I’d been crying all day, so when I made it to the trailhead I was quite the mess. My eyes were swollen, my nose was red, and I was tired. My 23-year-old daughter coaches color guard, and last week, one of her team members was murdered. I’m not going to go into the details of what happened (news article here), but my daughter wanted to be at the viewing and also at the funeral to support her students. I wanted to be there to support my daughter. She was determined to make sure she talked with each and every one of her students individually, which meant we were there a long time. I watched high-schooler after high-schooler break down in front of the (open) casket, crying, some uncontrollably. There was a slide show of the best moments of her 17 years scrolling, with several pictures including my daughter. When all of the guard members were there, they held hands and stood in a semi-circle around the casket, grieving together. This was one of the hardest things I’ve had to witness in my life, and I was just on the sidelines. I was mad, angry, hurt, confused, and so many other emotions I can’t put into words, for everyone involved. I cried excessively during the entire funeral, my arm around my daughters’ shoulder, trying to comfort her as well. I dropped my daughter off at the airport (she’d been in Georgia for the summer, and flew back for the funeral), and drove to the trailhead. I needed a hike, as I had a lot to process.
When I got to the La Plata Gulch Trailhead it was raining, but after a few minutes a rainbow came out. I needed that rainbow. I also needed sleep.
I went to bed early, and was on the trail at 4:30am. The trail begins by following the La Plata Gulch Trail
After following the trail for 1.3 miles, and after the second bridge crossing, there was a faint trail I took to the left
I followed this faint trail until I came to a third creek
At the creek the trail stopped, so I turned right and followed the creek. It’s important not to cross the creek too soon!
The creek had a lot of deadfall, but there is a faint trail that can be navigated. I followed it until just after I saw this large rock formation on the left, at about 10630’.
AFTER this rock formation I crossed the creek, and made my way to a small ridge
I followed this ridge to treeline
At treeline, to my left I could see my route to gain the ridge.
This is the route I took… up an obvious gully.
I started out rock-hopping on unstable rocks, which gave way to a scree and raspberry bush filled gully, which gave way to tundra.
I followed the tundra southwest
This is where the hike gets interesting. I’ll show you the route I took that worked (I tried a couple of different things that didn’t, so I have a messy GPX file). First, I put on my helmet for some rock hopping
Then, I went straight up the face of this
And then class 3’d this ridge to the right. Notice the cairn in the red circle? I erroneously assumed this was the summit of Ellingwood Point, but it isn’t. In any event, DO NOT aim for that cairn.
Instead, you’ll encounter some class 3-4 scrambling as you go under the ridge, losing about 50 feet of elevation.
I descended down what I felt was a class 4 chimney, before turning left and finding a somewhat grassy ramp that turned to rocks and took me back to the ridge
Just before reaching the ridge, I saw another cairn, and what I thought would be the summit of Ellingwood Ride. This is also not the accepted summit. DO NOT follow this cairn.
However, when I made it to this point I could clearly see it was about level with the OTHER point I wasn’t supposed to summit (here’s looking back)
When I turned and looked south, I could see the true summit of Ellingwood Point.
The route wasn’t straightforward. I made my way down, and over to the ridge. I then lost 115’ of elevation as I made my way towards Ellingwood Point. Here’s my overall route
Here are some step-by-step pictures
Make sure you choose the correct gully to descend! It’s not the first gully you encounter, but the second that ‘goes’
Then I turned right and made my way towards the saddle, staying above the snow
At the saddle it was choose your own adventure up
I think the traditional route is to take the gully up, but it was covered in snow, so I made my way on the rocks until it was safe to use the gully, quite near the top. This is the route I took
I did encounter a little bit of snow towards the top, but I was able to navigate around it. Once at the top of the gully, I descended some class 3 terrain, and re-ascended another short gully
There was a small cairn there, letting me know I was at the summit
I summited Ellingwood Ridge at 9am
Here’s looking north at the route I took in. As you can see, it’s difficult to tell where the ‘true’ summit is.
I was making this an out and back, mainly because there was a storm headed my way, so I turned and retraced my steps. Here are some visuals of the harder areas to ‘figure out’
Looking down the gully, I stuck to the wall and did just fine
Then I made my way back down the ridge, keeping to the right, and heading back up that second gully, which is more obvious going this way, as it’s the only one that ‘goes’
At the top of the gully I once again lost elevation and navigated the west side of the mountain
Here’s looking up at that class 4 gully
And the ridge back to the tundra
The tundra to the rocky gully
And the gully to the ridge
As soon as I hit the ridge it started raining. I followed the ridge to the stream crossing, then followed the stream back to the trail
Once on the trail, it was easy to follow it back to the trailhead
I made it back to my truck at 12:30pm, making this a 9.9 mile hike with 3622’ of elevation gain in 8 hours.
While I unpacked quite a bit emotionally, I didn’t come up with any answers on the hike, except that it’s important to listen when people tell us something is wrong, and to love each other, as you never know what the other person is going through. I can’t combat the evil in this world, but I can appreciate and acknowledge, and even contribute to the good. I raised a daughter who chose to go out of her way to be there for her students, when it would have been easy to say something like “I’m all the way in Georgia”, “I don’t do well with death”, “I can’t afford the trip” or “I don’t do well with funerals” and not show up. She showed up and she supported her students as they grieved, and even shared some of her favorite memories of Riley with her parents. That’s something to be proud of.
