Peak(s):  Pacific Pk  -  13,950 feet
Date Posted:  06/16/2014
Modified:  06/23/2014
Date Climbed:   06/14/2014
Author:  Hoot
 Pacific Peak - North Couloir  

With the end of the snow climbing season fast approaching, I wanted to get in one more couloir climb this year. Sam and Bill were shooting for Pacific's North Couloir three weeks ago, but ended up climbing the wrong couloir (Sam credits Bill for the creative navigation :-). When I found out Sam was returning to get it right, I invited myself along as this climb has been on my to-do list for a while. The North Couloir has a reputation for being steep and icy. So we planned to bring a rope, ice screws and some pro. But a last minute conditions report from the day before our climb let us know none of that gear was needed. We ended up catching the couloir in perfect snow climbing conditions and had a very fun climb starting under the full moon and summiting on a gorgeous sunny day!

Sam and I met Friday night at the very popular Spruce Creek Trailhead on Spruce Creek Road off Route 9 just south of Breckenridge. I moved all of my gear into Sam's 4Runner and we were able to drive an additional 1.4 miles up the road along a much rougher 4WD section. We were stopped less than half a mile short of the 4WD trailhead by snow from an avalanche across the road. We spent the night at this spot at 11,000', me in my small tent and Sam in the back of his 4Runner.

Sam and I started hiking up the road under a bright full moon at 3:33 am. We both carried snowshoes, but didn't use them on the hike up. As there was a lot of snow on the road, it may be a few more weeks before it is passable all the way to the 4WD trailhead to Mohawk Lakes. The snow on the trail through the trees was soft, but we were able to stay on top of it most of the time. At 11,300 we had to back track a little to search for a 2-timber bridge across Spruce Creek. I really enjoyed hiking on snow in the moonlight. Despite snow obscuring the trail in places, we were able to mostly follow the trail up to Mohawk Lake at 12,073'. We passed the lake at 5:00 am under lightening skies. After climbing a little above Mohawk late, the route became less steep until we reached the upper end of the drainage below Pacific Peak. We cached our snowshoes high in the basin at 12,400' after two hours of hiking. This spot was a little below our intended descent route and across a tarn from the couloir Bill and Sam had climbed three weeks earlier. There was still a lot of snow in the upper basin and we had to work our way across the beginnings of Spruce Creek a few times. By 5:30 am, we could see the sun was shining on the North Couloir.

We stopped to put on our crampons and pull out our axes at 12,940' near the base of the couloir. It had taken us about three hours to get to this point moving at a fairly good pace with only a few stops. From our position at the base of the couloir, we could only see the first half of our climb below a dogleg to the left. It looked pretty steep. In the couloir, we could see boot tracks left the day before by the climber who had supplied me with the great conditions report. At about 6:45 am, we started climbing the couloir which had already been warming in the sun for over an hour. Although firm in a few places, the snow was névé in great shape for climbing. I took the first lead up to and a little past the dogleg. While I used my pick in a few firm sections, I was able to plant my ice axe spike deep in the snow most of the way up. I only remember a boot sliding out of its placement once or twice during the whole climb. We mostly followed the boot tracks up, but I occasionally found it easier to kick better steps away from the tracks. The slope angle started around 40 degrees and steepened steadily as we approached the turn. I used my inclinometer to take several slope angle measurements as we were rounding the corner and got readings around 55 degrees, with 56 degrees being the steepest angle I measured on the climb. Kicking great steps and burying my axe deep, I felt comfortable leading through the steepest section.

While not obvious from the base of the couloir, the left turn is a little above a large rock tower on the right side of the couloir. The tower is clearly visible from the base. It took us about 30 minutes of fun climbing to reach the turn from the base. The upper section after the turn is narrower with a fairly constant slope angle around 50 degrees. It was half shaded when we entered it around 7:15 am. Most years the upper section of the couloir turns from snow to ice sometime in June. We were lucky to catch the upper section shortly before the transition to ice. Although, this section looked like it would be a very fun alpine ice climb with the proper gear. Sam took the lead after we turned the corner and I followed in his boot steps. Near the top there was some ice starting to form under the snow, but it didn't cause any problems for us. The top of the couloir is at the bottom of Pacific Peak's prominent notch. I topped out after Sam at 7:55 am after just 70 minutes of climbing in the couloir. It was cool and windy in the notch so we put on our jackets before scrambling about 30 yards to Pacific Peak's summit.

I reached the summit at 8:09 am, 4 hours and 36 minutes after starting out from our camp. This was my second visit to Pacific's fine summit. My first visit was with Roy Donehower on 30 June 2007. From the summit we had spectacular views of the surrounding snowy Tenmile Range peaks and there was not a single cloud in sight. Below us to the south, Pacific Tarn, America's highest lake, was still covered with ice and snow. After taking pictures and eating a bit we headed down Pacific's east ridge to the top of a moderately steep snow slope leading back down into the Spruce Creek basin. Fortunately the snow was soft and it was easy to plunge step down the slope. About halfway down I got up my nerve, sat down, and enjoyed a fast and fun glissade down the last 400' of the slope where I rejoined Sam. After retrieving our snowshoes, we put them on and hiked as far as we could down the basin on snow. I tried several more stretches with my snowshoes, but Sam managed to avoid major postholing without his. As we hiked down below the Mohawk Lakes we passed tons of hikers. We stopped to talk with a group of three we had met the evening before. They had spent the night camped in the old Continental Cabin on the trail at about 11,400'. We got back to our campsite at 11:11 am after 7 hours and 38 minutes of hiking. I was back on Colorado Route 9 headed home before noon after a very fun climb in perfect conditions.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions

06/17/2014 13:41
Nice report and fantastic pics!


06/17/2014 14:06
Nice work!! that looks pretty spicy. I was up the NE Slopes on Sunday. It was in great condition.


On my list
06/17/2014 23:02
Can't wait to climb this one! hoping it doesn't get too icy before this next weekend

Nice report!
06/22/2014 13:45
Great photos.

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