I didn’t want Peak Fifteen to be my Bicentennial Finisher. I really didn’t. In fact, last month I attempted Peak Fifteen, but had to turn around due to several factors: There was too much water in the couloir and if the section I was in was really class 4… my skills had gone south. It hurt to hike all the way in from Purgatory and not get a summit, but I knew the conditions weren’t safe. So, I turned around, went back home, and did more research.
This time, I brought my friend and climbing mentor, Tim. My thoughts were to climb this peak with him, get the hang of it, and attempt it solo at a later date. Spoiler alert: After successfully summiting this peak, I do not think I’ll be attempting it solo.
It was a long hike in from Purgatory. We ended up hiking a little slower than anticipated, so we stayed the night at the campsite at Ruby Lake; something I’ve always wanted to do. It was already dark when we arrived, and I’d only brought one set of clothing, so it was a cold night for me as my sweat turned to ice at night inside my bivy. This made for interesting (zombie filled ) nightmares.
The next morning, we were up before sunrise to be willow warriors and thrash our way into Ruby Basin. We made it just as the sun rose.
Here’s the route we took up the gully to the saddle. We stayed just above the willows, and hiked southeast across the basin until we were directly below the gully, then ascended the gully.
When I was here in August, there was snow under the scree in this gully. Because it was under the scree, I didn’t see it and it caught me by surprise when I unexpectedly sank up to my waist in slush. Back in August, I made it up this gully by going right, but this time we went left. It looks like the conditions change here frequently, so pick the line that goes best for you. Also, microspikes help here with the scree (if you don’t use microspikes on scree you’re making it more difficult than it needs to be: get some spikes for summer too). Here are some pictures of the gully
The second half of the gully is full of large rocks, which eventually give way to scree. This scree is some of the worst scree I’ve experienced. This is where your microspikes really come in handy. Back in August I followed fresh goat tracks to the saddle. Those tracks in September had been used several times and formed nice switchbacks. However, it appears these tracks are destroyed every winter, and need to be remade every summer/fall.
Once at the top of the gully it was time to lose about 350’ of elevation. We did this by following the scree southwest, staying high but just below the rock outcroppings (we took a different approach on the way back).
We continued down to about 12,500’, and then entered the Peak 15/Peak 16 gully
This is the gully you’re looking for. There are cairns here, and it’s the first, obvious route ‘up’
The first part of the gully is class 3, and just requires some rock hopping.
This gully turns into a couloir, and becomes easy to follow, but difficult to climb. This is the first class 4 section. There were no good hand/foot holds, as everything crumbled in my hands. In August it was running with water. Tim spent some time cleaning away the loose rock, making climbing easier. Even in mid-September, there was still water here. Wearing a pack with climbing gear/rope makes the ascent that much more difficult.
The second class 4 section of the couloir was… more than class 4. I started up, and when I got about halfway through realized I may have been in over my head. I couldn’t climb down, so I had to keep going up. Since I was ‘stuck’ it became a mental exercise, where I told myself “If I can do this while on rope, I can do it off rope as well”, but to be honest it was intense and I didn’t feel comfortable soloing this (but I did). There was a lot of deep breathing involved. I’d recommend roping up here, if you can find a way to do so. Climbing shoes would have been helpful (but they were in my pack…). We both felt this was class 5, not class 4. I belayed my partner on this section from above.
Just above this section there are anchors set up. It’s good to take note of where they’re at as you’re passing them. There will be three sets of anchors in the couloir. Here are some more pictures of the couloir. A lot of the webbing set up looks faded, but there’s plenty there. We cleaned up some of the older webbing and hiked it out (the stuff we didn’t even need to cut because it was frayed and falling apart).
The couloir seemed to last forever. At 13,050’ we exited the couloir, below the 15/16 saddle, and went left up the ledges to 13,300’. This was class 3 scrambling with a lot of kitty litter (kitty litter is the name of the game on this climb). Where applicable, I noted Tim tossed unnecessary obstacles aside, like tumbling rocks and kitty litter, to help clear the route.
When we were about 50’ below the Peak 15/16 saddle it was time to rope up for the slabs. This picture looks at the saddle, but we were headed the opposite way, left/west (this picture is just a good visual of where you’ll be)
We were headed west, across the ledge system.