I’d already been away from home a few days before this trip, so I stopped at Ouray Hot Springs to get in a quick workout and a shower (they only charge $4 for a shower, which might be nice if you’re hiking around Ouray and want to freshen up every few days). The only downside? The parking was terrible, even on a weekday in the morning.
After cleaning up I drove to the Rock of Ages Trailhead. The drive in was a bit bumpier than I remembered, but also fun, because I was seeing what Miles (my new Tacoma) can do. He handled the stream crossing and ruts in the 4WD road without needing to be put into 4WD.
I made it to the trailhead and was the only one in the lot (another good thing about arriving on a Thursday).
I walked around for a bit, and immediately realized the mosquitoes were going to be a problem. I’ve ordered a topper for Miles, but it’ll take up to 3 months to get here, so until then I’m sleeping in the back seat of the cab (It’s a tight fit but luckily I’m small). I made the decision to get to bed as soon as possible. I ended up waking up several times during the night because I was so warm, but at least waking up ended one of my nightmares: a dream about sharks in a swimming pool swallowing children whole.
Ok. So, I woke up and was on the trail at 4:15am. The route starts at the south end of the parking area, and follows a well-defined trail south.
I quickly came to a gate, and walked around it.
Next, I saw this sign to my right, and continued on the trail
I followed the trail to treeline.
Shortly after making it to treeline I came to the Elk Creek Trail junction. From here there are several options, but your main goal is to make it into the basin. You can follow Elk Creek Trail and lose some elevation, then follow a faint road into the basin. Or, you could continue along the Rock of Ages trail and eventually hook up with the 4WD road that enters the basin from above (a bit chossy, but I chose to take it on the way out). On my way in it was dark, I couldn’t see any of these ‘routes’, and I chose to just head straight into the basin.
If you take the mining road, here’s what the entrance looks like from the Rock of Ages trail. It’s about half a mile past the Elk Creek Trail junction, on your right.
If you take the upper road, this is what the junction from the trail to the road looks like
In any event, I made my way into the basin. Here are the routes. To the left you can see the mining road, and to the right you can see the abandoned dirt road. They both lead to the same place. (On my way in I didn’t see either of these roads and just headed south through the basin).
Once in the upper basin you want to gain the ridge. This sounds easier than it turned out to be. It’s “choose your own adventure”, and on the way up I chose wrong. I ended up getting into some class 4 scrambling, which was unnecessary. It’s my advice to do PT 13540 first, and gain the ridge to the left (southeast). However, all areas here ‘go’, if you’re willing to do some scrambling. When I made it to the ridge I found thick wire cording going where the red line is (I’m guessing that could be used as leverage if needed: it wasn’t moving anywhere). I ascended via the orange line. The dotted orange line is probably a better route. The best route is my descent route (pictured later).
I’ll spare you the scree-y and large-loose-rocky gully details of ascending the ridge. Once on the ridge I turned right and followed the ridge southwest towards Fowler. The ridge was all class 2
If you haven’t already, now is a good time to put on your helmet. Here’s a picture of that cable I was telling you about. It goes up and over both sides of the saddle.
Here’s an overall view of the rest of the route to summit Fowler.
And step by step: It started out chossy as I ascended the ridge
I made my way to the gully to the left/middle. This area had more solid rock, but it was littered with scree/rubble. At the base of the gully I took off my pack and decided to go up with just my cell phone (and a summit register in my pocket, just in case).
This is the class 4 part of the climb, and lasted for about 120 feet of vertical gain. I started by going straight up the gully. Here’s my route:
Step 1: ascend the chimney. I went to the right of the chimney, and found adequate hand/foot holds.
Step 2: Once above the chimney I stayed to the center of the gully. This is also where I saw an anchor set up (circled in red).
If you decide to rappel here, bring a new anchor, as this one looks like it’s been here for a while, and what’s been added to it doesn’t look recent either.
Step 3: From the anchor I continued straight up the gully (still class 4)
Step 4: Here’s a view of the last bit of the gully, before topping out. This felt class 3
At the top of the gully I turned left and headed towards the summit. It was a bit of a false summit, but all class 2/easy 3
I summited Fowler Peak at 7:45am
I sat and enjoyed my views of the Wilson/El Diente Traverse for a few minutes before heading back.
There was a summit register, but it was one of those tube ones. It hadn’t been closed properly and all the papers inside were wet, so I left it and also added a new register with dry paper to write on. And a new pencil. Here are some pictures of the trek back to the saddle
Back down the gully
To my stashed gear and back to the ridge.
I followed the ridge over to PT 13540. This was a simple ridge hike, if a bit loose. Lots of rocks here. I stuck mostly to the ridge the entire time, only dipping to the right a few times when necessary.
I summited PT 13540 at 9am
I worked my way back towards the Fowler/PT 13540 saddle
Once at the saddle there was what looked to be a boarded-up mine. In fact, it looked like everything here had been blown up at some point, except this area, which was strategically filled with large rocks (but may have been blown up too). I passed it and headed northeast back to the old mining road
This area was steep, and I did some scree surfing, but it was much easier to navigate when compared to the route I took to ascend the ridge. I saw tons of mining trash here: lots of old cans and pieces of mining equipment, most of which were in small pieces, all made out of cast iron. This was the most intact item I came across
Here’s the route I took down from the ridge (I’d recommend ascending this way as well)
Once back on the road you once again have options to exit the basin. You can stay high, to the right/east, and follow the old mining road, or you can stay low and left/west, and follow an old dirt road.
