RT Length: 46 miles
Elevation Gain: 11,481’
Elapsed Time: 47 hours, 11minutes
50 meter rope was perfect (but tie the ends, because it was close)
I knew the risks going in: The weather didn’t look all that great and my first day in would be from no sleep from the night before, but I’m used to these circumstances and decided to go ahead and attempt Jagged Mountain this weekend.
If I were to do this climb again and I had the time availability I’d stretch it into 4-5 days. Unfortunately, with my work/volunteer/mom schedule I knew I’d never get that much time off in a row, so my plan was to hike up to the base of Jagged Pass the first day, either summit Jagged that night or the next morning, hike back down to the Animas River the next day and camp somewhere between the cutoff to Noname and the base of the Purgatory Trail, and hike out the third day, with the understanding I could change plans as I went (one of the benefits of solo hiking).
I’d spent quite a bit of time going through my gear to make it lighter, and I think I shaved off about 10lbs, making my pack a much more manageable 35lbs (including rope, harness, webbing, etc.)
I drove the 6.5 hours to the Purgatory Trailhead and was on the trail by 2:30am. This is the third time I’ve hiked in from Purgatory, and the third time doing so in the dark. I decided to get some stats from Strava this time.
- First Trail Bridge @ 4.3 miles, 2 hours of hiking.
- Second Trail Bridge (cutoff to Chicago Basin) @ 9.9 miles, 4 hours 30 min of hiking
- Needleton Bridge @ 10.8 miles, 4 hours 50 min of hiking
The Needleton Bridge area has some private property surrounding it, and several social trails to cabins. This is the correct trail to bring you towards Pigeon Creek and Noname Creek. It starts just to the right of the Needleton Bridge.
The path here is easy to follow and brings you to the “campers meadow” / Aspen Grove at the turnoff for the Pigeon Creek approach to Ruby Basin
From here the path was much better than I’d anticipated. There were cairns and a semi-worn footpath to mark the way north through the forest, paralleling the Animas River
Then, for no reason whatsoever (except of course the river below) comes Water Tank Hill. It’s worse than it sounds: 200’ straight up the side of the mountain (and then back down to the river afterwards).
When I got to the top of Water Tank Hill I noticed the water tank was actually on the other side of the River. I decided this would be a great place to take a rest. As I sat down I noticed a Black Bear racing over the tracks and through the yellowish/green grass in the middle right of this photo. I was reaching for my camera when I saw her cub bounding after her. I wasn’t fast enough to get a picture, but thought to myself: Cool! About 10 years ago I’d taken the trail from Durango to Silverton and asked one of the workers how often they saw bears, and he said in the 25 years he’s worked there he’s only seen one. I felt pretty special to get to see this pair this morning. I also asked myself what they were running from?
I sat here for a bit and had breakfast (I decided to force myself to eat this time). Beef Jerky and Almonds for breakfast isn’t all that bad. After a short rest I put back on my gear and headed down Water Tank Hill, which was just as bad as the way up
Back at river-level the trail was once again straightforward. I thought to myself how this trail was much easier than the Pigeon Creek trail (but to be fair I’d done that one twice in the dark both ways, and I was doing this one in the daylight).
I crossed several creeks
And turned right (east) and followed the Noname Creek trail. Once again, the trail was easy to follow (but obviously not maintained)
It follows the Noname Creek. I found a patch of raspberries growing as the crow flies from the raspberry patch on the trail to Ruby Creek, as well as thimbleberries (which always seem to grow alongside raspberries)
The difficulty came when I reached the first avalanche area (I think there are 3 in total, but two of them kind of run together). I’d heard to avoid most of the debris to cross the creek, and so I did so. This ended up being a terrible idea (maybe I crossed at the wrong section?). There were trees piled on top of trees that reached heights well over my head. This made crossing the river a bit dangerous, as the trees weren’t stable and there were huge gaps. Hundreds of trees criss-crossed the creek.
Eventually I had to cross the creek again and there was still avalanche debris to contend with
The above picture is deceptive, as there are still large areas of trees piled on top of each other to cross and no clear path to take. The trees are tumbled together and rotting. I had to secure each step carefully, even if it looked like the log was solid (some would roll). Crossing this area took a long time, and is not something I’d recommend doing in the dark. As I came out of the 2nd avalanche area I realized what I should have done was stick more to the left (north) and I told myself I’d do that on the way back. I was so excited when I reached a trail again!