While we were still on level ground, we roped up. Then Tim led the way across the slab. It was good to get roped up first because there wasn’t a lot of room at the rappel area to do so. Here’s an overall view of our roped ascent and the belay stations. I put on my climbing shoes, but Tim didn’t feel his were necessary.
This is what it looked like getting there. We are aiming for the red circle to get to the lower belay station.
Once at the lower belay station I was set up to belay Tim from below as he set the protection and climbed first. Here’s looking back at the traverse
Oh, there’s some exposure here.
Since Tim’s the more experienced climber (WAY more experienced) I’ll let him describe this part of the route, starting with his overview:
Look for a series of shallow ledges that leads to a three foot wide ledge with a horn big enough to straddle. This is still 4th class terrain, so you can simply belay sitting next to the horn without an anchor.
If you feel you need one, wrap the rope end around the horn three times to make a tensionless hitch or use a cordalette. Bring your second up and have them belay from the three foot wide ledge below you. There will be about three horizontal seams you can place pro in ranging from #3 Camalots to .25. I managed to place five pieces total.
After your last piece you want to head for a shallow V slot next to some bulges. This is the 4th class exit and leads past a rock with a crack in it you could build an anchor in. This is exposed and one could fall from there, and you may be out of gear as I was. Continue then above this to where the steepness of the pitch eases off and there are two scrubby evergreen bushes. You can sling some of the roots for a sketchy, but adequate anchor. Once your second is up, you can both walk to the right towards a large, grassy ledge where the final 3rd class gully is.
I’m not a serious climber: I’ve been climbing for a few years, but I’m no expert. I was glad to be roped in, and wouldn’t have wanted to do this part without someone belaying me (or the other way around). A fall would have been fatal. Tim called it “poorly protected 5.4”. He placed 5 pieces of protection.
From the upper belay station, we turned right and followed the slopes east, looking for an access gully/kind of a small chimney.
The gully is about halfway to the saddle. This is what it looks like from below
From the east side it’s easier to see. This is class 3, with a cairn at the bottom.
Once up the gully, we followed the ledges northeast to the ridge. This was “choose your own adventure”, but we aimed for the northeast corner of the ridge
Once the furthest northeast we could go, we ascended the ridge via a short, easy class 3 ramp, and scrambled west to the summit
Final, class 2 scramble to the summit (easier than it looks)
We summited Peak Fifteen at 12.30pm. Also, yes, it was my birthday, so I was celebrating not only my bicentennial finisher, bust also turning 41. Woot!
We stayed at the summit for quite a while, enjoying the beautiful day and awesome views. The summit register was a tube, so naturally the paper inside was wet. I added a pencil to the register, signed my WW’s, and we headed back down.
Note: we rappelled 6 times before making it to the bottom of the couloir. That’s a lot of rope work! There were adequate webbing/rings set up, which held just fine but are bleaching and might need to be replaced next season (see pictures). We cleaned up some of the ripped/damaged rope and brought it out. We brought a 60 meter, 7.9mm rope. It worked perfectly for the ascent and rappelling down, but being smaller in diameter, tended to get stuck in the cracks. Also, this is where I learned Tim curses when ropes get stuck.
We followed the ridge east back to the ledges, which we followed southwest.
At 13570’ we headed back towards the saddle and the anchors. We rappelled down from the first anchor, and afterwards headed towards the second anchor, circled in red.
The second rappel
Here’s looking up from the bottom of the second rappel
The third rappel brought us to the Peak 15/16 saddle
Here’s looking up and down from the saddle
Once at the saddle, we went southwest on slopes, following the couloir to the right
We made our way back to the couloir, and rapped 3 more times to the bottom. We counted 6 rappels in all.
From the base of the couloir, we made our way back to the scree-saddle, this time taking the direct, grassy/tundra approach, to avoid the scree. We saw mountain goats here.
