I almost passed on this climb today. Reportedly, the ridge is class 3 for a mile or so, and I was doing it alone. However, if I'm going to keep my climb schedule this season, I can't let that stop me.
So! I have recently learned to prefer camping near the trailhead than waking up in the wee hours and driving to the trailhead the day of the climb. It is much easier for me to get up and go when camping than getting out of my comfortable bed in the middle of the night. What did I do? I slept at home and drove in the day of the climb. Consequently, I was an hour behind by the time I reached North McCullough Gulch trailhead. Started climbing at 7am. I was late because instead of getting out of bed when the alarm went off, I snoozed for half an hour instead. Did I mention my bed is very comfortable?
Okay, so although it is referred to North McCullough Gulch trailhead, there is no official trail; you're just supposed to start going up right there. However, if you walk down the road a bit, there is a thin animal trail that can help with the start. Regardless, the elevation gain starts NOW.
Start of the route. You can see my Jeep parked at the trailhead.
It's a quick and easy climb to 11,600 feet, which is when the willows start. However, it doesn't take long to find a path through them. Now, personally, comes the crappiest part of the route; from 11,800 to about 12,100, it's a steeper incline of what I can best describe as a mixture of dirt and gravel, with loose rocks as handholds. I distinctly recall letting these loose rocks know how I felt.
(Taken from McCullough Gulch TH) A view of the early ascent.
At 12,200, the terrain flattens out, and the path to the ridge itself becomes apparent. I happily trudged towards the ridge, fully expecting the class 3 scrambling to begin soon.
The beginning of fun on "The Ridge."
As it pleasantly turns out, the first third of the ridge is really easy. In my opinion, if some painted a line, it would be class 1. It's like this for the first four towers. The fifth and sixth tower are solid class 2.
Okay, so I'm going to rant now. Between the sixth and seventh towers, I found an empty PBR beer can. Now, I particularly enjoy beer, and although I don't agree that this ridge is one to traverse impaired in any way, the greater sin was to leave the can behind. Our Colorado mountains are one of our greatest treasures, and there is no room for littering. If you're dumb enough to drink while climbing, that's your problem. Leaving your trash behind becomes ours. Anyhow, I crushed the can and stuck it in my pocket. Sigh.
Well, the karma didn't last long. Between the eighth and ninth tower, during a particular class 3 move, my water bottle slipped out from the brand new pouch that I bought, and proceeded to bounce down the south side of the ridge. I hadn't needed any water yet, so it was full and heavy, readily apparent by the speed it picked up on its way down. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the lid of the bottle landed on a sharp rock, and burst, quickly emptying and thus stopping, allowing its recovery. The lid had a gaping hole, which was going to force me to scavenge for water the rest of the day. I have a SteriPen, so I could easily kill the "crawlies" if I did find water again. (I did.) Sigh.
The seventh through tenth towers are class 3, with some tougher moves thrown in. I'll admit right now that I took the Crux on the south side. The eleventh tower is nothing after the seven through ten, and you don't even need to go over it, since the terrain becomes flat between it and Pacific Peak's summit block. From here, the summit block seems a bit puny and anticlimactic; you're already at 13,400 feet.
Pacific Peak's summit block from west end of the East Ridge.
From here, it's 30 minutes to the summit. Regardless of what the summit block looks like from the end of the ridge, the vistas from the summit are spectacular! I could even make out the Cross Couloir on Mount of the Holy Cross! Quandary Peak may be the reigning monarch of the Tenmile Range, but Pacific Peak is in the middle, surrounded by four other centennials.
After a long descent down the McCullough Gulch route, I finally made it to the McCullough Gulch trailhead. Bad news; it just started raining. My car is now only 1.7 miles away! But alas! I had a plan! This trailhead was a hub of activity, so asking for a ride to my car should be no problem. Shockingly, the first group I asked declined to give me a ride. Turns out they were from Texas. (Now, I've been to Texas several times, so I know there are good Texans, but why can't they
visit Colorado.) Started hoofing it down the road to the northern trailhead, and came across a group camping. Turns out they were from Colorado. They didn't even hesitate to do so.
Although this ended up being a long day, I enjoyed it thoroughly. This is an amazing climb. Pacific Peak is not a 14er, and although it is a centennial 13er, it doesn't appear to be a popular climb. From my vantage point, I could see the line of hikers climbing Quandary; I only came across a group of four which must have turned back halfway on the ridge. I was on the summit for about 45 minutes, and never did I see anyone else.
Next time I climb in the Tenmile range, I doubt I will trust the relatively short distance from Denver, and camp out near the trailhead instead.
I'm afraid of heights, and I was very apprehensive doing this ridge. However, in retrospect, although I doubt the knife edge to Capitol Peak is nearly this easy, I do believe this ridge helped me prepare mentally. I recommend this route as a training route for other climbs.
Adrenaline is such a wonderful thing. I spent three hours on the ridge, and it felt like 20 minutes.
It is a *classic* route, so why not?