| Lost in The Weminuche III: Bringing It All Back Home
Lost in The Weminuche Part I
Lost in The Weminuche Part II
Somewhere high on the precipitous nooks and airy rubble ledges of Jagged, our exit strategy changed. Originally, we planned to jump from Sunlight Basin to Noname to Ruby and then out to Purgatory TH, hitting everything of interest along the way. As itineraries go, this one was pretty stout. But we lost a day on the approach and lost another not adding Vallecito and Leviathan to our Jagged day. The idea of a Chicago Basin exit was proposed and unanimously accepted.
Overall, I think the long and difficult approach had taken its toll. And with Jagged and 13,121 under our belts, maybe we eased off the gas pedal a bit? I felt pretty content at this stage. I think we all did. We hadn't seen a soul in I don't know how long, either…
Lost in the Weminuche III: Bringing It All Back Home
"These are great days we're livin', bros. We are jolly green giants walking the Earth…"(1)
Thursday, August 2, 2012
Another 4 A.M. alarm but I'm used to it by now. Still, I snooze the thing five or six times and when I finally stagger out of the tent, I see Scot and Mike are almost ready to go. I haven't even pissed yet and their tent is disappearing into one of their packs. Scot shoots me a look that says "get your shit together" so I spring into action. When you're with someone for this long, surviving in the wilderness, you don't have to speak to communicate. Eye contact and body language are all you need. It is really a powerful thing to experience.
The packs are substantially lighter now with five days of food gone. We meander up the trail toward Sunlight Lake in the dark and pass Jamie's vacated stealth camp. He jumped into Chicago Basin the day before and we would hook up again within hours.
Our next decision involves how to get into Chicago Basin. We have two options:
1. Sunlight Spire-Sunlight saddle
2. Sunlight Spire-Windom saddle
Option #1 is closer and we will basically walk right by it. I know it has a pretty solid trail on the backside because I had been up there a month earlier. But it also harbors nasty 50-degree hellpan near the top. Jamie had day-tripped over it a few days prior and had this to say:
Option #1 is dead center
Option #2 is further away, with an elevation drop in between, but we know it goes.
Option #2. Navigate the cliff band and take a hard right.
Still, it is hard to pass up John Wayne-ing it to the Sunlight Spire-Sunlight saddle. Even if it sucks ass, we would probably top out around the time we would start climbing up to the Sunlight Spire-Windom saddle. This could save us at least an hour. We all have peaks we want to hit around Twin Lakes en route to camp and that 60 minutes might make the difference.
Ultimately, we decide to play it safe. The thought of dealing with sketchy terrain, terrain we would not realize was sketchy until we were neck deep in it with full packs, is too much of a gamble.
So we continue on toward the Sunlight Spire-Windom saddle. Slow and steady.
Sometimes you gotta dig deep...
When we top out at 13,700 feet, I let out a roar. I haven't felt this alive in a while. The descent is big class 2 talus with the occasional femur snapper thrown in to keep everyone honest.
Once in the upper basin, the games begin. Mike keeps a high line and goes up Windom, Scot heads for Peak 18. We see activity on Sunlight Spire and lots of goats down lower. We also encounter our first humans in almost six days.
Welcome to Chicago Basin, a--holes...
Eventually, we all rendezvous at Twin Lakes where Jamie is waiting patiently for us. Scot is gracious enough to guard our packs from Manson-esque marmots while we shoot up Peak Eleven. The clouds won't commit so we gun it to the summit without taking any chances.
Summit of Peak Eleven
A few hours later we have our tents pitched in upper Chicago Basin and the rain starts in earnest.
Friday, August 3, 2012
It rained for eons the night before. Everything and everybody got pretty wet. I suffered through a chilly damp sleep and actually looked forward to getting up and moving when the alarm went off again at 4 A.M. It was the only way to get warm.
