Once again, just like with Sundog, I was staying near the Cooper Creek trailhead, to both give me added miles and also more peace and quiet. I waved to my neighbors camping across the way, but they didn’t seem up for conversation. No worries: I put together a trip report and made it an early night. I was on the trail at 4:30am.
I made it to the Redcloud/Sunshine trailhead before 5am, and once again, it was bustling with hikers getting ready for their day. Surprisingly, none of them made their way over to Handies Peak. I turned right, and took the Grizzly Gulch trail up into the basin.
There was an information board, a bridge to cross, and a register to sign.
If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’ve already hiked Handies Peak and know the approach. If not, it’s an easy, well maintained, class 1 trail to the basin.
At around 11860’ of elevation, I turned and left the trail. It was just over a runnel crossing, and before a section of willows. I headed northwest, up to the ridge of Whitecross.
Here’s my overall route. Please note, the actual summit is hidden.
And some step-by-step photos. Initially, I skirted the willows to the right
Then I found a large boulder, and skirted it to the left. (It was the only boulder in a sea of tundra, and difficult to miss).
In times without snow, I’d just aim for the ridge. However, there was a cornice lining the ridge, so I stayed under the snow. This worked well.
The tundra was steep. On the way down I’d use microspikes for tractions, but none was needed on the way up. I kept aiming for the rock outcropping, careful to skirt the messy areas.
Once again, in a year without snow, it would be prudent to take the dotted line. Today, I took the solid line up a side gully.
I was aiming for these three spires
The gully was a mix of tundra and scree
When I got to the top I turned left, and realized this had been a false summit. The true summit is just a little bit to the northwest.
I cursed myself for leaving my ice axe in the car. I put on my microspikes, lowered my trekking pole to the size of an ice axe, and hoped the snow was solid. It was! I was able to easily make my way across. Here’s my route:
I was lucky the snow was in perfect conditions: A fall wouldn’t have been fun.
Once past this area, it was a quick walk to the summit
I summited Whitecross at 7:15am
From the summit you could see Handies Peak, and the ridge. It was starting to snow lightly, and remembering the last time I was in the area, and got caught I several storms while climbing Handies Peak, I decided to head back.
Here’s my route off the summit
The area with snow was sketchier on the way down than it had been on the way up, as there was a bit of downclimbing and a trust move involved. Luckily, the snow was the perfect consistency. My main concern would have been to have fallen through/postholed, but that didn’t happen this early in the morning.
And now to head back down the gully
I kept my microspikes on for this part, and all the way until I made it back to the trail. It was pretty straightforward. Here’s my route:
When I made it to the trail I took off my microspikes as it started to snow a little harder. I followed the trail back to the trailhead
I made it back to the trailhead, and followed the road back to my truck.
I made it back to my camping spot at 9am, making this a 7.45 mile hike with 3288’ of elevation gain in 4.5 hours.
Normally you’d start this hike from the Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch trailhead, the same one as used for Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks, but it’s Memorial Day weekend, and I knew that trailhead would be crowded. Also, I’ve had porcupines visit me there in the middle of the night, interested in the wires underneath my truck. Instead, I parked a little over half a mile further up the road, near Cooper Creek. Not only did I have the site to myself, but I got to hear the creek rushing by as I slept.
After an early night, I was still hesitant to get out of bed at 4:15am. It took willpower, but I was on the trail by 4:30am. As I passed the Silver Creek trailhead there were dozens of headlamps indicating busy activity. I cruised by, and started up the trail.
At the top of the hill was a trail register I need of repair: The top isn’t fastened to the base. As per usual, I didn’t see the register on the way in, as it was off to the side and didn’t have anything reflective indicating it was there.
So, I didn’t sign the register, and instead followed the trail as it paralleled Silver Creek. The trail was very well maintained, with just a few downed trees here and there.
At around 11300’ of elevation, I left the trail to head down towards the creek. I left the trail where an obvious, and massive, avalanche had occurred a few years earlier. There was a faint trail closer to the creek.
My goal was to cross the creek and head up Sundog’s north ridge. I crossed the creek near some willows, on a few logs that seemed to have been placed for just that purpose. On my way in, and on my way out, these logs were coated in ice, which made the crossing interesting.
Safely across the creek, it was time to follow the ridge by heading south. The ridge was easy to follow, but there was some initial avalanche debris to navigate.
I noticed all the trees seemed to be leaning up, not down, which I thought was odd, until I looked behind me. It was obvious a large avalanche had occurred on the opposite mountain, which crossed the creek, and knocked over trees several hundred feet up the ridge I was now on.
I continued following the ridge to treeline.
Just before treeline I came to an outcropping, which I maneuvered by going to the right, staying at its base.
Now at treeline, I continued to follow the ridge
As soon as the talus and scree started, it didn’t quit. There were a lot of game trails all the way to the summit, none of which were consistent.
Now is a good time to note the false summit
I followed the ridge to the summit. The ridge was straightforward, the only surprise coming at the end.
Just before the summit, I climbed up a class 2+ gully. The rocks were loose, and microspikes helped. I left behind my trekking pole and started climbing up.
At the top of the gully was more ridge (this is a false summit)
That led to the real summit
I summited Sundog at 7:15am
And now to head back. It was a nice day, but windy, so I didn’t stay too long on the summit. I turned and headed back the way I’d came:
It was a long ridge!
The scree filled gully was easier to navigate on the way down
Then I followed the ridge to treeline
Once at treeline, I continued to follow the ridge, aiming for the avalanche runout, and Silver Creek below
I went left this time around the rock formation
And navigated the avalanche debris to the creek
I crossed the creek on the same logs, interested to find they were still covered in a layer of ice.
I easily picked up the trail on the other side, and followed it back to the trailhead.
I then walked up the road to my truck, parked about half a mile away. I made it back to my truck at 9:30am, making this a 8.1 mile hike with 3219’ of elevation gain in 5 hours.
Oh, and I found a stash of 8 track tapes near an old, abandoned mine. I wonder if they’re still good?
Ah, the thrill of changing plans. I like to check off a bucket list item for my birthday, usually involving a lot of effort or planning and mileage. I was supposed to do the Rim to Rim Grand Canyon hike for my birthday, and due to COVID and the shuttles not running so my boyfriend was going to be my shuttle driver (with the east gate closed it’s now a 5 hour drive from one rim to another). However, last week I broke up with my boyfriend. After the breakup I gave myself a day to wallow, and then came up with a plan B (Plan C was Rim to Rim to Rim). In the end I wasn’t able to hike Rim to Rim on my birthday, but I was able to find someone to shuttle my truck a week earlier (in exchange for a photo shoot along the way at both Horseshoe Bend and Ouray Via Ferrata… to be featured in his next book). So instead I hiked Rim to Rim on September 12, and decided for my birthday I’d try to get in a long hike somewhere in the San Juan’s.
After birthday dinner with my daughters I drove to the Little Cimarron East trailhead and parked for a few hours sleep. This is a 2WD drive on a dirt road. There was space for 2 vehicles at the trailhead, but it looks like you can park along the road as well if needed. Side note: This trailhead is much preferred to the Nellie Creek Trailhead approach. Hands down.
I got in a few hours sleep and was on the trail at 4:30am. This is a class 1 trail (at least until the first stream crossing) that looks like it used to be a 4WD road.
After the stream crossing there’s a junction. Continue straight.
The trail goes through an avalanche area but a clear path has been established.
