Peak Fifteen- 13,671

RT Length:  53.34 miles

Elevation Gain:  13765’

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

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

The approach to Ruby Basin can be found here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We were headed west, across the ledge system. 

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

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

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

Oh, there’s some exposure here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peak Fifteen: 

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

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

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

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

The second rappel

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

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

Here’s looking up and down from the saddle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, on to the next trailhead!

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.

Chicago Basin / Ruby Basin Approach from Purgatory Trailhead

RT Length: 41 miles (per CalTopo)

RT Elevation Gain: 9146’

Mileage (per CalTopo track):

  • Purgatory to Animas River: 4.62 miles
  • Purgatory to Chicago Basin Turnoff:  10.5 miles
  • Purgatory to Needleton: 11.5 miles
  • Purgatory to Ruby Basin:  20.25 miles

I’ve done this approach several times, but always in the dark. I decided to put together a detailed route description for those looking to head to Ruby Basin, or those interested in what it looks like hiking from Purgatory to the Chicago Basin cutoff.  I feel this route has improved over the years, but unfortunately now has more downed trees blocking the trail, making route finding interesting at times.

I arrived at 2pm on a Thursday afternoon and the parking area was full.  They’re doing a lot of construction/new housing in the area, and there were a ton of visitors to the lake.  I actually had to wait about 15 minutes for someone to leave before acquiring a spot.  It might have been the time of day, but come prepared (I’ve never had trouble finding a spot before, but I usually arrive in the middle of the night).

The trailhead is clearly marked, and starts at the west end of the parking area

From here, the trail is class 1 as it heads east for 1.3 miles, and then turns right and follows Cascade Creek south to the Animas River. This part of the trail is nice on the way in, as you lose about 1200’ of elevation, but can be frustrating on the way out.  I’d recommend hiking this part out in the cooler part of the day (or night). Here are some pictures of the trek down to Cascade Creek

And from the creek to the Animas River.  Here the trail will gain and lose elevation multiple times before descending to the river.  In the late summer and early fall you’ll find wild blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and lots of foliage here.

Just before getting to the Animas River the trail descends 400’ to a flat area

Here there are picnic tables and camping spots, and finding the exact trail can be confusing.  If you get lost, just head west towards the river

There is a very large and very obvious bridge to cross.   This is also a good place to filter water (either on your way in or out). CalTopo told me I hiked 4.62 miles to this point.

As you’re crossing the bridge you can see where Cascade Creek and Animas River meet

As soon as you cross the bridge, you’ll see this sign.  Go LEFT here

And follow the trail to the railroad tracks

There will be an obvious place to cross the tracks. Funny story:  when I was crossing the tracks this time and taking pictures the train blew its whistle from what felt like very close.  I’m sure they do that to warn people to get away from the tracks at the crossing (I also heard it on my way back).  If you hear the whistle, you have less than a minute to remove yourself from the tracks before the train arrives.  Cross the tracks and continue on the class 1 trail as it hugs the Animas River and the Mountainside

From here the trail stays pretty level as it follows the Animas River.  If it’s rained recently, you’ll want rain gear, as the foliage covers the trail in many areas and you’ll get very wet.  There are many places to camp along this stretch. 

From the Animas River Crossing, it’s just under 6 miles to the cutoff for Chicago Basin (or 10.5 miles total from Purgatory).   Here you’ll cross Needle Creek on another sturdy bridge.  This is also another good place to filter water.

If you’re headed to Chicago Basin, there are obvious signs that will guide you there.

If you’re headed towards Needleton/Ruby Basin (etc.), continue following the trail north for another mile.

There’s new signage here. Please note, this is a public trail through private property.  If you need to filter water, cross the bridge, filter, and then come back. 

Here’s where the trail gets fun!  Don’t cross the bridge. Instead, follow the trail to the right

You’ll follow this trail for just under half a mile until you get to an Aspen Grove.  This is a good place to spend the night before the elevation gain begins.  You’ll have hiked a total of (almost) 12 miles to this point.

