The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn. - John Muir
The Flood Tide: Pacific Peak
Fallen foliage in McCullough Gulch.
Pacific Peak, elevation 13950 ft.
Climb date: October 2, 2010 Trailhead name: McCullough Gulch, elevation 11105 ft. Distance: Approximately 7 miles roundtrip.
Captions on top of photos.
Like the teeth of a shark: The rugged east ridge of Pacific Peak guards hidden treasures.
I follow Road 852 into the mouth of the valley. It's five in the afternoon. Warm evening light fills the sky.
Aspen's last stand.
I pitch my tent in a well-used campsite at the bottom of the gulch. There is no one else around.
The campsite has a beautiful view to the east. I watch shadow move like the tide towards Red Mountain (left) and Hoosier Ridge (right).
The night is quiet and warm. I sleep well.
All too soon the tent fades to a lighter shade of grey. I silence my alarm before it can sound. Outside, morning alpenglow pours from the summit of Quandary Peak.
I tear down my tent and load the Jeep. I drive a mile west on Road 851 to the McCullough Gulch Trailhead.
A locked vehicle gate blocks motorized access beyond this point.
I walk a mile on gravel road. A single-track trail breaks from the road at a marked junction. I follow the trail deep into the valley.
Soon the autumn tide will extinguish their light.
I arrive at a trail junction. The Falls pull me in.
The trail weaves through forest and deadfall. Soon the trees move away to unveil a copper landscape. The trail continues around Upper Blue Reservoir and ascends ramps and ledges to the saddle at the top left of photo.
I follow the trail deep into McCollough Gulch. Here the rugged north ridge of Fletcher Mountain commands my attention.
I soon realize my mistake. I followed the well-traveled trail for too high and too long. Now I must descend to reach the headwall at the back of this valley. Pacific Peak is above the headwall.
I cross an ocean of rock, moving from stone to stone, always aware that my next step could be a disaster. I find the flow - balance, step, balance, step - my friend momentum. I stop and breathe. I take a thousand precious steps and the headwall doesn't seem to get any closer. Pacific Peak appears above the ridge.
After what feels like miles (but isn't) the third class headwall looms menacingly above. I pick the path of least resistance and start climbing the steep slope.
Two steps forward; one step back. I use my hands for balance and progress.
The headwall relents. I gain the saddle between Atlantic Peak and Pacific Peak. Atlantic Peak crowns the saddle. Here I encounter two hikers - the only people I will see today.
Beyond a small ridge to the north is graceful Pacific Peak. The summit rises fifty feet shy of fourteener glory.
Pacific Tarn, elevation 13420 ft., is the highest named lake in America.
I ascend second class talus on the south ridge of Pacific Peak. The summit is a hundred feet away.
I reach the crest of the peak, an island in the sky.
The view to the north includes (from front to back) the ridge to Crystal Peak, the Ten Mile Range, Interstate 70, and the distant Gore Range.
The view to the northeast shows (from left to right) Crystal Peak, Father Dyer Peak, and Mount Helen. Behind and to the right of Crystal Peak is Peak 10. Greys and Torreys are visible in the distance.
The mountains to the east are cradled by the Mohawk Lakes basin. Across the forest, from left to right, are Bald Mountain, Boreas Mountain, and Red Mountain.
The graceful crest of Quandary Peak dominates the view to the south. Pacific Tarn is below. Atlantic Peak is seen on the right. My ascent route is visible in this photo.
It's two hours past noon - time to split. I reverse my ascent and carefully descend the headwall into the sea of boulders. I depart from my ascent route and head east towards the low point in the valley. I hike across a mile of unstable rock to the copper fields. I am glad to see the dying grass and I lie down on it, thankful that I did not break a leg to get here.
I follow a stream bed through golden landscapes.
The stream flows into Upper Blue Reservoir. It is here that I find my ascent trail. Relieved, I drop my pack.
I look back at my descent route from the upper basin. The massive east ridge stands high overhead. I give my thanks to Pacific Peak for safe passage.
Dark clouds fly fast overhead. I find a rock throne beside the lake, where I relax and watch the show. The sun and shadow dance with pure grace.
I can visit these depths and remain here for hours. But it's now past four on a Sunday afternoon. I may have forgotten - if just for a while - but the facts of life remain. It's time to go home. I shoulder my pack and walk down the trail.
The forest is thick with deadfall. It is beautiful and cruel.
The autumn tide flows through lakes and streams.
The clouds move toward the horizon like a herd of white buffalo. I chase them down the valley.
