Saturday, February 16, 2008

Atlantic Peak

For my second snow climb from Dave Cooper's "Colorado Snow Climbs" book, I chose the first climb in the book: Atlantic Peak. The Atlantic Peak ascent is a ridge climb, so there is little avalanche danger. I was going alone, so I picked one of the easier routes in the book. I also wanted to grow in my skills and confidence before tackling the more challenging routes. This route proved to be just the ticket. Easy enough to feel safe, yet challenging enough to keep your attention.

To reach the trailhead from Denver, take I-70 to Copper Mountain. Take Highway 91 for 6.4 miles to a large plowed parking lot on the east side of the highway. I left the house at around 7:00 AM, and arrived at the trailhead at around 9:30 AM. Leaving earlier would have been better, both for snow conditions as well as avoiding the ski traffic rush up I-70. There were already quite a few vehicles in the parking lot, so I donned the snow shoes and started out. This area is popular with cross-country skiers, so etiquette instructs that you don't tear up their lanes with your cramponed snowshoes.

The approach to the ridge follows a four-wheel drive road for 1.1 miles. You then cut across the wide snow park and ascend up through the trees to reach the broad ridge at the bottom of Atlantic Peak. Check out the first photo which looks back on the approach. Crossing the park proved to be a little tedious due to the powdery snow on this mid-February day. My snow shoes are of slightly larger than average surface area, yet still sank in the snow for quite a ways. Ascending through the trees was a fun exploration with pockets of sinking snow. Once on the wide ridge, the going in snowshoes turns becomes a problem for your ankles more than a sinking issue. Even with my heel-raisers in place the ascent is a bit steep, pointing my toes upward past the comfort zone. Once I topped the rounded hill, I eschewed my snow shoes, stashed them where I could find them on the descent and proceeded on with my boots and poles.

After flattening out for a ways the ridge steepens and narrows. The climbing becomes mixed snow with some rocky sections requiring some low-end scrambling. You can see an example in the last photo. On February 16, 2008 the snow on this ridge was very hard-packed. The drop off on each side of the ridge is long and dangerous. I wished I had brought my crampons. Dave doesn't say they are required, but I advise you to bring them along just in case. I took slow and steady steps, making sure that each foot placement was solid as I proceeded along the ridge. Since my pace was slowed it took me a while to traverse the seemingly endless ascent. I didn't quite make it to the top of Atlantic Peak. My legs were not in prime condition and the hour was getting late, so I stopped for lunch. The middle photo shows the broad ridge to the right of the center. The ridge continues heading to the right in this photo. Atlantic Peak is the third summit which is not very pronounced in this picture. See if you can spot my snowshoe tracks up the broad side of the ridge.

You could see many skiers and snowshoers in Mayflower Gulch far below. I was the only one on this climb, but it was comforting to know that there were others around in case of emergency. Not sure how I would get their attention so far away! There were a group of people building an igloo in the park, and others exploring the old mines.

The descent was fun but uneventful. I tried glissading a couple of times, but the angle of the slope was too low. I think I will try this route again and attain the peak. It is safe enough to go alone when you can't find a partner: at least in my humble opinion. Take responsibility for yourself.