Written by Kate Wasson
Upon moving to the Breckenridge area when I was five year old, I have been fortunate enough to be exploring Summit County’s many mountain ranges for the past fourteen years. Over the years, I have summited over thirty mountains and have hiked to several beautiful alpine lakes and passes. One of the best fall adventures I have had was the time I summited 13ers Atlantic Peak and Pacific Peak. With limited trails to the top, plenty of bushwhacking, and a great deal of scrambling, this seven mile hike provided plenty of fun and excitement. While Colorado’s fourteen thousand foot peaks are the most popular mountains to summit in the state, I prefer to hike the lesser known 13ers.
To start off the adventure, we first had to drive up a poorly maintained dirt road early in the morning. Most people hike up this road to reach the beautiful Mayflower Gulch. However, the typical hike destination consisting of old mining cabins and fantastic views became our starting point.
Once we parked our car, we bushwhacked our way through willows that reached our shoulders and at times above our heads, making us a little concerned that we would accidentally run into a moose. Fortunately though, we never saw any moose and we soon found the unmaintained trail marked with just a tiny cairn that we would be following for a little while. The trail wound its way through the dense forest as we walked alongside Mayflower Creek. The trail soon abruptly stopped at a large talus pile. The fun part of the day had finally begun. After scrambling up the large talus pile, we found ourselves on Atlantic Peak’s ridge. We continued on our way up the steep and narrow ridge until we finally reached the summit.
From the top of Atlantic Peak, our next objective of the day came into sight, the Pacific Tarn (five Pacific Tarn facts). The Pacific Tarn is a very unique alpine lake located at 13,420 feet and happens to be the highest lake in North America. We walked the rocky and loose saddle connecting Atlantic Peak and Pacific Peak in order to get a better look of the lake. I have been wanting to see this lake for the past four years, so it was very rewarding to finally see it in person. Although we were well over thirteen thousand feet above sea level on an exposed ridge, there was no wind that day making us lucky enough to see the distant mountains and clouds above us reflecting perfectly in the lake.
After checking out the Pacific Tarn, we summited Pacific Peak. What a crazy summit! As I walked to the edge, I was surprised to see a deadly drop-off only a few feet from where I was standing. I was too scared to peer off the side. After enjoying a nice summit turkey sandwich, we made our way back to the Atlantic Peak summit and descended the same ridge, eventually making our way back to the parking lot. We had a great day going coast to coast in the alpine and did not see another soul until we reached Mayflower Gulch again.
There are fifty-nine 13ers located in Summit County and they are great hiking options if you are looking for something off the beaten path. If you do decide to hike a 13er however, make sure you start early and use a safe route with plenty of research (you can find routes on 14ers.com).