Bent Pk, Carson Pk, "Tundra Top", "Cataract" Pk, Pt 13,580 B, Pt 13,581, Coney BM, Pt 13,260 B
Route: Ridge run (no trail), Colorado Trail (return) Day 1: Bent Pk, Carson Pk, "Tundra Top", "Cataract" Pk, Pt 13,580 B, Pt 13,581
Elevation Gain: 5,052'
Time loss: ~30 min for SPOT summit messages, ~30 for Elk crossings
I drove up the Wager Gulch 4WD road up to the pass at ~12,400'. The road wasn't bad overall. If you can make it past the first mile beyond the residential section of steep, narrow and rocky road, then you should be fine. The road gets some traffic to the old Carson townsite, but it is mostly 4 wheelers, not vehicles. It was going to be interesting camping this high in elevation. I was hoping that I would gain some benefit!
Waking up in the morning for these big climbs is always tough. All the doubts float through your mind and if you are alone, it makes it even harder to get out of the sleeping bag. This morning was no exception. This was going to be my most ambitious solo trek to date. I have wanted to get 5 ranked peaks in a day, and this was going to be 6! A big mileage and elevation gain day. Would I be up to it after such a big day the day before? I ate a big paleo meal the night before. But did my body recover enough? If it didn't, would I be too slow to complete all 6 peaks? I lost at least 20 minutes struggling with the doubts. But eventually I just had to buck up and get going. Surprisingly enough, once I started moving, all the doubts went away. My body felt strong and rested, and I felt as prepared as ever for such a big day.
With the light from the waning moon, I made quick work up the 4WD track that reached close to the summit. Once the track went away, it was a quick rock hop to the summit. I made it just before sunrise, less than 40 minutes after starting. I had printed Furthermore's excellent TR, so I had times to measure myself by and keep myself on track. I may not keep his times, but at least I could guage my pace for completing the group by them.
Alpenglow on Bent Peak
Sunrise over the La Garita's
Carson & Cataract
Once the sun had peeked over the horizon I took off for Carson Peak. The soon to become familiar sounds of Elk would greet me on the way down the ridge. A small herd was on the ridge further above me. My presence scared them down into the valley to the north, where even more Elk were waiting. The ridge to Carson was long, but was easy hiking.
Elk sighting #1
Ridge to Carson
Pano - Tundra Top to Cataract
A short break on Carson for some food and pics and I was off to Tundra Top. The ridge gets pretty interesting and I chose to stay ridge proper on the traverse. The difficulties can be avoided, but the terrain is on steep flaky talus. So the narrow ridge top with some minor class 2+/3 scrambling was more efficient and fun.
Nearing the summit of Tundra Top, I ran into another small herd of Elk. Some of the group descended down the snow field, where the rest went over Tundra Top and around. I went to the false summit of Tundra Top, as I didn't have the maps on my gps to point me to the true summit (paper maps were larger scale to see that detail). But the false summit did have some nice views. After wandering west on the very gentle slope of Tundra Top, I came across a small pile of rocks out of context with the surrounding grass... the official summit!
Ridge from Carson to Tundra Top - I stayed ridge proper
More of the Ridge to Tundra Top
Elk Sighting #2 on way to Tundra Top
Tundra Top is off to the left, behind the Elk
As I would have to resummit Tundra Top again, I wasted no time here, and turned for Cataract Peak. I aimed for the saddle and then for the west ridge of Cataract. The ridge is a nasty scree mess, and took a bit to climb up it. I chose to skirt around to the back, and then up to the summit ridge. Once up on the ridge, I could see the summit was a short distance to the east, and staying ridge proper was easiest to get there.
I spent a little time on the summit to air the feet before the most fun scree skiing I've ever experienced. I made it from the summit ridge back down to the west ridge in about 2 minutes! If only Darrin could see the smile on my face as I raced down the slope.
Nearing the summit of Cataract
Redcloud, Sunshine, Wetterhorn, Matterhorn
Back on Tundra Top, I signed the register and scoped out the fastest route over to 13,580. From this far away, I can see another Elk herd in between.
Looking back on false summit of Tundra Top
Looking over at 13,580 & 13,581
As I get close to 13,580 I notice that the herd of Elk I saw in the distance was much much larger than any I had seen yet today. There were cows resting on the snow patch and calves cavorting around. They didn't seem too disturbed by my presence, but as I got closer I knew they would take off. I had to slow my progress so that I wouldn't attract too much attention from the males defending their cows and calves. I think more Elk have summitted 13,580B than humans!
Elk sighting #3
From the summit of 13580 I spy out the ridge avoiding route over to 13581. The weather is stable, and coming directly from the west. The monsoon has shut down for a while. For the first ridge section, I contour to the south on nasty scree/talus. The herd I saw on 13580 has joined up with another herd below in the valley, to make a giant bleeting herd of Elk.
Ridge to 13,581
13,581 with Elk in basin
Pole Creek Mountain
From a false summit along the ridge, I spy out the next set of ridge difficulties. It looks like a crumbling overhanging conglomerate rubble pile that I want no part of. From Furthermore's TR, I drop down north before this ridge section, contour across and then up a scree gulley.
13581's nasty ridge section
For the summit of 13581, you approach from the south for some easy class 3. I get up the first section of scrambling, but don't like the last pitch to the summit. So I contour around the east face and then up the north face for the final pitch. I like that the last summit makes you work harder for it. Makes #6 that much more of an accomplishment!
13581 from south
13581 summit from north
East side of summit pitch on 13,581
Once off the summit, I made my way down the scree gully to the valley below. I was careful to scope out a path through the willows and the easiest path back up to the Colorado Trail on the far slope of Carson Peak. Once I reach the CT, I meet my first person of the day! A short distance down the trail, back to the pass, I meet the 2 guys I leap frogged the previous day on Snow Mesa part of the CT. I wished them luck on their way to Durango!
It was a long day, and other than being 0.5L short of water, it was a very successful day. The weather held and I didn't have to bail off the loop (which is possible from Tundra Top on). My body felt great, other than starting to be a bit tired and foot sore for the last mile up to the pass. Paleo meals had really done my body right on this trip. Too bad I would have to have a Mountain House Buffalo Chicken tonight.
13,581 from north near Colorado Trail
Coney BM, Pt 13,260 B
Elevation Gain: 1,904'
I woke up on morning #4, feeling really sore and not excited about hiking another day. Maybe I should have had 2 packets of the Buffalo Chicken, as one didn't seem to have enough protein. Or maybe it was the wrong type of protein. I was going to be on top of Coney BM for sunrise, but the motivation was lacking. So I started hiking at sunrise. The route was short, and mostly on the Colorado Trail. All you have to do is divert to the summit when you want to. So I was able to talk to a couple people on the CT while I ambled in the sunshine. On the return from 13,260 I felt the Pt 13,227 marked on my map could be unranked or ranked. I had time, and it looked like it may have a good view of the opposing valley, so I waltzed over and enjoyed the view. From there it was a quick jaunt down the CT back to my truck. A successful 4 days of hiking in the San Juans completed!
Redcloud Sunshine and 2 Centennials
San Luis and the Baldy Cinco group of 4 from Day #2
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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