And then back down the scree filed gully, scree surfing to the basin
From the basin we hiked back through the willows to our campsite at Ruby Lake, making it back around 6pm. Round trip from Ruby Lake to the summit of Peak 15 and back to Ruby Lake made for about a 13 hour day. All that rope work sure took its time! We celebrated with some whiskey and wine; after all, this was my bicentennial finisher, and it was my birthday… no one got hurt, and, this was much harder than anticipated by both of us for different reasons and we were successful. All reasons to celebrate!
We made it an early night and were up at 6am to hike back to Purgatory. The night was much warmer, if only because I didn’t go to sleep in wet, sweat filled clothing. The hike out went fast, as we talked much of the time. We made it to the Animas River/Purgatory trail bridge, and were surprised to see people in sandals carrying small children (some of them crying). Apparently, the train stops at Cascade Wye now for passengers to get off and walk around (not sure if it’s ever done that before?).
We made it back to Purgatory Trailhead around 2:30pm. My tracker says we went 53.34 miles, with 13765’ of elevation gain.
I would like to thank Tim for being my climbing partner and accompanying me on this trek, which I’m sure ended up being more of an adventure than he bargained for! I believe this climb takes two experienced climbers to complete safely; It was nice to have someone I could trust join me. In addition, he’s been my climbing mentor, voluntarily taking me climbing and ‘teaching me the ropes’ for years. He’s the one who taught me how to set up anchors, how to climb and rappel safely, and all about proper gear. I couldn’t have done all the other class 5 bicentennial peaks without his instructions. I still keep his safety checklist with me in my climbing gear.
I also want to thank everyone who has posted trip reports in general, but specifically trip reports for Peak Fifteen, as for me it was the hardest of the bicentennials. We all experience hikes/climbs differently, and it was nice hearing the difficulty/route finding levels from other climbers. If you plan to climb this peak, please take it seriously, and read all trip reports you can find on this peak before attempting a climb, as they all offer great insights.
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!
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…
There are a lot of really good reports on this mountain, but I’m visual and like a lot of pictures so I’m adding what I have to what’s already out there…
In keeping with my “sleep is for amateurs” theme this month I made it home yesterday just in time to pack up the truck and make it to the campground before dark. I helped my daughter set up her tent and then walked around the campground talking with the other families (I was hosting a Girl Scout Family campout, which was pretty chill, seeing as how everyone was basically “family camping” at the same spot). We’ve done this for the past 10 years now so I know every family has their own routine. Most go off roading and a few go into town. Everyone canoes/kayaks. My daughter wanted to get her homework done the first day so she could enjoy the weekend, so I decided to let her do that and I’d go hiking. 4 hours away. (Hey, in my mind the trailhead was 6 hours from my house, and by combining it with this trip I knocked 2 hours of the drive there and 2 hours back).
I was able to fall asleep around 8:30pm and got up at 10pm to drive the 4 hours to the Mill Creek / Deep Creek Trail (please do not confuse this with the Mill Creek Campground: you won’t end up in the right spot).
While sleep may be for amateurs, I’d had less than 4 hours sleep in the past 48 due to my South Colony Lake hike yesterday, and I found on the drive to the trailhead I was more tired than I’ve ever been driving. This scared me, so I pulled over to the side of the road and spent 5 minutes trying to fall asleep. This didn’t work, but it did give me about another half hour of driving in before I felt too tired to go on and decided to set my alarm for 20 minutes. 20 minutes was the magic number, and I was able to effortlessly drive the rest of the way to the trailhead, hike all day, and make it back to the campground without feeling the need to sleep again.
I was surprised to find the trailhead is at the end of a shelf road, and even more surprised to find so many vehicles parked there.
I was on the trail at 2:45am, a little disappointed in how heavy my pack was containing all my gear (60 meter rope, harness, belay device, webbing , etc.). I put on my helmet at the trailhead before starting the hike. The trailhead was very easy to find. I followed it northeast along the Deep Creek Trail.
After about half a mile I turned left (west) at this junction and continued on the Deep Creek Trail
The trail switchbacked 5 or 6 times up the mountainside and then curved north around it, following a well defined trail
After a total of about 1.7 miles there’s another trail junction. I turned right (north) here
And followed the Sneffles Highline/Deep Creek Trail north through some aspen trees
And switchbacked another 8 or 9 times up the mountain, transitioning through pine trees and then tundra mixed with pine
I was enjoying the lights of Telluride as I hiked in the dark, but I wasn’t enjoying the soreness in my shoulders. I took an ibuprofen and trudged on. This is where the trail looses about 300’ of elevation for no good reason. Luckily it’s not too drastic of an incline because it’s dispersed over half a mile, but it still hurts on the way out.
