Peak(s):  Crystal Pk A  -  13,852 feet
Helen, Mt  -  13,164 feet
Father Dyer Pk  -  13,615 feet
Pacific Pk  -  13,950 feet
Atlantic Pk  -  13,841 feet
Date Posted:  08/01/2020
Date Climbed:   07/31/2020
Author:  channaford
 Tenmile Range Ridge Combo  

After having to bail off of the East Ridge of Pacific Peak a few years ago, I've always wanted to come back and complete the Atlantic - Pacific Traverse via this route. It was one of my first ridgeline scrambles and got me hooked on more technical hiking. Flash forward a few years and - from a combination of new skills and new friends - an idea emerged to link 5 peaks in this range together. By combining my goal ridgeline (Pacific's East Ridge) and theirs (Father Dyer via Mount Helen) our group could hit 5 13ers in a nearly continuous loop.

We started the hike from the upper parking area on Spruce Creek Road, near the junction of the Wheeler Trail and Spruce Creek trail. The final mile up this road from the lower trailhead is very rough and was slow going even in a Jeep Rubicon. By the end of the day, only trucks and tougher Jeeps had made it to the upper lot, with many Subarus and Jeep Cherokees littered on the side of the road, not having fully made it. We were certainly glad to have driven all the way up, however, I wouldn't say that starting lower would be a deal-breaker for this route.

The hike started in earnest at around 6:40 AM. Our weather forecast was abnormally good for the time of year (late July), so we could afford to start later. However, given typical storm patterns in the high mountains, in order to get into the trees by around noon, we would have needed to start a few hours earlier. This route travels exposed ridgeline for about 90% of the hike, so watch the weather continuously and look for bail points if the weather is beginning to turn on you. For gear, we packed light and wore approach shoes, and I was very thankful for the grip they afforded throughout this hike.

The route starts by heading north on the Wheeler trail, but you are not on it for long. After about 0.2 miles, you cut left off of the trail and begin a long, steep ascent of Mount Helen. This climb gains around 1500' in one mile, and you summit Mount Helen approximately 1.5 miles into the hike. The ascent is very steep but thankfully goes on grassy alpine tundra.

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View of Mount Helen (to the right) from Pacific's East Ridge. The route up Helen takes a straight line up Helen's eastern "face"

Summiting Mount Helen gives you a view of much of the remaining route. Next up is Father Dyer Peak, which involves approximately 1.4 miles of ridgeline. The hardest mandatory moves on this ridge are class 3, but it can easily turn into class 4 by staying high on the ridgeline if that's your thing.

20472_07
There are several minor pinnacles along this section of ridgeline that can be traversed to the south in order to keep the route at Class 3.

Climbing Father Dyer from this ridge certainly feels like an accomplishment. In addition to being long, at over a mile, the ridge also gains approximately 600' from the saddle to the summit. This section is the most technical and I appreciated doing it first, one of the many reasons I would suggest attempting this loop counterclockwise (more on that later). The ridge from Father Dyer to Crystal Peak goes at Class 2 and is very short. Standing on top of Crystal, we had spent almost 2 hours on the ridge and were a little over 3 hours into our day.

Once on top of Crystal, it is a good idea to check the weather because this is an excellent bail point via the Northeast Ridge route (Class 2). Our skies were still clear, so we headed south toward Pacific Peak.

20472_05
Nearly to the saddle of Crystal Peak and Pacific Peak. The route up to Pacific looks confusing at the top, but it was fairly straightforward.

After the long climb up Pacific Peak, we checked the weather again and decided to continue on to Atlantic Peak. This is another point where one can shorten the route by skipping Atlantic and heading straight to the East Ridge of Pacific. Once at the saddle of Pacific and Atlantic, we quickly gained the summit and were rewarded with views of our entire route.

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From the top of Atlantic Peak, you can see all the mountains you've summited thus far.

After quickly descending back toward the saddle, we stayed beneath the snowfields in the above picture, to minimize elevation change. Soon, we were on Pacific's East Ridge.


20472_04
Looking toward Pacific Peak (in the background) on it's East Ridge (this is from a previous trip, which is why our group is headed toward Pacific instead of away from it)

Pacific's East Ridge was less enjoyable this time around, mostly due to fatigue and sore feet. The route is excellent, though our group found the rock to be slightly less solid compared to the Helen - Father Dyer traverse. We chose to ignore several of the exciting elements of this ridge, including a knife-edge, in favor of moving fast. It was fairly simple to keep the hiking at Class 3 or easier by staying on the south side of the ridge.


20472_01
There is plenty of loose rock on this ridge, but the route stays mostly non-technical if you stick to the southern side.


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This picture gives you a good idea as to why you stay on the southern side of this ridgeline.

After completing Pacific's East Ridge, the terrain flattens until you are again hiking on alpine tundra. You want to bear west on this section and slightly north, but do not be tempted to climb down into any of the gullies that empty toward Monarch Lake as they look incredibly steep and loose from below.

The majority of the rest of this route is an absolute disaster.

When designing this route on Strava, my only concern was an approximately mile-long section of bushwacking down a natural drainage system through the forest. This section is fairly steep, with no trail, and holds a large amount of deadfall (annoying), willows (annoying), and dense trees (annoying). We quickly found the drainage, and tried to stick to it as closely as possible, while taking advantage of animal trails when we could find them. It is hard to describe when to turn left (north) and begin your descent down through the forest, so I would highly advise using GPS with the route downloaded and/or understanding how to read a topo map.

While writing this, I estimated that we spent an hour picking our way down this drainage. However, when looking back at my Strava it was only 35 minutes, so that gives you an idea of how awful it feels. In reality, it is a necessary evil that unlocks a fantastic day connecting peaks and ridge scrambles.


20472_09
Looking back up at the East Ridge of Pacific Peak

Once you have traveled roughly one mile down this drainage system, you will finally hit a trail that connects back to the parking lot. You turn right on this trail, then take a left when you reach the Wheeler Trail junction. This will lead you back to the cars.

Final stats via Strava: 10.3 miles, 5200' elevation gain


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
kushrocks

Nicely Done!
08/03/2020 13:17
I have been wanting to do this for a while. Great info and pics.


JQDivide

Nice loop
08/04/2020 11:32
That's a nice loop for some Class 3 in that area.
Might have to give this a try. I still need Pacific.
Joel



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