About half a mile after I found the trail again I hiked a bit up a hill and found myself at the Jagged Cabin, which was more run down than I’d anticipated. I made it here after 18.2 miles in 10 hours, 42 min. I’m sure the avalanche area slowed me down…
I took off my pack and rested for a bit, going over the next part of the route.
I put back on my pack and headed east through willows and more forest and more uphill. I went left at this junction and came across another small avalanche area that was annoying but not difficult.
I entered another clearing and went left again, up the hill to the basin below Jagged Pass
Here route finding was a bit of a challenge because there were so many trails, but as long as I stayed on a trail and kept the stream to the right of me I was headed in the correct direction
It started raining halfway up this hill, and this is where my troubles began. I’d totally expected it to rain (each day called for rain between 12-5pm). I just hadn’t anticipated how drenched I’d get from just a little rain. You see, I was hiking through overgrown grass and willows
The rain collected on the plants and soaked my pants as I walked through them. I think it’s worth noting everything I was wearing was “waterproof”, including my socks, pants, and jacket(s). Within 15 minutes I was soaking wet. No worries though, because I had a change of clothes in my pack and I could dry off once I reached my campsite. Here’s the rest of the route to the small lake I camped at. There was no trail here and the route I took included some boulder hopping
I made it to my campsite at a pond just below Jagged pass (12,210’) after 21.1 miles and 13 hours 30 minutes of hiking. Note, this is NOT the unnamed lake at 12,522’
It was about 4:30 in the afternoon. I set up camp quickly, thankful the forecast only called for rain until 5pm. Camp was just a tarp, bivy, and sleeping bag, so setting up didn’t take long. I changed my clothes, laid out my wet pants and socks to dry, ate dinner (more jerky and nuts) and filtered some water. There were flies and mosquitoes, but the flies seemed particularly interested in me. I’d been sweating all day and they were intrigued.
As I was filtering I found an umbrella that had seen better days. I wondered how it got here? In any event, it soon became “useful” (not really) as it started raining again. I quickly packed up the clothes I’d set out to dry and sat under the mangled umbrella, watching the rain.
The rain didn’t look like it was going to stop anytime soon, so around 5pm I decided to take a nap. I woke up around 7pm to a fantastic view of my campsite in the evening glow.
I was also a little bummed: Had I just missed my opportunity to summit Jagged by taking a nap? There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so the rain couldn’t have lasted too long. Oh well, it had been a long day, so I decided to go back to sleep to prep for tomorrow.
It rained most of the night. On the positive side, I was nice and warm and dry inside my bivy and sleeping bag. I woke up several times: a few because it got stuffy and I couldn’t breathe (but due to the mosquitoes I’d wanted to keep my set up as air tight as possible). Another time it was to rain, and once to a very loud grinding noise coming from below me. It sounded like a rabbit slowly biting through a carrot, and a little like a hand saw slowly cutting through wood. I heard this a few times and figured out it was most likely a marmot burrowing below me, extending its tunnels (or something).
At 5am I woke up to clear skies and sat in my bivy for a full half hour just gazing at the stars. I could make out dozens of constellations, a few satellites, and at least 4 meteors flying through the sky. I was pleasantly surprised at the lack of clouds.
Curiously, I thought I saw a flash light up the mountains. The first time I saw it I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. The second I looked around for lightening (sure that was what it had been). No clouds, so it couldn’t have been lightening. The third time I saw it I thought maybe it was someone hiking in the dark and their flashlight was causing it? That didn’t make much sense, and I couldn’t see anyone with a flashlight below, so I ruled that out as well.
I didn’t want to move, not only due to the amazing nighttime view but also because it was a bit chilly; but I needed to get a move on.
I left all my nonessential gear under my tarp, put on my helmet, and even though it was dark I headed in my intended direction. There was a grassy slope to the left (north) of me I took to a rocky area and up and over the pass
I made it about 5 minutes before I had to stop because I couldn’t see anything and it was getting dangerous traversing over the wet, rocky area. I sat in one spot for about 20 minutes, allowing the sun to rise before continuing on. As I sat there I could see what I hadn’t been able to from below: a storm to the west. It had been lightning I’d seen, but luckily the storm seemed to be petering out.