After hiking for 5 miles (exactly) I came to a small meadow. Here I left the trail and headed west, staying to the left of the gully, but following it up.
I eventually picked up a faint trail. There were a lot of game trails in the area, so I kept losing then re-finding the trail.
When I hit treeline I crossed the gully and headed left and northwest up the side of the mountain
The rest of the hike to the summit of Sheep Mountain was fairly straightforward. Here’s the route I took, staying to the left of the cliffs
Once on the ridge I skirted the rocks to the right to keep this class 2
I summited Sheep Mountain at 7:55am. The summit was wide and flat and it was my birthday, so I decided to jump for the photo.
I was making this a ridge hike today. Next on the agenda: PT 13100. I turned and followed the ridge south
This was an easy class 2 ridge to follow. As times I stayed left to avoid rocks.
From the saddle, here’s looking up at PT 13100 and back at Sheep Mountain
It was a simple ridge hike up tundra until the very end. Then the terrain became rock and it was difficult to tell where the actual summit was, so I followed the entire ridge. I spied a cairn and I considered the cairn the summit.
I’ve circled the summit cairn in red (although the rock outcropping certainly felt/looked the same height)
I summited PT 13100 at 8:50am
Next up was PT 13,681. Once again, I followed the ridge south
The volcanic ash towers at the saddle were pretty cool!
From the first saddle, here’s looking back at PT 13100 and Sheep Mountain, along with my route, and a look up the ridge
I followed the ridge to the false summit of PT 13681
When I made it to the ridge, instead of climbing the false summit I stuck to the left, keeping this class 2
Here’s a look back from the ridge
After skirting the false summit to the left I could see PT 13631. I stayed low until I made it to the saddle, and then stuck to the ridge until I hit the second false summit
From the saddle, here’s looking back at how I skirted the bump
From here I took the ridge straight up and over, making this class 3. You can keep it class 2 by going to the left and skirting the ridge. They both end up in the same place.
A view from halfway up the ridge
If you go over the ridge, this is the downclimb (still class 3, not as bad as it looks)
And here’s the rest of the class 2 route to PT 13681
I summited PT 13681 at 10:45am
Here’s a look back on the route so far
And a look at the route to Silver Mountain. The rest of the way was a simple tundra ridge walk
I summited Silver Mountain at 11:35am, and since it was my birthday (my 40th!) I kept my tradition of standing on my head because I still can. Also, this is harder than it sounds, as I had to set up the automatic timer, get far enough away from the camera and then actually do the headstand before the camera took the picture.
Now to head back down. I had several options, but chose this one because it looked easier on a topo map (it most likely wasn’t). I continued south along the ridge to the Silver Mountain/Big Blue Peak (unranked) saddle.
After passing the two large cairns, I continued a bit further down, turned left, and headed east down the gully
My goal was to link up with the Fall Creek Trail. Here you can see it to the right. However, I didn’t want to lose too much elevation, so I took a game trail up high to the left (they both link up on the other side of the hill). I lost just over 1000’ of elevation here, and gained under 200’ by staying high to the left.
Once at the top of the hill I figured my elevation gain was over for the day. Boy, was I wrong! I dipped down once again, losing another 400’ of elevation, only to gain another 500’ of elevation to make it to the next ridge. I was following the Fall Creek Trail, then switched as I stayed high on the Little Cimarron Trail, but this trail doesn’t look like it gets used much by people. There are many game trails in the area that parallel this one, and they make route finding frustrating at times. Here’s the overall route:
Once I’d regained the ridge it was a nice 2 mile tundra walk on a fairly visible trail. Side note: It’s hunting season, and the elk are bugling. Advice to hunters: Practice using your bugle call BEFORE trying it in the wild for the first time. I heard some pretty funny noises coming from what were obviously hunters and not elk.
At exactly 2 miles of mesa walking, and just before reaching this old shack I turned left and headed west. Here the trail pretty much ended. There were 2 cairns in the area (which surprised me, the first I’d seen all day), so I just kept aiming for the valley below, where I knew I’d pick up with the trail I’d hiked in on.
I had a good view of the path I’d taken up to Sheep Mountain that morning
Gradually, the Little Cimarron Trail became more visible, as I followed it towards the creek below.
I crossed the Little Cimarron River (more of a creek now)
And headed north, easily picking back up the trail
I stayed right this time at the junction between the Little Cimarron Trail and Little Cimarron East Trail, crossed the stream again, and followed the trail back to my truck. Along the way I saw a dad holding a rifle and two daughters, both under 10 years old, sporting camo and bright orange hunting hats. They were the only other people I saw all day. The girls had big smiles, and looked thrilled to be camping/hunting with their daddy.
I made it back to my truck at 5pm.
This was a 25.26 mile hike with 6689’ of elevation, completed in 12.5 hours. Here’s a topo of my route.
Not a bad way to celebrate my 40th birthday! On to the next trailhead!
Note: My successful summit of this peak can be found here.
I never should have attempted this hike today, but the weather was clear and my beta told me the mountains in this area were snow free. There are so many 13ers in the San Juans I wanted to knock another one out before the snow sets in again. As I was leaving the house around midnight my daughter asked me if I’d take her to the school musical that night at 7pm. I did some mental math and figured I’d have plenty of time to climb this 7.5 mile peak and be back in time to take her to see the musical.
I drove in the dark to the Grizzly Gulch trailhead, a little surprised to see so much ice on the 2WD dirt road in
There was one other vehicle in the lot when I arrived. I’m guessing they were headed to Redcloud/Sunshine today. Last time I was here I’d had a porcupine visit me in the middle of the night, making noise in the gravel below my truck as he tried to get up inside.
It was getting light as I put on my gear. From the parking lot it didn’t look like I’d need microspikes or snowshoes, but I decided to bring them anyway. I was on the trail at 6:30am. The trail starts at the west end of the parking lot and then crosses a bridge and heads southwest on a well defined trail.
Well, it would have been a well defined trail if there hadn’t been so much snow! Not enough in the beginning to put on spikes/snowshoes, but way more than I’d anticipated.
It was immediately obvious no one had been on this trail since the last snow, which had to have been over a week ago. What was curious was how soft and sugary the snow was after sitting for so long. There were also tons of animal tracks visible in the snow, mostly fox and moose, and they’d been here recently by the signs of urine and scat on top of the snow.
Last time I was here I’d seen a moose, so even though I never ended up seeing one I was extra vigilant today. I went in and out of the trees several times and noticed much less snow in areas without trees. This gave me hope for the rest of the trail above treeline. Of course, most of the snow in these areas was only on the trail itself.
When I made it to treeline I was disappointed to find quite a bit of snow. It wasn’t the snow that bothered me, it was the type of snow: all sugary with very few areas that were consolidated. The drifts were the worst! 4+ feet of sugary snow that didn’t respond to snowshoes made for difficult traversing. I put on my microspikes. Here’s the path I took to the middle of the basin
There was a stream that needed crossing. It was partially covered in snow/ice and I couldn’t tell how wide or deep it was. It took me several minutes to find a good area to cross where I wasn’t worried about falling in.
After crossing the creek I located a faint trail on the side of the mountain and worked my way towards it. The trail was only visible because it was covered in snow. The walk to the trail took a long time because I was postholing with every step.
Climbing up the hill should have been easy, but the snow was still sugary and the talus below unstable. Rocks rolled with every step I took, so I took them slowly
There were several large areas of snow directly on the trail that were not passable. I tried making a bridge in the snow but it wasn’t consolidated enough to hold my weight. Stomping it down did not create a trail so I had to descend on the talus to find a stable route.
