Swimming Atlantic & Pacific Peaks

I had 14ers on the brain, but the unchecked peaks were too far for a day trip, and Brian couldn’t get away for an overnighter. Brian suggested we do “Atlantic” as it is nearby (near Copper Mountain) and would provide a good ski descent.  We could also add in Pacific if we made good time. I agreed.

Our plan for April 13, 2002 had 4 easy steps:

  1. Follow the mining road until we could cross the streambed to pass between Mayflower Hill and “Atlantic Peak”
  2. Ascend the West (summit) Ridge to “Atlantic” and proceed east to the summit of “Atlantic”
  3. Traverse to Pacific Peak, if time, conditions, and fitness permit
  4. Descend back to the trailhead and reach home alive
Our route from the Mayflower Gulch TH to Atlantic and Pacific Peaks

Our route from the Mayflower Gulch TH to Atlantic and Pacific Peaks

And everything started off so well….

We left the Mayflower TH parking lot around 7am and made good time along an old mining road.  After about 1 mile we turned to head NE up a stream bed headed between “Atlantic” and Mayflower Hill toward Pacific Mt.  Before leaving the road, I put on my snowshoes for floatation, which I brought instead of skis to give my aching knees a rest.  My optimism was not well founded, but at least I could blame this one on Brian.

Fletcher (right) and Atlantic (left) on the way to the Atlantic & Pacific peaks

Oh, the soft snow misery!  If only I was postholing…but I was drowning.  I needed snowshoes the size of freight trains.  The snow was at least 5 feet deep and soft as far down as I dared during my tank-less deep dives.  I had fallen into a giant bowl of sugar and had move through it to find an escape.  It took us 1.5 hours to travel ½ mile.  It sucked, big time.

Finally, we reached the Atlantic-Pacific cirque and mounted the Atlantic West Ridge.  I was ready for better conditions, but I wouldn’t find it.  The ascent required a steep climb up a wall of loose rocks covered by thin layer of fresh snow.  It was a slog.  But at least the ridge proper was much easier, with a lower angle and exposed rocks for footing.  We reached the Atlantic summit around 1pm.

The wind was stiff and cold, but I needed a rest as well as some water and food.  I sat on the eastern slope and ate my lunch despite a rather uncomfortable sitting position.  We decided to keep going to descend into the valley below from Pacific’s summit ridge.

The ¾ mile traverse (and 400 foot altitude gain/loss) went quickly.  The Pacific summit rose to a point, 2 feet by 2 feet…just as a summit should.  Without a pause, we immediately turned down the west ridge toward a tongue of snow which would lead us to the foot of the mountain.

Pacific is a twin-peak with no easy way to get down the west ridge.  As we skirted the west (lower) town, I had to down climb a loose rock chimney. I stepped into the chimney putting my left foot on a questionable foothold.  I proceeded only because I had good holds for both hands, although, my left hand also held my collapsed trekking poles.  My right hand held a jug on a large detached block. As I lowered myself to the next foothold, my only foothold failed…the rock broke off!  As my weight suddenly shifted to my hands, my right hand hold failed.  The detached block shifted and pulled out of its slot.  My mind raced for options and a quick glance revealed no other holds.  To buy a few milliseconds, I continued holding the detached block as it toppeled out and down toward my head.  As I twisted to avoid the rock, I shifted my right hand from the falling rock up to the ledge where the detached block once rested.  In the meantime (all 1.2 seconds of it), I traded a wrenched left shoulder and chest muscle for my life.

As I explained to Brian afterward, “it was a good trade.”

Fairly quickly we reached the tongue of snow that reached to the valley below.  The snow was a bit soft, but still allowed for a fun descent.  I had a fantastic glissade off the summit ridge.

Naturally, once we got down to the streambed, it was worse than before.  The snow was hell.  I tried to stay in my old tracks to find any purchase, but the snow had turned into quicksand.  The snowshoes provided no floatation, but instead became anchors that would hook under any vegetation beneath the snow.  I ended up taking off the snowshoes and just crawling back to the road….I didn’t know if I’d drown or go crazy first.  When I finally reached the road, I just rolled onto it out of the snow…and then let loose a blue streak of curses until my remaining energy was exhausted. It was the worst experience of my life.

But once I got back to the truck, it had turned into a great day!  And after all these years, I finally started to get an inkling of what that Dickens fellow had been talking about.

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One Response to “Swimming Atlantic & Pacific Peaks”

  1. The Loft Whiteout « PeakMind Says:

    […] climbing season.  On the previous weekend, we climbed Atlantic and Pacific mountains (see “Swimming the Atlantic & Pacific“), which involved a small bit of rock scrambling.  That experience got me thinking about […]

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