Route: S Ridge Trailhead: McCullough Gulch
I climbed Pacific Peak (13950 ft) with a Colorado Mountain Club trip on Sunday, 1 August 1999 via the South Ridge. The approach up McCullough Gulch and the ridge route we took correspond to the route described in Garrat and Martin's book. The trailhead is located very close to the new trailhead for Quandary Peak. This was a rather large CMC group, so unfortunately I can't remember all of the names. There was a Jim, a Bart, two Mikes, a Jane and a Darryl -- sorry folks that's all the names I can remember!
We started out at about 8:15 with the weather a somewhat unpleasant mix of heavy fog, drizzle and ominous looking clouds. We actually had to break out the compass a few times to navigate through the fog. There is a good trail about 1/3 of the way up to the lake at 12695 feet. From there the trail disappears and we encountered a considerable amount of bushwhacking and a near fight to the death with a few patches of willows. We continued on up, weaving our way through a series of ledges, grassy cliff bands and stream beds to a fairly short but quite steep headwall mostly covered by snow. Half of the group, including me, tackled the snow and the other half skirted it to left up some quite nasty and steep scree and talus. All I could hear was "rock" every ten seconds (glad I took the snow!).
We topped out onto the large flat area at the base of Pacific Peak and Unnamed 13841 (AKA Atlantic Peak). Here we finally broke out of the fog and were greeted by ominous threatening weather. We traversed to the saddle between Pacific and UN 13841 and followed the ridge to the summit of Pacific arriving at about 11:45. After a short stay on the summit we descended the ascent route. We decided not to go for UN 13841 because of the weather and a few claps of thunder that we had just heard (I lobbied hard, but was voted down ;-( ).
Everyone went for the glissade down the steep snowfield and several of the CMC group got to practice their self-arrest technique; some on purpose and some by accident! At the bottom of the snow field it started to rain heavily -- it never stopped until we got back to the cars. On the descent we got a bit lost between the upper lake and lower lake. Eventually, after 45 minutes of bushwhacking and extra climbing, we realized our error and descended back through the willows to the lower lake. From there it was a very muddy trail walk in a downpour back to the cars where we arrived at about 4:00 PM.
All in all it was a great day. The people in the group got along great and we all seemed to have a compatible hiking pace. The weather did get kind of nasty later in the day, but we only heard thunder and saw lightening a few times although some of the strikes seemed quite close.
The ice axes did come in quite handy on both the ascent and descent. However, with a bit of effort and quite a bit of care on the loose scree and talus, you can avoid the snow field.
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