Another weekend, another mountain adventure! Ain't Colorado grand? The contrast between last weekend and this could not have been stronger, however. At least we were prepared.... Amy and I picked up Davide Lazzati for his first expedition west of Denver. I was curious how someone raised in the heart of the Italian Alps would react to the older, gentler Rockies. Accordingly, I picked out some of the toothiest, jagged peaks I could think of, the Tenmile Range.
We arrived at the Mayflower Gulch Trailhead at 8am with overcast skies and very light snow. I've been to Mayflower twice before for attempts on Pacific and Atlantic Peaks. Our goal this time was Drift Peak (13,900'), the southernmost peak on the ridge of the Tenmile Range. According to Roach2, Drift features a pair of classic 2nd class routes on the western side. The Villa Ridge route heads up the western ridge to the upper slopes. The NW Bowl route heads into a small valley before climbing a moderate snow slope to join the ridge route. In our quest for interesting snow climbs where we could exercise our axes and crampons, we opted for the latter route.
The first 1.5 miles up the road went well enough. The temperatures hovered around freezing and there was not a breath of wind. It was almost creepy how still and silent everything was. An inch of fresh snow frosted the evergreens on all sides, but the cloud-deck was below 13,000'.
We stopped at the remains of the Boston Mine for a quick snack and to strap on the snowshoes. From the mine, we headed up the slope to the south toward the small valley below Drift Peak. The going was immediately harder and the snowshoes proved invaluable. Unfortunately, Davide almost immediately broke the frame on his adorable old-school wooden snowshoes. They were still functional, but less than optimal. I broke trail as we left the road and headed south east.
It became immediately apparent that this would not be a casual weekend snowshoe. The powder was two feet deep and very dry; deep enough to be hard work walking through, but not enough to cover the jagged rocks in the narrow valley. The rocks were down there but invisible and made footing treacherous. After half an hour of this, it became clear that we should have choosen the ridge route. A steep snow slope to the south was far closer than the head of the valley and looked like a much easier climb than slogging through the valley for another quarter mile.
We climbed the increasingly steep slope to a small bench below our escape route climb. The slope reached 30-degrees and the snowshoes were no longer useful. We switched to crampons and axes and immediately discovered that neither one was useful in this stuff! Davide gleefully lead the way up slope and quickly bogged down in waist-deep powder. Amy and I followed and found that every step up plunged us deeper into the snow. After a hundred feet or so of upward progress, however, we were wallowing in 40-degree loose powder up to our necks. Amy turned around. Davide and I bulled our way another 30 feet before giving up on our macho ambitions.
Davide pauses at the Boston Mine. The incredible Atlantic-Fletcher Ridge is back there in the vapors.
Our ascent route.
Defeated after the climb.
Fortunately, the clouds began to clear... Fletcher Mountain looking positively Himalayan.
Back down at the bench, we collected our wits and devised an alternate plan. The fog was lifting and suddenly the peak of Fletcher Mountain was visible in all it's Himalayan glory. We headed back out the way we came and followed a set of ski tracks west up the slopes of Gold Hill. The sun was out and the scenery was stunning; better late than never. Davide and Amy were clearly impressed and I felt smug. The view from Gold Hill was impressive as well and Drift, now revealed from the fog, was daunting.
But time was wearing on. After revelling in the sun on the ridge, we headed generally north and west down steep slopes of virgin powder through the evergreens. The silence was complete and the mood contemplative. There is a great joy to be found in making your own tracks, sliding and striding through deep snow in the white-and-green forest. Eventually, we got back to the road and arrived back at the car a short while later.
|Drift and the Villa Ridge once the weather cleared. Our planned route would have taken us up the valley in the center of the photo and up the shaddowed snow slope.||Snowshoeing is hard work!|
The Wilderness Journal