Here you’ll turn right, and follow an obvious trail up the hillside

This is where the elevation gain starts and doesn’t quit. 

There are a lot of newly downed trees in this area, without an established workaround. Most of the trail is easy to follow, so if there’s a large downed tree in your path (and there will be), just try to be logical about where the trail should go, get around the tree, and you should be able to pick it back up again. This is tons of fun in the dark, and much easier when it’s daylight. 

Another fun part:  after gaining and gaining and gaining in elevation, at around 10,330’ you’ll LOSE about 200’ of elevation, quite quickly.  Pictures looking down don’t do it justice, so here’s LOOKING BACK UP at the elevation you’ll lose

At this point the trail becomes a little more difficult to follow, but there is a trail and cairns.  You’re hugging the mountain, following Ruby Creek east. Once again, this part of the trail is overgrown, so if it’s been raining, you’ll want to wear your rain gear to avoid getting soaked from the dew on the plants.

You’ll pass through a rocky area, with raspberry bushes and cairns to guide you

After hiking for 17 miles, and at 10800’ of elevation, you’ll arrive at Ruby Lake.  Cross where the stream and lake meet, and skirt the north side of the creek. 

There are also a few nice camping spots here, and the ability to filter water

Be sure to stay close to the water’s edge here, as there’s a trail and it’s much nicer on your feet than rock hopping.   There are cairns here as well.

The goal now is to ascend into the upper basin.  There is a trail here, but once again, a lot of downed trees and very overgrown with grass, flowers, etc. Keep heading east, staying below the rocks to your left.

At about 10900’ the trail abruptly ascends into the upper basin by aiming north. 

Where you’ll be greeted with:  Willows!  It is now your job to navigate through these willows to Ruby Basin. I promise you, there are trails here that ‘go’.  They’re goat trails and anything above your waist will be gnarly, meaning you should plan on getting whacked in the face with willow branches, but trails are here.  It’s important to find the entrance to the trail, and then go with your gut. Obvious cairns are circled in red.  You’re aiming for the orange arrow:

Here’s what the entrance to the trail looks like

When you make it to that orange arrow, the rest of the trail into the basin will become obvious

Pick your place to camp. There’s always plenty of water here flowing through the basin.  The marmots will chew up anything not hung up, which is difficult in this treeless basin.  I’ve seen Mountain Goats and Moose here a few times.  This is a great starting place for several 13ers in the area. If you’d like my GPX file for the route send me an email

Here’s a view of the Ruby Basin from the east side of the basin, looking west at how you enter the basin.

Here’s the topo route

And just for fun, a compilation of pictures of the route out.

Grizzly Peak B – 13,753

RT Length: 9.96 miles

Elevation Gain: 3543’

I drove in from Kite Lake after hiking some 13ers in the area.  It took me about 2 hours to drive to Silverton, 40 minutes to drive to Purgatory, and another hour and a half to drive to the end of Forest Service Road 579.  This is an easy 4WD road, but there are few spots to turn around.  I was getting seriously worried about my trip out tomorrow until I (finally) made it to the end of the road.  The road abruptly ends at a campsite, which was good news to me, as that meant there should be fewer chances to pass other drivers on the way out because the road doesn’t really ‘go’ anywhere.  Mine was the only vehicle at the trailhead.

It was 10:30pm when I made it to the campsite, and I should have been exhausted after hiking/driving all day without sleep the night before, but I wasn’t.  I was cold however.  I turned on my heater and jotted down some notes in my journal while sipping on some whiskey.  I played a few games on my phone and looked over my topo map for the next day.  I hadn’t found a lot of good information on this peak, so I’d planned a route myself and I was trying to memorize it so I wouldn’t need to break out my map too often tomorrow.  As I sat there, I was reminded of something someone had said to me a few days before: “Don’t you ever relax?”  Yes, yes I do.  This was relaxing. 

