The First Step
Debbie and I awoke to an alarm set an hour earlier than real time. This was good because it had us on the road before 5 am and to the Mayflower Gulch trailhead by 6:45 am. We got ready in a very leisurely fashion and were the first up the trail at 7:05 am. Four other people were doing a different route, Atlantic's west ridge.
The weather was very springy, warm enough to consider wet slide potential in the afternoon. Luckily we were using West running ridges for the route except for the saddle between Pacific and Atlantic. The trail up through the valley was very icy from the previous day's melt freeze and smooth ski tracks, so we immediately used our snowshoes and hiking poles. After following the snow covered 4WD road up to the confluence of the Atlantic/Pacific valley stream and the stream from the basin below Drift peak, we headed toward our goals. The hike up into the basin between the two peaks was through a very narrow gully. We noted a wet slide point release out of a south facing aspect from a previous day.
We did not have a good vantage on Pacific’s west ridge, as we were heading directly toward it. It looked to be very doable once we got within a few hundred yards, so we continued. As we gained the lower section of the ridge, we noted the very heavily corniced (even double corniced) sections to the west along the ridge. I later saw Roach notes this feature in his 13ers book. We spotted the other party across the valley making their way up to Atlantic.
The West Ridge of Atlantic
The initial climbing on the ridge required class 2+ and 3 rock scrambling to the south of a large cliff band. The easiest route after this was over snow on the ridge crest, so we put on our crampons and took out our axes. Everything was going well until we came to a section on the ridge where we would either face class 4 and 5 climbing to stay ridge proper, or drop to the south and cross a steep snow traverse: an easy choice. I crossed the snow traverse by facing into the mountain, planting my axe down to rock and front point side stepping. After I crossed, I looked back and noticed Debbie was very unhappy. She was not prepared for steep snow climbing and was not going to budge. I felt bad to put her in a situation she was not expecting. I crossed back to her, and after a significant amount of confidence building, coached her across the traverse. She did well, but was shaken. I know from previous experience, that she doesn’t recuperate quickly if she gets upset due to exposure. Getting up the remainder of the ridge was going to be interesting.
We continued on, facing a few more steep snow traverses between exposed snow covered ridge walks. The route was a true delight for me and Debbie began to regain her grove. The crux of the route was a very steep, snow climb back to the ridge after down climbing around a rabbit. I made a mitake in traversing across 45 degree avalanche slope. The snow felt stable, but all the same, it was dumb. We could have ascended high class 3 rock on the opposite side of the rabbit, hindsight right?
After regaining the ridge, we encountered a very narrow ridge section with a steep couloir to the north. This was neat. The remainder of the climb was uneventful, and after crossing through Pacific's obvious west ridge notch, we made the summit at 12:30pm. The ridge had taken us way too long. I was worried about the snow warming up at lower elevations, so we continued on over the saddle to Atlantic. Our quickest descent route available at this point was Atlantic's west ridge anyway. On the saddle, we encountered surprisingly cold snowpack, which was comforting considering it faced due east. We kept our crampons on and practiced the rest step on the way to Atlantic's blunt summit.
The day was going very well at this point. The views of the surrounding Tenmile Range were amazing. Very rugged area. After some food (Debbie’s homemade oatmeal cookies and an apple each) we headed down. Atlantics West ridge is mentioned as exposed and prone to avalanche. On this day it provided a very safe and enjoyable narrow ridge walk on snow. We spotted the mining aerial tram in the basin between Drift and Atlantic. The lower section of the ridge had a shallow snowpack and was a pain to descend. If you didn’t pay attention, you would posthole down a gap between talus blocks. We had great views of the West ridge of Pacific the entire descent. A small glissade had us below tree line. The snow was warming, but not as fast as I had expected. No roller balls yet. The hike out was a nice exercise in looking back on a successful lesson filled mountaineering experience.
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