| Atlantic`s West Ridge- The Partial Pillage
This is one of those times of year when everything is constantly changing in the mountains. Avalanche conditions, and weather get forecasted, but there is just no way to really know without going and taking a look… within reason. When we left the forecast called for -20 windchills and considerable avi danger.
We had planned on staying on a relatively avi safe ridge route up Pacific's West Ridge, but decided to change plans at the last minute, and headed for Atlantic's West Ridge. The route made sense. With the avalanche danger sitting solidly at 'considerable' above treeline, the route would permit us to stay below treeline all the way to the ridge, were we would be able to fins a safe way to gain the ridge line.
Excited to get out first winter climb of the year, we left the snowshoes in the car, strapped on avi beacons and headed into the cold morning.
Photo by Jesse Benn (JB99) of a peak that we have not been able to identify from mayflower gulch
another image captured a little later in the morning of the same mountain - any ideas of what mountain this is? Looks like a fun ridge line!
The trail up the road was very well packed, as was the route through the willows as we crossed the Valley to start up to Atlantic's ridge. The trail continued to be well packed until we reached treeline. At that point, the reason for the CAIC's forecast became obvious. There was a 8-12" slab sitting on top of powder. Plunging our trekking poles into the snow for a quick layer test told us that there were at least 2 slabs beneath our feet, so we carefully found our way up the slope, finding avalanche debris from at least one small slide still below the Saddle.
Let the post holing begin!
the small slab sitting on top of a weak layer
debris from a small slide at treeline, you can see the crown to the left of the rocks
Jesse at the wooden pole marking the saddle with pacific in the background
When we reached the saddle, the route up to the ridge was obvious. We would be able to stick to rock and shallow snow, but as we looked around, we could see recent slide paths all around us, dominantly on Mayflower Hill. Excited to be on the ridge, I made the mistake of making the comment that the only thing that would turn us around now would be for us to give up. Both Jesse and I felt really good, with the exception of my very cold feet, so we took a quick break and took to moving up the ridge. As we looked back we could see what had been a large avalanche running from the Northern aspect of the West Ridge into the bowl below. Another reminder of the unstable conditions.
looking down on avalanche debris that had run off the Northern aspect of Atlantic's West Ridge
Jesse taking a photo while enjoying the first direct sunlight of the day
Looking out at Pacific from the ridge at 12,500ft
Photo by Jesse (JB99) taken of the remaining route
Photo by Jesse Benn of Pacific's Face
Jesse coming up the last of the wide steep part of the lower ridge
The snow on the ridge remained unconsolidated, so we tried our best to stay on rock whenever possible, but crossing the "knife edges" of snow meant punching through what were the very tops of slabs, as the sound of avalanche blasting in the Breckenridge area cut through the quite, and nearly windless day. Again, we were encouraged, because as long as we stayed on the ridge, we would be above the danger that was so clearly below us.
Jesse heading up one of the lower "knife edges" with some beautiful exposure to either side
Jesse heading up another portion of the ridge
Jesse looking out at Pacific while heading up the ridge
This lasted until we reached approximately 13,450ft. At this point, we came up on the cornise that has garnered a good amount of attention on a thread on this site. The best way across, that would avoid the cornise and keep us above rock, but near the ridge crest would require that we cross the very top of what was a very wind loaded slope, that had formed an obvious convex form. As I carefully stepped onto the slope, I immediately post holed to my knee. Hoping this was the result of the heat from the surrounding rock, I opted to try a couple of more steps, but it only seemed to get worse, with a large slab sitting on top of powder. Jesse, hoping that he could find a way was able to make it across, but our weight difference was just enough that no matter where I tried, even going up onto the area that was clearly the beginning of the corise netted the same result for me.
Photo by Jesse Benn (JB99) of me as I was getting ready to try another route across the cornice and avi slope
I am very conservative when it comes to avalanches. I never go out without a beacon, shovel and probe, but I do so planning on never having to use them, and believe pretty firmly in traveling through avalanche terrain as though I had no avalanche safety equipment to help. I find this keeps me aware. I was certain that I could posthole my way across a 200ft stretch of avalanche slope with really bad run out. But if I did this, I would be creating a trench across a wind loaded and unstable snowpack. Aside from all else, the sun was now up, and it would not be long before it was on that aspect. If we made it across safely going up, in and hour or more when we came back across, would it be safe then? The benefit of my post holing was that it created a pit through the snow, and the large slab, nearly identical to the ones we had seen in the small slide areas at treeline was intact on this slope, and it was unbonded to the much weaker layer that was supporting it.
My earlier, and rash comment about only turning around if we "gave up" was heavy in my head and heart as I told Jesse that crossing this slope was just not safe, and that I felt as though this was a game changer for me. He carefully came back across the slope, and we discussed what my though process was, and headed down a little more then 400ft below our objective.
Jesse coming off the rocks at the turn around point
Jesse waiving the Jolly Roger Flag... since we managed to pillage the Atlantic as much as we could before the Atlantic pillaged us!
Had we not turned around we would not have gotten this view with the clouds coming over Fletcher
Photo by Jesse Benn (JB99) of me coming hiking down the ridge line
We were able to make our way down fairly quickly, and as we came back to the saddle, I began to feel my toes that I had forgotten about burn as they thawed out. The decision to turn around started to re-enforce itself as I realized that while I could feel most of my toes on my right foot, my big toe was still numb, with a mild burning sensation. We made our way to the car, and when I took off my boot, I was happy to find that my toe did not look bad, just bright red, and still numb and burning. Turns out I got a very solid case of frost nip, verging on superficial frost bite. Had we kept moving up, my foot would have stayed cold longer, which would have made that a worse situation. The way things turned out, we had a beautiful climb in the mountains, up a cool ridge, got some interesting photos and got to test our avi knowledge. Overall it was a great day, and as always a learning experience.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):