Pacific Peak

The Burly Dude called me Friday evening. “I’ve got a sick line…this dude I know, its his deal…Pacific Peak, North Face Couloir, Google it! I’ve got the camera crew all set up, are you in?”Of course I was in. Miss a chance to go Hollywood off the side of a 13,950 foot peak high in Summit County? I didn’t even have to check out the beta on the peak before saying yes.We left early Saturday morning. I picked up the Burly Dude at 5:00 AM and headed out of town for a quick rendevous with the Director (from

Thrillhead Creations…check them out) we headed up I-70 towards Idaho Springs. There we met the rest of our party–one guy in a hoodie that said very proudly: ‘CANADA’ and another dressed head to toe in Realtree. I thought this was good company to be in, because of all the unknowns that awaited us on the expedition, at least if we ran into a Grizzly Bear or a French Mountaineer, we had some experts to deal with either situation.“His deal, he found the line,” The Burly Dude kept saying excitedly and pointing to The Canadian. After ordering up the standard skiers breakfast (#6 with a coffee) from McStooleys, we finally arrived at the trailhead around 6:30. The Director immediately started handing out radios, and told us all what frequency to stay on. This wasn’t his first rodeo. He also gave me the Handicam to take up to the summit to catch some ‘footie’. For the first time I was getting excited about the project. Anything I shot with the camera or said or did on camera could end up in a video on the shelves of your local ski shop. This was no dry run, and I took a personal interest in helping The Director put together an epic episode.

The Canadian heads up the hill as the Director gets a little nervous in our navigation.

The Canadian led the way (his deal). Straight up Mayflower Hill through the trees. Within minutes of leaving the trailhead, we’d already lost The Burly Dude. Apparently he stopped to take care of some business, but he was taking an awfully long time. We continued up the hill, spaced about 50 yards apart: The Canadian in front, followed by The Grizzly Hunter, The Director, and I held up the rear, stopping occasionally to listen for signs of our fifth companion coming up behind me.

With no sign, I continued up the hill, and the huge Northwest face of Fletcher Mountain loomed before me as the early morning sun came up behind it. I started counting all the different ski possibilities on Fletcher, but it was a waste of time. Hundreds of sick lines, top to bottom of continous snow. However, we had a different dragon to slay today, so I right-clicked and saved the lines on Fletcher way back in my mind for future plans.

Fletcher Mountain in the morning sun

Suddenly, the radio I had tucked into my breast pocket cackled to life. “Yo…G.F.P crew…where you at?” I laughed out loud at the sound of The Burly Dude, who revealed himself to be way down in the valley below. I listened as he and the Director conversed back and forth through the airwaves, and discovered that we were all off-route. Instead of heading up Mayflower Hill, we were supposed to follow the drainage up towards Fletcher Mountain and then follow Pacific Creek up to the skirt of Pacific Peak.

After meeting up at the base of Pacific, the team split up. The Director and the Grizzly Hunter hiked up the North ridge towards Crystal Peak, to set up the video and still cameras, respectively. The Canadian, The Burly Dude, and your Trusted Narrator started our technical ascent of the backside of the mountain (Southwest face). Skinning was not an option. The snowboards were stowed on the backpacks and the ice axes were procured for what was going to be a very intense climb to the summit.

The Burly Dude ascending the mountain. You can see the obvious mix of rock & snow climbing that presented itself to us.

Near the beginning of the climb, The Burly Dude’s Spider-sense picked up three skiers hot on our trail. They were just coming over Mayflower Hill and looked to be within a half hour away from our present position. “These gaffers are coming to poach our line! I’m not letting that happen! We need to Mob, now!” He yelled out. The race was on. The sun was bright, and at 13,000 feet, intensly hot. I was sweating and grunting as I kick stepped into the softening snow, then scrambled up steep talus one leg at a time, positioning my ice axe carefully before each move. Up ahead I heard “rock” as a huge boulder came barrelling right towards me! I began evasive maneuvers, almost falling off the mountain, but the rock stopped its momentum high above me, and I let out a sigh of relief, then got back to the climb. The terrain alternated between rock and snow until we reached the ridge at 13,500.

