Monitor Peak – 13,707 and Animas Mountain – 13,789

RT Length: 45.07 miles

Elevation Gain: 12,724’

I started this hike from Purgatory Creek Trailhead.  I’ve put together a route description of the trek from Purgatory to Ruby Basin, which can be found here.

For my first day in, I decided to camp at the Ruby Basin junction. I started at 3pm and made it to my camping spot at 6:45pm.  I made it to the train tracks just as a train was approaching, to which a passenger pointed at me and said “Hey look:  Wildlife!” and everyone got out their cameras and waved at me.  I smiled and waved back.  I gathered some acorns to snack on as I hiked (just before the railroad tracks there are tons of scrub oak, and the acorns are now in season). 

I was so glad it didn’t rain!  I think this is the first time I’ve done this approach where it hasn’t rained. As I got closer to my camping spot, I came across two girls camping there already. I chatted with them for a minute: they were headed to Ruby Basin too, to hike Turret.  I wished them well and picked a spot closer to the Ruby Basin junction to set up for the night.  I dried out my clothes as best I could, ate some popcorn, and went to bed.

It was a warm but windy night.   I was up early, and spent a good half hour just stargazing.  Eventually I got up and was on the trail at 5:45am, headed to Ruby Lake.  I made it to the lake just before 9am.  Today I was taking my time, so I sat by the lake for a bit, filtered water, and watched the trout swim by the shore, every once in a while snagging a fly for breakfast.  

My only goal today was to make it to Ruby Basin.  I knew it wouldn’t take long, but I wanted to hike in the cool of the morning, instead of the heat of the day.  Here’s looking back at Ruby Lake from just before making it to the basin

I made it to Ruby Basin, in all its willow filled splendor, at 10:45am.  For those doing the math, it took me less than 5 hours to hike from the Ruby Basin cutoff to Ruby Basin, and I took my time. 

There was a tent set up in the far side of the basin (east), but I didn’t see anyone camping there. Basically, I had the basin to myself.  I strapped on my creek crossing shoes and took a walk in the creek(s).  They were running at a trickle.

I relaxed for the next few hours, drying out, enjoying the sunshine, and going over my notes for my day tomorrow. This was my second attempt at these peaks. It hurt to turn around last time, but I had bad beta (and not enough beta, as I had other goals in mind and these peaks had been secondary).  I’d been up in my head that entire weekend, and in the end turned around much sooner than I should have. I went home, got better beta, and was now back to attempt these peaks again. Around 2pm I saw the girls I’d met the night before enter the basin, and to my surprise, they headed directly up Turret.  Rock on ladies!

Also, there were bees and crickets. Crickets everywhere!  They jumped around my ankles as I walked through the basin, munched on my journal and hopped onto my gear. I ate dinner and went to bed as the sun was going down (it goes down over Turret early this time of year).

Once again, I got up before my alarm, and spent some time stargazing.  I saw several shooting stars, and a few airplanes coasting across the night sky. There was no moon, but I could see the stars clearly. I made out a few constellations, and noted the frost on the outside of my bivy. I wanted to start at first light, but ended up starting a little earlier, around 6am.  These are the peaks I was attempting today

Here’s an overview of the route from Ruby Basin to the upper basin below Animas, Peak 13, and Monitor.  After about 20 feet of willows, I was able to stay on tundra the entire time. This is choose your own adventure, but it’s easy to find a class 2 route into the upper basin. I just kept aiming towards Peak 13.

Here’s a look at the upper basin.

I was headed towards Monitor Peak first. There are several ways to do this.  This time I took what I consider to be the ‘easy’ approach.  Directly below Peak 13 there are two ramps you can ascend. I chose the further one, as it was less steep. I followed the basin northeast, towards an obvious ramp. It’s just below a section of a white and black streaked slab.

Here are some closer pictures. There are two ramps here, an upper ramp and a lower ramp. Both go, but the upper ramp is less steep, and all class 2 in my opinion.

