| Intro to the La Platas.
April 22, 2012
~10.0 Miles, 6,700 Gain
Trailhead: Start of county road 499 (Tomahawk Basin Road) off of CR 124.
The drive from Indian Creek, Utah was short. I'll take a 2 hour drive any day to the San Juans. I arrived at the trailhead around 9:30 PM. The alarm went off at 5:45 AM and I was hiking up the Tomahawk Basin road around 6:15 AM. Due to a snow drift at the start of the road, I was unable to drive any further. Driving to 10,000 feet on a dirt road in the San Juans in April, I already considered myself pretty lucky.
Cool temperatures were welcoming since I had been rock climbing in 95 degree heat yesterday. I made good time hiking up the road, passing the Tomahawk Mine and then the Little Kate Mine. To avoid the snow, I followed the road up to ~11,400 before I started a scree traverse on the north side of Tomahawk Basin. Since the snow was consolidated, it might have been a better idea to stay low.
Early light on Mt. Moss.
First view of Babcock.
I continued up Tomahawk Basin to ~12,400 to the base of a north facing couloir just west of the east summit of Babcock Peak. Based on what little info I had, I figured the east summit, of four, was the true summit. This was the start of a 4-5 hour route finding mess discovering the true summit of Babcock.
The eastern summit of Babcock and the short middle summit. The snow couloir I climbed is visible.
On my topo program the listed GPS waypoints from LOJ showed the east summit as the true summit (obviously out of date and since then has been updated on LOJ). An old San Juan guide I had didn't declare which summit was the true summit by only describing how to climb each summit and finally, the listed elevation in Roach's 13ers book is listed as 13,149, the east summit. I concluded the east summit to be the one. I was wrong. This mini adventure still ended up being fun nevertheless.
At the base of the furthest east couloir, I ditched my snowshoes and started up. Unfortunately, the snow wasn't as frozen as other aspects but still very stable. Deep shin powder was energy consuming as I slowly made my way up the 600-800 foot couloir. Perfect for skiing, not so much for couloir climbing. Gaining ground slowly, I reached the top of the couloir between the east summit and the short middle summit. From this saddle, it was about 150 feet of class 4 climbing to the east summit. The rock climbing was quite enjoyable.
Looking up the snow couloir between Babcock east and middle short.
Neat rock spires off of Babcock middle short.
Looking down the first couloir.
Class 4 up the ridge to the eastern summit of Babcock.
Looking down the class 4 of Babcock east.
Arriving on the east summit at 9:00 AM, I was irritated by two other summits appearing to be higher. This wasn't going to be an easy ridge romp between summits as they were blocked by large cliffs and rugged terrain. I took a quick 15 minute break on the summit before carefully down-climbing the class 4 ridge to the couloir. Since I didn't have my snowshoes, I went back down the couloir to retrieve them.
Plan B. I was going to climb another couloir between the west summit and the high middle summit. Again, I ditched my snowshoes at the base of the couloir and started up. The fluffy snow was not welcomed. Another 600-800 feet of couloir climbing, I arrived at the saddle between the west summit and high middle summit.
Looking down the second snow couloir between Babcock west and middle high.
Since the high middle summit looked very difficult from my vantage point, I climbed up the west summit with just a few class 3 moves. Again, to my disappointment, I figured out I was not on the correct summit. I returned to the saddle and tried to figure out a logical path to the high middle summit. The only reasonable passage, near the saddle, was a 5.4 climb which I made up about 15 feet up before reaching a wall coated in thin thaw ice. There is probably an easier way and if I had to, I would come back to this sketchy climb. I retreated.
Spiller Peak from the western summit of Babcock.
Middle high (true summit) and eastern summit of Babcock from the western summit.
Moss, Lavender and Hesperus from Babcock west.