This gully was full of rocks and nasty scree that took careful foot placement but was straightforward
At the top of the gully I turned right (south) and got my first good look at Jagged Mountain
I spent some time planning my route. Here’s the route I took, staying below the areas of snow and just to the right of the gully.
This area is steeper than it looks
Here’s the path to the first crux, just to the right of the gully
I turned to look back on the way I’d come and noticed that storm that looked like it was going away wasn’t. In fact, it was coming right at me! Ugh! It was only around 7am and it wasn’t supposed to rain until noon but yet here was obvious rain headed my way. I was glad I wasn’t in the Vestal Basin right now.
The rain started falling and I got out my poncho, put my back to a rock, and sheltered in place for half an hour, waiting for the rain and graupel to stop. While I sat there I did a lot of thinking. I knew due to this rain the rocks would be wet, so I’d have to be very careful. Also, I needed to set a turn back time, which I set for 12pm. In my mind I was thinking this rain could be a good thing: It wasn’t supposed to rain until noon and it was raining now: maybe this would be it for today? (insert God laughing here).
Once the rain stopped I set to work at the first crux. You’re supposed to go over these grassy slopes, but I wasn’t able to get over the first bit. I wished I’d brought my rock climbing shoes!!! I tried and tried and tried but I just wasn’t tall enough to get myself up and over the first rock: I had no traction with my feet and nothing to hold onto with my hands. There had to be another way?
I went to the right and found another area that looked “easier”. I attempted to gain the slope this way but wasn’t able to pull myself up here either. Ugh! So I went back and tried the slopes again, but it just wasn’t working. I went back to the second area, took off my pack, and was easily able to climb up. This was no good though because I needed my rope to rappel. So I attached a small rope to my pack and tried to haul it up after me: the rope broke. Face palm.
Ok, next idea: I rummaged around in my pack for my knife but was unable to find it? My idea had been to use it kind of like an ice pick for leverage on the grassy slope (since there were no rocks/etc. to grab onto). I was upset I couldn’t find my knife, but I did find my microspikes and decided to put them on. These gave me the traction I needed to pull myself up and onto the slope from below. I then made my way around and finished the first crux. (The dotted line is how I think you’re supposed to get over this area, but I wasn’t tall enough to make it happen).
The climbing became steep. I’m assuming this is the second crux
There weren’t cairns here but I knew I was on the right track because I kept seeing anchors set up. I inspected each one on my way up and they all looked good enough to use on my way down.
I made it to the notch, got my first good view of the sky and turned left. It looked like the weather was going to hold out for me today after all!
Here’s that airy traverse. There’s a lot of exposure here but luckily for me the rocks were dry and it was a short section. I took the solid line, but if I hadn’t been wearing my backpack I could have fit through the hole where the dotted line is (behind the rock is a tight fit with a pack).
I was feeling pretty good about myself at this point as I rounded the corner and saw the chimney. It used to be a class 3 chimney but there had been a rockfall and the top two rocks in the chimney were “new”. I’d heard they weren’t that difficult.
So I decided to just go for it. Indeed, the first part of the chimney was easy. Easy until I came to the place just below those new top two rocks. They were positioned in such a way they were overhanging the rocks below. I tried and tried and tried but I wasn’t able to get around the rocks, so I retreated to the bottom of the chimney and studied the route again.
It looked like the way to get over this area was to balance on the ledge to the left and haul myself over. So I tried again, but that crack was smaller than a pencil and there was no way I was going to be able to balance on it without rock climbing shoes. Drat!
I was getting seriously frustrated and tried several more times from numerous different angles and was unsuccessful. What was really demoralizing was I was so close to the summit! I went back down the chimney (again), took off my pack, and studied the rocks. There had to be a way up and over this area, and I had to bring my rope with me (there was no way I was soloing down the chimney without a rope). I told myself I was going to keep trying over and over again until my turnaround time at noon. I was kicking myself for the second time today for not bringing along my climbing shoes, but I wasn’t ready to give up yet.
I just needed a little bit of leverage. That’s when I got an idea! I put on my climbing harness, attached my rope to the belay device (because I’d need the rope on the way down but couldn’t carry it up in my hands). I took some webbing and carabineers with me and left everything else (including my camera) at the base of the chimney.
