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What a week! The forecast has been messing with my mind since Tuesday. Why couldn’t I have taken a few days off during the middle of the week to make good use of the wonderful settled weather we’ve had? I’ll have to rectify that with a big weekend. The west ridge on Atlantic has been high on my winter climbing list recently. Let’s give that a try Friday.
Friday morning my alarm clock disturbs my slumber once again at 5:30am. Working until 9/10pm Thursday nights is going to be the death of me one of these days! I really don’t want to get moving, but it’s supposed to be such a glorious day out there….putting it to waste would be a crying shame!
I’m not exactly Speedy Gonzales this morning so after fumbling around my apartment and driving to Mayflower Gulch Trailhead, the packed snow-covered trail greets me at 8:40am. Good thing the route up Atlantic is a short one.
With avalanche danger low, I abandon the planned route over Mayflower Hill for a pleasant stroll up Mayflower Gulch weaving in and out of the willows on a somewhat broken track away from the normal snowmobiler’s path towards the old cabin. The sun hits the gulch ten minutes down the trail and Drift Peak turns from a foreboding blue and red giant to a sun soaked possibility.
Soon the entrance to Pacific Creek Drainage is reached and some real work begins. There is a faint hint of a past track, but nothing more. Pacific peeks through periodically as I plod upwards weaving in and out until treeline. Here the entrance to Atlantic’s ridge is visible, but it’s an unacceptable risk to get up there. While we’re on the subject, this doesn’t look like a place I’d want to travel through if the avalanche danger was any higher than low! Old slide debris is present, but current danger is not. Anyways, I’ll go around the north side of the ridge to locate a reasonable access point. Nope, none here. Now what? Pacific could work.
As I cross the flats in Upper Pacific Creek Drainage, I ponder the west ridge on Pacific. I haven’t played in awhile, let’s give it a try. After caching my snowshoes and poles at the ridge’s base, I start scrambling skyward. There’s a scree patch to the right of that big tower James Just climbed last winter, I’ll avoid that. The ridge goes slowly yet smoothly until the scree section, loose rock abounds and progress slows. That was tedious, let’s take a breather. During my break, a pair of snowshoers crosses the flats.
After resuming the climb, I reach the crux of the route. Here the route has a few towers blocking the ridge proper with some big air and no holds on the climber’s left. The right side holds a pair of smooth slabs with one thin crack separating the two blocks on the far side, icy slopes lurk below. I inch forward along the ridge; after a few steps a retreat is necessary. After testing the blocks from the right side, another retreat is necessary and doubt begins to enter my mind. How does one get across this? If I could just get my foot in that crack between those two blocks then….oh, I have an idea! Jamie is not going to be happy when she hears about this. Slowly, I walk back up to the ridge crest and slide my hands down a tower and begin to kneel. There’s a decent-sized handhold if only my right foot would reach that crack over….whew, that’s a stretch. Okay, what now? One more hold and I’m free. Alright, that was rough. If you would have brought the crampons that would have been easy. Yeah, thanks. Let’s get outta here; the summit doesn’t look too far.
Looking back, those guys still haven’t moved. Maybe they’ve decided to turnaround after their break? Oh well, focus. Moving along, the climb takes on an alpine feel with snow covered sections interwoven with short scrambling sections. Thanks goodness all the class four moves here are dry! After one last snow section, the final pitch of scree is reached. Yeah, the summit is here….shoot, I forgot about the notch. Thankfully it’s more bark than bite as a few short steps bring me to the top of north couloir. Oh, that’s a spooky view. The summit block is splattered with icy sections yet most of it is dry and I’m sitting on top of Pacific at 3pm.
It’s late, can’t stay long. After five minutes up top, the downclimb to the notch is smoothly completed. One more peek down the north couloir, still spooky, and up and outta of the notch. What in the world? There are those guys. How’d they get up here so quickly? Impressive. After a quick hello, I head for the Crystal-Pacific saddle. Halfway there, an alternative presents itself. This descent to the basin becomes the annoying mix of acceptable plunge stepping, hard snow and waist deep postholing. The basin begins with more postholing until my cache at the base of the west ridge is retrieved. It’s 5pm, better bogie while there’s still some daylight.
I was hoping to improve the track for tomorrow on the way down but those guys beat me to it and bomb shelled my trench. What gives! The two gulches pass by quickly and the headlight is only on for 15 minutes before the truck appears at 6pm. Whew, that was much longer than expected! Wouldn’t trade it for the world.
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