Oh, and I met a few ptarmigans
Here’s another view of the ascent
All of this careful footwork meant I was going slowly. I was really excited when I made it to the top of the headwall, as I knew I’d have a view of the rest of the route to the ridge and I was hoping to find it snow free.
It wasn’t. Here’s the route up to the ridge
I continued for about 20 yards, trudging through sugary snow that went up to my thighs and mentally did the math. This hike had taken me about twice as long as it should have to this point, mainly due to the condition of the snow. I had 1.5 hours left before my turnaround time and looking ahead of me the snow in the gully areas looked similar to the snow I’d already had to avoid to get this far. Unfortunately, there was no way to avoid the snow ahead of me. There was a small lake out there I couldn’t see and I was worried I’d break through the snow and ice and fall into the lake. I grudgingly made the decision to turn around and head back home. That would give me time to make dinner and shower before the musical tonight. I was super bummed because it was a 6 hour drive out here and the day felt wasted, but I also knew I’d had bad beta and couldn’t have anticipated these conditions. The snow needs to consolidate before it’s safe to hike here. Here’s the path I took back:
Postholing the entire way…
In this picture you can see moose tracks and the trail I needed to make my way back to
I followed the trail where possible
Aiming for the creek and the trail out
Here’s looking back at my tracks
Getting through the willows is the hardest part, especially in sugary snow
Isn’t it fun when the only snow is directly on the trail?
The creek was almost frozen
I made it back to the trailhead at 10:30am, surprised to see another vehicle in the lot. This hike ended up being a little over 5 miles with 1948’ of elevation gain, done in 4 hours. I’d been hiking at close to 1 mile per hour this morning, which is considerably slow considering I average 2+mph normally. The good news is I made it back home in plenty of time for the musical. I’ll be back either in spring or summer, when the snow’s either consolidated or gone. Here’s a look at my route:
I have a feeling I’m going to have a lot of second attempts while working through the bicentennials and the rest of the 13ers. There just isn’t that much quality beta out there on these peaks when compared to the centennials. My goal with this trip report is to provide beta on a lesser climbed peak. Please feel free to add to this beta to continue improving its collective knowledge. Yes, I know there’s another approach I didn’t use (which I will next time).
My plans shifted and changed right up until I was driving to the trailhead. There are a lot of peaks I want to climb in the San Juan’s, and they had the best weather forecast for the weekend. They also didn’t get as much snow as the rest of the state this week, so I was hoping to hike a few of the more difficult peaks during the nice weather window. My plan was to hike Rolling Mountain Friday and give the Grenadiers some more time so melt out (if they needed it at all). I’d be able to see them from Rolling Mountain and gauge if they were climbable at that point. Plan A was to do the Trinities, Plan B was to hike Arrow Peak, both 25+ mile hikes with 8000’ of elevation gain. I didn’t have a plan C…
I made it to the South Mineral Trailhead at 7am and took my time getting ready. It was really, really cold outside. Luckily the drive in was nice, on a well maintained 2WD dirt road. There wasn’t any ice on the dirt drive in (but there had been on 550, making it a slow approach).
I followed the Rico/Silverton trail for about 2.5 miles, first starting out actually following the trail, which wasn’t more than a game trail through dense trees.
I quickly realized the trail follows the dirt road and instead of spending time route finding I just hiked along the road. I could easily have driven my Tundra the 2.5 miles I hiked.
The worst part of the road looked like this
Just after the Bandora Mine I entered a small basin
Here the trail might as well have ended, as the road became covered in ice.
I found my away across the ice and through the willows back to the road. Here I had two options, one going to the left, the other the right. I chose to take the trail to the right in, and the trail to the left out. Long story short: The trail to the right is more of a game trail so some route finding is involved. The trail to the left is a solid trail but crosses streams at least 3 times.
The road to the right ended at a few campsites
And then a game trail took over.
This trail was faint and the only way I was able to follow it in the snow was due to moose tracks using the trail. They looked fresh, and appeared to be a mama and calf.
Since this is a faint trail the best advice I can give you is to keep the stream to your left and closely follow it.
Eventually I came across where the true trail picked up and route finding (for the time being) was over.
I continued to follow the trail south, past one of the possible routes up Rolling Mountain. I chose not to take this route first because on a topo map it looked like it had a tougher slope angle
I kept hiking until I came to the next basin. At the top of a rock slab hill I turned right (west) and left the trail.
I cut across the willows and headed up the slope, first on tundra, and then on terrible talus
All was going well until I made it to the top of this hill. My intended route to access the summit is outlined
But when I made it to the top of the hill I was surprised to find a steep downward slope, covered in snow.
My first thought was to just walk down it. I put on my microspikes and took a step and plunged up to my waist in snow. Wow! That was deeper than I’d thought! So deep and sugary I don’t think snowshoes or an ice axe would have helped. Next I tried to traverse around the snow on the scree, my intent to find the smallest piece of ice and cross there. However, the scree here is light and covering smooth rock slabs, making traversing the area like walking on marbles, even with spikes on. I tried heading higher but encountered similar wide, snow filled gullies. I retraced my steps and tried again. I couldn’t cross this area to my right because there was as 40 foot dropoff. Glissading wasn’t an option because I sank to my waist, and I didn’t have the tools necessary to climb back up (or self arrest).
This was so incredibly frustrating! I spent almost an hour trying to find a good way through this seemingly easy section, and hit a dead end every time. I glanced up and looked at the rest of the route. It looked like even if I made it past this part the area I needed to gain the ridge was covered in a large snow drift.
At this point I made the decision to turn around and instead try the route I’d passed on my way in. Yes, it would mean a lot of added elevation gain, but I felt I’d be safer. I had all day, so I wasn’t worried about time. Here’s the route back to the trail. I followed the deep drainage a little more closely this time.
A bonus of turning back: I saw a mama moose and her calf feeding on the willows! Although I tried I didn’t get a great picture of them, but I was able to watch them on my entire descent. I’m sure they’d been there all morning (I’d followed their tracks, remember?) I just hadn’t been able to see them. They never even glanced up at me: they were too busy eating.
Oh, and that drainage with the dropoff was full of ice…
I backtracked on the trail for about a mile and just before making it back to the South Park area I turned left (west) and left the trail. Here’s the route I took
This drainage was full of a lot of large, loose boulders. Not the kind that would cause a rockslide, but the kind that would roll out from under you can cause you to twist your ankle.
After the rocks came tundra
And as I made my way up this area I crossed my fingers I wasn’t going to encounter a similar snow-filled bowl like I had on the other side. Luckily, this is what I saw as I ascended. Woohoo! More rocks!
And just a little bit of avoidable ice. My goal here was to gain the ridge. I knew I needed to head straight to the rock wall and then turn right (northeast) and ascend the ridge
All was going well until I made it to the rock wall.
Here the snow became steep, and I had to get creative to stay safe. I made a small snow trench and shuffled my way to the gully. Here are my tracks looking back.
What I saw ahead of me made my heart sink: My (loose) beta told me to just ascend the gully to the ridge, and that this was a class 2 hike. Let me tell you, this is NOT a class 2 gully, or even a class 3 gully (maybe class 3 in snow: this would probably be an ok couloir climb). I decided to take it one step at a time, dropped my trekking pole and headed up.