Also, while you’re here, look to your right.  Find this gully (circled in red). It’s the gully you will be aiming for when ascending the ridge (ascending to the ridge before this point is fruitless). Here’s an overall view of the climb to Monitor from the Peak 13/Monitor saddle. You’ll know you’re in the right gully because there’s a white vein of rock going through it (more on this later, but from this spot you can clearly see the white vein, so it’s a good time to get a visual of where you’re aiming).

But first, let’s get to the saddle, by going up that ramp.  As you can see, it’s wide, and easy to navigate.

The top of the ramp deposited me at the Peak 13/Monitor saddle.   Well, actually, I didn’t need to go all the way to the saddle.  I skirted the saddle and continued south across scree, following the ridge.

Now for the gullies. There are several of them, and in order to cross the first one I had to descend about 100 feet down, then re-ascend. Before doing that however, I got a good look at my route.  This looks harder than it is.  Here’s the route I took after re-ascending the gully.

But first, I had to descend on kitty-litter scree, and then re-ascend. 

When re-ascending there were a couple of ways I could have gone (all felt class 3). This is the way I chose. 

Get a good look at your intended route from above, as this is what it looks like from below.  Hint: aim for this rock, go behind it, turn right, and follow the areas covered I dirt.

Ok, now to find that gully. Luckily, from here there were cairns, and even a bit of a game trail.  I followed them south, staying well below the ridge

I rounded the corner, and could clearly see the correct gully.  I followed this gully to the ridge

Once on the ridge, I turned right, and followed it to the summit, dipping to the right at the end, but always following a class 2 game trail. 

I summited Monitor Peak at 8am.

Monitor Peak:

There was a summit register in need of new paper (but with 2 pencils), and great views! 

Next on the agenda was Peak 13. Spoiler alert:  I didn’t summit Peak 13. When I got to the area where I was supposed to “just go straight up” I found that while it was class 4, there were no hand/foot holds, and everything I tried to grasp turned to kitty litter in my hands.  Since I hike solo, I have a rule not to upclimb anything I don’t think I can downclimb (if I don’t have rope), and while I could probably have upclimbed this, I wouldn’t have been able to downclimb it, and a fall would be deadly (lots of exposure). In any event, I’ll describe the process of getting there.  Now is also a good time to get a visual of how I climbed Animas Mountain as well. These were my routes:

From the summit of Monitor Peak, I headed back to the Monitor/13 saddle, retracing my steps

Once at the saddle I followed it northeast, to an obvious stopping point. Here I turned to head up, and, like I said before, I deemed it unsafe, so I turned around, tried several other ‘ledges’, and in the end decided to just head back to the upper basin and summit Animas from the gully.  I was very happy with this choice.  Here are pictures of the two possible routes up to Peak 13 I decided not to take

Instead, I descended back into the upper basin by way of the upper ramp.

I followed the contour of the mountain all the way down to 12860’, and the only obvious gully that ‘went’

I then followed this gully north.  There are lots of divergences here, but if you keep heading north, they all seem to ‘go’. I just kept the spires to my left and followed the obvious contour of the gully. I as able to keep this all class 3.  If you’re in class 4 territory, back up and look for an easier route.

When I made it to 13580’ I headed east, towards the sandy saddle between Monitor and 13500’

I didn’t go all the way to the saddle however, because I saw cairns leading me up the ridge (class 2).

Here’s the overall route to the summit, all well cairned.  The circled area is a brief class 4 chimney section (less than 10 feet or so) that is the only obvious way out of the gully.  When you make it above the chimney you’re about 20 vertical feet from the summit on easy to navigate ledges.

To get up the chimney I jammed my arms into either side and used my forearms to lift myself up. On the way down, I faced the rock and put both hands/arms in the left crack to lower myself down.  You may be asking yourself why I was fine climbing this chimney and not the class 4 section on Peak 13?   It’s because the rock here was firm, and I didn’t have to worry about it crumbling in my hands as I was climbing.  When I made it to the top of the chimney I turned right and followed the cairns to the summit.

I summited Animas Mountain at 10:30am

Animas Mountain:

There was a trail register in dire need of paper.  With no place to sign I put it back and turned and descended the same way I ascended, back to the saddle, and then down the gully. Note, I did not descend the scree filled gully, but instead the rocky one I ascended, this time keeping the rock spires to my right.