I climbed back up the chimney again and this time when I made it to the rocks at the top I turned around and faced away from the chimney. What I did next I’m sure isn’t kosher, so I’m not going to describe it in detail (but if you’re interested I’ll tell you at a 14er HH). It involved a lot of upper body strength, some webbing, and a move I learned in elementary school when I’d play on the bars at recess. My feet made it up and over the right side of the chimney first and I hauled the rest of my body over, thrilled I’d figured this problem out!!! Here’s the route I took and a look back down from the top of the chimney
There was an anchor set up about 10 feet from the top of the chimney that looked sketchy. I was glad I’d brought my webbing and rope up with me and decided to secure it now before summiting, lifting and pulling the rope hand over hand until I had it all above the chimney. I didn’t need a lot of webbing but I’d been unable to find my knife, so if you get up there and wonder why someone left all that webbing I can assure you it wasn’t on purpose: I just didn’t have anything to cut it with (I did have more webbing in my pack however, so this wasn’t all of it).
I summited Jagged Mountain at 10am
Here are some summit views and a pretty robust anchor set up if you want to rappel the 165 feet down instead of heading back the way you came (that’s a lot of rope!)
Jagged Mountain was by far the most challenging summit I’ve ever attempted. I was very proud of myself for not giving up, even when I seriously wanted to. Now I just had to get back down to my campsite safely. I turned to exit the way I’d come and rappelled back down the chimney, retrieved and recoiled my rope and put back on my gear.
Here’s looking at the traverse back to the notch
I used every anchor station on the way back down, collecting and recoiling my rope after each descent (that’s exhausting!)
I brought a 50 meter rope with me and it was exactly the right length. I rappelled 4 times (including the chimney) and on the last rappel to right above the snow my rope just touched the ground (a great reason to tie a knot in the ends of your rope!).
I was coiling my rope here when I saw the flight for life helicopter heading towards the Animas River. I said a silent prayer for those involved (stay safe adventuring out there friends!), put on my microspikes and headed back to the pass, keeping an eye on the weather.
At the pass I took a selfie just because I could and because, hey, it’s Jagged
Here’s the route to my campsite (note I camped below the unnamed lake: I didn’t see a reason to hike all the way up there?) and the path out through the basin.
I made it back to my campsite around 12:45pm, making this about 6 hours campsite to summit to campsite: that’s a long time for 2 miles round trip! (I blame it on the rain…)
It had been my intention to hike back to my camping area, eat lunch, gather my gear, filter some water, and head back. Mother Nature had other plans. As soon as I made it to my camping area it started to rain, so I turned myself into a tarp burrito and rested for about an hour. When it became apparent the rain wasn’t letting up anytime soon I had some choices to make. I didn’t have any dry clothes but the ones I was wearing because I’d been unable to dry my wet clothes from yesterday. I could:
- Stay where I was and wait out the rain and hike back the entire route tomorrow. By doing this I’d be chancing the snow forecasted for tonight and the conditions would be similar to today since the sun wouldn’t have been out to dry the rain
- Hike back now in the rain and stop somewhere along the way to camp in wet clothes
- Hike all the way to Purgatory in wet clothes (approximately 20 miles)
I knew I’d gotten more sleep last night than I usually get in 2 nights time so I was well rested. I also knew if I tried to sleep in wet clothes I would just shiver all night (and sleeping naked wouldn’t have been any good since I’d need to put on wet clothes in the morning and hike out anyway, so I might as well just hike out now). I have a lot of energy and need to exhaust myself to go to sleep: staying put didn’t mean rest.
Curiously, the umbrella that had been there yesterday was now gone. I’m assuming a marmot took it?
I decided to hike out, so I packed up my gear (found my knife in my sleeping bag: It must’ve fallen out of my pocket last night) and in the beginning tried to use my tarp to shield me from the rain (in case you’re wondering, it didn’t work). I was soaking wet in the first 5 minutes. Everything, including my waterproof pants, socks, jacket, and shoes were sopping wet. I could actually see the water oozing out of the top of my shoes and when I put my arms down I saw water dripping out of my sleeves.
