Peak Fifteen- 13,700

RT Length:  53.34 miles

Elevation Gain:  13765’

I didn’t want Peak Fifteen to be my Bicentennial Finisher. I really didn’t.  In fact, last month I attempted Peak Fifteen, but had to turn around due to several factors:  There was too much water in the couloir and if the section I was in was really class 4… my skills had gone south.  It hurt to hike all the way in from Purgatory and not get a summit, but I knew the conditions weren’t safe.  So, I turned around, went back home, and did more research.

This time, I brought my friend and climbing mentor, Tim.  My thoughts were to climb this peak with him, get the hang of it, and attempt it solo at a later date.  Spoiler alert:  After successfully summiting this peak, I do not think I’ll be attempting it solo. 

The approach to Ruby Basin can be found here

It was a long hike in from Purgatory. We ended up hiking a little slower than anticipated, so we stayed the night at the campsite at Ruby Lake; something I’ve always wanted to do.  It was already dark when we arrived, and I’d only brought one set of clothing, so it was a cold night for me as my sweat turned to ice at night inside my bivy. This made for interesting (zombie filled ) nightmares. 

The next morning, we were up before sunrise to be willow warriors and thrash our way into Ruby Basin.  We made it just as the sun rose.

Here’s the route we took up the gully to the saddle. We stayed just above the willows, and hiked southeast across the basin until we were directly below the gully, then ascended the gully.

When I was here in August, there was snow under the scree in this gully. Because it was under the scree, I didn’t see it and it caught me by surprise when I unexpectedly sank up to my waist in slush.    Back in August, I made it up this gully by going right, but this time we went left.  It looks like the conditions change here frequently, so pick the line that goes best for you. Also, microspikes help here with the scree (if you don’t use microspikes on scree you’re making it more difficult than it needs to be: get some spikes for summer too).  Here are some pictures of the gully

The second half of the gully is full of large rocks, which eventually give way to scree.  This scree is some of the worst scree I’ve experienced. This is where your microspikes really come in handy.  Back in August I followed fresh goat tracks to the saddle.  Those tracks in September had been used several times and formed nice switchbacks.  However, it appears these tracks are destroyed every winter, and need to be remade every summer/fall.

Once at the top of the gully it was time to lose about 350’ of elevation.  We did this by following the scree southwest, staying high but just below the rock outcroppings (we took a different approach on the way back).

We continued down to about 12,500’, and then entered the Peak 15/Peak 16 gully

This is the gully you’re looking for.  There are cairns here, and it’s the first, obvious route ‘up’

The first part of the gully is class 3, and just requires some rock hopping.

This gully turns into a couloir, and becomes easy to follow, but difficult to climb.  This is the first class 4 section.  There were no good hand/foot holds, as everything crumbled in my hands.  In August it was running with water.  Tim spent some time cleaning away the loose rock, making climbing easier.  Even in mid-September, there was still water here.  Wearing a pack with climbing gear/rope makes the ascent that much more difficult.  

The second class 4 section of the couloir was… more than class 4.  I started up, and when I got about halfway through realized I may have been in over my head.  I couldn’t climb down, so I had to keep going up.  Since I was ‘stuck’ it became a mental exercise, where I told myself “If I can do this while on rope, I can do it off rope as well”, but to be honest it was intense and I didn’t feel comfortable soloing this (but I did).  There was a lot of deep breathing involved.  I’d recommend roping up here, if you can find a way to do so.  Climbing shoes would have been helpful (but they were in my pack…). We both felt this was class 5, not class 4.  I belayed my partner on this section from above.   

Just above this section there are anchors set up.  It’s good to take note of where they’re at as you’re passing them.  There will be three sets of anchors in the couloir.   Here are some more pictures of the couloir.  A lot of the webbing set up looks faded, but there’s plenty there. We cleaned up some of the older webbing and hiked it out (the stuff we didn’t even need to cut because it was frayed and falling apart).

The couloir seemed to last forever.  At 13,050’ we exited the couloir, below the 15/16 saddle, and went left up the ledges to 13,300’.  This was class 3 scrambling with a lot of kitty litter (kitty litter is the name of the game on this climb).  Where applicable, I noted Tim tossed unnecessary obstacles aside, like tumbling rocks and kitty litter, to help clear the route.

When we were about 50’ below the Peak 15/16 saddle it was time to rope up for the slabs. This picture looks at the saddle, but we were headed the opposite way, left/west (this picture is just a good visual of where you’ll be)

We were headed west, across the ledge system. 

While we were still on level ground, we roped up. Then Tim led the way across the slab.  It was good to get roped up first because there wasn’t a lot of room at the rappel area to do so. Here’s an overall view of our roped ascent and the belay stations.  I put on my climbing shoes, but Tim didn’t feel his were necessary.

This is what it looked like getting there. We are aiming for the red circle to get to the lower belay station.

Once at the lower belay station I was set up to belay Tim from below as he set the protection and climbed first. Here’s looking back at the traverse

Oh, there’s some exposure here.

Since Tim’s the more experienced climber (WAY more experienced) I’ll let him describe this part of the route, starting with his overview:

Look for a series of shallow ledges that leads to a three foot wide ledge with a horn big enough to straddle. This is still 4th class terrain, so you can simply belay sitting next to the horn without an anchor.