Snow falls a few days later. And again a few days after that. It's not long before the mountains turn from gold to silver. The winter blanket is here.
My Sorrow, when she's here with me, Thinks these dark days of autumn rain Are beautiful as days can be; She loves the bare, the withered tree; She walks the sodden pasture lane. Her pleasure will not let me stay. She talks and I am fain to list: She's glad the birds are gone away, She's glad her simple worsted gray Is silver now with clinging mist. The desolate, deserted trees, The faded earth, the heavy sky, The beauties she so truly sees, She thinks I have no eye for these, And vexes me for reason why. Not yesterday I learned to know The love of bare November days Before the coming of the snow, But it were vain to tell her so, And they are better for her praise. - Robert Frost
The Ebb Tide: Atlantic Peak
Pacific Peak seen from the west ridge of Atlantic Peak.
Atlantic Peak, elevation 13841 ft.
Climb date: November 7, 2010 Trailhead name: Mayflower Gulch, elevation 10980 ft. Distance: Approximately 6 miles roundtrip.
Captions on top of photos.
I sit comfortable in my Jeep as a tremendous storm swallows the mountain whole. The wicked squall brings thunder and lightning on a cold November day. I wait it out. The storm moves on leaving a wake of frosty blue sky.
This is the view into Mayflower Gulch from the start of the route. Atlantic Peak (on the left) is separated from Fletcher Peak (right) by a rugged technical ridge. My ascent route - the west ridge - is visible here. The time is one hour past noon.
I walk through Mayflower Gulch on a snow-covered road. The passing seasons wash away a ruined cabin.
The route breaks from the road after one mile of walking. I follow frozen footsteps through a field of willow.
I look deep into the valley. The sun begins a downward arc.
Thick forest guards the west ridge of Atlantic Peak.
Some trees aren't so fortunate.
I break from the forest. Pacific Peak appears like a diamond set in silver.
Pacific Peak's exciting west ridge rises high.
I turn my attention to my task at hand: Atlantic Peak. I begin climbing an easy talus slope.
The slope constricts to a narrow ridge after a few hundred feet. Atlantic Peak crowns the end of the ridge.
Shadow and light play like an old silent film projected on the mountainside.
A slip and fall would be disaster. I am captivated by the beauty but the task at hand demands my full attention.
I follow a recent track up the ridge but see no other climbers. The exposure to either side is exhilarating.
Time for a deep breath.
I arrive at the crux. A steady wind rushes up the steep slope to deposit snow on the growing cornice. The exposure is serious. It's not easy in the wind - I move with confidence and don't hesitate.
The route steepens after the cornice. Fletcher Mountain watches my every move like a monster waiting for a weakness or mistake.
Pacific Peak stands high on my left like an old friend. I continue climbing steep snow-packed talus.
The ridge relents. I see the summit a few hundred feet away. The trench is appreciated.
The top of Atlantic Peak appears behind a small hill of snow.
It's my Hillary Step.
I reach the summit at four in the afternoon. Pacific Peak and Crystal Peak are seen to the north.
Quandary Peak's massive north face dominates the view to the south.
The summit features two high points one hundred feet apart. I walk to the southern high point. The clouds roll in like an incoming swell.
The view to the west is wide open.
To the southwest is Drift Peak. The Sawatch fill the horizon.
Ten minutes on the summit pass quickly. I eat a few cookies and drink a Red Bull. The sun continues towards the horizon. I shoulder my pack and start down the mountain. It's late.
I look to the north. The Gore Range stands tall.
I follow my footsteps down the west ridge. I quickly lose elevation.
I reach the cornice. The wind is calm. I walk the crest with newfound lightness.
Shadow and light in a neverending dance.
I cross Mayflower Gulch. Daylight recedes like the ebb tide.
The sky turns blue like the ocean as I walk at the bottom of the sea.
I turn on my headlamp. I turn it off. This darkness has arrived as an early guest. I welcome it with open arms.
When reeds are dead and straw to thatch the marshes, And feathered pampas-grass rides into the wind Like Agèd warriors westward, tragic, thinned Of half their tribe; and over the flattened rushes, Stripped of its secret, open, stark and bleak, Blackens afar the half-forgotten creek, Then leans on me the weight of the year, and crushes My heart. I know that beauty must ail and die, And will be born again, but ah, to see Beauty stiffened, staring up at the sky! Oh, Autumn! Autumn! What is the Spring to me? - Edna St. Vincent Millay