Here’s a better look at both roads. Both take you out of the basin, and back to Elk Creek Trail / Rock of Ages trail (If you take the mining road all the way to the Rock of Ages trail, turn left and follow it to the Elk Creek Trail junction, and then continue following the Rock of Ages trail).
Once back on the trail I followed it through the trees northwest, back to the trailhead.
I made it back to my truck at 11:15am, making this a 10.53 mile hike with 3985’ of elevation gain in 7 hours.
It was still early, and quite warm, and the mosquitoes hadn’t magically disappeared overnight. I had a friend meeting me here at 6pm to hike Wilson Peak tomorrow, so I’d planned on staying at the trailhead until he got there, then heading to bed. I’d brought a lot of things to do, but they all required sitting down, and once I did that the mosquitoes swarmed me. It was like one would find me and sing its song to its friends and there’d be dozens to shoo away.
If I was outside I needed to have a jacket on, but it was hot! I tried sitting in my truck with the air conditioning on, but that wasn’t going to work for 7 hours straight. It was kind of funny watching the mosquitoes (and flies!!!) swarm my truck: they seemed to know I was in there with the air conditioning on.
So, I entertained myself for the next 7 hours by reading. I got out my current book (On the Road by Jack Kerouac) and read while steadily walking around the trailhead in circles. Continuously moving seemed to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Luckily, the trailhead has a large parking area and I was the only one there. Every few hours I’d take a break in my truck, and then get out and read again. I would have started a campfire to shoo the bugs away, but they’re currently banned. I can’t wait to get the topper on my truck! It would have solved the mosquito/heat problem.
I parked at the Horn Creek Trailhead, the only vehicle in the lot. I’m always surprised at how few people take advantage of the free dispersed camping sites we have in Colorado, especially ones like this with a bathroom. Eager to summit and get back to treeline before the incoming storm, I gathered my gear and was on the trail at 4:30am. The trail starts by following the Rainbow Trail southwest for just over half a mile
Then I turned right onto Horn Creek Trail
I followed Horn Creek Trail for a short distance, about a tenth of a mile, before turning left at the junction towards Horn Creek Lakes. Here there’s a register, that looks to be kept up.
I stayed on this trail for half a mile, before leaving the trail at 9590’ and heading north and then west up the ridge. There is no trail here. I left a small cairn to indicate where I left the trail, but I don’t expect it to be there long, as it was small.
Route finding here can be a bit tricky, but the goal is to gain the ridge. I did this by heading west, through the pine and aspen trees. Every once in a while, I’d come across a game trail. They all fizzled out however. This area is easy to navigate, as there aren’t too many downed trees. I was able to avoid most of them.
Once I was on the ridge, I followed it southwest to treeline. This is a long ridge, and it seemed to take forever to make it to treeline. Here’s my first glimpse of Little Horn Peak
Like I said, this is a long ridge
The class 3 fun starts at the top of the ridge, which is a false summit. From here you can see Little Horn Peak’s true summit
My trekking pole isn’t collapsible, so I left it at the start of the class 3 section, put on my helmet, and started heading straight over the ridge. The class 3 section is consistent for another half mile to the summit.
Start out by going straight over the ridge. There is some exposure here.
Then you’ll dip down to the right. Look for a notch, go through it, and now you’re on the left side of the ridge.
Go up the gully and cross back over to the right side of the ridge
There’s a section of rock to upclimb. This was difficult class 3 / easy class 4 (and much more difficult and committing on the way back down later in the day).
From the top of this section I could see the summit. I stayed on the left side of the ridge from this point on, staying on class 2 terrain.
I summited Little Horn Peak at 7:45am
Little Horn Peak:
That was it for the class 3 section of the hike. The ridge over to Fluted Peak is class 2 (with the option to go up a class 3 chimney, but it’s avoidable). Here’s Fluted Peak to the west.
This was a simple ridge hike to the saddle. You can’t see them very well in this photo, but there was a mama bighorn sheep with her baby walking up the ridge. The baby couldn’t have been more than a month old.
From the saddle, here’s how you keep this a class 2 hike (dotted lines show the class 3 route)
Here’s the first obstacle (class 2 solid, class 3 dotted):
And the second (class 2 solid, class 3 chimney dotted):
Here’s that chimney up close
After the chimney, it’s straightforward class 2 to the top of the ridge to the first false summit.
Fluted Peak is actually here
There are two quick false summits to go up and over
And then the final summit
I summited Fluted Peak at 9am
The clouds were coming in fast, so I decided to re-trace my steps and head back to Little Horn Peak (I’ve already summited Horn Peak, so there was no need to make this a loop today). I headed back to the ridge
Here’s a picture of Little Horn Peak from the Fluted Peak Ridge
It all stayed class 2 until I made it to the summit of Little Horn Peak
From there It was class 3 again until I made it to the ridge.
Here’s a closer look at that notch
And the last bit of scrambling to the ridge
I made it to the ridge and looked around for my trekking pole. It wasn’t where I’d left it. Instead, it was about 15 feet away, at the entrance to a marmot burrow. I picked it up and found some marmot had turned it into a snack. Just adding more photographic evidence to prove the case “Marmots can’t be trusted with trekking poles”.
I sighed, took off my helmet, and headed back down the ridge (yes, I brought the trekking pole down).
Once back at treeline I turned back for a last view as it started raining.