Up on the ridge with the false summit in sight

From the top of the ridge I had a panoramic view of Crystal Peak to the Northeast, and the huge massif of Quandary Peak to the South. I looked down at the pursueing opponents. One of them had dropped something (looked like a helmet or a bottle) and it was sliding all the way down the cirque! I couldn’t help but laugh, as they stopped to turn back for the lost item. At this point I knew there was no chance of getting caught by them before we reached the summit, and I was able to continue on under a much lighter pace.

The Canadian on the steep crux of the climb

My optimism for the coming couloir descent was shattered when I heard our leader’s voice over the radio. “Dudes, I’m standing at the top of this thing…it looks SKETCH! I don’t think it will go”

“Yeah,” the Director radioed in from his vantage across the valley, “I’m looking straight at the couloir, your top section is bone dry”

“The crux is about 30 feet below the drop in. Its about a foot wide, at most”

As I listened to the two experts debate the line, I didn’t want to believe it. I double-timed it up the mountain to get a look at the couloir myself. When I got there, my fears were realized. The two other members of the party were standing atop the couloir and looking down into a boneyard of rock and steep ice. The three of us put our heads together to determine what to do. We really had two options. 

The Canadian peering down the couloir. I took this pic from the summit.

Option one would be to strap on the snowboards, sideslip on the heel edge of the board and wedge into the crux. This was really sketchy, because we couldn’t tell how deep the snow was. By going at this method, we risked scraping all the snow off the 50 degree slope, exposing smooth polished rock.

Option two would be to turn in and downclimb with an ice axe. This seemed even more scary without being roped up. One wrong step and the climber would tumble down the couloir, end over end, and smash against the rocks below.

While we were all stoked to ride the couloir, none of us were brave (or stupid) enough to descend the first 30 feet without a roped belay (mental note: next time bring rope!). The Director also made us very away that a gaper-looking sideslip through the top of the couloir would ruin an epic descent video, no matter how fluid the line below was. The worst news was yet to come. The skies began to go dark and we heard a loud thunder from across the mountains. 

Storm clouds over Quandary Peak to the South.

“What’s the plan?” The Director buzzed over the radio, “there’s a huge storm about to roll in here.”

None of us wanted to respond. We COULDN’T turn back after getting this far! All it would have taked was one of us to give it a go, and for sure the other two riders would follow. But we couldn’t pull the trigger. I looked toward The Canadian (it was ‘his deal’, remember).

“Go?…or bail?” I asked.

He took it pretty hard, looking down the couloir and then back up at the dark skies. “Bail” he finally said, and I repeated the decision over the radio to the crew to pack up their gear.

The hailstorm started hard as we began our descent down the Southwest face. It was a descent corn run, but the whiteout conditions made it especially hard to navigate down among the rocky outcroppings. However, when the team was finally reunited near Mayflower Hill, the clouds shrunk away and the afternoon sun was in its full blazing glory.

The suffering that resulted during the hike/skin out of Mayflower Gulch cannot be described by words alone in a blog. The snow in the riverbed was deep, but highly consolidated and extremely wet. Even with skins and the fat splitboard skis, every step resulted in a two-foot collapse into a watery hole. For the next two miles of travel, strong curse words echoed across the valley from disheartened skiers and boarders.

Finally back at the trailhead, The Director seemed a little bummed that he couldn’t get the footage of the couloir. Since I was expecting to drop the line that would make me famous, I was a little bummed too. However, the whole experience was worth it. I got to take part in a full-scale video shoot as both athlete and cameraman, and I could only hope that some of the mountaineering footage that I shot with the handicam could be turned into some useful scenes for the upcoming movie.

As bummed as we were, we were optimistic that there were still a few more good weeks of big-mountain skiing to be done, and a few more couloirs to seek out, and hopefully ride! 

View from the camera crew’s vantage. I’m on the summit and The Canadian is at the top of the couloir. (pic taken by The Grizzly Hunter…if your reading this dude I hope you don’t mind me borrowing your pic!)

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One Response to “Pacific Peak”

  1. Thomas Armento Says:

    Hey Adam,

    Glad you like the blog. So I checked out your trip reports and it looks like you post on TGR (the Pacific Peak TR gave it away). Send me an email when you want to meet up for an adventure ( It would be a double bonus if you’re in town this weekend since I’m thinking of Sky Chutes if conditions allow.

    - Tom

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