This decrease in elevation will take you to the base of Dallas Peak. Here you leave the trail and find your own way up the grassy slopes towards the cliff bands. Here is the route I took:
I started this in the dark, and just followed the tundra north, which eventually led me to a gully and a rocky cliff area. There was a lot of loose rock and scree here that slowed me down quite a bit (that and I was tired from all the hiking I’d already done this week). This is also a good time to put on your microspikes. I’ve heard there’s class 3 scrambling here but was able to find a class 2+ scree route by following social trails.
Just before making it to the cliffs I turned right (northeast) and followed some cairns to the ridge
You continue following to the left (northwest)
Until you see a gully to your left. Ascend via the class 4/5 section to the right of the gully. There are plenty of hand/foot holds here, and at the top there are anchors to rappel down (I didn’t, but if the rocks were wet I could see how this would be useful).
Once I gained this section I made my way to the base of the summit block and changed my gear, putting on my climbing shoes (totally worth carrying them) and harness. At this point I was exhausted: My gear was heavy and that mile of scree/talus had taken a lot out of me. Here’s the first part of the route:
This was as fun class 5 chimney climb that took some fancy footwork (only because I’m short). At times I was pressing my back to the rock for leverage and using my palms for support.
Here’s looking back down on this section
Here is where the route gets tricky. Even though you want to summit by going straight ahead (west) this is not the way to summit. Continue right around to the north side of Dallas.
Cairns weren’t helpful here. I kept finding areas that looked ‘summitable’ but for me weren’t. It was getting frustrating but I refused to give up: I’d make it half or even three quarters of the way up a line only to find the hand/foot holds ran out, and I knew there had to be a safer way. In total there were two obvious areas I tried that didn’t work before before coming to the correct one at the bottom of a small dirt filled gully on the north side of Dallas
Here’s what it looked like from the bottom
I was able to climb up this area without ropes, although it was slow going and I was careful with every hand/foot hold. I was very glad to have my climbing shoes. I summited at 9:15am.
I was quite thrilled with myself for making it up without ropes, and decided to spend a long time on the summit, enjoying my success.
The way off Dallas Peak is to rappel to the southeast
There was quite a bit of webbing already set up.
The only problem? This guy. He refused to move, and quite honestly I didn’t want to scare him and have him bite/sting/fly all around me. So I talked to him for a bit and told him if he didn’t move, I wouldn’t kill him. This arrangement seemed to work, as he never left his spot. He was about 2 inches long.
I set up my gear and threw my rope over the side. It got tangled, so I had to haul it back up, untangle it, and throw it again. Success! On the way down it’s instantly committing. You aim for the hole (the hole is the halfway point down).
I double checked my set-up, leaned back and felt secure, so I unhooked my slings and started down, aiming for the hole in the rock
When I made it down to the hole I found it was a ledge: I could have set up a second rappel from here if need be (but my 60 meter rope was more than long enough). Here’s what it looks like looking up and down from the ledge.
I leaned back one more time and started the rappel down through the hole, noticing there was a rope that had been left there. When I made it to the ground I saw a sign on the rope asking others to leave it as they found it, as its owner is coming back this winter to retrieve it.
I unhooked my belay device, pulled my rope through and recoiled it, mentally thinking through the rest of the descent. I felt confident I could descend the class 4 section without rope, so I put it away in my bag.
Here’s the way I rappelled down
I decided to keep on my climbing shoes until I made it back down past the class 4 section. I wasn’t disappointed, as the rock was easier to navigate than it had been on the way up wearing climbing shoes. I felt very secure down-climbing this area. Also, it looks very different on the way down
Here’s a look at the way down from the ledge. I stuck to the left (east) of the snow and just aimed for the obvious trail below that cut across the side of the mountain, so glad I was doing this now in the daylight
I made it back to the trail and all I could think about was making it back to the campground as soon as possible: I’d promised my daughter I’d make dinner. I found some raspberries along the way that were delicious, so that settles it: Raspberries in the San Juans just taste better.