The rain quickly turned to hail and I had to put my camera away. Here are some pictures of below treeline, in-between bouts of rain/hail. I just kept descending northeast, and when the ridge ended I continued east towards Horn Creek Trail. Once again, I’d pick up game trails and then lose them. A little advice: you should be able to hear Horn Creek flowing below you to your right if you’re going in the correct direction.
Back on the trail I followed it to the trailhead.
I made it back to the trailhead at 1pm, making this a 12.35 mile hike with 5504’ of elevation gain in 8.5 hours. That had been a fun day of scrambling!
I dried off and headed to the next trailhead. When I got there it was still raining, so I decided to make dinner inside the topper of my truck. I finished, cleaned up, and was sitting down to write notes in my journal when I heard a loud “BANG!”
I looked up, and the back window to my topper crumpled and broke into thousands of pieces. I honestly thought I’d been shot at, and turned around but didn’t see a bullet hole anywhere. Next, I gingerly opened the window, crawled out of the truck and took a look around: no one in sight (but it was still raining).
I assessed the damage, and realized I needed to take care of this asap, so I put on gloves and cleaned up all the broken glass I could, still getting some small slivers of glass embedded in my fingers. Next, I drove to where I could get cell reception, and found the nearest place that would be open the next day to fix the broken glass was 5 minutes from my home, and 6 hours from where I was right now. I sighed: It looked like I had a long night ahead of me.
It turned out the auto glass store couldn’t help me, and told me to go to where I’d originally bought the topper. They couldn’t help me for another 4-6 weeks (and $600), but referred me to another glass shop that didn’t open until Monday. So, a quick trip to Walmart to pick up some duct tape and a tarp and I was able to create a makeshift door that does nothing to keep animals/intruders out, but has done a decent job keeping out the rain. I’m still not sure why the window broke: I was told sometimes there’s just a flaw in the glass. That sounds bogus, but I’m getting a new one soon anyway, and I’ve learned not to get windows in my next topper (I don’t use them anyway). I’m actually more upset I lost out on two days of hiking.
I’ve been up in my head about this peak since my failed attempt last month. Last time I’d turned around because I wasn’t 100% sure I was in the right area and I was afraid of cliffing out. All of the information I had on Coxcomb was conflicting (some called areas class 3 and others class 5, etc.) and none of the pictures I had from others lined up with what I was seeing. After going back home and researching more I realized I had been in the correct area, and now I was ready to try again.
I drove to the Wetterhorn Trailhead and was surprised to see no one else parked in the lot. The last time I was here there were several other vehicles. I got out, walked around, and signed the trail register so I wouldn’t need to in the morning. It was cloudy and windy but on the plus side there were no mosquitoes.
I tried to pump myself up for the hike tomorrow, but was still having trouble mentally. I told myself to just enjoy the hike and focus on learning something, even if I didn’t summit (again). I got out the book I’m (still) reading: Death in Yosemite, and noted I was still on the ‘death while climbing’ chapter. It may sound macabre, but reading about how other, more experienced climbers have died while climbing puts climbing into perspective for me: gravity never sleeps, and I can never be too careful (which is another reason why I turned around last time). I like to review potential mistakes so I don’t make them.
A group of three (shirtless) guys in their early 20s walked by, carrying gear and pads. I stopped them to see where they were headed and they told me they were just out bouldering. Hmmmm… I didn’t think the area was good for bouldering, but I wished them luck.
I made sure to get to bed early, and wouldn’t you know it, I heard a mouse moving around under/inside my truck as I was trying to sleep. I guess those mothballs don’t work. Also, I believe it was the same mouse as last week: it’s most likely been living in my truck, building a nest, etc. I was going to need to get some traps asap.
I woke up and was on the trail at 4:30am, taking the same route as last time. There’s an obvious trailhead with a register.
I followed the class 1 trail for 3.4 miles up to the top of the pass, and then lost 450’ of elevation as I descended into the basin.
I’ve heard of others who’ve stayed high here instead of going into the basin, and from my perspective, the rubble and talus and scree aren’t worth it: I’m ok losing a little elevation, and I’m actually convinced it saves time. Once in the basin I left the trail, crossed the basin and followed the ridge up to the base of Coxcomb
There was a little bit of scrambling to get to the base
Here’s an overall view of the route up
Once there I was happy to see the rocks I’d placed in the chimney were still where I’d put them. I sat down, put on my helmet, and mentally prepared myself to begin. Here’s the first chimney
I made my way over to the chimney and tried to climb up. No dice. I love to boulder, but I haven’t been since COVID started due to the gym being closed and now requiring masks (say what you will, but I cannot work out with a mask on. I respect the rules however, and thus choose not to go). All this to say I’m a little rusty when it comes to my bouldering skills.
Ok, so if I couldn’t just climb up I’d do what I did last time: I took off my pack, attached a rope to the pack and my harness, and tried climbing up without a pack. The rock was cold and my fingers were stiff and I tried and tried but was unable to climb up the chimney. What was wrong? I’d been able to do it last time! Ugh. That was when I realized last time I’d worn climbing shoes. I guess they did make a difference. Oh well, I was just going to need to get creative. I tried once again, this time angling myself sideways, putting my thigh into a crack, shimmying around, and pressing into the side of the rock with my inner thigh and hoisting myself up. This took me halfway up the chimney. From there I was able to hoist myself up and use my arms to do the rest. I made it to the top of the chimney, hauled up my gear, and prepared for the second part for the climb. The red circle is where I ‘sat’
The next section was easy class 3. I re-coiled my rope, put on my pack, and made my way to the base of the next chimney
This is where I’d gotten stuck last time. This time however, I was sure I was in the correct spot. I initially tried to climb this with my pack on, realized that wasn’t going to happen (the pack was too heavy and put me off balance) and decided to try climbing this chimney without my pack. The red circle is where I took off my pack.