My heater was starting to make my sleeping area too warm so I shut it off and decided it was a good time to go to bed.  I woke up and was on the trail at 6:30am.  The trail begins just behind the campsite

I could smell the fires and hooped the views would be better today than yesterday.  Immediately I noticed flashlights shining in the distance.  No way?!?  I hadn’t seen another vehicle on my way in, and I was very far from any other trailhead.  That’s when I remembered I was hiking on the Colorado Trail and this must be a good area to camp for the night.  I followed the trail northeast as it descended down to a creek, crossed the creek, and headed east, still following the trail

I stopped here because something was rubbing against my ankle.  I’ve never had to put on a band-aid while hiking before, but I thought I’d better now because my ankle would be rubbed raw if I didn’t.  Yep, I still need new hiking boots. 

I put together a topo map for this route, and in doing so later found there were trails on the route that weren’t listed on the map.  The trail I found went lower than I wanted to go, so I didn’t take it initially, but ended up being brought back to it several times, so I’m going to give you beta on the way you should take, not the way I took (which was loopy). 

After crossing the stream, head east for .35 miles. Here there will be a faint junction, and if you look carefully, a sign to your right that says “Rico-Silverton Trail” (circled in red).  Take the upper trail here and follow it until you pass an obvious pond (about 1.2 miles). 

When you get here, there will be 2 trails.  Do not ascend the scree!  Instead, skirt the scree to your right

And continue following the trail as it skirts the lake to the left

Just after the lake the trail will curve to the left.  Follow the trail northeast up the basin

This is where the trail stopped.  I wanted to ascend via the upper gully, so I followed the basin as it curved right and then left.  Here’s a visual

Some boulder hopping brought me to the base of the gully

I stuck to the right to ascend the gully on rocks, and descended more to the left on the scree

As far as gullies go, this one wasn’t too bad.

At the top of the gully I continued north

I came to an abrupt drop-off, turned right, and followed the ridge a short distance to the summit

I summited Grizzly Peak at 10:10am

Grizzly Peak: 

The views were amazing!  Much better than my views the day before that were shrouded by haze from the fires

I headed back down the way I summited

Descended the gully

Back down the basin

And picked up the trail

My way back to the trailhead was so much easier than the way in, as I just followed this (unnamed, unlisted) trail back to the Colorado Trail/Rico-Silverton Trail. 

Just before descending back to the Colorado Trail I could see where I’d parked my truck

I rounded the mountain and started my descent to the creek

Hooked back up with the Colorado Trail

Crossed the creek

And gained some elevation as I headed back to my truck, staying left to head to the campsite when the Colorado Trail went right

And within a dozen yards or so was back at my truck.  There was one other truck parked in the area (a Tacoma).

I made it back to my truck at 12:45pm, making this a 9.96 mile hike with 3543’ of elevation gain in just over 6 hours.

Even though it was a Saturday afternoon I didn’t pass another vehicle on the way down to the 2WD road, which was good because there were long stretches with no turnarounds/passing points.  The leaves were beautiful!  (I took this picture near the bottom once the road evened out).

Also, this is the last 4WD trailhead I need to use to get to any of the bicentennials I still need to summit!  Woot!  Just 10 left to go, and they’re all accessed via 2WD roads.  Now about that skid plate…

Jupiter Mountain – 13,838


RT Length: 41.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 11,098’

I did a ton of research before setting out for this hike. It was my goal to link up the Chicago Basin with the Noname Creek Approach via Twin Thumbs Pass.  All of my research said it was “doable”, but I hadn’t found a trip report indicating it had ever been done, so I went in kind of expecting to fail.  I was trying to eliminate hiking into the Chicago Basin to summit Jupiter and then hiking back out and attempting Jagged Mountain via the Noname Creek Approach.  If I could link up the hike via Twin Thumbs Pass I’d be saving about 20 miles and several thousand feet of elevation gain.  And it almost worked…

