Pacific Peak trip report


This was my second try at Pacific and "Atlantic" an unofficially named sub-peak just to the south of Pacific. Last time I turned back because I decided the early October snowpack on a critical slope had too much avalanche danger.

This time I was expecting spring snow conditions. This year was extremely dry, but according to the Roaches' book, this slope usually has snow well into August, so I figured there would still be a snow climb. I started hiking from the closure gate just after 0500. I made my way up the road and then trail. You pass by a very nice waterfall before reaching a significant lake just above treeline. Up to this point, the trail had been relatively easy to follow, although there are a few places where the trail has been re-routed. There wasn't any snow on the trail, unlike my October hike.

Past the lake, I had a harder time trying to follow a trail, and ended up near the cliffs above the lake. I had to do a right-angling climbing traverse on grassy slopes and snow to get around this feature to the upper basin. I lost some time and spent considerable mental and physical energy getting back on route. The key is that as the trail passes the lake, there is a short downhill section leading to a stream crossing. This is a good place to cross, but then you want to immediately head uphill to the right. Before the crossing, if you look sharp to the right you may see pink blazing tape on the willows.

You can sort of follow this tape for a while, but it's not a very good route and requires some bashing through the willows. Of course, I only know this from my descent. Once past this obstacle, I made my way up on snowfields and talus fields. The snow was good to walk on, but the talus was tedious. This is a slow route even under the best of conditions and there are a lot of small ups and downs.

I finally made it up over a slight ridge to the bottom of the snow climb. There was a section of the slope that was melted out to halfway up, but I guessed this slope is pretty heinous scree without the snowcover, so I chose the line with the most snow. I hadn't used my full crampons in 4 (!) years, and hadn't really climbed any snow in 5 years. There was a short, 10-degree angle runout, but this quickly goes to 30+ degrees to start the 350-foot climb. The surface of the snow was already a little mushy and the crampons were no help in maintaining a flat-footed technique. So, I kicked steps, and my front points probably helped out a little. I continued this for the entire climb, and this is always a rather strenuous way to go. But, it's also safe and secure, and I was able to jab the axe in a good foot or more deep for excellent self-belays. The angle gradually increased, and I measured a max angle of 41 degrees. The top third was pretty much sustained right at 40 degrees.

After this, the angle levels off up near the saddle between Pacific and "Atlantic". I veered off to the right for Pacific and was moving very slowly up the ridge. When you hit the minor 13,580ft highpoint you get a good view down onto one of the highest lakes in the state, but I wasn't in the mood to enjoy it too much. I plodded my way up the last 400ft of talus and reached the small summit a bit over 4 hours into the hike. I was very tired, and sat down for 10 minutes before getting my camcorder out to record the summit view. At that point I had decided to not do "Atlantic", which I'll come back and do from the west via Mayflower Gulch (you can see this parking area from the summit). The weather was good, with light to moderate winds, but I did measure a gust to 39 mph just above the saddle, where winds were being funneled.

On the way down, I carefully plunge stepped the top 100 feet of the snowclimb because the snow was so sloppy, and then glissaded the rest. I even was able to keep sliding through the runout and do a "pop-up slide" baseball style at the snow/rock interface. From above, I could pick out a better route through the talus and snow and ended up following footprints across some of the snow. I already mentioned some of the downhill route, and I got back on the trail near that big lake at treeline.

Right after the lake, I started having what a friend and I refer to as an "energy crisis"; more or less what people often call "bonking" although a little more severe. This has happened to me before, and luckily it wasn't as bad as before. It manifests itself as an inability to make much progress even downhill, and uphill hiking becomes very difficult. A little nausea is also involved. For me, I think it is from not eating and drinking enough, maintaining too strong of a pace, and not taking enough breaks. Also, worrying about route-finding and other things probably doesn't help. Obviously, this was related to my fatigue high on the mountain. But, I actually started to feel a little better at the very end.

Driving home I could see the weird looking cloud out toward the Front Range and Denver area. KOA radio had a damn Rockies game and thus no useful information. Other AM stations weren't any help; it's amazingly difficult to get news on AM radio if you are actually looking for it. I was still in the high country so all I could get on FM radio was information about the Glenwood Springs fire. It wasn't until I got home that I finally got some information on the Hayman fire, which really got going that day and ended up being the biggest wildfire in state history.

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File last modified: 30 December 2004

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