Once in the upper basin I headed southwest on the slope, back to my campsite. It helped to stay to the right of the waterfall area, on the tundra. 

I made it back to my campsite in the Ruby Basin at 11:40am.  I ate lunch, packed up my gear, thanked the marmots for not messing with it this time, and headed back through the willows towards Ruby Lake.  It was a really hot day. I stopped at the lake to dip my bandana in the water and cool off my face.  The water felt so good!  As I was skirting the lake and looking at the clear water I couldn’t help but want to jump in.  I did some mental calculations, and before I could stop myself I set all my stuff aside and went into the lake.  I swam around for a few minutes, hopped back out, dried off in the sun (it only took about 30 seconds in the dry Colorado heat) dressed and was back on the trail within 10 minutes.

I made it to the Chicago Basin cutoff and decided to once again spend the night. There was a woman in a hammock waiting for her husband, who was running the Chicago Basin 14ers (woot!).  I couldn’t help thinking to myself how I wish I could find a partner who would support me like that (or join me?).   I set up my gear, talked with a man who’d lost his water filter and had a busted eyebrow (he got it crossing the creek?).  I told him where to find the train, and campsites, and made it an early night (again). I woke up before my alarm, and was on the trail at 4am, out and back at the Purgatory trailhead at 8am.  Side note: hiking in the Purgatory Flats area on the way out was by far the coldest part of my weekend.  By this time I’d already taken off my coat and gloves, but had to put them back on because the temperatures were so cold. I’m thinking this isn’t the best place to camp for the night.

CalTopo tells me my stats were 45.07 miles with 12724’ of elevation gain.

Peak 6 – 13,712 and Peak 5 – 13,291 from Purgatory Creek Trailhead

RT Length:  54.06 miles (per CalTopo stats)

Elevation Gain: 12383’ (per CalTopo stats)

So as not to reinvent the wheel here, if you’re considering this hike from Purgatory, please see my detailed Purgatory Approach Trip report from earlier this month. 

Purgatory to Chicago Basin/Needleton/Ruby Creek cutoff

I started this day at the Purgatory Creek Trailhead around 3pm, but will start this report from the Needleton Train Stop. Oh, and it rained the entire first day.  The. Entire. Day.  I had on rain gear, but was soaked, and my camera lens fogged up.  I was so glad to have on new hiking shoes that were still waterproof. From the Needleton Train stop, I followed the Animas River on somewhat of a trail. This trail starts out going through private property (it’s private all the way to Pigeon Creek), so please stay on trail. 

I crossed Pigeon Creek, and continued paralleling the Animas River, doing my best to follow the cairns.

After hiking a little over a mile from Needleton I ascended Water Tank Hill, and called it a day.  (For those of you wondering, Water Tank Hill is at 8250’ of elevation, and the trek up isn’t that bad, just under 200’ of elevation gain).  It wasn’t raining anymore, so I set up my bivy. Note:  I don’t advise this. Since I was solo and only had a bivy it was doable, but I wouldn’t set up a tent here, or camp with a bunch of people, as there isn’t much room. Also, it smells like goats. There are campsites just a bit further up the trail. 

I did my best to air out my wet gear, jotted some notes down in my journal, ate some popcorn (diner!) and got to bed as the sun went down. With all the clouds in the sky it was a beautiful sunset, but my camera was still fogged up, so no pictures. 

2 hours later I heard a big clap of thunder, and just like in the movies, it started pouring rain.  Great. All that gear that was drying out was no longer drying out. I stuffed my jacket and pants inside my bivy, and covered myself up as the rain turned to snow (and back to rain again). As water droplets slowly dripped on my face, I thought to myself: it’s going to be a long night.

I set my alarm for just before sunrise, but I didn’t need it. I woke up, watched the bats flitter back and forth, catching their breakfast, and within 7 minutes had gathered my gear and was on my way again, still following the Animas River north.

I crossed Ruby Creek

Passed some primitive campsites, and then crossed Noname Creek

After hiking for 2.25 miles from Water Tank Hill I made it to the junction with the Noname Trail.  This is actually where the trail became clearer and easier to follow.  The junction is hidden by some trees. Look for the two cairns, outlining a trail, to the right.  At the top of this entrance area are several blueberry bushes (but be sure to know your berries:  they all grow in the same place, but they’re not all edible).