If you feel you need one, wrap the rope end around the horn three times to make a tensionless hitch or use a cordalette. Bring your second up and have them belay from the three foot wide ledge below you. There will be about three horizontal seams you can place pro in ranging from #3 Camalots to .25. I managed to place five pieces total.

After your last piece you want to head for a shallow V slot next to some bulges. This is the 4th class exit and leads past a rock with a crack in it you could build an anchor in. This is exposed and one could fall from there, and you may be out of gear as I was. Continue then above this to where the steepness of the pitch eases off and there are two scrubby evergreen bushes. You can sling some of the roots for a sketchy, but adequate anchor. Once your second is up, you can both walk to the right towards a large, grassy ledge where the final 3rd class gully is.

I’m not a serious climber:  I’ve been climbing for a few years, but I’m no expert.  I was glad to be roped in, and wouldn’t have wanted to do this part without someone belaying me (or the other way around).  A fall would have been fatal.  Tim called it “poorly protected 5.4”.  He placed 5 pieces of protection.

From the upper belay station, we turned right and followed the slopes east, looking for an access gully/kind of a small chimney.

The gully is about halfway to the saddle. This is what it looks like from below

From the east side it’s easier to see.  This is class 3, with a cairn at the bottom.

Once up the gully, we followed the ledges northeast to the ridge.  This was “choose your own adventure”, but we aimed for the northeast corner of the ridge

Once the furthest northeast we could go, we ascended the ridge via a short, easy class 3 ramp, and scrambled west to the summit

Final, class 2 scramble to the summit (easier than it looks)

We summited Peak Fifteen at 12.30pm.  Also, yes, it was my birthday, so I was celebrating not only my bicentennial finisher, bust also turning 41.  Woot! 

Peak Fifteen: 

We stayed at the summit for quite a while, enjoying the beautiful day and awesome views.  The summit register was a tube, so naturally the paper inside was wet. I added a pencil to the register, signed my WW’s, and we headed back down. 

Note:  we rappelled 6 times before making it to the bottom of the couloir.  That’s a lot of rope work!  There were adequate webbing/rings set up, which held just fine but are bleaching and might need to be replaced next season (see pictures).  We cleaned up some of the ripped/damaged rope and brought it out.   We brought a 60 meter, 7.9mm rope.  It worked perfectly for the ascent and rappelling down, but being smaller in diameter, tended to get stuck in the cracks.  Also, this is where I learned Tim curses when ropes get stuck. 

We followed the ridge east back to the ledges, which we followed southwest. 

At 13570’ we headed back towards the saddle and the anchors.  We rappelled down from the first anchor, and afterwards headed towards the second anchor, circled in red.

The second rappel

Here’s looking up from the bottom of the second rappel

The third rappel brought us to the Peak 15/16 saddle

Here’s looking up and down from the saddle

Once at the saddle, we went southwest on slopes, following the couloir to the right

We made our way back to the couloir, and rapped 3 more times to the bottom.   We counted 6 rappels in all.

From the base of the couloir, we made our way back to the scree-saddle, this time taking the direct, grassy/tundra approach, to avoid the scree. We saw mountain goats here.

And then back down the scree filed gully, scree surfing to the basin

From the basin we hiked back through the willows to our campsite at Ruby Lake, making it back around 6pm.  Round trip from Ruby Lake to the summit of Peak 15 and back to Ruby Lake made for about a 13 hour day. All that rope work sure took its time!  We celebrated with some whiskey and wine; after all, this was my bicentennial finisher, and it was my birthday… no one got hurt, and, this was much harder than anticipated by both of us for different reasons and we were successful.  All reasons to celebrate!

We made it an early night and were up at 6am to hike back to Purgatory.  The night was much warmer, if only because I didn’t go to sleep in wet, sweat filled clothing.  The hike out went fast, as we talked much of the time.  We made it to the Animas River/Purgatory trail bridge, and were surprised to see people in sandals carrying small children (some of them crying).  Apparently, the train stops at Cascade Wye now for passengers to get off and walk around (not sure if it’s ever done that before?). 

We made it back to Purgatory Trailhead around 2:30pm.  My tracker says we went 53.34 miles, with 13765’ of elevation gain.  

I would like to thank Tim for being my climbing partner and accompanying me on this trek, which I’m sure ended up being more of an adventure than he bargained for!  I believe this climb takes two experienced climbers to complete safely; It was nice to have someone I could trust join me.  In addition, he’s been my climbing mentor, voluntarily taking me climbing and ‘teaching me the ropes’ for years. He’s the one who taught me how to set up anchors, how to climb and rappel safely, and all about proper gear.  I couldn’t have done all the other class 5 bicentennial peaks without his instructions.  I still keep his safety checklist with me in my climbing gear.

I also want to thank everyone who has posted trip reports in general, but specifically trip reports for Peak Fifteen, as for me it was the hardest of the bicentennials.  We all experience hikes/climbs differently, and it was nice hearing the difficulty/route finding levels from other climbers.  If you plan to climb this peak, please take it seriously, and read all trip reports you can find on this peak before attempting a climb, as they all offer great insights. 

And now, on to the next trailhead!

Author: Laura M Clark

Mom, Solo Colorado 14er Finisher, Outdoor Enthusiast, Traveler, and Girl Scout Leader with an MBA in International Business and Marketing. I value adventure, growth, courage, wisdom, integrity, accountability, and family. I enjoy yoga, wine, whiskey, traveling, reading, and the outdoors. I strive to be the person who inspires and motivates myself and others to succeed.

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