It rained. And rained. And rained. After about 2 hours I screamed (to no one in particular) ‘”STOP RAINING!” It didn’t work and it didn’t really matter: the ground and trees and bushes were going to be wet for days (the forecast called for more rain/snow).
My main concern was getting past the avalanche area while it was still daylight. I stayed north this time and went over some boulders, avoiding trees where I could, which ended up being the better idea. There was still no trail to follow, but I was able to pick up faint game trails at times through the 3-4 foot brush. The difficulty of the avalanche area was compounded by the rain and slick conditions. I was slipping and sliding over tall-grass camouflaged wet rocks and trees; the only consolation being I was doing it now instead of tomorrow (in worse conditions).
In case I didn’t describe it properly last time, the avalanche area is full of enormous trees and branches piled on top of each other in various states of decomposition and some areas are like trap doors: they looked olid but you could fall right through them. My shins and thighs and forearms are covered in bruises. My hiking pants are completely torn up and I’m in the market for a new pair. I kept falling and about halfway through my phone stopped working (I’m guessing because it was waterlogged). I didn’t dare get out my DSLR in these conditions so I mentally resigned myself to losing pictures/my track, which stunk because I really wanted them from this climb!
Thankfully I made it out of the avalanche area and back on the Noname Trail in the daylight, and from there booked it down to the Animas River. I wanted to get as much of this hike done in daylight as possible so I wasn’t taking breaks. I was taking “bend over to get the weight off my shoulders and pump my thighs up and down” breaks though, usually for 5 seconds worth of ujjayi breath before continuing on.
As I hiked I looked for fresh animal racks in the mud and unfortunately didn’t see any. There were brief periods where the rain stopped, but I’d only get about halfway dry out before it started raining again. I didn’t bother being careful crossing the creeks: my feet were already soaked, so a little creek water wouldn’t hurt any.
I made it to about a mile before Water Tank Hill when a man surprised me. He was dressed head to toe in rain camo. “Oh, I didn’t see you” I announced (well, duh) and we talked for a bit. He looked like a hunter but I noticed he had a tripod in his pack and guessed he was a photographer. He had an accent that suggested Eastern Europe. He was soaking wet as well and had no idea how he was going to get dry tonight. When I told him I was hiking back to Purgatory he first said “wow, that’s a long way!” and then asked me if I’d come this way on my way in. We had a laugh over 200 feet of “why am I doing this?” (Water Tank Hill) and then I was on my way.
I made it up Water Tank Hill and decided to take a short break. It was 8pm. I played with my phone again and was finally able to get it to turn off and reboot. Once it was done I was able to open my phone again: yes!!! I hadn’t lost my data and it looked like my tracker was still going. I was still soaking wet and my feet felt like I was hiking in water shoes, but this, this was a major win!
From here it didn’t take long to make it back to Needleton, where I breathed a huge sigh of relief, knowing I still had 11 miles to go but they would all be on a well established trail with no route finding. I just needed to keep going, slow and steady.
I’ve hiked the Animas River Trail several times, and it’s getting easier to know where I am and how much further I have to go, even in the dark. For the first time I didn’t see any campers (most likely due to the weather forecast). I stopped for another break at the base of the Purgatory Trail. Despite not having time to filter water I still had plenty so I didn’t filter any now. I had some peanut butter and was on my way again to hike the last 4.3 miles up to the trailhead.
I’ve done this last part three times: once in the daylight and twice now in the dark. Let me tell you, hiking up Purgatory in the dark is the way to go! The daylight sun in demoralizing. Sure, tonight I was soaked due to the rain, but I wasn’t gulping down water every few seconds to stay hydrated. Also, the first couple of times I hiked this trail I got frustrated due to all the ups and downs in elevation. It’s no fun to gain elevation just to lose it again. So I changed my mindset this time: I was going to have to do the last mile directly up from the river anyway: I might as well enjoy the downhill times while I could.
I made it back to my truck around 1:45am, making this a 46 mile hike with 11,481’ in elevation gain in 47 hours. I took off all my gear, cleaned myself up, and decided to take a nap before heading home. I tried for 30 minutes to fall asleep, couldn’t, and got up and just drove home (too much sleep yesterday?)
There had been a 30-70% chance of rain today from 12-5pm, but it had rained at 7am, 12-5pm, 7pm, 8-10pm, and as I turned my truck on to leave it started pouring again…