Sleep is for armatures, so I left my house at 8pm after hosting a Girl Scout awards ceremony, arriving at the Purgatory Trailhead at 2:15am. I was on the trail by 2:30am.  The first 10 steps hurt.  A lot.  My pack was wayyyyy too heavy.  I’d gone through it multiple times eliminating what wasn’t absolutely necessary and it was still painfully heavy.  I’m not sure how much it actually weighed (I was too scared to weigh it) but I’m guessing it was around 45-50lbs.  That’s excessive, especially for someone who only weighs 105lbs.  But I just couldn’t lose any more weight:  I’d already thrown out unnecessary items like a camp stove (it was all peanut butter and beef jerky for me this weekend) a pillow (not needed), a change of clothes, bug repellant, etc. and had switched my “good” backpacking sleeping bag for a lighter weight one.   What was weighing me down was all the gear:  rope, harness, carabiners, webbing, etc.  All that stuff was necessary if I wanted to attempt Jagged this weekend, which I did.


So those first 10 steps hurt and I should have known then to stop and reassess this adventure, but I told myself it would eventually get easier if I just kept moving so I just kept moving. Yep, I kept moving but it didn’t get easier.  I gingerly hiked my way down the Purgatory trail towards Cascade Creek, losing elevation the entire way and thinking to myself “hiking down shouldn’t be this difficult”.

The trail follows Cascade Creek southeast towards the Animas River. There’s a bridge here to cross


and a good trail to follow to the Railroad tracks. I crossed the tracks and continued on the Animas River Trail.


The trail is easy to follow, but was overgrown in areas. It follows the Animas River, which I could hear but not see in the dark.


While the trail follows the river it still has numerous small ups and downs in elevation, which I thought were completely unnecessary: I’d rather stay at a steady elevation.  The sun started to rise and I made it to the Needleton/Purgatory/Cascade Junction and followed the Needleton Creek Trail to Chicago Basin.  Side note:  It is not 7 miles to the Purgatory Trailhead.  From this point my tracker says it’s 10 miles.  A little ways up there’s a trail register and information area.  I didn’t sign the trail register because I hadn’t intended on exiting this way.


From this area it’s another 6 miles to the Chicago Basin. This part of the trail follows Needle Creek as it climbs towards the basin.  I loved hearing the water rushing past and seeing the waterfalls along the way.


It seemed like it took forever to make it to the basin. I realized I was almost there when I saw the avalanche debris. There really wasn’t very much damage, and luckily there were already clearly established trails as a workaround.


The hike into Chicago Basin is indeed beautiful!


I didn’t see much evidence of mountain goats. I was here last year and they were everywhere.  This year I saw a couple, but nowhere near as many as before.

Normally I like to do the hardest peak first, but today the easier peak was my first goal for several reasons: I wanted to get a look at the backside of Jagged to see how much snow there was on route and I wanted to see if there was still snow on Twin Thumbs Pass.  I knew I didn’t need all my gear to summit Jupiter so I stashed my pack and just brought the essentials:  water, my camera, and some snacks.  Oh yeah, snacks.  I should probably eat something?  I had about 12 almonds and kept them down so I considered it a win.

If you go left at this junction it takes you up to Twin Lakes. If you continue straight it will take you on a well established path towards Jupiter.


The trail crosses Needle Creek and heads west up the hillside


About halfway up the hillside there’s an old mine. I’d already explored this mine the last time I was here so I didn’t feel the need to go inside, but I did see a pack outside, and called in to say hello to whoever was exploring.


I met a man who was really excited about the mine. His hands were white from the walls, and it looked like he’d been having a time.   We chatted for a bit: He’s already hiked the Colorado Trail and was now looking for a way back to Durango.  He asked me if I knew if the trail “went” and since I’d already done a lot of research on the Johnson Creek/Vallecito trails when planning this trip I knew if he made it to the saddle he could take Columbine pass over.   I envied this man his freedom to just explore and not worry about time and wished him luck.  I wish I had more time to adventure!