It started out class 3, but quickly the little bits of dirt and gravel that were there gave way to smooth rock. I was unable to find secure hand/footholds, and after about 70 feet of climbing I felt I was entering class 5 territory. The rock here was smooth, and would have made a continuous slide in the rain. If I slipped, there’d be nothing to stop me for over 100 feet. Yes, I knew I could continue climbing up, but in no way did I feel confident climbing back down. I should have had a helmet for what I was doing, and rope for rappelling back down. Solo adventuring is dangerous, and I’ve promised a lot of people in my life if I felt in over my head I’d turn back. This was one of those times. I took a picture of the down climb
And one of the Grenadiers (fresh beta for tomorrow)
I slowly headed back down. I’d climbed much further up than I’d realized, and the down climb was much more difficult than I’d anticipated. The entire time I was descending I kept telling myself what a good decision it had been to turn around: this was scary insane! Yes, it was a bit disappointing to turn back twice in one day, but I’d learned quite a lot about this mountain, and there’s still one more approach I know of I’m going to try next time. Surprisingly, I wasn’t in a bad mood: failed attempts are all a part of the game. In fact, I was elated when I made it back down the gully safely! As a bonus, I now have a better idea of how I want to summit next time. Here’s a look at the route I took back to the trail:
Once on the trail I decided to take the proper trail back down.
As stated earlier, there were no less than 3 icy creek crossings
Back on the Rico/Silverton trail I had one more creek crossing and then a nice walk on a 4WD road back to my truck.
As I was walking along the road I was passed by trail runner, running with his dog. Trail runners always impress me, but this time I was doubly impressed: this guy runs with his CHIHUAHUA, and the dog LOVES it! They run every week, this time from Molas Pass to South Mineral Creek Campground. Has anyone heard of this guy? He had me take a picture of him and his dog with his cell phone (the dog posed happily) because he never sees anyone on the trails to take photos of them
The entire way back I was surprised at how dry the Ice Lakes Basin seemed. It was too bad I hadn’t done much research on the other peaks I’d needed to hike in this area: the conditions looked perfect! I made it back to my truck at 4:30pm, making this a 13.5 mile hike with 5079’ of elevation gain in 9 hours (more than anticipated: it felt like 8 miles). Strava said my highest elevation reached was 13,172’. Rolling Mountain is 13,693’
Back at the trailhead I re-braided my hair, changed my clothes and took a quick wet-wipe bath. Before long I was on my way to the next trailhead: Molas Pass. I drove up and got a good look at my options for tomorrow’s hike:
It looked to me like I didn’t need snowshoes or even traction (I’d bring traction anyway). As I sat there eating my dinner of tuna and crackers a vehicle pulled up next to me and a man and his dog got out. They looked like they were going to be there for a while so I got out to say hi. We got to talking, and I learned the man had recently completed the Colorado Trail after recovering from health related issues. It had taken him 5 months (5 months!!!) and he had a new tattoo to commemorate the journey he proudly showed me, which incorporated Arrow, Vestal, and the Trinities. We exchanged trail names (his was “Mosey” for obvious reasons). The Colorado Trail has been calling my name lately, but I’ll most likely have to do it in weekend segments because I’ll never get the time off work to do it all at once. He seemed appalled by this. I told him I was sleeping in my truck and heading out early in the morning, to which he took as meaning I was homeless. I assured him I wasn’t, just a dedicated outdoor enthusiast. He called that hardcore. After completing the CT he moved here from Bailey and just wanted to see the mountains again. It was my goal to get to bed before 7pm so I politely excused myself, brushed my teeth, put Vaseline on my feet, and waited for him to leave so I could find an appropriate place to use the restroom. I made a few notes in my hiking journal about the day’s events, had 2 (ok, 3) shots of whiskey, and took a look around me. Yes, it did seem as if I lived in my truck (I swear I clean it up when I get home on Sundays)
I set my alarm for midnight and set up my bed (3 sleeping bags and a body pillow: it was supposed to be 23* here tonight). I was still going back and forth on which peak(s) I’d hike in the morning, but figured I’d make the decision when I could see them up close. As I’d learned today, even a little bit of snow on the trail can completely change your hiking plans.
Colorado had it’s first measurable snow Thursday and Fridays are my hiking days. Of course I paid extra close attention to the weather and it looked like the San Juans were going to be cold and windy but the snow would be negligible. I had a few other peaks in mind closer to home, but I’ve learned the hard way while the trail may be snow free, it’s unlikely the roads/highways would’ve been snow plowed at the early times I like to hike.
I’d thought about sticking closer to home but didn’t want to waste a full free day when I could be above treeline, summit or no. Also, I had some new winter gear I wanted to test out and the area with the best forecast for the entire state was near the Eddiesville Trailhead in the San Juans. I made it a late start because (at the trailhead) it was supposed to be 1* until 7am, when it jumped to 7*. It was going to be cold, and I figured sunlight would help.
I left my house at 1:30am and arrived at the Nutras Creek Trailhead at 6:30am, surprised to see a tent set up near the trail but no vehicle. It’s a 24 mile drive on a dirt road to this point, and I wondered how they made it here? My dashboard said it was 14* and I already considered today a win (to be fair, it went all the way down to 0* on my drive in and back up to 14*, so the forecast was in the correct range). The creek crossings were negligible, just a trickle at the first and completely dry at the second.
Not knowing how much snow had actually fallen here yesterday I’d brought both my summer and winter hiking boots. It was icy on the way in and there was a sprinkling of snow on the peaks nearby so I opted for the winter hiking boots, just to err on the side of caution. The last time I was here to summit Stewart Peak it had rained and my feet had been soaked in the first 10 minutes and were solid blocks of ice on the peak. I didn’t want that to happen again. The winter boots were overkill but also the correct choice.
I’ve needed new gear for a while, and this year saved up money to purchase better winter equipment. All of the centennials I hiked in cold conditions I did so wearing a snow bib I’d bought for $2 at a garage sale in 1998. After an intense winter/spring hiking season this year the bottom half were ripped to shreds thanks to my wonderful microspikes and snowshoes. The jacket I’ve been wearing was a great jacket from a great brand, but I’ve sewn up over two dozen holes and it no longer keeps me warm/waterproof. I need to wear compression socks when I hike (and basically for any activity that requires shoes) and I wear wool socks over them but the ones I’ve been wearing haven’t been keeping my feet warm. My goal this winter season is “no blue toes” so I was trying out a new pair of socks (over my compression socks). Also, gloves. By far my most expensive purchase was when I splurged on a new pair of Alti Mitts last month: I’m super excited to try them out. These would be cumbersome but could be game changers.
So, I bought new socks, gloves, and ski pants (woot! No more taking off half my layers to use the restroom!). Roxy makes a pair of outdoor snow pants that almost fit me. The smallest size they make is one size too big for me, but I found they fit better if I wear yoga/moisture wicking pants underneath them. Bonus: They’re not from the kids section and they kind of make it look like I have a figure instead of looking like the Michelin Man.
Finally, a new jacket. I’ve been in the market for a long time for a new winter mountaineering jacket but I’m frugal and don’t want to spend $500+. I’ve gone to REI, Sierra Trading Post, and several other outfitters looking for something that would keep me warm without breaking the bank and came up empty. I was in an online forum for people with Raynaud’s and someone very highly recommended a simple mountaineering jacket. I was exceedingly suspicious due to the (very low) price and because it was synthetic and made in China, but I purchased it on Amazon and figured I’d give it a go early in the season. When it arrived I was doubly skeptical: It came in a small 12x12X4 inch plastic case and didn’t look robust enough to keep me warm. I left the tags on it in case it didn’t perform as advertised so I could return it and try again.
