Friday, August 17, 2012

Coast to Coast in Colorado

We were in Breckenridge, and my wife wanted to sleep in. Being physically unable to sleep in, I thought I'd go for a short hike. After suggestions from some that my climbing choices have been too mainstream, I decided on Pacific Peak. The best way to reach it is from neighboring Atlantic Peak. Both Pacific and Atlantic are "Centennial 13ers"; meaning part of the highest 100 summits in Colorado.  At 5:30 AM as I drove by the Quandary trailhead, and already the crowds reminded me of release day at the Apple store. Some "broskies" made some humping motions at me as I drove by... lovely.

I got the the parking area and it was empty, except for a single Ford ranger that hadn't moved in a while. Starting off just before dawn without a headlamp, I could feel the excitement almost immediately. I didn't figure I'd see anyone on the way up.

Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your won presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement.
-Alice Koller

Bill's route description, as usual, is right on the money. The turn-off from the road to the trail is well marked (with a sign) and there are frequent signs and cairns posted along the way. There is one point where you climb up a rock slab, which can make the trail somewhat hard to see. Once you get to the lake, the trail becomes a little fainter (few continue on from here).

At first reaching the lake

Looking back

Alpenglow on Quandary Peak's north slopes

The first headwall with some alpenglow

Looking back after climbing a couple hundred feet

Panorama of Quandary Peak from the North
In the upper basin, the route calls for you to go far west before going North. It may seem like a little extra work, but it ISN't. There are talus and boulders everywhere and Bill is helping you avoid a ton of rock-hopping. I naively attempted a "shortcut" which didn't really save me any time.

Panorama of Fletcher and Atlantic

Fletcher and the ridge

Atlantic Peak. The path should be around the hump left of center

Quandary Peak- looking back at Boulder World

Approaching Class 2 Gully

Looking up before the ascent route. In hindsight this might have been a better choice
The crux of the route fully earned the designation "Difficult Class 2" with a combination of loose dirt/rocks and a high amount of steepness. When you finally reach the top, you can see the summit of Atlantic. It's kind of deceiving, since it's actually just a little further away than it looks. None-the-less, it's easy to reach no matter what line you take from here.

Pacific Peak (with Pacific Tarn peeking out) from the summit of Atlantic

Honey Stinger Waffle. These things are awesome, I will get more.

I topped out on Atlantic Peak after 2 hours and 30 minutes. The summit is large and worth exploring.  Amazing thing about this summit- it’s pristine. I didn’t see a summit marker, no trash, not even a trail. The ridge traverse to Fletcher looks challenging.

Closeup of the traverse
The easy climb to Pacific Peak

The traverse to Pacific Peak is relatively easy, and there is even a trail in some parts. It took me 35 minutes summit to summit.  Pacific Peak is surprisingly easy to summit from this angle, and if you stay on the ridge, it's pretty solid.

The summit of Pacific is much smaller and it drops off very abruptly to the North. Like Atlantic, it has some pretty classic views, and it gives you a nice perspective on Crystal and Father Dyer peaks.  Like Atlantic, there was very little evidence of human activity on the summit.

Looking over at Crystal

Looking back at Atlantic Peak
Looking down on the Mohawk Lakes are
Looking down on Pacific Tarn

Drinking some beer on the summit of Pacific Peak

This beer is disgusting

I was much looking forward to checking out Pacific Tarn, the highest named lake in the United States. Because of it's altitude and location, it's a very obscure and out of the way place, tucked into a sub-ridge on Pacific Peak. When I was nearing the lake, I realized I had left my sunglasses on the summit, something I'd never done before. I dropped my pack (in a place I would be able to find it), and slogged back up the summit, got my sunglasses, and came back down. I got to summit Pacific Peak twice, how fortunate.

Relaxing, Colorado Style

On the shores of Pacific Tarn- highest official lake in the United States

Looking West

Finally, I got to look at Pacific Tarn and it was all I had hoped for. It's very quiet and peaceful here, and the east side reminds me of an infinity pool; the experience was sublime. There are some unique red plants that survive on the shores of this hostile environment.

“I lived in solitude in the country and noticed how the monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind”
-Albert Einstein
The "crux gulley" was much more difficult coming down- amazingly it got steeper since I was there last. I started a small rockslide (yelling "Rock! Rock!" to no one at all), fell on my butt, and skidded to a stop right before a 4 foot drop. I eventually slipped and slided down and got to the doom talus. It was here where I scraped my leg and cut my knee on some jagged rocks. No biggie, I can still walk fine. I felt kind of stupid for moving so much earth. I wonder how dramatic it is when other people come down?

I decided to cut back directly to the lakes instead of going around. After all, it LOOKED good. Well, I can firmly tell you that... it was OK. I had about 800 yards of boulder/talus hopping, which wasn't fun. Once I hit the grass,  it was smooth sailing. The valley easily "goes" back to the lake, with only a short but painful willow-bash to merge with the existing trail. I'd say it's worth it if you like variety.

Panorama, coming down the grassy area

This 2-shot Pano looking back at Atlantic Peak is my Favorite
There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.
-Theodore Roosevelt

Coming back down the the lakes

As soon as I left the lake, I saw hordes of people in all shapes and sizes. I had no idea this hike was so popular. I tried to lower my head and hike past everyone. One group of hikers had a single 16.9 oz bottle of water between the two of them, which was nearly empty a mile from the trailhead. My illusion of isolation was instantly shattered. Several people made a comment about my leg and one person even offered to render first aid to me. "It's fine", I said,  "it's not even bleeding anymore."

Actually, the scrape on my shin swelled up and was worse than that little cut

Pressed for time, I jogged the 1/2 mile on the road back to my car, where I learned someone had parked less than 2 feet from my rear bumper. Thanks, friend! Car to car was a little over 5 hours, since I had to be back in Breckenridge by 11 AM.

Passing the Quandary trailhead, there were well over 50 cars parked and double parked all over the place, causing a traffic jam.  Quandary is SO mainstream.

Rough route map:

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