Last summer on the summit of Crestone Needle I met two college kids from Tennessee carrying only a school backpack, a water bottle, and two granolla bars. They said they climbed it because they thought it looked cool from the road. They asked me what the name of the peak was. So if I've learned one thing from climbing, it's that it all really comes down to luck. And coming off our first winter summit in January on Torreys via Kelso Ridge, we were feeling lucky.
Pacific Peak has been on the hit list for a while, and we decided it was time to take it off. I'm in college and my brother is in high school, so our combined gear budget dictates that our winter routes don't cross avy terrain and can be done without ropes. I had only seen three pictures of the route in winter, but it looked doable. At 6:00 we geared up at the trailhead and unloaded the mountain van with a brilliant view of Pacific in the first light.
Pacific from the trailhead. You can't beat the access!
We started booting up the well packed Mayflower Creek trail, but after a quarter mile decided we should head up Mayflower Hill and follow that ridge to avoid its slope later on. We were able to follow very faint skin tracks, and they kept us from having to carve the snowshoe trench.
Atlantic on the left, Fletcher on the right
Making our way up Mayflower Hill
When we crested the hill the sun greeted us in spectacular fashion. The sun rose right over the summit.
The first rays of sun
The first real surprise of the trip was how badass Mayflower Hill was in comparison to its name. The summit was a very respectable cliff, marangued over with cornices. We hiked back and forth to the summit several times excitedly to get our bamf pictures taken.
The summit of Mayflower Hill
Pacific on the left, Atlantic in center, Chris on the summit of Mayflower Hill, Fletcher on the right
The other side of Mayflower Hill was less entertaining. We slogged through knee deep powder to get down to the saddle. I could already tell that regaining this would be my least favorite part of the descent. There is, hovewever, something sublime about looking back and seeing your long line of tracks hugging the side of the ridge. The sun was out, the snow was untouched, there was no one in sight: life is good in the alpine!
Chris wading through powder
A rare picture of me. (Also, a cautionary tale: I forgot sunscreen and ended up with a ludicrous sunburn on the tip of my nose.I was Rudolf for a week
In the saddle, our tracks snaking back behind us
At the base of the West Ridge we took a food break. From what I could see and understood from very limited beta on the route, there are three parts to the ridge. The choss slope, the technical pitches, and the finish. The choss was certainly a disheartening start to the climb. Two inches of sugar snow on top of dirt and shale, but still steep enough to go one at a time to avoid getting creamed by a loose rock. The solid slabs could not come soon enough. One of the greatest feelings on a mountain is climbing up past a rappel anchor. This signaled the beginning of the really good third of the ridge.
Looking up towards Pacific and the West Ridge
Nearing the top of the crappy stuff
Soon we got what we came for: exposure! There were a number of route options at any given time, the ridge is very maze-like and always interesting. Most of the time we chose the take-no-prisoners route to try to stay on the ridge proper. It worked out well. I would say that the technicality is not as tough as Kelso Ridge, but the exposure is a lot greater. It was perfect winter climbing stuff. The occasional axe belay, clearing ice from the holds and putting crampons on granite.
A nifty little move hundreds of feet in the air
Most of the fourth class pitches looked something like this: long chutes with good holds
climbing past a rap anchor
One of the most mentally scary parts. A smooth slab with nothing but air below it.
Gaining the crest again
When the third part of the ridge came, it was breathtaking. You come up out of a pretty steep pitch onto a knife edge ridge that leads right up to the summit. The final 100 feet, as always, were agony. That balance between pushing harder than ever to finish it, and knowing that your legs will fall off any second. We crested the false summit (because no mountain can be perfect), and peered down the vaunted North Couloir. Damn. That is definitely added to the spring season menu. The summit was only a short slab up from the top of the couloir. It amazes me how incredibly pyramidal Pacific Peak is. The four ridges and the North couloir run straight up to the summit.
There were no shortage of catwalks on the ridge
Looks like the Alps!
Holy Cross in the background
Looking down the North Col. I swear it looks vertical from the top
The view was incredible. The Collegiate Peaks to the southwest, Mount of the Holy Cross to the west, the Gores to the northwest, Longs to the northeast, Grays and Torreys to the east, Quandary dominating the southeast. You could even see The Bells in the clear distance. We called mom and her first graders all said hi to us. The weather was pristine, so we decided to head up to Atlantic.
Brothers hero Shot
The traverse was uneventful, save for the agony in the legs. I have spent way too long in NYC.
On the traverse
At the top of Atlantic we both keeled over and took a breather on our backs. We were both pretty altitude sick so we didn't linger. Atlantic's West Ridge was a delight. It was a cakewalk, but nonetheless a great snowy point that extends most of the way down.
Exhaustion on the summit of Atlantic
Pacific's West Ridge from Atlantic
Descending Atlantic's West Ridge
As predicted, regaining Mayflower Hill was a pain in the ass. The pictures on it with storms in the distance were worth it. The rest of the death march back to the car, as usual, seemed twice as far as when we came up. We got back to the sexy mountainman van before dark.
On Mayflower Hill again
The trusty Toyota Previa--probably the greatest mountain climbing car ever made
A fantastic route on a great peak with the best climbing partner. I'm glad Chris convinced me to do it. There's nothing better than getting high on spring break.