|Quandary and Pacific Tarn|
The Tenmile Range near Breckenridge hosts many 13ers that are worth exploring. Over the past few years I have been slowly ticking peaks off my list from the range. This area is close to Denver, and unlike Quandary the local 14er, solitude can be found on many of the surrounding peaks. Last year I came across the East Ridge Route description for Pacific Peak on the 14ers.com website and decided this would be a fun option for this weekend.
The McCullough Gulch North TH is accessed off of HWY 9 near the Quandary Peak TH. From Breckenridge travel south on HWY 9, turning west onto Blue Lakes Road 850. After the main parking lot for Quandary take the first right onto McCullough Gulch (851) Road. Drive over a mile and a half reaching a junction, stay to the right and follow this road till it ends at just over 11,000 feet. High clearance would be desired for this road, but it is not a full 4WD road. There is limited parking near the TH, and I almost drove into a bunch of people camping there, so proceed with caution if arriving in the dark.
|Early Morning Solitude|
I had another early morning departure from Denver and arrived at the TH around 4:30am. I wasn’t necessarily planning on a sunrise climb, but since this is an east facing route the opportunity is there to catch the morning sunrise anywhere along the ridgeline. The morning air was a bit chilly, but I was good to start in shorts and a t-shirt. I knew the initial climb through the aspens would be brutal and I would quickly have my heart rate up, so starting a tad chilly was a good way to do it today.
There wasn’t a true trail, but through the trees in the dark I could spot signs of climber/animal trails that helped me through the trees. The gain was really steep, so when in doubt just go straight up and within 5-10 minutes you will clear the trees. I would recommend loading a gpx track if you do this in the dark as the ridgelines are not clearly evident. I just kept trying to follow the southern edge of the ridge, but the ridge is quite wide so a few times I would check my gps to make sure I was on the right track. After the initial gain in the first half hour, the main East Ridge becomes more evident, so just start making your way towards the rocks.
In the first hour I gained 1,850 feet and at this point I was beginning the rocky ridge. I was feeling pretty good, and keeping an above average pace. I took a short break after my first hour since I had already burned my morning fuel supply. The sun would rise in about half hour so I wanted to step it up a notch to get a better view of the sunrise higher on the ridge. I kicked it into high gear as I started up the boulders.
The ridge narrows pretty quickly and the roller coaster of ups and down soon commences. This first section is mostly class 2, but the more you stay true to the ridge the more difficult it gets. If you stay on the ridgeline it soon turns into solid class 3 terrain, but easier routes can be found to the southern side off the crest. I wanted to have some fun so I stayed true to the ridge and soon was packing away my trekking poles and putting on my scrambling gloves.
The scrambling is pretty sustained for about a mile, maybe a bit further. There is a midpoint along the ridge that is the unranked point 13,238. My goal was to reach that point for sunrise. There are a few really fun sections to scramble up gaining the point. I nearly made it to the top of the point as the sun was cresting the horizon. I took a seat on a rock and enjoy the moment with a handful of gummy bears.
After taking a few pictures I was off again continuing up the ridge. By staying true to the ridge I had to back track a few times as the notches between rock towers drop off dramatically as you progress up the ridgeline. If you stay off the ridge by about thirty or forty feet you won’t have to worry about it, but the view down there isn’t as good. Soon you will get to a point where you need to be on the ridge crest as couloirs come in on the northern side. Just past this area is where the standard route ascends from the Mohawk Lakes area.
A few weeks prior I tried ascending from the Mohawk Lakes, but I didn’t have the right gear that day so it became a day of basin and lakes exploration. I think that route would be more efficient if you wanted to get up to Pacific quickly, but there wouldn’t be that much scrambling involved, so where’s the fun in that? I started making my way off the ridge, dropping into the flat area near the Pacific Tarn. From here I took a break to lather on some sun block and gobble some crackers.
|Me on the summit of Pacific|
My goal was to summit Pacific within a half hour from my last break. I was feeling good even for being above 13,600 feet, I just kept trucking up the pyramid block and was on the summit 20 minutes later. The vertical gain didn’t seem too bad along this route because you start out with a huge gain then it mellows into a roller coaster scramble. It was a fun route, and I would recommend it if you want to up your game into class 3 terrain. After taking a break for a few minutes on the summit I was off to Atlantic Peak.
There was no reason not to make a twofer out of the day since it was only 7:30am. From Pacific to Atlantic the terrain stays class 2 the entire way. There are climber’s routes through the boulders so the going was pretty quick. About a half hour or so after being on Pacific, I was already on the summit of Atlantic. It would have been nice to be able to continue on the ridge towards Fletcher, but that ridgeline quickly turns to jagged rock spires and is not climbable….at least for me.
|Pacific from Atlantic|
At about 8:30am I was starting back. I chose to descend the same ridge, a lot of people will drop into McCullough Gulch and hike the trail out, but I was up for some more scrambling since I had a great day for it. I reconnected to the main East Ridge next to Pacific Tarn. I should mention that Pacific Tarn is the highest lake in the U.S., I guess I can check that off on a list somewhere as well.
On the descent I took my time along the ridge. I tried to avoid a lot of the major ups and downs by traversing further down on the ridge on the south side. There were lots of fun options, so the playground was in great shape today. I spent about three hours on the descent, steadily moving for the most part. Once clearing the rocks I took a final break before the drop down the ridge to the car. It was interesting to see how steep the terrain was I came up in the dark. I would try and stay more south on the ridge early on as opposed to my route that loops to the north. But other than that, I enjoyed the route and would definitely do it again.
I had one stop on my schedule…Broken Compass Brewing. This would be my last climb in Colorado before heading to Washington. This Saturday I’m climbing Mount Adams, then mid next week I make my second summit attempt on Mount Rainier. I will try and put together some trip reports for those when I get back home. In the meantime, I hope you guys are finding some time in the mountains. Get after it! Cheers!
Date: July 30, 2016
TH Elevation: 11,060 feet
Pacific Peak Summit: 13,950 feet
Atlantic Peak Summit: 13,841 feet
Total Ascent: 3,872 feet
Total Distance: 8.3 miles
Moving Time: 5 hours 9 minutes
Stopped Time: 2 hour 13 minutes