Fancied out in all my new gear I hit the trail at 7am, being careful to be quiet since the campers were not yet awake.
The first 2 miles of this trail follow Nutras Creek southwest on an easily identifiable trail. I could see a light dusting of snow on the nearby peaks.
Anywhere there was water or where water accumulated there was ice
After 2.2 miles of hiking on an established trail I came to an area where I was close to the creek and it looked easily crossable. I’d need to be on the other side to summit Baldy Alto. I chose to summit Baldy Alto first today because I’ve already summited Stewart Peak and I wasn’t entirely confident my new gear would allow me to summit more than one peak today. The creek looked frozen solid until you stepped on it and then you plunged into the water, realizing it wasn’t more than an inch or two thick. At its lowest point about 5 feet across. My little legs weren’t going to be able to make that jump so I walked up and down the creekbed looking for a better way to cross (a log, large rocks, etc.). When I couldn’t find one I added a few medium sized rocks to the creek and made my way across.
There was loose talus on the other side. My goal was to make it to the trees and then up to treeline.
There was no trail, and once again the talus was very loose and would slide out from underneath me when I took a step. Once in the trees I just kept aiming southwest, looking for treeline
Just before treeline I came across an area where it was obvious elk frequently bedded down for the night. It felt special just to be hiking through the place. Treeline actually came fast and I aimed for the ridge, knowing most of this hike would be above treeline. Here I passed willows through game trails and some lose rocks (all class 2)
I was about halfway up the slope when I heard what sounded like a flock of seagulls conversing with a group of horses. Curious, I turned and noticed a herd of elk coming down the slope of Stewart peak. So cool! They were making trails through the willows like nobodies’ business. I followed them with my eyes, watching where they were headed. I’d half expected them to make their way to the bedding area I’d just passed, but they turned and headed west, following the drainage. I kept an eye (and ear) out for them as I made my way up the ridgeline.
Last time I was here I hadn’t been able to see the summit due to clouds, so I wasn’t sure where the actual summit was. That ridge was long. It felt like it took forever to climb, and every time I thought I was at the summit I realized it was a false summit and it was over the next hill.
The worst part? The wind. Those 20-30mph winds never stopped. The wind never got below 20mph, and several times I was knocked down by a gust. I’m assuming the gust would have to be over 50mph to make that happen, so the forecast had been a bit off. Wind chill with 30mph winds was forecasted today at -20, so it was cold, cold, cold.
The best part? My winter gear was working fabulously! There was no way I’d still be hiking in these conditions if I was wearing my old jacket/gloves. No way. I could tell the wind was frigid but it was tolerable. Snot was freezing to my balaclava and the top of my jacket which was a little annoying but I wasn’t miserable. I’ve found a lot of hiking is about being in a constant state of some sort of discomfort and getting past it to obtain your goal. Cold, yes. Miserable, no. Woot! I have found gear that works!
Finally, after 3 or 4 false summits I made it to a cairn and I could tell I was almost to the actual summit of Baldy Alto
I’m not sure when I summited (I feared taking off my gloves for any reason due to the cold/wind to check my phone/time/etc), but I found with my new camera if I had a tool I could manipulate the buttons to take timed photo without taking off my gloves like I’d needed to with my last one. I found a pointy rock and made it happen (those buttons are small!). It took about 15 minutes, but it worked! High-Five to my new gear for making this possible! Not sure how to take a video yet in these conditions (but I’m working on it). There was no summit register.
Despite the unrelenting winds I wasn’t unbearably cold and due to the minimal elevation gain/trail length I wasn’t tired yet at all, so I decided to take the ridge over to Stewart Peak. This is the route I took. The elk are in the red circle at this point. I could see but not hear them (the wind drowned out all other noises except its own howls).
I aimed for the saddle. I’d been watching the elk for about 3 hours and thus far they hadn’t noticed me because I was downwind from them, but as soon as I hit the saddle that changed. They could smell me now (if it hadn’t been for the intense wind headed their way the fact I’d been sweating for the past few hours meant I’d be hard to miss at this point even in lesser winds). Their heads picked up and then each one looked at me and quickly fell into a procession. They started moving together as one up the basin and onto the ridge I’d just crossed. I found it intriguing a herd of elk would be intimidated by a single person. They were all eyeing me, trying to sneak past me like a freight train. I stood in awe for a moment, and then fumbled for my camera in the -10-20* weather (maybe colder with the higher than anticipated winds?). Knowing pictures would never do the experience justice I held the camera at my chest and just kept shooting, leaving my eyes free to take it all in. It was magnificent, like something you’d see watching a documentary on National Geographic but on a much grander scale because I was in the middle of it and the reason behind their behavior. I saw their eyes staring at me, their hooves stomping the dirt to dust, their heads moving up and down, the warm breath puffing from their noses into the cold air, and the muscles in their legs charging them forward. They each looked at me individually but moved as one, up and over and down the hillside. Wow. Just… wow. I didn’t want the experience to end, but they’d moved on and it was time for me to do so as well. The pictures really don’t do justice to the occasion.
This next part of the hike was class 2, up and over the ridge on large, loose talus.
I continued along the ridgeline to this point. I’d thought this was Column Ridge and the point beyond was Point 13,795, but apparently the point beyond is the only one that’s a 13er (it’s not ranked).
Oh well, that’s what I get for not taking out my map. There was a marker here though…
Time to head over to Stewart Peak. This was an easy trek
The last part looked like it might be tricky, but it wasn’t. I just continued up and over class 2 terrain
And then walked the rest of the way to the summit.
No videos today of the summit(s) due to cold/wind. I was able to get another summit photo again using a pointy rock. I had a pencil and stylus in my pack, I just didn’t want to take off my pack to get them out because my gloves are cumbersome. I’m thinking I’ll keep them a little more handy next time, and this week I’m going to attach longer strings to the zippers of my pack so it’s easier to open/close with my bulky gloves. Also, I’m smiling in this picture.
There was a summit marker here too… but no summit register
The hike today had seemed too easy. The most difficult part was dealing with the insane wind. I hadn’t thought about it before starting out, but I didn’t know how to tighten the strings around the hood of my new jacket to make it fit my face, and once out there hiking I wasn’t able to figure it out without taking my jacket off. Since I wasn’t about to take my jacket off in these conditions I resorted to placing my hand on top of my head to keep the hood from blowing off when hiking into the wind. Not ideal, but it worked.
The trek down from Stewart Peak was actually kind of fun. I decided to just “wing it” since I’d been here before, and I didn’t take out my topo/etc. I just followed the ridge to the end and aimed for the creek, knowing it would lead me eventually to the trail.
I’m not recommending this approach unless you have good route finding abilities and you like to rock climb because I made it to a section I’d label as class 4. I love to boulder so I went through this area with vigor instead of looking for another way around, but if this not your cup of tea follow the standard approach down Stewart Peak to the creek.
Also, there are tons of game trails here that look like actual trails but lead nowhere. It’s a bit… misleading.
By keeping the creek in sight I was easily able to link up again with the trail out.
The entire time down I was thinking of how much easier this hike had been taking Baldy Alto first instead of Stewart Peak: the elevation gain had been more gradual and if I were to do this loop again I’d start with Baldy Alto. Once I made it to treeline the wind stopped and I could hear elk conversing with each other through the area I’d hiked that morning. That got me wondering if there’s more than one herd up there, or if it was split up?
