| East Face on Fletcher
June 19, 2011
Climbers: Mike Rodenak (Chicago Transplant) & Darin Baker
Fletcher Mountain (13,951’)
Trailhead: McCullough Gulch
Route: East face, right branch
Distance: ~7mi RT (roundtrip)
Elevation Gain: ~2900’
Gear: daypack w/Essentials, helmet, crampons, ice axe, avy gear (beacon, probe, shovel), & snowshoes—which we didn’t need
Resources Used For Trip Planning: Dave Cooper’s Colorado Snow Climbs guidebook, beta from friends (Bill Tarvin & Sam Campbell) that recently climbed the route, NOAA weather forecast
My outings have been few & far between recently, and I was in need of a mountain fix. A snow climb was the remedy I needed, and it didn’t matter to me what mountain.
Mike didn’t have plans for Sunday, so I fixed that for him!
Mike threw out the idea of either Fletcher Mountain via the E face, or Atlantic Peak via Atlantis couloir. Coincidentally, my friends Bill and Sam had climbed both routes within the past week or two, so I was able to glean route conditions from Bill.
Even though both Mike and I have been up these centennial peaks before, either of these routes would be new to us, and it would be a snow climb! Fletcher’s E face has been on my wish list for a while, and it’s the more appealing line so that’s what we planned for.
Fletcher Mountain in leaner summer conditions…July 2010
We left Avon sometime after 3am, and made the drive to the trailhead outside of Breckenridge. While driving past the Quandary Peak TH at ~4:30am, there was not a car in sight. Hmm. I guess folks are sleeping in these days?
We left my truck carrying our snowshoes in hand awaiting the moment we would need to put them on. That moment never came throughout the day. This day was an exercise in proper snowshoe carrying, and I think I failed. (I shouldn’t have carried them at all!—but we didn’t know that starting out.)
The first section of the road leading into McCullough Gulch is spotty, although there's lingering snowdrifts. The snow was a bit soft, but it was firm enough to get by without flotation for us. Plus it has seen foot-traffic, hence the firmly packed snow.
Once we left the road and got into the trees, the snow was more continuous but we were still able to get by without snowshoes. We followed the trail as best we could: sometimes on open ground, other times on snow, and then there were times we were not on the “trail” at all. No matter. We got where we needed to be. It also helped that I’ve been down this trail before!
“What’s that mountain?”
“I’m not sure Mike. It’s a quandary for me.”
The snow became firmer higher in the gulch, giving us hope for hard snow in the couloir. We had the occasional posthole close to rock outcrops, but other than those moments we were still practicing our snowshoe carrying skills.
First light on Fletcher Mountain
A Peak in McCullough Gulch
Somewhere near 12,600’ when the terrain flattens out, we stopped to stash our snowshoes. With shoes stashed, we continued on towards our goal: the east face of Fletcher Mountain.
In Cooper’s guidebook, he describes two routes that go up the face. The left branch is the steeper of the two lines, and sometimes it’s guarded by a cornice in early season. It looked corniced, but there might be an exit to climber’s left at the top. (Note: there were tracks going up the left branch when we were climbing up to the start of the right branch. It might have been doumall's track.)
Our routes: red = ascent of right branch, blue = descent; (black = left branch)
We skirted to the south of the lake at 12,760’ and traversed across the slope. It was at that point I decided to stop to get out my axe and shortly thereafter I opted for my crampons as well since they would be more efficient than slicing the harder snow with the edge of my boot. Points are nice!
We were near the bottom of the fat apron around 7:30am. The skies were a bit overcast and the wind was cool, so we hoped it would help keep the snow cold. But the sun was starting to make more of an appearance. And as we got higher, the snow wasn’t as firm as it was below, but it felt safe and it wasn’t saturated yet. Boot deep though.
Up the right line we go
Atlantic Peak (13,841’)
Mount Quandary Peak Mountain (14,265’)
I started the lead up the apron and into the couloir, and my quads started to feel the effects from my mountain climbing deprivation! My lungs didn’t seem to take in enough oxygen as well. What the hell! Oh well. At least the climbing is fun!! It got better when Mike took over the lead for a spell to give my whining ass a break.
Me on the upper part of the apron
Photo by Mike
Approaching a constriction
Me just past the constriction
Photo by Mike
The constriction was the steepest section, maybe in the low 40 degree range. It also had some ice in it, but it wasn’t hard alpine ice and our front points and axe did the job.
Mike rounding the corner to the constriction
After the constriction, the couloir bends to the left and heads for the SE summit ridge, where it exits within ~30 vertical feet from the summit. Now that’s a nice way to finish!
Less than an hour after starting from the apron, we were on the summit of Fletcher Mountain.
Mount Democrat (14,148’)
“Drift Peak” (13,900’)
To the north
The Mountains of the Holy Cross Wilderness
Fletcher’s version of the Cross
In Cooper’s guidebook, he suggests a couple of different descents. One involves dropping into Blue Lakes on Quandary’s south side, and either have a car shuttle set up, or walk the road back around to the McCullough Gulch TH. That’s not going to happen.
The other one he mentions is to drop down the SE ridge and descend from the saddle of Quandary and Fletcher. Currently there’re cornices along the saddle.
When talking to Bill about his and Sam’s climb of Fletcher early last week, they descended the N ridge of Fletcher until they came to the first low point on Rockfountian Ridge (which connects with Atlantic Peak), and then they dropped down a big snow field. Sounds good, but we didn’t stay on the ridge proper like my friends did. Instead we went to the first continuous snow field we saw from the summit.
Mike and I kept our crampons on for the rocky start of the descent. Some interesting class 3 climbing ensued, but soon we were back on snow.
“Well that was interesting!”
The short but fairly exposed class 3 in crampons went ok. There were a few sections of down-sloping rock to contend with, but it wasn’t too difficult.
Back on the snow, we found it to be rotten and steep(ish). I didn’t like my leg plunging that deep while facing out, concerned it could pitch me forward, so I faced in and downclimbed while Mike plunge-stepped the whole slope. Once we got down on the apron, it went much better as the angle eased off and the snow wasn’t as rotten. But it was past prime glissade conditions.
Back to the truck at 11:30ish, I think.
Driving out, the Quandary TH was overflowing.
End of story.
Post Climb Feast
Q-4-U BBQ—in Frisco.
For me, the Smothered Sausage!
Mike had some tips burnt or something. I don’t know about people from Chicago. Why would you pay to have your food burnt? ;)
Sorry Helmut, no pictures. The food wasn’t on our (i.e., my) plate long enough to capture an image.
Thanks for reading,