Here’s what the climb looks like from there. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to climb this with my gear, but also knowing I needed my gear to descend I decided to once again tie the rope to my harness and loop it around my pack. I was very careful to make sure my rope didn’t get tangled, and I had an exit strategy in case the whole ‘rope around the pack thing’ didn’t work in this area. I wouldn’t recommend this tactic unless you put a lot of thought and planning into its execution, as so many things can go wrong in this scenario. Here’s a look at the beginning of the route
I made it halfway up and stopped.
At the halfway point I hauled up my gear to where I was positioned. I figured this would lessen the chances of my pack getting stuck when I hauled it all the way up, and also gave me a chance to test whether or not hauling the pack would work in an area where I still felt I could downclimb safely. This tactic proved successful, so I continued on.
From the halfway point, here’s looking up at the rest of the route
This is a class 5.2 chimney that requires some stemming/fun/creative moves to ascend. At one point I even used a crack climbing technique to get a good hold with my arm vertically and hoist myself up. This is the point I wasn’t able to make it past last time, but after talking with others who’d successfully climbed this area I felt confident I’d be able to as well. There are some sketchy moves, but plenty of opportunities for stemming/hand holds to make the ascent doable. I was terrified but just told myself not to look down, to focus ahead, and soon enough I’d made it out of the chimney. Here’s the route I took
Once at the top of the chimney I turned and hauled up my gear, feeling pretty pleased with myself for making it this far. I recoiled my rope and put it in my pack.
I’ve heard it’s class 3 after this point to exit the chimney, but it felt class 2 to me
Last time I’d been worried I was in the wrong gully. Since I hike solo I’m extra careful, and probably turn back more often than I should when uncomfortable. One of the reasons I’d turned back here last time was I was worried if I ascended the wrong gully I’d be cliffed out. It turns out that wouldn’t have been the case, so if you’re worried about cliffing out in this area don’t be: all chimneys exit in the same area, and it’s solid. Here’s looking back
And forward towards the summit of Coxcomb
There was still one more obstacle before reaching the summit: a 25 foot notch I’d need to rappel before upclimbing to the summit.
I got out my rope, attached it to my gear and the anchor (which looked solid so I didn’t replace the webbing) and rappelled down into the notch. This is committing because it’s class 5.6 to climb back up. I’m not a climber, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to upclimb this section on my own: forward was the only way from here on out. This last bit included rappelling down, then climbing out of the notch
Here’s a look back up at this section from inside the notch
I once again retrieved and recoiled my rope, and got ready for the final pitch to the summit. I went north, following the cairns, and climbed up an easy chimney
From there it was an easy walk to the summit
I summited Coxcomb Peak at 9:30am. There was a summit register in a powerade bottle that should probably be replaced. I didn’t open it, but it looked like the papers were smushed in there.
I was thrilled I’d made it this far, but I still had the 170’ rappel to accomplish. I went to work, looking for the webbing and anchor set up. It was easy to find and still looked good, so I decided to use what was already there.
I tied my two ropes together with a double fisherman’s knot and threw my ropes. It was quite windy, and the wind was coming at me, so it took a couple of tries to make sure the ropes made it all the way to the ground. This was quite frustrating, but worth the extra effort to make sure it was done correctly. Next, I tested the rope, watched my knot to make sure it was secure, unclipped my safety, and started the rappel. Everything went smoothly. I even noticed 2 more anchors set up below where I’d rappelled, so if you brought just one rope it would have been enough (the webbing looked old though, and should probably be replaced).
My feet touched the ground and I gave out a “Woot!” I was so excited! I’d done it!!! I’d solo’d Coxcomb Peak, a peak I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to climb, let alone solo. I gave myself a minute to let it sink in, and then went about retrieving my ropes.
I had two ropes, one purple, one orange. I always pull the darker one. I pulled the purple one and was thrilled when it moved. I pulled it about 10 feet when it stopped. Hmmm. Ok, maybe it got stuck? So I pulled the orange rope back a few feet, and then tried the purple one again. Once again, it got stuck. I whipped the ropes and they moved as far as I could see, so one of the ropes must have been stuck up at the very top. I spent the next hour doing everything I could think of to retrieve those ropes, to no avail. In the end I made the very difficult decision to leave them there. I did put a note in the trail register on the way down and I posted to some climbing social media sites about their whereabouts, so at this point I’m fairly confident they’ve been retrieved. It hurt to leave them there, not only because of LNT, but also because this is the first time I’ve used them (besides the initial breaking in).
Here’s the rappel
I sighed heavily and turned to hike up Redcliff.
This was a very short, simple, and straightforward climb. I summited Redcliff at 11:15am
Here’s looking back at Coxcomb. I’ve circled the notch that needs to be rappelled down and then climbed back up
I turned and headed back to the Coxcomb/Redcliff saddle, and then descended west into the basin
There wasn’t a well stablished trail here, but the route was easy enough to figure out. I just aimed for the visible class 1 trail below I’d taken on my way in this morning
Here’s looking back at the route from the saddle to the trail
And a look at the hike out
I made it back to the now full trailhead and my truck at 1:10pm, making this a 13.24 mile hike with 4654’ of elevation gain in 8 hours, 40 minutes.