Back at the saddle, I descended down a south facing couloir looking for easier passage which I found ~200 feet below the saddle. It was a class 3-4, again thaw ice coated, chimney. I slowly made my way up making sure my feet and hands were solid and not on ice. At last, I reached the ridge east of the summit and with a few class 3 moves, I was on the true summit at 11:00 AM. From what I could tell, this was definitely the true summit. The summit register agreed.
Final ridge to the true summit of Babcock.
Carefully down-climbing, I returned back to the south facing couloir and ascended back up to the saddle and then down the north facing couloir back to my stashed snowshoes. I was amazed at how quickly the snow had softened up. Nothing to get too worried about yet. From my snowshoe stash, I did an ascending traverse along the western edge of Tomahawk Basin to the Babcock-Moss saddle.
Hesperus from my descent on Babcock.
Snow traverse to the Babcock-Moss saddle.
Looking back on Babcock from my traverse to the Babcock-Moss saddle. Sloughs are from days prior.
Nearing the Babcock-Moss saddle.
Once at the saddle, I had to bypass a short cliff band on the south ridge of Moss which I did on the left (western) side of the ridge. After bypassing the cliff band, it was an easy class 2 hike to the summit of Mount Moss where I arrived at 12:45 PM. The snow had made travel slow. From the summit of Moss, I descended on class 2 blocks to the Moss-Lavender saddle. I again ditched my snowshoes and continued towards Lavender. I talus hopped on stable blocks up the south face of Lavender. I aimed for the saddle between the two summit blocks. The class 3 moves gaining the small saddle with snow made things interesting. From the saddle, I climbed on more class 3 blocks to the western summit where I arrived at 1:15 PM. Small and sweet little summit. Hesperus didn't look too bad but there were a few notches in the ridge that I was worried about.
Babcock from the Moss-Babcock saddle. Good view of my second couloir (furthest right)
Class 2 on Moss.
Babcock from the summit of Moss. All 4 summit visible along with the two snow couloirs I climbed.
Snow covered class 3 to the summit of Lavender.
My stay on the summit of Lavender was short and I headed back towards the small saddle between the summits. From the saddle, I descended about 150 feet and then started traversing on blocks on the south face of Lavender towards the Lavender-Hesperus saddle. I crossed several snow slopes as travel on the west ridge proper wasn't possible.
Babcock and Moss from the summit of Lavender.
View from the summit of Lavender.
As I neared the Lavender-Hesperus saddle, there was a nasty notch that had to be negotiated. From about 100 feet above the saddle, I found a red talus gully on the right side (north) of Lavender's west ridge that took me to the saddle. Once at the saddle, I continued about 50 feet up the right side of the ridge before climbing through a rock notch to gain the south side of the ridge. I had to down-climb some steep snow slopes to bypass another notch. After passing these two notches, travel towards Hesparus was pretty straight forward. There were two other minor notches that I encountered but were easy to bypass on the south side of the ridge.
Looking back at the red talus gully near the Lavender-Hesperus saddle.
Stout view of Lavender.
A break was welcomed when I arrived on the summit of Hesperus at 2:20 PM. I was a bit spanked at this point. So much snow travel and scrambling it was all starting to blend together. After my break, I headed back towards the Lavender-Hesperus saddle and from the saddle, did an ascending traverse across snow slopes and class 3 terrain to the Lavender-Moss saddle. I took another break.
Summit of Hesperus. Views of Lavender, Moss and Babcock.
Hesperus and Lavender.
Luckily, the skies had started to become more overcast as I was worried about soft snow on my descent. Fortunately, the snow hadn't softened up beyond my comfort level. From the Lavender-Moss saddle I did a short traverse across the southwest face of Moss and descended to the Moss-Babcock saddle where I descended directly down snow slopes back into Tomahawk Basin. To avoid steep snow slopes and some minor cliff bands, I did a descending traverse along the north side of the basin. Once in the basin, it was a tiring hike back to the car where I arrived at 5:15 PM. Good thing I brought the snowshoes since I didn't get a chance to use them.
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