I made it back down to the trailhead and there was more gear at the campsite than when I’d passed it this morning. There was a young gentleman of about 25 years sitting in a camp chair, dressed head to toe in camo. There were guns and archery equipment propped against the trees and a second tent set up. He stood up when he saw me and said hello and asked me where I’d been. I could tell by his accent he was from the south and my heart melted a little bit. Apparently the check engine light had gone on in their vehicle so the rest of his party had gone to Gunnison to get it checked out. They were here hunting elk and had spent last week in Wyoming hunting antelope. He dripped of congeniality. I’m a sucker for a well bred southern man and if he’d been around 40 years old and single I would have prolonged the conversation by telling him where he could find those elk. Instead I wished him good luck and went back to my truck to clean up and head home.
I started at 7am and finished at 2pm, making this an 11 mile hike with 3961’ of elevation gain in 7 hours.
Please don’t judge me (too harshly) and know no one is paying me to say this, but the jacket I got was the Wantdo Waterproof Ski jacket (I’m not yet sure if it’s actually waterproof but others tell me it is). It worked so well and exceeded my expectations, especially for such a low cost jacket (under $100). I’m not sending it back and look forward to an awesome winter adventure season! The gloves and socks and pants were phenomenal as well.
After a full week of work in Tennessee where I gorged myself on comfort food (fried chicken, fried oysters, collard greens, cornbread, etc.) and went highpointing in Mississippi because I could, my flight got in at 1:30pm and I drove from Denver to Molas Pass and slept for about 3 hours in my truck before waking up at 1:30am and hitting the trail. There was one other truck in the large parking area when I arrived.
I checked the weather reports and anticipated rain/snow/wind for today so I put on my snow pants and went light on gear. Initially I’d planned on camping in the Vestal Basin and hiking Arrow and the Trinities as well, but with snow in the forecast I decided to make this a one summit/day trip. The trail started at the south end of the parking lot. It was really easy to follow and had plenty of signs
For about a mile the trail stayed pretty much level, and then it descended 1500+ feet down to the Animas River
At 3.8 miles I crossed a small creek
And heard a rustling in the bushes. I knew there was an animal about 6 feet off the trail, and it felt larger than a coyote but smaller than a bear. I tapped my trekking pole loudly against a rock a few times to flush it out/scare it away. Usually when I do this the animal quickly runs in the opposite direction, but this time it started advancing towards me in the dark. Thinking this was not a good sign I braced myself as the animal came closer to me, moving through the tall brush. Was it a rabid raccoon? A baby bear? (I swung my head from side to side: Oh no! Where’s mama???) and then suddenly it was on the trail in front of me and I realized it was a rather large beaver.
This beaver wanted nothing to do with me, it was just aiming for the trail as an escape route, and kind of looked like a land manatee (BTW, I just finished reading the book “On Trails” by Robert Moore and the experience of hiking has broadened for me and I was immediately reminded of why animals are attracted to trails. It’s a good book with no direct conclusion but connects many aspects of hiking: you should check it out).
Seeing the beaver was cool: it was much larger than I thought they’d be. The downside? I had the “Beaver Song” in my head for the next 2 hours. Not as much fun as it sounds…
At 3.9 miles I crossed the bridge that goes over the Animas River
Turned right (southeast) and followed the train tracks for about a dozen yards, crossed the tracks, and followed the trail up the mountainside.
At 4.7 miles I came across the trail register and signed it in the dark.
The trail parallels Elk Creek
At 6.1 miles I came across the first area of avy debris. I’m guessing there were 3-4 slides all in close proximity that kind of ran together. I’d heard there’d been avalanches here and to just follow the marked tape through them, but was surprised at how dense and large the debris was. I was able to follow the marking tape easily through the first area but got lost in the second and ended up climbing a little higher than necessary.
In the daylight I had no issues getting across the debris, but noticed there’s still ice and snow under the logs that’s melting and forming caverns, so be careful where you step! There were flies circling the debris.
After the avy area I came across some beaver ponds and turned right (south). The best place to do this was just after the large boulder: the trail parallels a pond at this point
There was a good camping spot after the beaver ponds. Side note: anyone else’s carabineers hanging off your pack double as bear bells?
Mile 7 was the mile of creek crossings. What I couldn’t tell in the dark was this was some extremely clear water (it was refreshing on the way back to dip my bandana in it and cool off). All of the creek crossings were easy and had several options (rocks and fallen trees abound)
The trail continued to climb up the mountainside. There were frequently fallen trees on the trail (not from avalanches) but they were all passable and for once I celebrated in being short because I could pass under them easily.
This part of the hike was really cool because I started hearing elk bugling. I tried to get some of it on video but it’s hard to hear (turn your volume to the max). The bugling lasted for over an hour and came from all directions.
The trail was well defined all the way to the basin. I reached the basin at 9.1 miles, just as the sun was coming up. There was a light dusting of snow on the Trinities.
I followed the trail through the willows and lost one of my gloves. No worries though, because of my Raynaud’s I always bring at least 2 pairs (I had 3 today).
There’s an obvious campsite in the basin. I turned right (southwest) at the campsite at 9.8 miles- 11,380’, careful not to make too much noise because the campers were obviously still sleeping.
The trail crosses another small creek
And then climbs up the hill to another (rocky) basin/amphitheater
This is where the trail ends. I made my way over the talus, hiking closer to Arrow than Vestal
The goal is to gain the saddle at the top of the gully. This was harder than it sounds because that scree/talus is terrible. I was glad I’d worn my helmet. I strapped on my microspikes and took the solid line up, dotted line down. I’d do it the same way if I did it again.
Once on the saddle I headed southeast around the backside of Vestal
This eventually led me to an area of the mountain separated by a gully. Here I turned left (north) and climbed what I’d consider class 3 terrain towards the summit, careful not to go into the gully, aiming for where the gully originates.
At the top there’s a false summit, but the true summit isn’t far off
I summited Vestal Peak, my 100th Centennial, at 10am, after 8.5 hours and 11.4 miles of hiking.
Despite the forecasted winds and cold temperatures and rain/snow it was a perfect day! I spent over half an hour on the summit, something I’ve rarely done, and took pictures of the Grenadier range and the beauty of the San Juans
Knowing the weather was nice now but it was supposed to turn I decided it was time to head back.
Here’s the path I took back down into the talus basin
It wasn’t pretty. In fact, I did something to a ligament in my ankle and it became very sore on the way down (still hurts, but it’s just bruised)
I decided to keep my microspikes on until I made it back down to the camping area. As I approached the area above the campsite I could hear someone shouting excitedly about nothing in particular and it looked like there were two people just finishing tearing down their tent. I figured it was a parent and child out camping and slowed down a bit to give them time to head out before me.
At the camping area I sat down for a bit, enjoyed lunch (peanut butter and pretzels) and took off my microspikes.
Here’s a look heading out of the basin
I found my lost glove (woot!) and caught up to the couple within about a mile of hiking. They were two girls in their early 20s who were out backpacking together. They seemed like they were having a terrific time (or high on something: I don’t judge) and were wonderfully boisterous. One of their boyfriends had dropped them off at one trailhead and was picking them up tonight at another one so they could make it a longer trip. We chatted for a bit and then I was on my way. The best part about the conversation? No one mentioned we were women out here alone.
The hike out was beautiful in the daylight. I made it back to the beaver pond area (I suspect the beavers moved to down by the Animas river because there’s no current sign they’re here anymore).
