| Big day on West Ridge
My buddy Glen had been throwing around some ideas for some "shorter" winter excursions relatively close to Denver and finally something came to fruition yesterday with Pacific Pk, an imposing peak of the Tenmile Range outside Copper Mountain, being the goal. I‘ve always been pretty mesmerized by the Fletcher Group since the first day I got off Copper‘s Super Bee lift and saw the line of prominent peaks starting from Crystal and ending with Drift. In the summers, I would consistently overlook this range for endeavors in the Elks, Gores, even the Sawatch. But Glen pitched the climb pretty well, he said it‘d be a fun, short winter class 3 scramble. Little did either of us know how commiting of a climb we were getting ourselves into and what we thought was going to be a 5-6 hour day, ended up being a 9-10 hour day.
To be safe, we peeled out of Wash Park around 5:30am, just in case the climb would prolong itself and we could avoid navigating our way back to the car in the dark. I personally had never been to these peaks and between Glen‘s experience in the region and Gerry Roach‘s 3 sentences regarding the route we chose, I honestly didn‘t think much of it all.
After some grub and no traffic, we quickly reached the Mayflower Gulch TH off Rt.91 around 7:15am and were on the trail with blue skies around 7:30am. The forecast had called for increasing clouds and some wind after 8am, but there was little to no signs of either of these conditions for the majority of the day, which was nice.
To make this trip as avy-free as possible, we took an alternate approach, that winded North for about 2 extra miles from Crystal and Pacific and entered the basin from the NW.
Here‘s a look at our entrance into the basin w/ Atlantic and Mayflower Hill in the foreground and a bit of Pacific‘s W.Ridge in the left
We had to throw on snowshoes almost immediately after leaving the car.
Here is a shot of our tracks (the only tracks that day) deep in the basin w/ Copper‘s backside in the distance.
After a lazy 2.5 hours we reached the base of our objective, the West Ridge and took off the shoes. Here‘s our view of Mayflower Hill and its heavly corniced ridgeline.
From reading the summitpost description of this route, it mentioned a series of towers and the southern part of the ridge being the path of least resistence. This couldn‘t have been any more accurate.
Glen in front of our first obstacle
Glen stated at one point before we commited to the ridge "let the fun begin". Fun, in this case, became a pretty relative term. For the next 2.5 to 3 hours we experienced a number of emotions, ranging from sheer excitement, methodical concentration, uncertainty, misery, fear, and in the end, pure satisfaction.
Anyways, back to the climb. Here‘s an idea of how steep it got. Thank god the snow along that ridge was stable that day.
And an idea of the steepness looing back down our route (and this was the South side, the North side was the side we were told to avoid)
Looking at the spine of the ridge from about halfway up the ridge. You can get an idea of the steep North side.
We still had a long way to go
A quick note about avalanche conditions. The CAIC labelled this region as "considerable" and I definately could see how this was accurate. As I mentioned, we avoided all potential sliding slopes on the approach and when climbing on the ridge, we stuck as close to the rocks as possible, which wasn‘t very difficult and when crossing a mandatory, exposed snowfield (there were no overhanging cornices), we travelled one at a time and as quickly as possible. We dug pits, but bottom line, the snow was stable when we needed it the most.
Here‘s an example of where we had to travel across a knife-edged snow covered ridge (with windy conditions to boot)
At one point, we were forced to scale a very sharp knife ridge full of snow with some dramatic expsosure on each side. This was more or less the moment of truth of the climb, a "traverse of faith" if you will. Here‘s our look back at our tracks, the picture doesn‘t do the exposure justice :
Once passed this point, we were very close, but the day was wearing on us. The wind had picked up considerably and the snow travel had put a damper on our morale. We were experiencing a lot more mixed climbing where we had to brush the snow off the route, just to find a reasonable handhold. A couple times there was both loose and slippery rock with tough class 3/4 moves to make so we‘d be forced to apply a little pit of pressure from all 4 limbs to get over an obstacle. The ridge was getting taxing and we were ready for the summit.
After 3 hours on that goddamn ridge, we were finally presented with this view
It was a very sheer drop off the North face and we got a great look at the North Couloir route (5.5).
Here‘s a shot of Glen on the summit w/ Front Range in the back
It was still a very clear day when we reached the summit. We could make our the Elks quite well and Pikes Pk couldn‘t have seemed any closer. The wind actually relented while we sat there exhausted, but victorious.
Some shots from the summit :
Quandary, Silverheels and Pikes in a line
Me with Gores in back
We agreed on another way down, heading back down that ridge would‘ve meant the end for us. We found a variation of the easier ridge route eventually hooking up with Crystal to the North, except instead of heading down the ridge, we went straight down the scree covered face, a more direct line towards the basin. It actually wasn‘t as bad as we thought‘d it be. We used our poles for balance, only tripped a few times and were greeted with a nice 200 foot glissade down to the valley floor and an amazing, surreal view of an incoming storm to the West :
And a view of the sun setting over the Gores to the NW
I never thought I‘d have admit this, but we were pretty thrilled to have the opportunity to put our snowshoes back on and walk in a straight line over flat ground, that exposed, long ridge really did a number on our mental well being.
The hike out was uneventful and we had some amazing sunset views of the white carpeted landscape. It was a euphoric feeling to say the least.
Our final view of Pacific and the daunting ridge
And our journey out
We filled our bellies with Bison meat in Idaho Springs and crashed pretty hard once back in Denver.
Glen, always a pleasure, looking foward to some more snow climbs.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):