Peak(s):  Atlantic Pk - 13,841 feet
Pacific Pk - 13,950 feet
Date Posted:  09/25/2015
Modified:  09/26/2015
Date Climbed:   09/24/2015
Author:  rajz06
 Nomad's Coast to Coast   

Starting Point: McCullough Gulch TH, Elevation: ~11,080'
Peaks Climbed in order of ascent: Atlantic Peak (13,841'), Pacific Peak (13,950')
Route: Northeast slopes acsent of Atlantic, ridge traverse to Pacific, southeast slopes descent from Pacific
RT Distance: ~9.0 miles
Elevation Gain/Loss: ~3,600 feet (per Google Maps)
Group: Solo

Pacific Peak has been on my radar ever since I cast eyes on it from the summit of Silverheels two years ago. If this isn't the most striking of all the Tenmile peaks, I don't know what is.

The Tenmile range from Silverheels

Adding the neighboring Centennial, Atlantic Peak, to the day's agenda was a given, so I chose the immensely popular McCullough Gulch TH for the approach.

McCullough GulchTrailhead

Couple of things went wrong very early on this outing. Often on 13er hikes, finding any trail is an issue. Not on this route, as several trails crisscross each other for the first few miles leading to a bit of a confusing mess; a trail to an unnamed lake at 12,000', a trail to Lake 12,555', a trail to a lake in a different basin, a trail to a water fall, trails leading to nowhere, social trails, even anti-social trails! Ok, cross the last one off the list but you get the idea. If you think you may have lost a trail, I'd wager that you'll find it here.

Which trail is it?

Based on Middlebrook's description, you need to stay on the main trail and if you reach the water falls, you've gone off route on one of those social trails (why do they even call them that?) and need to retrace. So imagine my chagrin, when I arrive at this scene, less than 30 minutes after starting.

Oops! I shouldn't be at a wafer fall...

Remember the second thing that I mentioned going wrong - well, that was my GPS batteries. They died almost exactly at this spot, leaving me with no topo map but just my limited route finding skills to save the day! This had fiasco written all over it! At some later point on my ascent, I would have the presence of mind to turn on tracking on my SPOT device, so I at least walked away with a GPX track - patchy though it might be.

So I retraced my path back to the last trail marker and decided to angle northwest (hiker's right) toward the drainage that lies north and runs parallel to the one leading to the falls.


The inevitable bushwhacking ensued and then I found a clearing and climbed to the top of a rocky point to get a better view.

Going off trail

View from the top of the rocky bluff

It didn't look promising, so I pondered my options for a bit before deciding to head back to the "main" trail and see if it would lead me to a point where I could make an approach toward the peaks of interest.

Back to the trail

I followed the trail as it skirted the side of a rocky bluff to enter the basin leading directly toward Fletcher Mtn.

Following the trail into the other basin

As I crested a hill before entering the basin, Flecther Mtn. popped into view and I couldn't help thinking that I was off course.

Fletcher rears its head

While it is true this basin is farther from Pacific than the one north of it, this is the best approach to both peaks as I discovered later on my misguided descent. This is also the route described by Middlebrook as the southeast slopes ascent of Pacific, except for the variation that I used to climb the crux headwall.

Pacific Peak then came into view, but the trail continued to head west toward the lake and directly under the Fletcher-Quandary ridge.

First clean view of Pacific

When I reached the northwest corner of the lake, it was a bit under two hours since I hit the trail, and Pacific still appeared to be in a different zip code.

Time to aim for the peak

The scenic approach was over; it was time to get serious about what I had set out to do. With Pacific squarely in my sights, I crested the boulder field directly ahead and mapped my route toward the headwall. This is the steepest pitch and the crux on this approach. Bill's route description recommends to aim for the center of the slope (shown in blue in the next shot). Approaching this feature and eyeing the loose rocks in the center, I decided to ascend the wall closer to the rocks (shown in red).

Mapping the route options: my route in red

This turned about a good choice as the loose talus at the base of the wall gave way to solid rocks that provided good handholds to scramble up this section.

Rocky gully

Rocky scramble

The next shot looks down the steep, narrow passage through the rocks.

Looking down the last pitch

Approaching the top of the headwall, I got my next look at Pacific, followed shortly thereafter by Atlantic as I crested the saddle between the two peaks.

Pacific in sight

Looking up Atlantic's northeast slope

The final push to Atlantic's summit was rather anticlimactic compared to the previous pitch, grassy terrain transitioning to easy talus on the gentle northeast slope. The namesake peak of the second largest ocean was finally all mine.

Rugged ridge to Fletcher and Drift

Holy Cross and Ridge

I could only count a half dozen heads on Quandary's peak. It was a Thursday...

Quandary looks lonely

I studied the route to Pacific's summit. A faint trail bypasses a significant bump en route.

Eyeing the route to Pacific

In contrast to Atlantic's grassy northeast slope, the connecting ridge to Pacific is a pile of rocks.

Skirting the major bump

The ridge was straightforward as advertised; an easy final pitch to a summit that has rugged aspects on all its other faces.

Final climb on talus

Less than fifty minutes after leaving one coast, I was on the other. It had turned out to be a good day despite the setbacks.

Mayflower gulch

Pacific's east ridge; Mohawk lakes afar

Gazing down into the basin, I made two quick decisions - one, to descend the headwall down a scree gully, and the other to stay in the nearest basin and work directly toward the trailhead rather than take the same route I'd used on my ascent. As I would find out soon, neither of these were wise choices...

Mapping the return route

For starters, the scree gully is quite loose and made for a rather slippery descent down the headwall.

Loose gully

A short way down this slippery slide run, I contoured over to a rocky section that offered better traction.

Veering toward more stable rock

Below that point, the terrain returned to loose rocks making the descent dicey at best.

Slippery descent

What I failed to realize was that there would be multiple ridges to climb on this route including that rocky rib that runs across the basin and connects with the ridge separating the two basins. Much of this was over boulder fields with tippy talus - short perhaps, but definitely not sweet.

Plotting the route over the boulder fields

I had just downclimed the last rocky section and was cursing my choice of descent route when I looked up and realized that I was missing the whole point. I was in the midst of such beauty and I did't have time to stop and stare!

Heaven on earth?

Glorious fall!

Bereft of any route finding aids or maps, my venture today became akin to that of a nomad's ambitious wandering. There was at least one point on the ascent where I was convinced that I wouldn't make it to a peak today. And if that's how things had ended, it would still have been a great day. So stop and stare I did!

Stop and stare I did!

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

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34

Comments or Questions
Thanks for posting!
09/26/2015 06:53
I tried a similar hike in late July but turned back because of a fair amount of snow on the crux. I also followed general route on the way in & out. The area is even more striking in your "Fall like" pics.

You just keep hitting them!
09/26/2015 07:55
I did those peaks from the Mayflower Gulch side but I think your route was much more scenic. Guess I’ll have to go back and do them from that side. Thanks for posting this, Raj.

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