The avalanche area was much easier navigated in the daylight. I followed the Elk Creek Trail back to the Animas River
There were a few waterfalls along the way
I made it back to the trail register and even though it was sunny it started raining. For the rest of the hike it rained and didn’t stop. I was glad I’d worn waterproof clothing, even if it hadn’t been needed for much of the day. The rain was nice in the beginning but eventually the thunder started and I got a bit antsy. It was a beautiful hike out though, and much better than the trail back to the Purgatory trailhead (I’d take Molas over Purgatory any day).
The downside to the rain was the mud. It got really bad about half a mile before the trailhead and mud was starting to stick in layers to my boots. The last mile felt like it took forever to finish, but that was most likely because by this time I was quite tired. I’d made a good decision to make this a day trip: as I turned and looked back at the Vestal Basin I could see it was covered in dark clouds full of rain/snow/graupel/etc.
I made it back to my truck at 5:30pm, making this a 23.5 mile hike with 8020’ of elevation gain in 16 hours.
I changed in my truck into new hiking clothes and took a quick wet-wipe bath. I re-braided my hair, ate a packet of tuna and drove to the next trailhead. It rained the entire 5 hour drive there.
The last couple of trip reports have been rough to write: I’m traveling for work and using my work laptop computer for these write-ups which isn’t ideal. My work laptop doesn’t have simple functions like spellcheck (so please go easy on me there), everything I have is a “reader” and the keypad is slow, inaccurate, and last night it stopped working altogether. I googled the nearest computer store and this morning walked 2 miles to buy a computer mouse. I’m hoping the problem’s solved, but not holding my breath as the laptop is several years old and I’ve taken it to dozens of states and multiple countries so the hardware has been switched several times (I work for a software company, so this is a security measure). Side note “just in case”: I’m using this computer during off working hours, and not using it on company time.
After summiting Rio Grande Pyramid yesterday I hopped right back in my truck and drove the short drive to Creede, CO. I knew the ‘easy’ road in (503) had been washed out, so I was getting creative and took in the 502. I Google wasn’t going to get me there, so I’d created the route on Caltopo and turned it into a gpx file. I credit this ability to those who’ve challenged my summits, as a few months ago I wasn’t even aware this sort of thing was possible because I don’t use a GPS when hiking. Now knowing this is a possibility with Strava it’s opened up a lot of back country roads for me! Woot! I made it to my desired area with no difficulties.
At the north end of Creede I took the West Willow Creek Road up past numerous mines and then turned right onto a 4WD dirt road after the Midwest Mine (County Road 502).
From this point on I was glad I’d creaded a GPX file, as the roads itersected a few times and it was nice to know I was going in the right direction. The road was easy 4WD with little room for passing but luckily I was the only one on the road on this Friday afternoon.
There were 2 hairpin turns where I had to back my truck up a couple of times to navigate, but my Tundra had no problem making it to the 502/502-1A junction.
When I made it here I got out of my truck, looked at the 502-1A 4WD road and said “nope”. I wasn’t doing that road to my truck (this ended up being a stellar idea). I carefully backed in to a spot big enough for 2 vehicles if we both parked nicely and got out my maps/info for tomorrow. I’d parked next to a small creek that hadn’t been on the map but I knew where I was on the road.
Today had been a long day so I had some tuna, a few pieces of beef jerky, some dried fruit and two shots of whiskey before heading to bed rather early (5:30pm?). I was parked at the beginning of 502-1A and a little worried because the area was so small that I’d impede traffic but on the positive side I didn’t see one vehicle that night.
It was a cold, cold night. My altimeter told me I’d parked at 10,000′, and the forecast told me it was supposed to be a low of 30* at the summit (a few miles and several thousand feet of elevation away). It was colder than 30* where I parked. I woke up halfway through the night and put on socks (they were off because they needed to air out after yesterday) and I even got out an extra sleeping bag and put on my knit hat. It was so much colder than last night! I was thrilled when my alarm went off at 2:30am, and puzzled when the first thing I saw was a vehicle coming down the road at me. Kind of interesting the only vehicle I’d see at all was one at 2:30am. They didn’t stop and I never saw them again, so I’m not sure where they were headed. I put on my winter gear (winds were expected again today and it was already below freezing outside). I was on the trail by 3am.
I started the morning with a Raynaud’s attack in my hands and was worried this would prematurely end my hike. I put on my gloves and pumped my fingers back and forth: this hasn’t happened in a while and I wasn’t happy.
Immediately I was glad I’d decided to park my truck and hike to Phoenix Park. The road was what I’d consider “extreme 4WD”, and nothing I’d subject my Tundra to. The pictures don’t do it justice; you need high clearance and a good dose of insanity to navigate this road.
The only downside? The road started around 10K and seemed to loose hundreds of feet in elevation. It was actually only a couple hundred feet, but it felt like forever and I was worried it would ‘hurt’ on the way out.
After 1.6 miles I made it to the turn off from the 4WD road to the trail (787)
Well cairned but not well established, the 787 quickly crosses a stream
and comes across an avalanche area. I’m not sure when the avalanche occured, but there’s a trail to the left of trampled down grass to follow
This trail doesn’t look like it’s used often, and would be difficult to follow if it weren’t for the numerous cairns marking the way as I headed northeast
Still hiking in the dark I was now starting to get really cold. I switched my gloves for my mitts and trudged on, glad there wasn’t any wind. At 2.3 miles I came across another stream crossing and then quickly another at 2.4 miles
At this point I began to regain all the elevation I’d lost earlier in the morning. I could tell I was surrounded by raspberry bushes and lots of shrubs and plants turning fall colors, all covered in frost. I scared a bunch of ptarmigans at one point and they scared me as well. About halfway to the top of this area I could smell sheep (I used to raise them, and they have a very distinctive smell). Since it was dark I decided to figure out where they were: I hit my trekking pole harshly against a tree and heard to my right a loud snap, bleat, and rustling. The sheep went in the opposite direction and I continued on, following the cairns. I crossed one final stream at 4 miles. Here is where the trail ended.
I headed south until I came across a cairn with a large wooden pole, turned right (east) and followed the slope in the dark
Here there was a solid trail for about 200 yards that went along the ridgeline
and once I made it to the end of the ridge the trail disappeared. From here I just needed to head to this point, and there was no exact way to get there so I took what I felt was the path of least resistance. Note, this point is NOT the peak, but it’s close.
Halfway to the ridge it became windy. By ‘windy’ I mean sustained 40mph winds with a few icy 60mph gusts thrown in. It was so cold my water bladder froze (something I hadn’t anticipated with a forecasted low of 30* on the summit). I kept pumping my fingers back and forth, put on my balaclava, and trudged on, noticeby tired from yesterday’s 25 miles. I heard an elk bugle in the distance and thought how amazing it was to be out here all alone.
The sun began to rise as I was halfway to the point
The wind never stopped. There’s a lot I could say about the cold for the rest of the hike, but I’ll end it here: it was cold, cold, cold. And windy. The kind of cold and wind where the snot dries as it’s flying from your face and then comes back and freezes to your cheek (another reason I like to hike solo: not the most glamerous of moments).
At the top of the ‘point’ I could see the rest of the route before me. Thankfully it was short and there was a well developed cairn to welcome me.
I just followed the ridge to the left as it swung around to the right
The rocks here were looser than expected but it was an easy final hike to the summit.
I summited at 8:15am
From here I could see unranked 13er la Garita Peak, but it wasn’t on my agenda today because I needed to get back home to watch my daughter perform at halftime. After getting a quick summit photo and video (the cold is telling me this may be the last of the year) I headed back down.
