Drift Peak to Fletcher Peak Connecting Ridge
October 16, 2011 - from Mayflower Gulch
I've climbed all of the peaks that one can reach from Mayflower Gulch but Ed wanted to score Drift and Fletcher on what turned out to be a wonderful late Fall day. I agreed to the repeat of two summits I already had but with a twist . .. we would connect the two summits via the class 3/4 connecting ridge.
I left Cheyenne at about 2 p.m. and picked Ed up at his place at a bit before 4 p.m. We made great time to Leadville and dined at Quincy's before going back to the Mayflower Gulch parking lot to camp for the night. I drove to the upper trailhead on the slushy road but opted to drop back to the paved lot for the night. The paved portion is dry, flat and I parked the truck crosswise in front of the truck to block the approach of any inebriated nocturnal denizens.
We set the alarm for 5 a.m.and were up in reasonable time and had the tent and sleeping gear stowed by 4:30. We drove back up the road and about 1/2 mile from the top, about 3/4 of the way up a steep section, our forward motion reversed to an uncontrolled backward slide. I kept the truck in the tracks and hoped for the best. The result would either be a diversion over the bank, resulting in the loss of a vehicle or a stop somewhere on the track proper. Luck favored me that morning, we stayed on track, hit a dry spot and the brakes took hold, arresting our descent into what would otherwise have been Toyota oblivion. I made a five point turn, and parked at the next wide spot available on our downward path. That would be it for the vehicular approach.
We walked on up the road and cut right toward Villa Ridge, figuring to make our ridge crossing from Drift to Fletcher. I'd been up Drift in the Spring and on that climb we cut to the base of the ridge and then walked the ridge to the summit. This time we opted to continue up into the bowl, as there was not enough snow to make for any avi hazard, though this did force us to rock hop across talus for most of the route to the intermediate saddle. Not fun, I'd stick to the ridge proper if there was ever a repeat. We climbed the dip right before the long ridge to the summit and headed up. No need for crampons as the snow was shallow and most of our upward progress was made by connecting rock to rock in lieu of the ankle breaking traps that were covered by the thin crust of snow.
I managed to connect segments of the summer trail, while Ed stayed left and had more of a rock hopping upper ridge. Soon enough we were on the summit where we took a three minute break before moving on to cross the connecting ridge. The ridge starts off with a class 2 traverse of the reverse edge (Mayflower Gulch side) of the scalloped ridge that connects to an intermediate saddle. From this intermediate saddle, one sees the challenge of the route. We found a 40 foot deep cleft with a snow covered class 3/4 climb up the other side. We stashed the hiking poles for the traverse of this section and descended about 40 feet on the Wheeler side and then cut back into the base of the notch. I looked at the given route up the other side and with the snow added, elected not to make the climb.
We opted to drop down the Mayflower Gulch side of the cleft, which forms a very narrow couloir that was loaded with some drifted snow but not enough to make the descent very hard. No doubt some attention was required but we needed only to drop about 75 feet as our plan was to skirt the lower edge of the base of the hump and then come back up the other side . . . back to the ridge proper. We skirted the base, found class 2 territory, albeit steep, on the other side and within five minutes we were on the ridge proper. We were now past the one and only difficulty of the entire ridge. From that point on it was nothing more than a hike along the ridge top or adjacent slope to the Drift Fletcher saddle. From the saddle, the summit of Fletcher is but 200 vertical and 15 minutes at the most away. We stopped for perhaps 10 minutes atop Fletcher before moving back to the Fletcher Drift saddle for the drop to the truck far below.
I'd been up the wide couloir leading up from the valley before and hoped that the scree would not make me regret selecting this descent route The top was easy as we had a snowed in summer track to follow. After 200 feet of descent, we lost the edge of the summer track and took a direct route for the bottom. I picked a route through areas filled with scree, avoiding the talus and its leg breaking gaps and traps. We likely took 30 to 40 minutes to make the drop and when we reached the bottom we took the old mining road past the remains of the mining operation and we soon enough back at the truck. We did the route in good time, about 6.5 hours truck to truck with two summits and the connecting ridge thrown in the middle.