We cross Needle Creek and head straight up grassy slopes. Our destination is the Eolus-West Eolus saddle. We hope for a weakness that will allow safe passage down into New York Basin where we can take a shot at Peak 15. But we have no beta whatsoever, just contours on the topo.
We gain elevation quickly but have to wrap around a bit, which costs us some time. Still, we continue on. As we approach the saddle, we are unsure of what we will see on the other side.
Scot gets the first look and says we have work to do. I come up next, take a look down the other side, turn gray internally and stagger back. Below us are wet fourth/low fifth slabs that may or may not cliff out further down. There are some cracks we could descend, but the terrain appears to be total sketch, especially wet. I don't know. I just don't know…
To descend or not to descend...
Scot is thinking about free climbing it. Jamie looks to see if we can protect it. I'm thinking this is a no-go. Mike and I talk about time - it is now 7:30 A.M.
We call it right there and decide to fall back on Plan B - West Eolus. We traverse grassy ledges to look for a feasible way up and come to another saddle. From here, it looks like we can descend into New York Basin on nothing more than loose class 2. So we trade West Eolus for Peak 15. At this stage, we are all in pretty high spirits again.
West Eolus and our descents options. We aborted the one left of center and took the one to the right.
I feel we basically have Peak 15, as cocky and uninformed as that may sound now. We drop down and fan out. Our failure to fully discuss this decision, even for a scant 30 to 60 seconds, will test the strength of our group dynamic and create a latent stress among us for the remainder of our trip.
I figured the descent would take 20-30 minutes tops. But it ended up taking over 90 minutes. The talus near the bottom got bigger and bigger and the bottom got further away. I've never been cliffed out on talus before. Can you say 10 friggin' times?!?! Near the bottom, we have to incorporate some canyoneer-style maneuvers to make it down. Simply unf---ingbelievable.
So here we are in New York Basin at 9:40 A.M. Peak 15 is across the way. What do we do?
The ensuing decisions are contentious to say the least.
Scot wants to give it a shot. I don't think we have a chance, especially being one basin from camp. Jamie senses an epic brewing. Sarah is with me and I'm almost certain Mike has one foot out the door.
I look at the sky to get a read on the clouds but it's too early to discern anything. What if the weather holds? Does it really matter? How will we get out of here and back to camp?
We call it right there. Scot is not happy and heads for North Eolus. In retrospect, maybe Sarah and I should've pulled out and allowed the group to continue as a rope of three. This would've bought more time and maybe put some of us on top. But I really wasn't sure who was in and who was out at this stage. For a team that had performed so well together for so long, I think this was one time where we collectively blew it. We should have held a Council of War before descending into New York Basin. Make sure everyone was on the same page. It was as simple as that.
So Mike, Jamie, Sarah and I try to figure out our best way back to camp. We have four options:
1. Ascend the shit we just came down
2. Follow Scot and pick up the Eolus trail down to Twin Lakes
3. Get into Ruby Basin and climb Twin Thumbs Pass and descend to Twin Lakes
4. Descend New York Basin
We choose #4.
We'd heard New York Basin is nasty but there are varying degrees of nastiness. The upper basin is beautiful, with lots of idyllic camping spots. As we descend, the terrain starts to narrow and the foliage gets thick. Further down, we have to make a decision:
1. Left side of creek
2. Right side of creek
We go left.
Dude, this place is sweet. I'd definitely come back here and camp.
I don't know. Things are starting to get pretty thick.
I'll be damned if this descent culminates in a jackpot.
A rappel? You gotta be kidding me!
Five hours after we start our descent (yes, you read that correctly), we spill out onto the Needle Creek Trail still wearing helmuts and harnesses. We have four miles and 2,000 feet of vert to go on solid trail to get back home.
We eventually arrive around 7 PM, 14 hours after leaving camp. That is a lot of work for no summits. Scot, who has been lounging in camp since 1 PM, says he was getting ready to go searching for us.
At least we didn't carry all the technical gear for nothing.