Here’s the route back down. Be careful not to desced too soon (specially if you ascend in the dark). There are two ridges you can take back down, and the correct one is the second one you see from the summit.
I made it back to the large cairn
and headed back down the hill (stay below the boulders)
The wind stopped just where it started (about a mile and a half below the summit) and I was able to warm up. Back in the treeline I took off my gloves and balaclava and tried to crunch the tube of my water bladder to get water to flow. It was light now, so I stopped when I came across a large raspberry patch. I picked one and it crumbled in my hand. Curious, I took a closer look and upon further inspection realized they were frozen! Not completely frozen but frozen enough to add a small crunch and a much needed flare to their refreshment (for in the sunlight I was now warm). I picked a handful and ate frozen raspberries for the next 10 mintues, wondering why there weren’t any animal tracks near here? The currents weren’t as tasty, so I left those for the birds.
The sheep were gone and I never saw any elk, but I did see and hear dozens of crows on my way down. I wondered what had died? There was a stream along the avalanche area
and here’s a look out from the last stream crossing back onto the 4WD road
It was still 1.5 miles back to my truck, and as I walked this road I was thankful I hadn’t taken my truck this way: it was worth the walk, and actually not that bad. The last few hundred feet of elevation gain I’d been dreading was all completed in the shade and didn’t slow me down that much.
I made it back to my truck at 10:30am, making this a 12 mile hike with 4441′ in elevation gain in 7.5 hours.
I drove home and made it in plenty of time to be at my daughter’s performance. I put all my dirty clothes in the laundry and when I changed it found a dead grasshopper in the bottom of the bin. Sorry little guy! I’m sure it got caught in the holes in my snow pants (I REALLY need a new pair, but despite shopping at multiple stores can’t seem to find one that fits).
I finally received my new camera in the mail and was quite excited to try it out. I left my house at 8pm and arrived at the Thirty Mile Campground at 1am after a long but easy 2WD dirt road in. There’s a designated area for backpackers/hikers to park.
I really wanted to get out on the trail, but as soon as I parked my truck it started raining. Hmph! It was supposed to stop raining at 1am, but from the looks of things the rain was just getting started. So I got all ready to go and then leaned the drivers seat back and tried to get some rest. I set my alarm for 20 minute intervals, and after the fourth time realized the rain wasn’t going to stop so I might as well get going. I put on my poncho and snow gear (I’m still in the market for waterproof pants, choosing instead to get the Alti Mitts this month because keeping my hands warm is more important) and headed out on the trail.
This is the start of the trail. It follows the Weminuche Trail.
I signed the trail register (which was a mess!!! It needs a new notebook) and was off
The beginning of the trail is easy to follow, if a little muddy. Since it was raining I expected the mud. I hiked alongside the Rio Grande Reservoir and after a little over a mile I turned left and headed up the drainage area. As I was hiking here I heard a loud “snap” and figured I’d scared a deer.
There was an easy creek crossing
and lots of mud (mixed with horse manure)
After turning the corner to the left (south) I encountered a small boulder field
Before coming to a well built bridge at 2 miles. I crossed the bridge and turned left. It was still raining.
From here the trail switchbacked a bit through some aspen trees
and was a bit washed out in areas but there were side trails to navigate the damage
From here I hiked for what seemed like forever along the CDT. Forever. It was relatively flat hiking and I could tell I was in a basin, with lots of large boulders strewn about and open space.
At 4.2 miles I came to another stream crossing
and continued hiking in the mud (and rain) to another stream crossing at 5.3 miles
There also seemed to be camping here
Still on the CDT, I went right here
and kept following the CDT
After 6.8 miles I came to the CDT Junction and once again stayed right
Now heading west I passed a small pond and celebrated the rain stopping (finally!!!)
I entered and exited trees and came to an area that looked good for camping after about 8.5 miles
I entered the trees again
and after what seemed like forever (9.5 miles actually) I made it to treeline! Still on a good trail I passed another small boulder field
At the top of the boulder field I had a choice to go left or right. I went right (although both ways will get you where you need to go). Overall, I felt the way I chose was shorter (at least, it should have been if I’d taken the direct route the first time and not got bogged down in the willows).
I made it to the top of the hill and this is what I saw. All I needed to do was to make my way around the willows to the gully and ascend the rest of the way to the peak. Also, it was evident it had been snowing on the peak while it had been raining on me this morning
Here I lost the trail, and initially tried to cut across the willows and head straight for the gully. That didn’t last long: there were little streams everywhere and boggy areas and the willows were saturated with water (so I became so as well). It looked like there were trails through the willows, but they always ended at a stream and an area of willows too thick to pass.
I retraced my steps and went right (northwest) and trudged up the hillside. Eventually I found a surprisingly intact trail and followed that around the mountainside and up towards the gully (on my way back I followed the trail further, knowing where it began).
Here there were still willows but they were much more manageable. An added bonus was the sun was starting to warm things up and evaporate the rain. I was still “soaking wet” but now I was able to dry off in the sun.
Once out of the willows I followed the cairns up the hillside and aimed for a class 2 gully
This gully wasn’t really that bad…
and at the top there was a cairn
All I had to do now was head straight up the slope to the summit. Unfortunately, here is where the sprinkling of snow began. It didn’t require traction, but it did require careful footing, as a lot of the snow had turned into ice.
The boulders were a bit loose, but I found several dirt paths that led straight up
After hiking for 11.7 miles I summited at 8:50am
It was really, really windy at the summit, and while it had looked clear while hiking up from below, now I wasn’t so sure. The wind and snow made it cold, and looking at those clouds I wanted to make it down as soon as possible. Those mitts has been a good choice.
Route finding on the way down was much easier than on the way up.
Here’s a look at “Fools Pyramid” if you’re thinking of attempting it. I had another big day tomorrow and I was worried about the potential snow for today so I didn’t head that way, but it’s definately something I’d consider in the future. I found a really great camping spot near treeline (before the boulder field by a stream) that I’d like to hike into some day, spend the night, hike “Fools Pyramid” and PT 13,261, camp again, and hike out the next day. Today was not that day.
Once at the top of the basin here’s the route back on the CDT
The further I descended the more the wind picked up. I heard what sounded like gunshots and realized I was hearing trees falling over. I kept looking at the clouds, wondering if it was going to rain again, but the wind seemed to blow them away as quickly as they came.
On my way down I came across a strawberry patch and even a few raspberry bushes.
Back down in the basin I had a clear view of the trail in the daylight. What I thought might have been tents in the dark ended up being large boulders. The wind here became insane. I’d stir up a bird as I was walking on the trail, and startled, it would try to fly away, only to be swept sideways in the wind. This happened about a dozen times (the birds were sheltering from the wind in the bushes) and I felt bad every time one took to the air. They were usually pushed by the wind sideways into bushes.
Just before I made it back to the bridge I came across someone who had all the right equipment but looked too clean and tidy to be a thru hiker. I asked him where he was going and he said he’d just started and was trying to find a lake. I’d travelled pretty far and hadn’t seen one, and told him as much. His response was it was 180 miles in. I was jealous, and wished him luck.
The last 5 miles took what seemed like forever for me to complete, and I was glad I’d chosen not to summit those two other peaks: I was tired!
I made it back to the trailhead at 2:30pm, making this a 23.5 mile hike with 5115′ of elevation gain in 12 hours.
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…