I made it back to my truck at 1:30pm, making this a 12 mile hike with 5445’ of elevation gain in 11 hours
I made it back to the campground around 5:30pm and we stayed up and chatted around the lake/campfire until late into the night. This is how I spent the rest of my Labor Day weekend, relaxing in the beauty of one of my favorite Centennials…
This climb was several years in the making. Knowing if I wanted to complete the Centennials (etc.) I’d need to have rock climbing skills I started going to a rock climbing gym once a week a few years ago. While I enjoyed the climbing and the skills I learned helped immensely with scrambling on class 3+ peaks, I didn’t get a lot of experience with actually setting up/taking down ropes and anchors.
I bought books on mountaineering and watched YouTube videos, but there isn’t a lot of information out there on self-belaying/rappelling (I wonder why?). So I turned to friends I knew who rock climbed and picked their brains. A couple even offered to take me out and show me the ropes. I took them up on their offers, and by mid-summer this year I felt confident enough to go out and try this peak on my own. Please note, I’d already gone out dozens of times and set up anchors and rappelled locally, this was just the first time I was going to do so solo and, well, without anyone to help if needed.
I arrived at the Yankee Boy Basin restroom area at 3:30am and was on the trail by 3:45am.
I put my helmet on before I left the truck, and my pack was curiously not as heavy as I’d anticipated. I considered this my first win of the day. I walked about 1/10 of a mile down the road, realized I’d left my DSLR in the front seat and quickly turned around to retrieve it. I’d been a little worried about my bruised tailbone from last week, and while I have a good 5 inch bruise on my backside my pack wasn’t bothering it as I hiked. Second win of the day!
Camera retrieved I hiked northwest along the dirt road, crossing a large mud puddle and turning right.
Note: I chose this route because on a topo map it looked easier. After completing the hike I have my doubts, and believe this is the correct entry point:
The elevation gain begins immediately and doesn’t quit. I headed northwest up a steep grassy slope, enjoying the meteor shower and a herd of either goats of sheep watching my ascent (in the dark I couldn’t tell which they were, but could see them watching me).
The grassy slope turned to large rocks and talus as I entered a basin.
In the moonlight I could see my goal: this steep scree section at the base of the black gully. I’ve lightened these pictures up for detail, but this is where I was headed.
The ascent was a grueling climb over steep scree, made marginally easier when I put on my microspikes. The worst part was getting all those small rocks inside my shoes. I couldn’t help but think I should be wearing gaiters to keep the rocks out. Don’t they make something for this for runners so they don’t get rocks in their shoes? Anyway, the terrain was not ideal in the least: some of the worst scree/talus/etc. I’ve ever encountered. At times I was literally grasping the dirt for traction with my hands.
I exited climbers left out of the black gully. The black gully is class 2+ climbing, and much easier than the scree/talus I encountered before the gully. I was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to climb.
Here’s a look back down the black gully. You can see “Coffeepot” in the upper left corner
Here’s a look at the route from the top of the black gully
I followed the rock rib around until I came to another gully, climbed up, and turned left
From here there’s some rock scrambling. I kept heading northwest towards the summit tower
Ok, easy part over. Now it was time to get out my gear and mentally prepare for this climb. Looking at the route it didn’t look that difficult. I felt confident I could climb both up and down without needing ropes (ha!). I changed into my rock climbing shoes, put on my harness just so I wouldn’t need to at the top, and left my trekking pole and hiking boots at the base of the climb: no need to carry unnecessary equipment.
Here’s the route up
The first half of this climb was indeed straightforward, but as soon as I crossed over to the ‘actual’ climb things got a little more hairy and I quickly came to the realization I was not going to be able to downclimb if I continued, and if I were to go any further, I would need to fully commit. It was either downclimb now or I was doing this all the way. My legs started to shake so I took a steadying breath and reminded myself I’d trained for this and it was within my abilities. I looked up and steadily climbed to the top, being careful with each hand/foothold I chose. I couldn’t help thinking to myself (over and over again) how much easier this would have been if I’d been a few inches taller. I’m happy with being 5’4”, but at times like this being 5’6”+ definitely would have its advantages.