I was thrilled with today’s success, and even though I’d lost two new climbing ropes I drove to the next trailhead on a bit of a high.
NOTE: I’ve since summited this peak successfully. that trip report can be found here.
I told myself as soon as someone posted a successful summit for either Coxcomb or Peak 15 I’d attempt it as soon as the weather was good (they’re my last 2 class 5 bicentennials). A conditions report was posted for Coxcomb where the couple summited but the woman had to be belayed up. I’ve done several class 5 peaks solo, and I’ve talked to two men who’ve done Coxcomb solo, so I felt confident I could summit this peak solo as well. Now I’m not so sure.
The weather was perfect and I had the day off. The only problem? I needed 2 60 meter ropes for the final rappel, and I only had 1 50 meter rope. I went to REI and Mountain Chalet and bought 2 new ropes (REI only had 1, but on the positive side I got to use my dividend).
Then I spent the afternoon practicing my double fisherman’s knot. That’s how you tie two ropes together so they don’t come undone.
Confident I had the knot down, I wanted to practice rappelling with the two ropes, and I also wanted to break them in before using them for the first time in a scary situation (yes, a 175 foot rappel is committing, and can be scary, especially if you haven’t rappelled all season). I decided to go to Red Rock Open Space to break them in.
Success! I practiced setting up the anchor, tying the ropes together, and rappelling on easy terrain at least 9 times to break the ropes in. Yes, they were heavy to carry, and coiling them was no fun, but everything went smoothly. The weather forecast for the weekend was phenomenal: sunny skies with no chance of rain. I decided to drive to the trailhead the next afternoon and attempt Coxcomb peak the following day.
Most of the drive in to the trailhead was on a 2wd dirt road.
Then all of the sudden I came upon stopped vehicles along the road. A rancher was moving a herd of cattle, and the first vehicle in line didn’t feel comfortable driving alongside the moving herd so he decided to stop and park his car until the herd had moved (despite the rancher continually waving him on: the cattle would have been fine if he’d just drove slowly past). I wasn’t in a hurry so I wasn’t too bothered by the extra time spend sightseeing cattle. A lot of the other drivers were though.
The last 2 miles to the trailhead were 4WD and included a fun creek crossing.
I made it to the trailhead, parked my truck, and got out and took a look around.
I wanted to get a visual of the route for tomorrow’s hike. I took some pictures of the trail entrance, trail register, and the way I wanted to head out tomorrow. Then I ate my dinner, did a little knitting, and generally enjoyed the view as I relaxed in the bed of my truck.
The next morning I was on the trail at 4:40am, armed with my helmet, harness, 3 climbing ropes (2 60 meter ropes and one 30 meter half rope) and my climbing shoes. My pack was completely filled, and I’m guessing it weighed 40lbs. I only took the essentials.
The trail starts at the east end of the parking area and heads south.
I followed the class 1 trail for 2 miles until I came to a steep section
At the pass the trail diverged into two and then kind of ended. I could tell I just needed to get around the small outcropping. I decided to go up right and descend on the left on my way back down. Both sides were easy.
The trail picked up again after I climbed this area.
After 3.3 miles of hiking I came to the top of the pass.
From here I continued following the class 1 trail, losing 400’ in elevation as I went
At the bottom of the pass I left he trail and headed east
My goal was to gain the ridge and follow it to the base of Coxcomb Peak
The ridge was full of loose talus
The talus eventually gave way to a little bit of tundra
Then I came to a rocky class 3 section
Which brought me to the base of the crux of Coxcomb. Wow! The approach had been much easier than expected. The entrance to the climb starts at the small gully. I’ve seen a few reports on how to climb this area, and every report rated the difficulty different. Some gave it class 3 (it’s NOT class 3, but there could have been a rock slide since that person posted conditions), some gave it class 4, and some class 5. The couple that summited last week said this was the most difficult part of their climb.
I walked up to the gully and tried to devise a plan. I decided to put on my climbing shoes and just go for it. I tried to ascend, but there just weren’t enough foot/hand holds. I tried and tried and tried. Then I tried ascending to the left but those rocks are loose and kept crumbling in my hands. I wasn’t about to put any physical weight on them. I tried the gully again, and then the rocks to the left again. I spent over an hour trying to figure this problem out! If I were only a few inches taller this wouldn’t have been an issue. Hmph. I sat down to think. Here’s a close-up of the gully
All I needed were a few more footholds. That’s when it came to me: there were rocks all around! I’d just fill the gully as far as I could and use those rocks as stepping stones. I dropped my pack and spent the next 45 minutes or so filling the small gully with rocks. I even put in a chockstone for a handhold. When I felt I’d done enough I tried climbing a few feet to see if the rocks were stable. Success!
I put my pack back on and started to climb but my pack was heavy. It made me top heavy and I couldn’t pull myself over. Drat! I sat back down to think. I could see a rappel set up at the top of the gully. I decided to take my 30 meter short rope, attach it to my backpack and my harness as well, leave my backpack below, and climb up the gully without gear. Then I’d use the rope to pull up my pack. If I wasn’t able to pull my pack up I knew I could just rappel back down with the sling already in place and the rope I’d attached to my harness (I was glad I’d brought the 3rd rope!).
I looped the rope around the straps of my pack, attached the other end to my harness, and easily climbed up the gully. Success! Wow, I felt great! That had been the crux of the route for the couple who were here last week, so I now felt confident I’d be able to make this summit. I hauled up my pack, which took quite a bit of upper arm strength and balance not to fall back down the gully as I was lifting the pack up.