I continued on the trail to treeline, crossed a creek, and here the trail (mostly) stopped. I felt so much better hiking with just the essentials:  I felt like I could skip up this mountain!


There were a few cairns and what looked like overgrown social trails but no established trail after the small creek crossing. Here’s the route I took up the side of Jupiter.


It’s much steeper than it looks, but the wildflowers made up for the difficulty.


About halfway up the hillside I started getting worried about the weather. There was a 30% chance of rain today between 2-4pm, and the clouds forming didn’t look good.  Luckily the wind was blowing them away from me, but I kept an eye on them just in case.  I really, really didn’t want to turn back at this point (but I would have if necessary).  I kept looking for the man I’d met, watching for his ascent of Columbine pass, but I never saw him again (even from a distance).

I continued on and came across cairns. There seemed to be several ways around this part.  I took the solid line up, the dotted line back down.


I continued up the side of the mountain, aiming for the cairn I could see at the top of that pile of rocks, sure that was the summit (spoiler alert: it wasn’t)


Imagine my surprise when I made it to the top of that pile of rocks, only to see… this


Wait? I thought this was a class 2 hike?  That looked like class 3 scrambling to me.  I was a little put off I’d left my helmet back with my gear in the basin and a little upset with discovering this had been a false summit, but decided to just go ahead and finish.  I took the solid route up, the dotted line down. I felt the dotted line route was indeed class 2+, but the solid route was class 3.  There were several ways to summit here, and so many cairns they lost their intended purpose.


I summited Jupiter Mountain at 2pm.


Summit Video:

I’d been hiking for almost 12 hours at this point, but without my full gear for the past 2 hours I was feeling pretty good. I decided to take a look around.  Jagged from this side was mostly snow free!


Twin Thumbs pass was obscured by Point 13,472, but it looked mostly clear of snow as well. This was all good news.  Now I only had to worry about the north facing sides of the mountains (which hold snow longer).


Time to head back. Here’s the route I took off Jupiter (this also shows Columbine pass in the background)


And back down to treeline



Back at treeline I had a better view of Twin Thumbs pass. It appeared clear.  Now it was time to retrieve my gear and head up to Twin Lakes.


I saw my first mountain goat of the day here


I re-crossed Needle Creek and stopped to filter some water. It was a warm day and I was forcing myself to drink.  It was making me nauseous, but at least I wasn’t light headed.  The cool water felt really good, and I started just drinking it from the filter to save time.  After my water bladder was full I went to find my pack.  Argh!  I wasn’t able to find it!  This was not good.  I was sure I’d left it by the sign?  After about 5 minutes of searching I realized there were two similar signs and I was at the wrong one.  I made my way about 10 yards further and was relieved to find my pack where I’d left it, and as an added bonus, no goat/marmot damage to be seen.  The downside?  There were so many mosquitoes here!  I’d wanted to rest for a bit, but the mosquitoes wouldn’t quit, so I decided to just get going.

My pack was on the ground so I sat down to put it on and groaned as I leaned to the side to stand up. That pack was heavy!!!  Time to trudge up to Twin Lakes.  Luckily this is a very well marked trail.


About halfway up I saw my second set of goats for the day. They were directly on the trail and looked me straight in the eye as I got close.  I was wondering how we would pass each other politely when one of them just veered off the path a little to the left, went around me, and then hooked back up with the trail.  They must be used to this…


From this angle Jupiter looks imposing


As I continued on I saw a sign that said “No camping beyond this point: Including Twin Lakes Basin”. Well shoot.  There went my “Plan B” of sleeping at Twin Lakes if I couldn’t make it over the pass.  Oh well, it looked like the path was clear, so it shouldn’t matter anyway.

I made it to the Twin Lakes area and had a great view of my intended route. There looked to be a little snow, but nothing I couldn’t handle


Also, there’s hidden snow here, more than anticipated


No worries though: I just put on my crampons, tested the snow for stability, and easily traversed over to the final gully before Twin Thumbs pass.  I took the solid route up, and the dotted route down (the dotted route is the better route).