I made it to the top and looked back down on what I’d done. Woot! I’d made it! I dropped my gear and tried to get a few pictures. This wasn’t working, mainly because the summit just wasn’t big enough. So, selfies it is again. I did get a video and a few pictures to prove I’d summited (you’d be surprised how much some other people care…). I summited Teakettle Mountain at 7:15am
Oh, and I know that’s not a teacup but an espresso cup. I don’t own any teacups and I was planning on climbing “Coffeepot” today as well, so I compromised (also, this is Teakettle, not Teacup… and btw I do love all those teacup photos, not throwing shade here, just rambling). Mississippi is a nod to family. Also, there may or may not be whiskey in that cup. Ok, there was, but only a sip. I still had to make it back down but still felt a bit like reveling: I’d climbed up without a rope!
Now for the true test: setting up an anchor and rappelling back down. There were several anchors already set up, and while I’d love to trust someone else’s’ anchor (let’s face it, the odds are in their favor here) I didn’t know how long they had been there, so I decided to set my own anchor up and attach it to the ones already in place.
I was worried I’d forget something. Not that I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was at altitude, hadn’t had any food/water besides a sip of whiskey (personal choice on 99% of my hikes to prevent nausea) and had done a lot of physical activity and I didn’t want to mess up here, so I checked and re-checked everything twice and then a third time and made sure to secure my sling(s) before even beginning. Luckily there was a stable rock behind the anchor for me to use during set-up as well.
Anchor all set up I uncoiled my rope, attached it to the anchor, and threw it in the position I wanted for a rappel.
OK, moment of truth. I put back on all my gear, attached the belay device, leaned back and everything held, so I unhooked my slings, took a deep breath, and leaned back. It all went smoothly and faster than I’d anticipated. So much so that I stopped about 10 feet from the ground and played with the side of the wall, pushing my feet off the rocks and bouncing back and forth for a bit before finishing the rappel. Yes, I was pretty proud of myself when my feet hit the ground safely, and even more so after I’d retrieved and recoiled my rope.
After changing back into my hiking shoes and putting all my gear away I figured it was a good time to celebrate: I actually took a full shot of whiskey (now that the hard part was over) and decided to play a bit with the rock formation. It would have been really cool to get one of those pictures with me in the hole, but there was no way I could set up my camera and make it back into position in time, so I settled for one of my shadowselfies.
I spent a lot more time here than I usually would at a ‘summit’ but I was celebrating: This climb had been several years in the making, I’d put a lot of energy and effort into all this climb entailed, and (with the training help of friends) I’d successfully summited solo. I was going to celebrate!!!
After a few minutes of fun I turned and headed back towards the Black Gully. From the Black Gully here’s the look at the route over to “Coffeepot” (and the route I would have taken over to the Black Gully had I not taken the scree route up)
Here’s a look in the daylight back down the scree route up
From the bench below “Coffeepot” here’s a look back at the Black Gully
From here I turned left (east) and decided to check out “Coffeepot”. It doesn’t much look like a coffeepot from this angle, does it? It’s basically a quick class 3 climb over some rocks, and a short class 5.0-5.2 climb (per Roach) up a chimney.
I made it about ¼ of the way up the chimney and realized I didn’t fit with my backpack on, so I retreated, set down my pack at the top of the class 3 part, and tried again sans gear. It was much easier this time and reminded me of when I was younger and would climb through a tree hollowed out by lightning. It was a tight fit but I felt very secure as I twisted around and topped out at the top of “Coffeepot”. I summited “Coffeepot” at 8:45am
Back down was a bit tricky because I had to go over an overhang to get back into the chimney, but in today’s conditions I felt in no way was a rope necessary (I did hold onto the anchor a bit as I was steadying myself in the beginning, but it wasn’t necessary).
It you feel comfortable at class 4 climbing and are considering trying “Coffeepot” I’d say go for it. Here’s a look at the climbing side of “Coffeepot”
From here I could see Potosi Peak, my next objective.