I coiled up my rope, attached it to my pack, and continued on. The next section was class 3, and only lasted about 50 feet or so
This brought me to a class 4 section I had to upclimb. I was able to do this wearing my pack
I’d made it to the base of the chimney area, also rated class 4.
From my research I’d learned to take the ‘easier’ chimney to the left. Um, this did not look easy! I spent a lot of time determining if I was even in the correct area, and backtracked a little just to make sure. Yep, this was it. I decided to just start climbing. Boy, was this tiring work! My pack made climbing so much more difficult, but I wasn’t giving up. I made it about half way up the chimney and wasn’t able to stem with my pack on. I decided to retreat and try again.
Taking off my pack had worked last time, so I decided to try that again. I rigged the rope the same way I had last time and started up. Wow! This was so much easier! I made it about ¾ of the way up the chimney when the hand/foot holds gave out. This was definitely difficult class 4 (if not class 5). The pictures I’d seen of others climbing this part made it look so much easier! They looked like they just walked up this section. They’d been roped in, and about a foot taller than I am, but still, it didn’t seem fair. From here I just needed to stem for about 20 more feet which would put me in the upper gully, and then I’d need to exit via the right side. The problem? I couldn’t see any anchors set up, or even any places to set an anchor, and without a visual of the last part of the gully I didn’t feel comfortable committing to this part of the climb, not knowing if I’d be able to rappel down. I knew if I went any further I would not be able to climb back down, so rappelling was my only option. It was here I made the decision to call the climb for the day. I just didn’t feel like I could commit to continuing on without putting myself in unnecessary danger. I kept thinking how infrequent this mountain is climbed and how I’d be stuck for weeks, if not months (or longer) if I wasn’t able to downclimb.
Note: On my drive home I came up with the idea of tying all my ropes together, carrying an empty pack up, and then hauling the ropes up behind me. The only downside to this scenario is if the ropes got caught on something while I’m trying to haul them up (a very real possibility). I need to do more research and find out if there is a sling set up in the gully, or if I just need to commit. Also, I need to practice stemming in a climbing gym with a full pack. That’s not going to be easy…
Here’s how far I made it up the chimney.
I made it back to my backpack and set up a rappel to head back down. At least I was getting some use out of my 60 meter ropes today.
Here’s a picture of the route
I rappelled back down, changed back into my hiking boots, and retraced my steps back down the ridge and back to the trail.
I followed the trail back up the pass, cursing the weight of my pack the entire way
As I was coming back down I noticed blood along the trail, and a few guys with horses down below.
I made it to the bottom of the pass and the oldest man there talked with me for a bit (he looked like a grandpa out with his grandsons). He wanted to know if there was more snow further along the trail. The blood I’d seen had been from one of his horses: it had spooked on the rocks and snow and flipped over backwards when it lost its footing. It had injured its hoof. I was confused as to why they were even contemplating continuing on? They had an injured animal! The man agreed with me and I’m pretty sure he decided to head back. A little further along the trail I met up with a woman who said when the group had passed by their campsite earlier this morning one of their horses stepped on their dog (the horseback riders horse stepped on the horseback riders dog) and caused an awful commotion. And one of the boys had lost his jacket. So the group wasn’t having a great day.
Here’s my route back down the mountain to my truck
The entire route down I ruminated on the days experiences and tried to think if I could have done anything differently. I also considered the need for a climbing partner on this route: someone taller than me who could belay me from the top. This idea doesn’t sound appealing, but it is the safest option. In the end I decided I needed more stemming practice, and I need to actually speak with people who’ve accomplished this route.
I made it back to my truck at 2:40pm, making this a 17.4 mile hike with 5544’ of elevation gain in 10 hours. Here’s a topo of my route
And just for fun here’s a close-up of my problem solving skills. I worked this problem for a long time!
When I pulled up my gpx file I found I made it to 13,560’, which means I was less than 100 feet from the summit when I turned back. Ouch. On to the next trailhead!
After climbing Mt Emma I drove from Yankee Boy Basin to Telluride and parked at the Eiler Creek Trailhead. There were already a few cars there when I arrived, and two more drove up and parked before the day was out. This was a busy 4th of July weekend!
After today’s hike and lightning scare I decided to check the weather again for tomorrow’s hike. The forecast indicated a slight chance of rain beginning at 10am, with thunder beginning at 1pm. OK, so I needed to be below treeline by 10am to avoid the rain. Thunder/Lightning shouldn’t be a problem. I set my alarm for 3:30am. As I was going over topo maps for tomorrow’s hike my friends from yesterday drove by. I waved, they stopped, and we talked for a bit about our days adventures under a nice rainbow.
They had tents to set up and I needed to get to bed early so we said our goodbyes, I ate the rest of my sandwich for dinner, and after a glass of Skrewball I went soundly to bed. I was on the trail at 4am. The Eider Creek Trailhead is located at the north end of the parking area, and immediately splits into two trails. Take the trail to the left.
Just after this split is a nice camping spot, no more than a few yards from the parking area
I followed the class 1 Eider Creek Trail, staying right at the first junction
And left at the second to stay on the Eider Creek Trail.
This trail was very easy to follow and well marked with signs.
There was one creek crossing that was easy to rock hop across (and a rather large tree you could traverse if you preferred, but I thought it overkill).
I stayed on the Eider Creek Trail for 3 miles and then left the trail, turned right and headed north through an area filled with downed trees. This was tons of fun to navigate in the dark.
