! I got my pack out of the car, grabbed a granola bar, locked the car, and started hiking up the road while eating the bar. It only took five minutes to stop shivering.
The relatively flat road went pretty quickly and before I knew it I was looking across to my left at Pacific Creek running down a gulch into the main creek. That was the end of the well-maintained portion of the morning. I left the road and went about tackling the small forest of willows surrounding Mayflower Creek. After finally overcoming that obstacle, I started following Pacific Creek's left side up into the gulch. I left the trees and Pacific Peak came into view. Continuing a ways further, I noticed there is a bit of a trail on the other side of the creek, so I followed it for a ways until it starts to turn right, towards Atlantic Peak. I left the creek and continued towards Pacific.
The sun's first light hitting the high peaks
At the base of Pacific's West Ridge
The initial terrain of the ridge
The terrain remained gentle and rolling all the way to the base of Pacific's West Ridge, but from there it would be more of a climb than a hike. Starting up the ridge, I noticed that it got steeper very quickly. It started out with some scampering up through talus and boulders, and on this terrain I approached the first of many impressive looking towers on the ridge. This first one looked pretty crazy so I decided to go around it; loose won out over hard this time.
Looking down after getting around the first tower
Looking up the next tower
After the first tower, I could see that the nature of the rest of the ridge would be figuring out how to get over and around a bunch of towers. I continued up. The next tower wasn't as hard and the real class 3 climbing started there. Some of the rock was a little loose but most of it pretty solid. Most of the way to the summit would be like that; negotiate a tower then hike to the next one. Some were easier than others, some narrow and more challenging. I did end up making one class 4 downclimbing move off one tower and that was the hardest things got.
Crossing a very narrow stretch of ridge about 15 feet long and maybe two feet wide
Where I made my only class 4 move, needing to lower myself off the top of the tower to the ledge on the left
Looking down at the ridge from near the summit
At last the towers gave way to a seemingly final talus slope. Marching up to what I thought was the summit, I proudly stepped to the top only to see… oh yeah, the notch, and the North Couloir route. I stepped into the notch and peered down the North Couloir. In spring, this is a snow route which reaches 65 degrees of pitch and sometimes leaves class 5.5 rock exposed. Well, maybe someday I'll go after routes like that, but for now I'm just going to keep to my scrambling. The summit waits.
Crystal Peak from the summit
Ah, the Gore Range
Quandary and the Lincoln group
If Lewis and Clark knew that it only took a little over three hours to reach the Pacific, they wouldn't have bothered with the Missouri River! There I stood on top of Pacific Peak, only 50 feet shy of 14,000 feet, on a Saturday, with no one around. I sat and enjoyed my solitude for a while, glad I wasn't on Quandary Peak where it looked like someone was throwing a party. I took some pictures of the surroundings and then went to take a picture down the North Face… then changed my mind about ten feet away. I'm not going any closer than that! Alright alright, I have another ocean to get to.
Atlantic Peak along the traverse
Walking along the ridge between these two peaks seemed like crossing the Great American Desert. It was just a bunch of talus the whole way, although Pacific Tarn is pretty cool, I had never seen a lake that high up before. At any rate, it took a little over an hour to reach the top of Atlantic, meeting my first person of the day on his way to Pacific. Thinking that was all I was going to see, I was very surprised to find not one, not two, but SEVEN people topping out on Atlantic Peak at the same time as me! It was a group of CMC'ers who had finished the Fourteeners and were climbing some 13ers instead. We chatted for a while and they headed off to Pacific. Well, some clouds are thinking of building up, time for me to go down.
Pacific Peak from Atlantic's summit
Looking down Atlantic's West Ridge
Pacific from the descent, with the West Ridge in profile on the left
The ridge seemed kind of long and tedious in comparison to the ascent route, but it's relatively solid. I passed a couple more people on their way up and noted a person on the top of Pacific from time to time. What a busy day in the mountains! Arriving at a spot on the lower ridge where it broadened and flattened out, I turned right and dropped back into the basin between Pacific and Atlantic, rejoining with my ascent route. I continued back down to Mayflower Creek, whacked my way through the willows again, and rejoined the road for the walk back to my car.
Pacific Peak framed by Pacific Creek drainage
In one day, I had gone from Pacific to Atlantic, from Sea to Shining Sea so to speak. Pacific and Atlantic were also my 20th and 21st of Colorado's 100 highest summits, respectively. Does that make me legal?
To see more pictures from this climb, please visit my online photo album at http://picasaweb.google.com/coloradoclimberguy/
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):