| Coast to Coast Traverse via Atlantis Couloir
Coast to Coast Traverse via the Atlantis Couloir
Atlantic Peak (13841)
Pacific Peak (13950)
Distance: ~7.75 miles
Vertical Gain: ~3500 feet
Complete picture gallery available here
I had a wedding to attend at 5pm on Saturday, which was the only semi-free day this weekend for climbing. So we knew we had to make it a close and relatively quick climb so that I could make it back in time. Joining my regular partner Brian and I was his new neighbor Judah who recently moved here from New York.
We opted for a short and relatively mellow couloir near Breckenridge that Roach & Roach describe as a classic: Atlantis Couloir on Atlantic Peak. It took longer to get there than expected so we started out later than I was hoping but made good time up a nice trail. Right at treeline we came to a snowbank where the true trail turned left across the snow toward a beautiful lake but another way went more upward. Since ascent was our goal we opted for the upper path. This wasn't a real trail, but provided a nice way to bypass the willows and difficult creek crossing near the lake. We had to lose a bit of elevation, but we had the benefit of an easier crossing through a braided section of creek.
Not long after crossing the creek above the lake we hit some snow that was actually remarkably solid considering how warm it had been and how late in the year it was. We were able to stay on this pretty much the rest of the way to the couloir, which saved the trouble of tediously hopping boulders. One advantage to the lost couloir of Atlantis is that much of its run is hidden from the morning sun, unlike the more visible V colouoirs. Given our somewhat late start this was a nice benefit, and the snow was great for kicking steps. Not too hard but not too soft. The couloir makes a minor branch near the top and we opted for the left, though the snow wasn't quite to the top at this point so if I could do it again I would head for the right branch which did reach the top.
The couloir is short and sweet, and never does exceed more than about 40-42 degrees, though I didn't have an inclinometer, so that's just a guess. At the top we quickly put away our crampons and continued up the talus and boulders for the last few hundred feet to the summit of Atlantic. By now the weather was remarkably cloudy given the weather that we'd been expecting. The clouds weren't building into thunderheads, but they were making things quite grey and a bit windy. Though there was a windbreak on a farther point, the first point we came to seemed to be the summit. There wasn't a register in either place.
We continued down to the saddle, with Brian glissading and Judah and I opting to hike down. The alpine flowers were quite lovely as we traversed the flat saddle and started heading up the ridge of Pacific Peak. By now Judah had fallen behind and he opted to stay back at the small point that rises a hundred feet or so above Pacific Tarn, the highest lake in North America while Brian and I went for the summit. I wasn't as quick as I would have liked, but we made decent time to the summit. We took the time for a quick snack and some pictures before heading down. It was now 11am, and I had to be in Denver, showered, and presentable for a wedding in six hours. Plus the skies were almost totally grey by this time.
Fortunately there was a large snowfield that led from a point about 100 feet shy of Pacific's summit down to Pacific Tarn. This provided a quick glissade, though we were careful to give the still mostly frozen lake a large berth. From the ridge above the tarn we caught another glissade, and then again down from the saddle between the two peaks. The sky started shooting ice pellets while we were on the saddle, and that would continue off and on throughout the descent.
At the bottom of the last glissade we put away some gear and started boulder hopping our way back to the snowfield that had allowed us early passage that morning. I opted to keep my raingear on, which would prove to be an alternately hot and wise decision. Wanting to maximize time I didn't have a snack on the way down, which I would greatly regret everytime there was a small uphill section. We made it back to the car by about 1:20 and quickly set off for home.
I'm happy to report that I made it to the wedding with about 10-15 minutes to spare. Quite a Saturday. McCullough gulch was incredibly gorgeous, too. I'd highly recommend this route to anyone as a fun snow route with a beautiful approach. This was perfect timing for climbing it, too.