Pacific Peak - North CouloirWhitney (Girlslovesnow) and Drew (GravityPilot)
“I want to do something fun on my day off" I told my boyfriend last week, “How about Elbert?”
We considered Elbert and while I was researching it I came across Wesley’s trip report for Pacific. We looked through the trip report and read that it would only be good for another week. So it was decided, we were headed up the North on Pacific. This was going to be my first true alpine climb. I had climbed and skied the Cristo a few months before, but that was really just a walk uphill. I knew that this would be an extremely intense climb. I spent hours upon hours looking at trip reports and pictures making sure I was fully aware of what I was about to do. I should have kept in mind that pictures don’t tend to capture how steep things are, but hindsight is 20/20, right? We spent the night before going through equipment. I didn’t want to carry too much stuff, so I settled on a hardshell, a long sleeve shirt, my food, water and technical equipment. We decided on a 30-meter rope and a few small nuts. Drew was bringing two tools and a whippet, while I brought one tool and one mountain axe. I knew from climbing Quandary that I really liked being able to drive the mountain axe in deep and felt safe with that rather than a second tool. After figuring it all out we were all set for the next day.
We woke up early the next morning and set off. My incredibly underpowered Honda CRV couldn’t make it up the final part of the road, so we parked and made our way along the Mayflower Lake trail. The hike in was really gorgeous, with all the lakes and wildflowers around.
I knew from my research that you couldn’t see the North until you were actually on the apron of it, so the suspense was killing me. We finally reached the apron and got to view the North.
My first thoughts were “eh, this isn’t all that steep.” Apparently in my research I had missed the point that the steep part is after the dogleg, which I couldn’t see. We put on all of our equipment; harness, helmet, crampons and began our ascent. I was having an absolute blast. It was gorgeous outside and I was playing in the snow in July with the love of my life!
We were moving along at a pretty good pace and having a great time when we came around the dogleg. It was then that I really saw why the North is such an intense route, and I was psyched! The exposure is something else; I learned really fast not to look down, for I have a horrible fear of heights (how I make it through trips like this I don’t know.)
Shortly after we came around the dogleg we came across some ice. Who knew my first alpine climb would yield some alpine ice! Drew decided at this point to put me on belay, as I have absolutely no experience with ice. This task was easier said then done. He had only brought a few small nuts and all the rock was rotten and crumbling. He ended up belaying off of his tools (I thank god I didn’t know this until after I got to him). This first section of ice was the most difficult part of the trip for me. The ice was just above a small strip of snow to the left of a small headwall. I figured I would just go up that section of snow using the rock rather than my tools to get up. This was not so easy. The snow was unconsolidated making it impossible to kick steps, and the rock just crumbled. The only way to get up was to get my tools into the ice above the rock, a concept I was still terrified of, and step with my crampons on the rock, another concept I was scared of. The mountain axe proved difficult in these conditions. This brought me back to the conversation Drew and I had the night before about how maybe I should carry two tools and the axe just in case, which we decided against. So there I am ice axe, tool and crampons dug into the alpine ice. At this point I’m fighting the overwhelming urge to cry (going back to the fear of heights). Realizing if I do, I might lose my concentration in a dangerous situation, so I fought off the urge and continued on.
Not too long after that we reached another ice section where again Drew put me on belay. This short pitch had great climbing snow and was free of rock, so I knew I was just out to have a good time on some amazing alpine ice. I started to understand the infamous “thunk” when you know your tool is really in well.
About 200 ft from the top we reached the 3rd section of ice. At this point I was feeling more confident in my ice climbing. The weather was beginning to worry us as dark clouds and high wind rolled in. We decided that moving fast through the section was a better option than setting up a belay.
The last 200 feet was the best time I’ve had in my life. As I topped out and looked down it began to sink in what I had just done. A little girl that moved here from Wisconsin a year ago just did THAT! Overwhelmed with emotion and exhausted, we made the scramble to the summit to eat some lunch. It then began to sink in that we still had to get down…
I had never glissaded before; I’m a skier for a reason. We scrambled down the horrible never-ending talus field to the snowfield we would be making our way down. Standing in the snow we went over how to glissade and how to self-arrest. A skill I’m glad we practiced because I needed it about halfway down. I made my way down, switching between walking and glissading, both proving very difficult. Most of the way was too steep to comfortably glissade for a beginner. Walking didn’t prove to be any easier because I am still recovering from a knee surgery in February which makes walking downhill extremely painful.
We made it down to the lake with wet butts and high spirits.
After stripping ourselves of all of our equipment we ever so slowly made our way back to the car.
This trip to me is one I will never forget. I have never made it through something so physically and mentally exhausting. It made me realize why I moved here in the first place. This is where I belong and what I was meant to do. Although it was an ambitious choice for a first alpine climb, I’m glad we chose it. I had extreme trust in my partner and he in me. I haven’t been able to stop talking or dreaming of this trip since we’ve returned and probably never will. This was the greatest, most rewarding day of my life!
“I wish people would quit telling me I can do anything I want. I never thought I couldn’t.” -Unknown