I followed the cairns east, paralleling Noname Creek as I made my way into the basin.

The trail here wasn’t too bad when compared to the past 3 miles. There is a slightly defined trail into the basin.  The only difficult part here are all the fallen trees.  Many don’t yet have a workaround, and they’re annoying. You can still see a pretty good trail though.

About halfway to the basin on this trail I came across the avalanche debris from a few years ago. I’m sad to say, there still isn’t much of a trail through this stretch.  However, if you find a game trail, follow it!  The trail parallels Noname Creek, and to follow this ‘trail’ properly you’ll need to stay further north than would seem intuitive of the creek (don’t cross the creek, always stay on its north side). This is what the avy debris looks like:  it’s overgrown, so look for game trails.  Note:  watch your step, as the grass/flowers here are taller than the debris and you could easily find your ankle stuck between the logs, but there is a defined trail of tromped down grasses if you can find where it begins.

I came across a mudslide runout that hadn’t been here last time, finally found a solid game trail, and followed it to Jagged cabin

At Jagged cabin I was halfway through the basin, and decided to take a break.  I ate lunch and aired out my gear from the rain/snow the night before.  Within 20 minutes, it was all dry and I was ready to go again. 

My 20 minute break over, I continued following the basin east.  Willows are involved here, but the trail is much easier to follow.

I crossed a second, new mudslide runout area, placed some cairns, and continued along the trail

There’s a nice campsite right along the trail

I entered more brush, and found a junction. I went left at the junction and followed the trail northeast up the mountainside.

There’s more than one trail here, but they all lead to the upper basin.  If you’re on a game trail headed north, you’re in the right area.

Just before reaching the upper basin there are willows. These are easy to navigate as far as willows go.

Once in the upper basin I messed up a bit, as you can probably see by my GPX track at the bottom of this post.  I didn’t go with my gut instinct, and instead went with a GPX file I had.  I didn’t realize until later it was a hand drawn GPX file. (Side note, it should be REQUIRED for you to post you hand drew the file if you’re going to make it available for download:  I was smart enough to turn around, but not everyone would have made the same choice). In any event, here’s the path you should take to Lake 12,522, both routes work and stay at class 2:

If you have a GPX file that says to go further around the rock outcroppings, know it’s drawn in (although, to be fair, there is a way to go from the Jagged Mountain route, but that’s now what happened here). I had more than one GPX file that said to follow the outcropping and then ascend to the north, but when I attempted it, I was wearing a full pack and it was more than class 4:  this should be a class 2 hike, which leads me to believe someone hand copied someone else’s hand copy, which isn’t cool (that’s the only reason I’m addressing it here; because I had more than one similar file.  Go with your gut instinct and follow the obvious rock gully… you’ll even come across some cairns).

OK, enough on that rant.  Here are some close-up pictures of the route to the lake at 12522’

You can’t see it in this picture, but the lake is to the lower right. To get there, I skirted the rocks high, just below the strip of tundra, and made my way to a gully runout below Peak 5, following that to the lake.

This lake has several spots to camp, but most of the shoreline is solid rock slabs that drop off into the water.  It would be difficult to walk the perimeter of this lake. I set up camp on the north side.  The next few hours were spent jotting down notes (I was mad I’d wasted over an hour of time route-finding, and had a lot of venting to do), trying my best to eat something, enjoying the view of Jagged, and listening to the pikas keep tabs on what I was doing, executing a call and response tactic from all across the lake. I once again made it an early night.


I was up at first light the next morning.  To summit Peak 6, I headed northeast from my campsite, following the scree.  Here’s an overall view of my route

And some step by step pictures. There was scree here, and the rocks were steep, but I felt the entire route was class 2. I stayed close to the rock outcropping in the upper gully, and I saw a swift moving pine marten near the upper ridge. 

Once on the ridge I turned right and easily walked to the summit of Peak 6

I summited Peak 6 at 7:15am (and had cell service!)