I was feeling pretty good at this point, having completed two Class 5 climbs. However, this peak actually proved to be difficult because there were some unexpected obstacles in the way. Here’s the initial route down and back up the ridge, over to the corner of the cliffs
From the Coffeepot/Potosi saddle up the ridge was full of very loose talus. I’d encourage you to keep your helmet on for the entire hike, even though some of this stuff is labeled at 2+
The traverse around to the corner of Potosi took much longer than anticipated, but was straightforward.
At the corner I turned left and headed northeast up and over some more loose talus and rocks
And around the south side of Potosi until I came to a gully. This area was well cairned until the gully.
As I rounded the corner and came to the gully I was surprised to find a large mass of snow blocking the route up. This snow was at least 4 feet thick, 30 feet across, and 50 feet vertical, turning the class 2+ gully into a class 3 climb over large, unstable and loose rocks to get around the soft snow.
Here’s looking back down on the snow filled gully area
After the snow there was more class 3 climbing to get to the top of the gully. To be fair, it looked like there had been quite a bit of recent rockfall, including several large boulders.
About 100 feet before the top of the gully I headed up and over this rocky area. The rock is stable but covered in a lot of small rocks, making it slippery to climb. There were cairns here as well.
Almost done, I headed up through more loose talus, through a notch, and turned left for the short push to the summit
There was a bit of snow here, surrounded by squishy mud: the kind that will suck your shoes off if your foot settles on it for any length of time, so I quickly traversed this area to the summit
I summited Potosi Peak at 11:05am
The summit was relatively flat
I pulled out my phone and checked my tracker. It said I’d gone 3.9 miles so far today and that seemed like a lie. I thought to myself I’d need to delete and re-download the app because last week it had stopped on me unexpectedly during my last hike and now it wasn’t tracking accurately… it must need a reboot.
I quickly headed back down the gully, around the side of Potosi, and back towards the Potosi/Coffeepot saddle. This is where I made my first mistake: I had the option of climbing back up to Coffeepot and taking the traditional way down, or going straight down from the Potosi/Coffeepot Gully. I chose the gully (I’d advise you to instead head back up to “Coffeepot” and then down).
In any event, I made it to the saddle and turned to head down the gully, aiming for the most stable sections of scree, navigating between rock formations
Here’s a look back up at the decent route I took from the saddle
When I got to the base of the rock formations I looked ahead and could tell I did not want to continue straight: The gully turned into a waterfall and I could see snow at the base. It did not look safe. (Solid line). That was ok though because I had beta from a friend telling me I could just traverse over the hillside and I’d eventually run into the trail that led up “Coffeepot” (dotted line). I figured nothing could be worse than the talus on the ascent, right?
Here’s what I was trying to avoid
Let me tell you, this beta was FALSE! Even though it looks like you can traverse over, you cannot. Well, I did, but went through a lot of very sketchy terrain. Visually it looks like you can cross on tundra the entire way but there are rock gullies you can’t see from here, and in fact can’t see until you’re right up on them. Yes, I checked beforehand it looked like it went on a topo, but on the ground it wasn’t working. There were gullies everywhere that were extremely difficult to cross. Every time I made it over one I’d encounter another. I didn’t even feel comfortable stopping to take pictures. It was frustrating because I could clearly see where I needed to be, I just couldn’t get there. Please don’t take this way. It looks like it goes, and maybe it does in winter, but it wasn’t safe. My advice is to skip this decent route all together and hike back up to “Coffeepot” and then down. It took me a lot longer than it should have to descend, and there were many times I almost turned around and retraced my steps back up to the saddle (which I was very close to doing before figuring out the route). Oh, and there was graupel involved. I was ecstatic when I finally did link up to the ascent route and made my way down to the parking lot.
Here’s a look from the road at the route I don’t advise you to take
I made it back at 3pm, making this a 6 mile hike/climb with 4168’ in elevation gain in just over 11 hours. And yes, my tracker was correct (it just felt like so much longer due to all the elevation gain).
All in all, I considered today a great success: I’d summited Teakettle solo, tagged “Coffeepot” and Potosi, and learned a lot about trusting someone else’s’ beta. I drove the 6 hours home, took a bath, and then took my daughters out to a late dinner to celebrate my oldest being home from drum corps and my youngest completing her first week as an upperclassman.