Saturday, August 4, 2012
Wooderson sets the pace and we get to Columbine Pass in 1:02. Pretty damn good if you ask me. I don't think I've ever felt this fine-tuned in the mountains before. McCauley, Grizzly, Hope and Aztec are on the table. Scot has Grizzly and Hope but wants Aztec and McCauley. Mike, Sarah and I want McCauley and Grizzly and figure Aztec is a pipe dream, especially because we have to break camp and drop down to Needleton later this evening. All the while, Jamie has decided to sleep in. That punk!
If you know of somebody who has a better quality to quantity mountaineering ratio than this guy, give me a call.
I'd like to give a shout out to Marlyn Peet for renewing his wedding vows on this peak a few years back.
Mike topping out on Hope.
At 3 PM we are back in camp. Clouds are forming and the thought of carrying a wet tent down to Needleton has us packing up pretty quickly. We say goodbye to Chicago Basin. Our legs are tired but we know the end is near.
"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"(2)
Earlier in the week, we incorporated a ban on food discussions to keep everyone sane. But with only hours remaining, everything is fair game and the floodgates open. Hot wings, ranch dressing, bleu cheese, fries. Burgers and pickles. Cheese bread and steamy bowls of marinara. Donuts the size of frisbees. Cheap Mexico City taco stands. Modus.
Sarah, Mike and I are also craving fresh fruit and produce. A good salad with balsamic vinaigrette. Peaches, plums, a crisp juicy apple. Scot will have no part of this and says anything that does not involve meat and potatoes is blasphemy.
Two hours later we touch down in Needleton.
Mike and Jamie decide to press on. The trailhead is 8.8 miles and 1,200 vert away. It's 6 PM. I don't have anything left in the tank and neither does Scot or Sarah. So we stick to our plan of pitching in an open meadow along The Animas and tell our friends we'll see them in the morning. For Mike, his final stats for August 4 will come in around 24 miles and 5,800 vert. Nice work, dude…
We pitch our tents and while Scot and Sarah filter water, I tend to more important business. The beer stash.
I took the train into Needleton on June 30 and stashed a sixer of Modus in The Animas. I thought it would be a great way to unwind on our last night in The Weminuche. I stashed it pretty good, in a kayak bag under an inconspicuous pile of rocks. I put the chances of it still being there 36 days later at greater than 80%. I'm a veteran of Animas stashes and was confident in my ability. I still am.
Two beers per person and after eight days in the bush, we sail on this stuff. It's amazing what an extended pack trip will do to your tolerance. We spend the next hour or two eating the remainder of our food with the exception of a morning snack. We also reflect on the events of the past seven days.
The "Getting Loaded Zone"
We then crawl into the tents one final time.
Sunday, August 5, 2012
I didn't sleep well the night before. Maybe it was the warm temps and thicker air. The entire inside of our tent is wet from condensation. We tear down camp quickly and head for home a little after 6 A.M.
I'd never been on the Purgatory Trail before. It is roughly 8.8 miles and 1,200 vert from the Needle Creek junction and most of it is flat. There are two sections of uphill (approximately 400 and 800 feet respectively).
We make quick work of the flats and encounter a few trail runners. Several hours later we get to the base of the finish - a stiff 800 foot grunt to the parking lot. We pause and take final swigs of water. We then dump all of our remaining water because there is no point in carrying that extra weight up the hill. Scot sets the pace, Sarah is in the middle and I bring up the rear.
2,889 steps later (yes, I counted them all), we reach the Purgatory TH. This is where it all started eight days earlier. Mike and Jamie are waiting for us, smiles on their faces, with a trunk full of grocery store eats - apples, juice and cherry danish bites.
We cross the asphalt, greet our friends and drop the packs one last time.
(1)Kubrick, Stanley. 1987. Full Metal Jacket
(2)Dylan, Bob. 1965. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. Bringing It All Back Home. Columbia Records.
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