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participants: chicagotransplant, jamienellis and myself
After an exhausting climb of Pacific yesterday, turning around to climb Crystal wasn’t the most appeasing thought which crossed my mind. Atleast it’s not a work day. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.
5am comes and once again, it’s snowing. Is it ever going to stop? No, didn’t think so. The drive out isn’t that pretty and we even discussed possibly turning around because of bad roads later in the day. Mike wouldn’t be happy if we didn’t show and I haven’t climbed with him since the Half-Point 13,164-Whitecross-Handies trip in October. Ah, come on baby; we’ll be glad we did later on.
The snow relents around Idaho Springs. The predicted forecast calls for 80% chance of snow in the Fletcher group today, but then again meteorologists lie as much as lawyers. Maybe we’ll have another good day?
Despite being roughly ten degrees colder, the trailhead looks just as calm and peaceful as the previous morning. Mike arrives five minutes later and at 8:20 we’re weaving our way through the willows on the much-improved track from yesterday.
The sun greets us just before arriving at the entrance to Pacific Creek and then….Boom! Boom? What in the world? We turn around just in time to see that ski patrol at Copper Mountain has attempted to release the bowl just east of Tucker Mountain’s summit. I’ve never seen an avalanche before and from several miles away would be the perfect distance. A few minutes pass and no other charges are dropped. Oh well, let’s keep this show moving.
Pacific Creek seems to go faster today and the upper basin is quickly reached. During a break, Mike and I talk about routes up Atlantic and he points out a good entrance to the West Ridge. How’d I miss that yesterday? Some other time. To this point, both the predicted wind and snow have been absent. We don’t miss either of you.
While crossing the flats towards Pacific, we contemplate how to get around the cliff bands at the base of the mountain’s west ridge. Yesterday, I climbed a nasty 15-foot section which we certainly don’t want to repeat. The right side by Pacific doesn’t look inviting so we head far left. Cliffed out again. Retreat and repeat, there’s a logical route through here somewhere. After regaining the trench, we follow it directly towards the west ridge before veering left at the last moment. Oh, here it is. It’s always the last place you look, isn’t it?
The remainder of the flats toward Crystal pass uneventfully and soon we’re starring up at the 13,200-foot Crystal-Pacific saddle. Luckily, there a snow covered route weaving in-and-out of the scree to just below the saddle; the snowshoes stay on.
Right below the saddle, we cache the snowshoes and our peaceful day comes to an immediate halt as the west wind has joined the party. Balaclavas and goggles go on and we prepare for battle. Scree hopping ensued, and soon we are standing on top of the bump looking at the final 450 feet to Crystal’s summit. So much for 40 mph gusts, this sucker’s blowing constantly and doesn’t seem to have reservations elsewhere!
Climbing up the final ridge we connect patches of scree as much as possible. The snow up here is solid but the spooky feeling from the previous weekend’s climb isn’t there and ice axes stay in the pack. The crux of the route comes 100 feet below the summit where three rocks protrude from the snow making excellent holds over a 5-foot icy section. I’m going to want my axe for that section on the way down! An extremely short traverse across the Southeast Face brings us to the final steps of our climb. At 2:00, we’re standing on top of Crystal on a much nicer day, despite the wind, than possibly hoped for.
Five minutes later, we’ve had plenty of the wind and make a beeline for the Crystal-Pacific saddle. The icy sections cooperate nicely and the 150-foot reclimb isn’t too painful either. Unfortunately, the wind is still blowing steadily at the saddle which makes putting snowshoes back on quite an annoying chore. No time for a break here; let’s go find a hiding spot!
While recrossing the flats below Pacific, we finally(thank goodness) arrive at a place where we can refuel. The walk out today is unrushed, a pleasant change from yesterday, which only the minor nuisance of the wind filling in our trench from earlier. Fortunately, breaking back to the treeline is easy and our untouched trench awaits our return there. On the way, we chat about other climbs in the area and non-climbing related subjects. It’s nice being with a group again! The trailhead arrives at 4:00 and we head for Frisco to eat.
Overall, we’re pleased with the day’s effort and kinda feel like we got away with something weather-wise. Oh well, that’ll surely even out down the road.
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