Thanks to Dave Cooper’s snow climbs book, I’ve had this climb in my mind for the last couple of seasons. Shawn and I attempted it in early April 2011, but barely gained the ridge before being blown off by 50 mph+ wind gusts. This attempt would actually be Shawn’s third, so needless to say we felt like we deserved success this time around! So, with a forecast of barely double digit-mph wind plus 30% chance of t-storms, we felt like we had a pretty good chance to bust it out this time.
We set out from the Mayflower Gulch lot at about 7 a.m., and hit the road into the basin. Besides the utter lack of snow, the fur on this little critter indicated that summer has pretty much arrived:
Snowshoe hare in summer phase (though his lower legs are still white)
Before long, we emerged from the trees and Villa Ridge, the NW ridge of Drift Peak, appears to our right. Though its lower eastern flanks still had good snow coverage, we figured the ridge proper would be mostly dry (which proved pretty much correct).
We gained the ridge by leaving the road before it cuts north and heads up to Gold Hill since we wanted to avoid talus and snow (no crampons). Once on the ridge, we slogged up the first talus rise; the ridge levels out for a bit after this, offering pleasant travel with occasional small patches of snow. Then, it starts to curve up again, and we did travel over some more extensive snow patches here—no traction devices needed, though.
Shawn heading up one of the few snowy sections mid-ridge
The last section of ridge was basically a long class 2 talus slope with a couple of class 3 steps….kind of tedious. At last we hit the summit of Drift, at 10-something-ish a.m.
Drift summit. What’s up with the 5 ft. metal pole set in concrete?
After scanning the summit log (which was basically a couple partial notepads of paper), we set off on the traverse to Fletcher. The view ahead was interesting: a bit of a rugged section of ridge that drops into a deep gash in the ridge. This gash would conceal the most interesting part of the traverse: a steep but short 5th class headwall that must be surmounted.
Shawn makes his way along the ridge off the Drift summit, toward the notch.
Looking down toward the notch; easiest path to approach it is to descend to the right and wrap back around to the left
Once at the notch, a couple of options materialized for attacking the headwall. A hand crack runs right up the middle of it, and was our choice since we brought along a rope and rock pro (however, a lateral, very exposed yet protectable traverse on ledges to the right also looked like a viable option). So, we harnessed up, flaked the rope, and I set off. I would say the climb up the crack is about 25’ long, and probably goes at 5.3ish for those with a long reach. I was able to place a few pieces of pro and breeze through it, though a few of the moves require a little bit of thought to unravel. The most sketchy part of it was above the headwall, a third class mound of loose blocks perched above the pitch which would be very easy to send down on your belayer (for this reason we belayed from the other side of the notch). I found a convenient dual crack above the headwall for a #1 and #2 cam anchor to bring Shawn up.
The headwall, with the central vertical crack that we climbed
Looking down on Shawn from atop the pitch
After the technical bit, we continued on the ridge. The remainder of the traverse was fairly mellow, with some class 3 steps on the way down to the saddle, then an easy cruise up to Fletcher.
The remainder of the traverse. Fletcher’s still a ways away…
We summited Fletcher at 11:40 a.m. amidst a still-great weather window. Cumulus clouds were building, but didn’t seem too ominous so we decided it feasible to reverse our route up and over Drift and back down Villa Ridge.
Quandary’s west ridge from the Fletcher summit
Looking down Rockfountain Ridge towards Atlantic (Pacific in the background)
So, back down to the saddle and up to the notch we go. Reaching the top of the headwall again, it’s time to set up a rappel. After searching a bit, it’s obvious that our only option is a slung block (it won’t move, right? ) We found a good candidate with a nice horn-like protrusion to sling.
Slung horn for rapping
Shawn on rappel
The raps went smoothly, and we packed up the gear. Now, on to our ‘third’ summit of the day . We re-summited Drift, then beheld the looonnngg Villa Ridge to descend. And long it was, seemingly a lot longer than it was on the way up. After descending the ridge and reaching the road, it too felt every bit of the 2.5 miles that Shawn’s GPS indicated (maybe more like 5!) We finally reached the car after a 9+ hour day.
All in all, this was a fun ridge climb with a nifty bit of technical spice to make it interesting. Probably the main detraction was the prevalence of loose talus on the ridge, but that’s what you get with a seldom-visited peak.
Editorial: I believe Cooper's sage advice now, that this climb would be a very long endeavor in winter conditions. Many portions of the ridge would require a lot more care to negotiate with snow/ice on the rocks.
Cool pink granite
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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