Pacific-Crystal-Peak 10 Enchainment

Pacific-Crystal-Peak 10 Enchainment

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: May 5, 2009
Activities Activities: Mountaineering, Skiing
Seasons Season: Spring

An Idea

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.
Y CouloirWest Face of Pacific and the Y Couloir

North CouloirNorth 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.

Alpine Start

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 in the YTyler climbing the Y

At the top of the Y we had a quick scramble around a tower to make the summit pitch.
Climbing the RidgeTyler climbing our ridge crux

The Ski

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.
Ready to SkiJust 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.
Skiing the North CouloirMe 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.”
Tyler in the North Couloir

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 Skiing the NorthTyler 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.
Tyler and I below the North Face of PacificBelow 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.
Climbing CrystalTyler climbing



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.
Ready to GoReady again

Tyler SkiingTyler

Tyler SkiingTyler

Me SkiingMe

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.
Below CrystalTyler 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.
Climbing Pk. 10Last climb

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 skiing 4th of July BowlTyler 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.


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-12 of 12

scotthsu - May 18, 2009 1:46 pm - Voted 10/10


seems like the ten mile mosquito range is where it's at this spring.


GravityPilot - May 19, 2009 10:54 am - Hasn't voted


It's not to shabby


paulbalegend - May 19, 2009 12:49 pm - Hasn't voted


great TR - fun reading/viewing!


paulbalegend - May 19, 2009 12:50 pm - Hasn't voted


oh yeah, and you guys got balls!!


Blair - May 19, 2009 1:15 pm - Voted 10/10

Bad Ass stuff...

man that looks like fun. sounds like a great trip with full value in the mountains. thanks for sharing this!


AJones - May 19, 2009 3:19 pm - Voted 10/10

NIce report!

I like doing enchainmentss (mine are climbing ones, but same difference) - it's good to push your body and mind.


GravityPilot - May 21, 2009 10:31 am - Hasn't voted


We're always equipped and I always run folks not just through a function check but also a range check of their beacons. If I'm unsure of their ability to use it then I'll go through a whole other process. With Tyler it's different, because I'm one of the snow safety guys that trained him initially.
In the pic of Pacific in the beginning only the far lookers left slide is from a true north face. All the others came from the wall of the Pac-Crystal saddle which faces SE. The Cooly is super protected.
Those slides were wet and happened with the last storm, it was very warm and dumped on top of a real slick sun preped surface. It took only a little sun. We did cross through some old debris and it was frozen death cookies. Basically between my snow pack and weather obs that went back through the week prior and a few tests on the pillow, I was very confident with the snow. The trick was hitting it the right time of day, I was really worried that the SE face on Crystal that we climbed was going to be soupy and dangerous. The wind kept that locked up thankfully. As well as all solar aspects we encountered.
The NW face of Crystal had one big pillow that we avoided, but overall that face is wind stripped and we were in more danger of cliffing out or a big fall than anything else. It wasn't warm enough for wet conditions and the pack had settled nearly eliminating our deep worries.


GravityPilot - May 23, 2009 2:57 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Absolutely

We did not do a Rutschblock or a CT. Our baseline data was in this case collected throughout the week prior from all aspects that we've travelled in. The worry here was potential wind slab build up and the possible sheer surfaces under and/or maybe within that slab. The pillow up high showed no slab quality, and consistant bonding to the old snow. I observed that with a pole cut into the top of the pillow to the old snow. The old snow was not the same slick, sun cooked surface because it is so protected. We made this observation on a scouting tour and was confirmed upon our further examination. The debris below the north couloir was almost definitely the effect of warm tempuratures and the steep angle (~60deg at the top) sluffing the wet(ter) near surface layers.
If there had been slab quality, an Extended Column Test would have not only been easier than a RB but more practical than a CT. The ECT tests not only the compression strength but also the propagation. With this comes further examination of the shear plane if any.
No visual check is "simple" despite your's or anyone elses belief. It's not all about tests, it also has a lot to do with how the snow feels under and around you, how it reacts to your movements and the stressors placed upon it by yourself and the surrounding environment. These are all observations made through out the length of a tour, not just when you are about to ski. Just like your system for moving solo up a wall, I have a system for analyzing weather and snow conditions. And I don't think I have to tell you that it has been hard won.
That being said, I'm not here for anyones approval or to take your subtle criticism. I thought I would share some photos and text of a fun and challenging trip. If you would like to continue to discuss my tatics or to continue your subtle attmepts to flame me, please feel free to email me. Cheers.


GravityPilot - May 27, 2009 4:28 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Absolutely

Good thing we were skinning up on frozen Spring snow and that the new snow wasn't 60cm. Oh ya and slab quality check. I know it's easy to criticize when you're in a different snow climate a few thousand miles away, but please try to resist. I'm not saying AIARE is wrong, I'm saying you can't convince me you're the only one that's right.

P.S. Nice name drop and numbers spray. I suppose we should dig multiple pits in a grid format across faces so we can account for "normal" spatial variability as well.


seth@LOKI - May 21, 2009 11:03 am - Voted 10/10


Mayflower is great access. The west facing snow has been terrible on my try's. The Pacific North Couloir is reputed to be wicked. good work. Sounds like a great ski traverse.


tdogge - May 29, 2009 1:20 am - Voted 10/10


Great route, great TR. I haven't heard of too many people skiing the North Colouir.

And the avalanche safety discussion makes for interesting theater (taking nothing away from its seriousness). I'm far from an expert, and hence would never consider leading a trip like this, but I would be surprised to hear of a severe deep slab (>100 cm) instability persisting so late in the season (barring recent, sustained snowfall)...and I can pretty much assure you that the Tenmile range only sees a 300cm base in the wettest years.

That said, springtime deep snow tests will give you, at a minimum, another data point.


DharmaBum1984 - Aug 18, 2009 9:08 am - Hasn't voted


Great vision, great execution. I've been contemplating skiing Pacific's N Couloir for a few years now and it looks like you hit it in perfect condition.

Clearly you know what you're doing avy-wise. A pit or RB test would have been superfluous given your knowledge of the snowpack, not to mention potentially misleading, remembering that multiple accidents in CO this year happened when people dug pits, found no weak layers, and then assumed this was the case for the entire exposure. Variation in micro-terrain is a huge factor and a false-stable result can lull you into a false sense of security. Holistic awareness is the name of the game and you clearly had that. There is a big difference between our continental snowpack in Winter and in Spring, some people have a hard time understanding that.

Cheers, nice write up.

Viewing: 1-12 of 12