There were no cairns or paths or footprints here, or anything indicating anyone had used this route in the past. I was huffing and puffing by this point but really wanted to just get over the pass.  When I made it to the top this is what I saw


Ok, this looks good! I could see where I wanted to be and the path I wanted to take to get there.


Right now I was pumped! I probably had 2 hours left of daylight and a clear visual of where I wanted to be.   And it was all downhill.  I began my descent through a class 4 chimney (not as easy as it sounds with a full pack on my back.  Also, this move wouldn’t have been necessary had I taken the dotted line route.) I was immediately taken aback by how steep the scree here was.


It quickly became apparent the route up to Ruby Basin (should I need to use it) was much steeper than it looked on a topo map.


This is where my trouble began. I made it to the first patch of snow and thought it would be similar to the snow I’d encountered in the Twin Lakes area.  I stepped on it and promptly sank up to my waist.  My feet however were still dangling in the air beneath the snow.  This was not good.  It wasn’t lost on me I’d narrowly avoided breaking a leg.  My large pack is what had caught me and kept me from sinking further.  It took some time but I was able to get myself out of the hole I’d fallen into.

A bit shaky now I stood where I was and considered my options. I probed the snow a bit with my trekking pole and realized there was a layer of snow a couple of inches thick over the rocky ground.  This layer broke easily (obviously) and I did not feel comfortable traversing on it, even with crampons.   I looked for a clear line of scree/rocks to traverse to get me where I wanted to go and just couldn’t make out a snow free path.

I could continue to descend and look for a snow free path, but I gave finding one a low probability since the areas I couldn’t see were the steeper parts of the route. It looked like no matter what I was going to have to cross snow.  The sun had already gone down behind the mountains and I figured I had about an hour of daylight left.  There was nowhere to camp on this side of the mountain.


I had two options: either continue on and hope to find an area without snow I could cross or to turn around and head back.  The choice was obvious.  I wept a few silent tears, turned around, and started my ascent back up and over Twin Thumbs Pass:  making it to Noname creek was optional, making it back to my truck was mandatory.  Here’s the path I took back up to the pass.  The dotted line is the path I took down.  I’d recommend the solid line.


Ok, so I turned to head back to the pass but my shoes immediately slipped as if I were wearing ice skates. This wasn’t good.  The scree here was terrible for an ascent.  I hadn’t brought along my microspikes (to save weight) but I did have my crampons, so I took those out, strapped them on, and wouldn’t you know it?  Better than microspikes!  Sure, I was ruining the crampons, but at this point the benefits outweighed the risks.

I knew I was racing against the clock: the sun was rapidly setting and I needed all the daylight I could get.   I found an unexpected boost of adrenaline and booked it up to the pass.  I was shocked at how quickly I moved, and actually entertained the idea of hiking all the way back to Needleton tonight and attempting Jagged in the morning.

I made it up and over the pass and kept my crampons on until I made it past the snow near Twin Lakes. Here I stopped to take off my crampons and at this point the adrenaline stopped and exhaustion took over.  I took off my crampons but was too tired to take off my pack and put them away so I carried them in my left hand.  This worked well until it got too dark to see and I needed to carry a flashlight (I’m not a fan of headlamps).

I was stumbling in the dark. Stumbling because at this point I was exhausted and also because I’d completely ruined my hiking boots:  they had holes in them the size of quarters and the tread was completely gone.  That pass had been more brutal than I’d anticipated.  Every few steps I’d slide due to lack of traction and catch myself.  One time I didn’t catch myself quick enough and I landed on my shoulder in a bunch of willows.  Ouch.  That was it; I needed to stop and set up camp.  Now. Gone were my fantasies of setting up camp at Needleton, or even in Chicago Basin for that matter.

