I had been on a mission since February to make myself feel like crap and I thought I had been doing a good job of accomplishing that mission. Right after season ended we skied the Northwest face of Drift Peak, which had been a long-standing project of mine, then followed it up with a handful of descents around Summit County to keep us busy while we found some new objectives.
That’s when the Y couloir on Pacific’s west face came to mind. A tour up to the Pacific-Crystal saddle confirmed it was in and also gave us an up close and personal look at the north couloir. As we sat up there in the wind my brain went into overdrive. I realized that I was capable of more than I was selling myself.
“Lets climb the Y, ski the north, climb up Crystal, ski the northwest face, then climb up Peak 10 and ski 4th of July bowl into Breck.” I didn’t really think about it before I said it.
Tyler laughed thinking I was joking, but the look on TC’s face showed that he knew I was serious. His look reflected mine and Tyler stopped laughing.
West Face of Pacific and the Y Couloir
North Couloir on Pacific
TC thought I was crazy, the mileage was long, the vertical high and the north couloir was notoriously steep. Not to mention we had zero beta on the northwest face of Crystal since it’s protected but it’s long west ridge. I had confidence, I was sure it went all the way somewhere on the face, we’d just have to route find. If anything got to crazy we’d have a rope and equipment to rap with though I doubted we’d need it.
TC didn’t call, I knew he didn’t want anything to do with it, so I didn’t bother talking to him anymore about it. Tyler on the other hand sounded genuinely interested. Tyler and I have never spent a big day in the mountains together and we had just taken him on his first ever ski tour a week earlier. We know Tyler through the ski patrol at Copper. He had just finished his first season with us and we knew he was a more than adequate skier, in good shape and capable of clear thought in stressful situations. Nevertheless he was not capable of being my “partner”, but he certainly did qualify as a mock client.
I sat him down and explained our tour plan, equipment list and made sure he didn’t have any unanswered questions. I told him the conditions on the north couloir were unknown and we would be taking a rope incase it was too dangerous to ski in. He was confident with our safety issues and after digging up some tools and crampons for him we were set and ready to go the next day.
The forecast called for partly cloudy with a high of 53F and of course it wouldn’t be Summit County without wind.
We left the Mayflower Gulch trailhead at 0422 the next morning. The walk up the road was rotten in places but we made good time. Once we were adjacent to the Mayflower Hill-Atlantic gap we turned north towards the west ridge of Pacific.
The wind was strong in the upper basin and was chilling us even if we stopped for a moment. We made it to the bottom of the Y couloir on Pacific’s west face a little before sunrise and started climbing. There had been a good freeze, but it was rotten and punchy around the rocks, which made for slower moving but more safety. Tyler was eager and did just fine following me, every time I looked to check on him his smile was beaming between heavy breaths.
Tyler climbing the Y
At the top of the Y we had a quick scramble around a tower to make the summit pitch.
Tyler climbing our ridge crux
The wind was nuking through the notch that starts the north couloir. Wasting no time, we put away the crampons and tools and prepared for our descent. We discussed our plan and tossed a few small rocks down couloir to check the surface conditions. Powder, it had blown in soft with combination of the wind and the last storm event. Tyler looked nervous, so we talked it through one more time to be sure. He was ready, we snapped a photo and made the decision to go.
Just before our drop in
I clicked in and made my way to the edge, two big jumps later on the skiers left pillow later I turned back to the right and started my way down. Absolutely epic. Ankle to boot top high in places, I made my best jump turns of the season through the crux to the left dogleg and pulled off to the right to my safe zone.
Me starting my ski
I waved to Tyler and he started down, linking jump turn after jump turn. I could hear his heart pounding as he came closer and could see his eyes through his goggles plastered open by adrenaline. He came to a stop just below me, planted both poles and stared at the ground a moment before looking up at me and saying;
“I cannot believe I just skied that.”
Replying with a smile, “Great, you ready to ski out the bottom pitch first?”
His eyes wide, he nodded and listened to my instructions. After a few deep breaths he made his start and turned them fall line.
Tyler killing it
I followed him out and met him on the apron. His eyes were still as big as saucers. We high five and simo-skied the apron through great blown in ankle high powder.
Below the N face
The ski to the bottom of the southeast face of Crystal was fast and hard. Before we knew it we were transitioning back to crampons and talking about our next leg. The wind had kept the snow firm and made for great climbing. We found a spot out of the wind in the upper dish so we stopped for a bite.
The summit of Crystal was no different than that of Pacific as far as weather was concerned. Wind, gusting into the 50s kept us leeward to prep for the descent down our next face. No summit shots on this one, we wanted to lose elevation quick.
We skied separate shots one at a time in yo-yo fashion. Here and there we would find a small gut that was blown in but overall the snow was edge-able but hard due to the wind. The snow stopped short of the bottom forcing us to make a small billy goat but nothing big. We simo skied the apron and traverse over to the bottom of a couloir on the west face of Peak 10.
Tyler all smiles
The last climb was steeper than it looked. The snow was great for climbing and we slowly made our way towards the summit ridge for I could tell Tyler was getting tired.
The summit ridge was rocky, Tyler was tired and the wind was blasting us once again. We moved from snow patch to snow patch working up and around towards 4th of July Bowl at the top of Peak 10. We moved slow and deliberately in the wind and loose rock until we made the bowl. Neither of us wanted to sit on top in the nuclear blast-esque wind to enjoy the view.
Tyler coming down 4th of July Bowl
The End or the Beginning?
Making our way down Breckenridge was painless, the snow was slushy and soft, and we made big arching turns down the closed ski area to the bottom of Peak 9. Of course not everything goes as planned and we had to portage over the plowed mountain road more times than I’d like to remember. Trivial in the grand scheme.
Tyler and I talked about the day as we walked to where my girlfriend was going to pick us up. We were both excited, but my day paled in comparison to his. We were sitting on the side of the road when he looked at me and said,
“Today was one of the best days of my life.”
I replied with a smile and thanked him for letting me take him.
My day was amazing as well, but mine was different. Yes the skiing was fantastic, especially in the north couloir, and yes I skied two big projects in a day, but I seeing his enjoyment put it over the top. That was the biggest reward. The vertical we climbed and skied was completely and still is secondary.
Now as I look off my back deck at Peak One I wonder what’s next, what my next project will be, what my next trip lead will be and what’s next for Tyler. His stoke is high as is his motivation. What I do know is, is that I’m ready and waiting either way.