Peak 6:

I intended to summit Peak 5 today as well, but was having trouble… seeing it? For reference, here’s Peak 5 as seen from Peak 6, along with my route.  Peak 5 is circled in red

The ridge from Peak 6 to Peak 5 doesn’t ‘go’, so I descended down Peak 6, staying as high as I could on the scree, making it to just below the Peak 5/6 saddle. From there, I looked for black band in the rock, skirted under that, then aimed for a grassy patch, ascended the grassy patch, and aimed for the saddle. There is no need to stick to the ridge here


Once on the small saddle I could see Peak 5, and was a little apprehensive:  that looked more than class 3.  I dropped my gear, put on my helmet, and made my way over, only to find it’s an easy class 2 hike from the west side.  I re-gathered my gear, and made my way over to the summit.

I summited Peak 5 at 8:45am. Unlike with Peak 6, I did not have cell reception here.

Peak 5: 

I made my way back to the ridge, where I had a good view of my route down from Peak 6 to the ridge on Peak 5

I looked for the scree gully, and followed it back down to my campsite.

It would be hard to cliff out here, but you should get a good idea of your intended route from below before you start out for your peaks. Here’s what my route looked like from the lake, down from Peak 5 (you could also take this route in reverse, ascending this way)

I retrieved my gear. It was now 10am (I’d started around 6:30am, so it was less than a 4 hour loop) and made my way out of the lake area and back to the upper basin.

Then followed goat trails through the willows to the lower basin

It took me 2 hours to make it to Jagged Cabin from my camping spot by the lake. It was now noon, so I had a snack and a quick break before heading on through the avalanche area.  It was much easier to find game trails on my way back than it had been on my way in.

The trail was easy to follow to the Animas River, and I had an easier time up and over Water Tank Hill than I thought I would have (it’s really not so bad).  I arrived at the hill the same time as a train, and watched it for a few minutes fill up.  Then it was on my way towards Needleton and the Chicago Basin area cutoff.  Along the way, just before Pigeon Creek, I saw a small bit of bear scat that hadn’t been there on the way in.  I know there’s a mama bear (and sometimes cub) that frequents this area, and wondered if I’d get to see her today? (I didn’t)

There was a family staying at one of the houses at the Needleton Train Stop. They had a fire going, a generator, and were pulling water from the river.  I waved as I passed and continued on towards Needle Creek.  When I made it there, I decided to just spend the night.  I’ve always wanted to spend the night here, but it hasn’t worked out with my schedule. I was in no real hurry to get home at this point, so I set up camp. I had the whole place to myself the entire night.  It’s weird not to have a compelling reason to hurry home; now that I’m an empty nester, I’ll be able to get in more hiking time.  Side note:  I made the decision not to bring deoderant on this backpacking trip because it was a smellable and added extra weight. Added to that, I was wearing the same clothes the entire trip, so what good would deoderant do anyway? On this third night backpacking, curled up as tight as possible inside my bivy to stay warm in the cold, shivering and not able to get a breath of fresh air from outside the bivy due to the cold weather conditions, I regretted this decision; I could strongly smell myself and it wasn’t ideal.  Good news: by the next morning I was nose blind.

Chicago Basin cutoff:

Up early the next morning, I was on the trail by 6am, and made it back to the Purgatory parking area by 10am, making this a 54.06 mile trek with 12383’ of elevation gain. 

Final side note: Just before getting to Jagged Cabin, on top of a hill but paralleling Noname Creek on an obvious game trail, I found what looked to be a recent cache torn open and destroyed by critters.  I’m not sure if someone left this to be used later this summer, if they ‘forgot’ their gear, or if they left it after finding it ruined, but it’s all destroyed and useless at this point. It’s also trash.  There’s a full tent that looked like it had been stored properly (torn to pieces now, of course), tons of food wrappers (like, at least 10 different wrappers from Ramen, and lots of snacks:  it was a ton of food at some point, but diminished to empty wrappers now), a small radio, a destroyed first aid kit, an Ursack that had been ripped into pieces, etc.   I took what I could, but there was a lot to carry out. Maybe if everyone took a little bit we could clean the area up?