But I’m a rule follower and I’d seen the sign. I wasn’t allowed to camp here, and I knew it. So I kept on.  It seemed like I’d hiked for miles before I finally made it to the “no camping past here” sign, and when I did I dropped all my gear and haphazardly set up my tent directly in front of it.  I did a terrible job:  I couldn’t see in the dark and honestly I was too tired to care what I was doing.  It took me twice as long as it should have to set up and I did so directly beside the trail.  Dumb move, and I knew it, but I didn’t care.  I needed to rest.   Oh, and eat.  So far all I’d had were a few almonds and I knew I needed more calories.  I opened my bear sack and had tons of options:  beef jerky, tuna, almonds, peanut butter.  I chose dried mangoes.  Not the most caloric but it was what my body was craving. I only wished I’d brought more.


I fell asleep around 10:30pm and woke up every half hour after midnight. You see, I was camped directly next to the trail, so every set of early morning hikers intent on Eolus, Windom, and Sunlight passed right by me.  As they did so they all directed their flashlights at my tent.  What they most likely didn’t realize is that when you shine a light on a tent it doesn’t allow you to see inside of it, but it does brightly illuminate the inside of the tent.  So every 30 minutes or so it was like someone turned on a light inside my tent.  My fault for so many reasons I know, but I was too tired to care.  And cold.  It had been a bad idea to swap my good sleeping bag for a lighter weight one.

In the middle of the night I could hear a goat beside my tent. It was occupying itself with the bandana I’d left outside.  I could actually hear him a foot or so from my head, and mentally visualized him picking up the bandana with his teeth and swishing it from side to side.

I left my tent at daylight. My bandana was now separated from my trekking pole but lying inches from where I’d been in my tent.  Apparently the goat didn’t want the souvenir.  I wasn’t hungry but forced myself to eat a packet of tuna and quickly packed up my gear.  Taking down the tent was the worst:  my fingers were frozen stiff, despite it being about 40* the night before.  My whole body ached from yesterday.  I wasn’t sure I was going to be very efficient today, and laughed at myself for thinking last night I could even attempt Jagged today.  I was honestly considering camping at Needleton and making the rest of the journey tomorrow.

It was Saturday morning but I didn’t pass many people as I exited the basin. I hurt all over, but especially my shoulders, and specifically my right shoulder.  I was worried I’d broken my clavicle when I’d fallen into the willows yesterday.  Every hundred feet or so I had to stop and lean over to take the weight off my shoulders for a bit.  I tried re-adjusting my straps to distribute the weight more evenly but that wasn’t helping. When I made it to the bridge 2 miles from the Needleton junction I stopped and took off my pack.  I realized one of the upper straps had come unbuttoned and fixed it.  This seemed to help a bit, but I was still worried about my shoulder.  It was red and sore and there was an unfortunate bump right on the collarbone.   It wasn’t lost on me I’d carried most of this gear for nothing…


I’d rested for a bit and decided that was enough for today and was on my way. I met a trail runner who stopped to talk for a bit.  “Isn’t Chicago Basin as close to heaven on Earth as you can get?”  she asked.  I agreed, but mentally thought Purgatory was a more apt name, and most likely why Chicago Basin felt like heaven.  I really thought she was running to the junction and back but I never saw her again (and she should have caught back up with me if she were doing so).

I was bummed. The weather was perfect, which meant I was wasting a perfect day not summiting something.  And I hurt.  I was sore and each step hurt more than the last.  My shoes were trashed and I’d carried 30 extra pounds of unnecessary gear for dozens of miles and elevation gain for naught except conditioning.  Suddenly Sherpas made sense.  By the time I made it to the Animas River I was done feeling sorry for myself and instead decided to focus on the positive:  I’d been here three times but never hiked the trial in the daylight.  I was going to enjoy the view of the river and the shade and the occasional view of the train passing by


I was actually making good time and made it to the railroad crossing around lunchtime.


