Snow has fallen and we were anxious to get out and do the first winter trip of the year. Amy and I joined forces with summitposters Peter, Fabio, Andy, and Nelson for another go at Drift Peak. Drift is a 13,900' summit in the Tenmile Range overlooking the gorgeous Mayflower Gulch. I've been there three times before, twice to climb Pacific Peak (attempt, success) and once last year to attempt Drift. Last year, we attempted the SW bowl route but were foiled by surprisingly deep, unconsolidated snow on top of talus. This time, we would attempt the 'easy' route up the Villa Ridge. To make matters more interesting, we'd brought the dog along for her first real winter trip.
We pulled in to the trailhead at 8am and found that the usually plowed trailhead had not yet seen any attention from the road crews. Undaunted, we continued on another half mile and found a wide spot on the highway next to the Clinton Reservoir. In fact, this was also fine since I've never been there before. It also positions us on the other side of Gold Hill, the broad ridge we must ascend first before hitting the narrower, steeper Villa Ridge and the summit route.
Milling about at the Clinton Res. TH (photo by Fabio Somenzi)
Peter, Andy, and Nelson at tree line on Gold Hill. Bartlett Mountain in the background (photo by Fabio Somenzi)
The others had pushed on, so I put on a burst of speed and caught up to Peter. They were feeling strong and would press on to the summit while Amy, Luna, and I turned right and descended the south face of the ridge. We took our time striding through untracked terrain, revelling in the gorgeous winter landscape. I could see four tiny people working their way up onto the Villa Ridge. By the time we got down to the reservoir, I could see them up on the ridge still 1200' shy of the summit. They weren't making much progress up there. Peter called and said they'd decided to turn around and were thinking about heading straight down the south face of the ridge. From our position, I could see that it cliffed-out and warned them about it. The retraced their steps.
We made it down to the reservoir. Unfortunately, I didn't trust the ice quite yet and we stuck to the shore. We made it back to the car and Luna lost no time climbing into the back seat and collapsing. Peter, closely followed by Fabio, Nelson, and Andy showed up about an hour later looking pretty beat. Apparently, the ridge was much like the bowl we attempted last season, deep snow on top of rocks.
So the moral of the story is that the first trip of the winter is always a doozy. I forget in the long, sunny days of summer how much more work it is to climb in the winter. Sure, I know it's cold, windy, snowy, and all that, but I forget exactly what cold feels like and how much extra work it is to snowshoe through heavy powder. But we will return. I am more and more impressed with Drift Peak. Peter wants to come back and camp in a few weeks as a shake-down for his Orizaba trip over Christmas. That sounds like a plan...
The Wilderness Journal