Luckily this area was short, only lasting about 100 yards, before I came to a clearing.
From the clearing I needed to gain the ridge. There are several ways to do this, and both the gully on the left and the gully on the right ‘go’. I took the one on the left, hugging the aspen trees and then ascending via tundra and clumps of bunch grass. This was by far the most difficult part of the hike: the terrain is much steeper than it looks, gaining 1650’ in less than 2 miles. It seemed never-ending.
Once on the ridge I turned left and followed the ridge northwest
From the ridge you can see both Campbell Peak (behind the obstacle) and Telluride Zero Peak
The obstacle took a little bit of maneuvering. Yes, you go right over the top, and this is class 3. I put on my helmet. These are the steps I took:
After ascending this little wall I was greeted with the crux of the route. Here’s how I climbed this point, first going to the right, and then left up the center. I placed some cairns here in key areas
The chimney has a lot of hand/foot holds, but beware: most of them are loose.
Once on top of the chimney I could see Campbell Peak. The rocks were loose but this was class 2 all the way to Campbell Peak
From Campbell Peak it’s an easy ridge hike to Telluride Zero, losing 200’ of elevation and gaining 750’ in just under a mile
This was a simple ridge hike, if a bit chossy. I stayed on the ridge direct for 95% of this part, and only dipped down when obvious to the right.
I summited Tellurize Zero Peak at 8:15am
Telluride Zero Peak:
It was a beautiful morning, so I stayed a little longer than usual on the summit, taking in the views.
Here’s the route back to Campbell Peak
And then down to the class 3 section. To get there, aim for the area that looks like a dropoff. I placed a few cairns here as well.
Here’s how to work your way back down the chimney. Here I threw my trekking pole down so I could use both hands to downclimb.
Once down the chimney I hiked down the little wall and followed the ridge to the gully. There are several gullies here: be sure to take the right one. I remembered the gully I took in because of the large rock outcropping on the other side of some aspen trees.
I was about a quarter of the way down the gully when I heard it: a loud clap of thunder to my right. I turned my head and saw a dark skies where just minutes ago there’d been blue, a flash of lightning, and heard another clap.
Where had that come from? It had been nice and sunny all morning. This storm must have built up on the other side of the ridge as I’d been hiking down the gully. I looked at my watch: 9:30am. Seriously? A thunderstorm at 9:30am? Rain had been forecasted as a possibility after 10am, but thunder wasn’t supposed to be a possibility until well after noon. This was just great. Another lesson from mother nature: mountains make their own weather. The storm looked close, and it looked to be building fast. There was nowhere for me to hide above treeline so I made a beeline for the trees.
This took an agonizing amount of time, as the storm kept getting fiercer and the terrain kept getting steeper. I could see the thunderclouds developing before my eyes. I had to be careful with each step not to twist an ankle, but wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. I made it to the end of the gully and sprinted through an open field towards the nearest trees I could find as thunder rolled all around me. Yes, I know how dumb that sounds in an electrical storm but that was my best option at the time: to get under the relative safety of the trees.
I made it to the trees, hiked about 10 yards into them for good measure, and stopped to catch my breath as the skies opened up and I started getting rained on.
I was now ‘safely’ in the trees, but had entered in a different area than I’d exited. I got out my map and compass and decided to head SSE through the deadfall, towards where the trail should be. I was thrilled when I finally stumbled upon the trail.
The trail was easy to follow back to the trailhead. The only downside? It rained the entire time. The thunder sounded kind of cool though. I felt bad for my friends attempting Dallas: this storm wasn’t giving up and I was fairly sure it would have been a miracle for them to have summited before it hit.
I made it back to my truck at 11:15am, making this a 12.06 mile hike with 5417’ of elevation gain in 7 hours, 15 minutes. Here’s a topo map of my route
As I drove back through Telluride I saw a herd of about 75 elk grazing in a soccer field. Colorado is so cool! I drove the 6.5 hours home and made my kids hamburgers for the 4th of July and watched the city fireworks from our front porch. It rained the entire way.
It was COLD when we woke up this morning, but thankfully, the heater did it’s job.
However, unlike yesterday when I woke up and got up with my alarm, today I decided I needed another hour of sleep. So we didn’t make it to the trailhead until much later than we’d wanted (we got the last spot in the parking lot).
The trail was well marked and easy to follow. Every time there was an option (junction) we turned left, following the mountain and heading up.
We even encountered some nuns. At first I thought they were hikers dressed as the grim reaper (hey, it’s been going on with this whole Coronavirus thing). They told us to have a blessed day.
You hit a kind of saddle after 1.6 miles. Here’s a basic overview of the rest of the route
The tricky part is knowing when to veer off trail. After hiking for 2.1 miles along this trail you turn right and bushwhack northeast up the mountain, or use one of the several of available game trails. All are equally steep. We took a different one up and back so we’d have a couple of good gpx routes.
At the top you’ll come to a boulder, and yes, this boulder is the highpoint.
There’s a class 4 chimney you need to climb to get to the top (towards the left… the boulder on the right isn’t the summit).
Some people might consider this class 3, but to anyone under 6 feet I can assure you, it’s class 4 and requires commitment.
There was a summit register at the top with tons of cool stuff inside.
We headed back down a slightly different way to the main trail
And easily followed it back to the section 16 trailhead
Note: the elevation gain was constant and more difficult than anticipated, especially for such a short hike. Here’s my topo of the route:
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…