Peak(s):  Pacific Pk  -  13,950 feet
Date Posted:  07/28/2019
Modified:  07/30/2019
Date Climbed:   07/27/2019
Author:  CheapCigarMan
 North Couloir  

I stood in awe of Pacific's North Couloir when I summited Crystal Peak two weeks ago. I said under my breath that I had to make that ascent!

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Over the next two weeks I researched Roach's and Cooper's books to learn of the challenges. I also searched this site and asked others that have climbed it what to expect. Roach left me most concerned as he describes it's challenges even speaking of Class 5.5. While Cooper spoke of it having the most spectacular ice in the State. With this year being an incredible snow year and with the picture from atop Crystal impressed on my memory of it being filled with snow I thought it still to be a great snow climb.

My partner and I started at 3:40am at a half mile from the upper Spruce Creek TH. The final half mile was closed due to avy debris. With headlamps on we made our way up. We talked extensively about how beautiful this area was. Of history, passing by cabins and old ruins. Of waterfalls, the Continental Waterfalls are here. Of high basin lakes, the Mohawks and Pacific Tarn officially the United States highest lake (13,420'). There are lots of side trails along the way going to scenic overlooks and campsites. Staying on route is not a concern but it is something to be aware of when trying to conserve mileage.

After crossing streams between lakes and finally a field of rocks we were staring up at Pacific's impressive 700' couloir. Because the North Couloir has a dogleg you cannot see its entire route. Even from its base.

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Pacific Peak's North Couloir (dogleg left)

I took my approach shoes off and put on my Scarpas and crampons. Exchanged my hiking poles for two ice axes. Then filled with excitement and anticipation exclaimed, "This is what life is all about!" and with beaming smiles we began the ascent. The snow was in perfect condition.

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It starts as a moderate slope

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After a short while you could see two massive cornices lurking above like two gargoyles looming over it's passage. Once we entered the dogleg we were out of their power.

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The slope now steepened. This was the steepest snow I had attempted before. And once in the dogleg conditions began to change. Rotten snow, rock, and ice...Oh my! I had never been on ice before nor had I been on rock with crampons. I was not prepared for these conditions. I now understood what I had previously read about this route. Without snow it would be a horrible rock mess to ascend. Class 5.5 rock on either side of you. Snow melting out and turning to ice. The North Couloir has plenty of excitement! I continued my journey navigating through the complexities. Slapping my ice axe in the snow hoping it wasn't too rotten to hold me. Then placing my crampon on rock getting used to not feeling my toes or balls of my feet feeling the security of the rock beneath me. I would spike my axe in ice again looking for a hold as I traversed from rock and ice to more familiar snow. This was indeed sketchy and mentally taxing. At one point I found myself on the steepest terrain I had been on as a snow climb and in a place where I wondered how I was going to make it past this obstacle of rock and ice. I found my emotions beginning to overcome me with fear, panic, and feelings of being overwhelmed. I took a breath and with a strong resolve put them back in check. "I can get through this" I said under my breath as I reassured myself. I looked around and found no way through so I began a 20' descent, back to an area that I had passed and overlooked.

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Reaching an area that looked best to traverse I again struck my crampons into the ice and placed another on rock while thrusting my axe in several places above me into the snow and ice until I found a secure hold. Then in all awkwardness on that steep slope attempted to place my foot as far out from me as I could while attempting to remain stable. I was thankful being 6’3”. This was the most anxious I had been. Trusting axe and rock to hold me while I maneuvered to find security in the snow. From there I was able to continue on to the ridge.

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Summit views of Mohawk Lakes and the Pacific Tarn

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In snow conditions this is a great steep snow climb. When the snow is melting out the ice must be amazing to climb. When in full summer conditions this would be a....well you would have to ask the rock climbers that were skilled enough to have scaled it.




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
osprey
Nice
07/28/2019 20:58
Nice report.
You have really stepped up your game.


davisrice4

Looks Sweet!
07/29/2019 12:03
Nice climb! Looks Gnarly up top



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