I’d made a deal with myself here I’d take off my pack for a long time (at least 15 minutes) and have lunch and soak my feet in the river. The mosquitoes had other plans however.  Eventually I figured out they came in small swarms and if I killed all 12-15 of them I’d have a solid 2-3 minutes before the next swarm arrived.  On the positive side the water was cool and it felt good to sit for a bit.


Animas River:

Lunch was a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter. I strapped on my gear and got ready for the hardest part of the hike:  the last 4 miles and several thousand feet of elevation gain.  I headed northwest and hugged the side of the mountain



I was pleasantly surprised to realize this trail is mostly in the shade. I was also surprised to realize just how closely this trail comes to Cascade Creek.  Hiking this at night I’d always assumed the creek was down much further from the trail than it actually is.


So the shade was nice but the elevation gain was exhausting! I kept gaining and then losing elevation for what seemed like no purpose whatsoever.  Why couldn’t the trail just gain steadily in elevation?  It was disheartening to gain a couple hundred feet just to lose it again.

There were raspberries on this trail, and while I’m not fond of raspberries these were by far the best I’ve ever had. I couldn’t collect them fast enough (sorry woodland creatures that would have benefited from them, but they were delicious).

This meadow looks totally different in the daylight


The last quarter mile was the worst of the entire hike for several reasons: This part was a steep uphill climb, the sun came out again from behind the clouds, I was tired, my pack was heavy, and I ran out of water just as it began.  This last quarter mile took me half an hour to complete (which is very, very slow for me).

Last time I was here I’d hiked Pigeon and Turret’s 39 miles in a day and I’d had hallucinations. This time I realized I’d gladly hallucinate again if it meant not being in this much physical pain from carrying such a heavy load. The only redeeming factor to the weight was I’d used every piece of equipment I’d brought (except the climbing gear, but that was necessary if I’d intended to climb).  The physical pain was terrible, and I wondered to myself how long it would take me to forget the torture I’d put myself through over the past two days.  Hopefully less than two weeks because I totally plan on doing this again.  Soon.

I made it back to my truck at 2:30pm, making this a 41.5 mile hike with 11,098’ in elevation gain in 37 hours.



But my adventure wasn’t over yet. I limped back to my truck and set my pack on my tailgate.  I unlocked my truck and downed an entire 2 quart bottle of cranberry juice in-between huge gulps of air.  It was still early enough to make today productive, so I decided to drive to a Subway, get dinner, and then sit in my truck and figure out what to do next.  A nap was definitely in the plan.

Did you know it’s difficult to find a place to sleep in your car in Durango? Seriously.  Every parking lot I entered had “no camping” signs, and many even had “no sleeping in your car” signs.  So I drove to a park on the edge of town, thinking this would be a good place to rest for a while.  I got out my list of peaks I want to attempt in the next few months and did some calculations. None of them were close enough to drive to tonight to make them worth summiting tomorrow.  Drat.  It looked like tomorrow was shot as well.  Which was probably for the best seeing as how I couldn’t move at the moment, but I was still disappointed.

It was too hot to sleep in my truck without the windows open and there were a surprising number of children screaming at the park as if being there itself were pure torture. I gave up on the nap and drove for a few hours until I found a National Forest Trailhead I could park at for the night, avoiding suicidal deer running across the road.  This was a fabulous idea and I was able to sleep under the stars.

I woke up as the sun began to rise and drove the rest of the way home. I was itching all over, and when I looked in the mirror I noticed I had so many mosquito bites it looked like I had the chicken pox.  Lovely.   I randomly picked a CD out of the glove compartment and began singing 9-5 at the top of my lungs along with Dolly, my mood instantly improved.  Until I stopped for gas.  I slid out of the truck and my legs buckled underneath me.  I quickly looked around to make sure no one had noticed me, and then pulled myself back up into my truck, laughing at myself for even thinking I could’ve hiked another peak today.  My body needed a few days to rest, and I need to figure out a way to lighten my pack…