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Pack in to Weminuche Pass
Rio Grande Pyramid (13,821') - 97th Highest
“Window Peak” (13,157') -517th Highest
PT 13017 (13,017') - 628th Highest
PT 12724 B (12,724') - 842nd Highest
PT 13278 (13,278') - 417th Highest
PT 13261 (13,261') - 430th Highest
Simpson Mtn A (12,904') - 711th Highest
Partners: Papillon and wooderson (fellow finishers), Kevin Baker, USAKeller, Kimo, KMurph147, moon stalker and Joe W
RGP in the Morning
In August of 2002, while still a Chicago “resident” instead of a “transplant”, I took my first summer vacation to Colorado. All of my previous trips had been for skiing, but I had wanted to see what it would be like in summer. I decided that Rocky Mountain National Park would be a good place to start, and reserved a campsite and my first backpacking trip was born. Longs Peak reminded me of the Sears Tower, this huge icon peering around every corner, beckoning. I didn’t climb Longs, but I did find my way up the Flattop Mtn trail and to the summit of Hallet Peak. I got back to town and just had to buy Gerry Roach’s fourteeners book to learn more about Longs, however, and the first seeds of my mountaineer future were planted.
I began planning my next summer’s adventure, but after reading about the peaks, decided that maybe Longs was not a good place for a flat lander to get his feet wet on these mountains. I opted instead for Grays and Torreys, and I opted for Chihuahua Gulch having been a veteran of several ski trips to Summit County and feeling a familiarity with the area. Being a flat lander, I also decided it was best to pack in, and thinking it might take a while to climb, I thought the best day to climb would be the summer solstice, June 21 - and was surprised by how much snow was still on the mountain! I was as green as it gets, the stories from that trip are quite humorous and I spent parts of this past weekend regaling my partners with the tale. But the trip was also a success, and I left already planning what peak would be #3 and trying to figure out how to climb all of the 14ers while living in Chicago.
Chihuahua Gulch (June 2003)
That didn’t last long, because I also discovered Gerry Roach’s thirteeners book, and after flipping through the pictures decided those peaks looked even better and that I now wanted to complete the Highest 100. Pretty ambitious for a person with 2 walk-up 14ers under their belt and 1000 miles of flat prairie between himself and the mountains. I had to change that, and I started looking for a job in Colorado.
In May of 2004 I made the move and went from a city of 2 million, to a ski town of 2 thousand. I thought it would be hard adapting, but I found the outdoor lifestyle was what I had been missing in Chicago and I found that I missed the city comforts less and less the more I got outdoors to take advantage. Democrat became my first 14er as a resident, and 2 weeks later, Edwards became the first of the Centennial 13ers (via a snow route with no ice axe or crampons - hey we were all beginners once right?). By the end of that summer I had 18 out of 100 done, 9 each 14ers and 13ers, but all in the Front, Tenmile/Mosquito and Sawatch ranges. Slowly but surely, I kept working on the list and expanding to the other ranges. In 2005 I made my first visits to the Sangres, Elks and San Juan. Fall of 2006 I climbed Half Peak for number 50, somehow “half on Half” seemed appropriate. Then Uncompahgre was number 75 in 2007.
Uncompahgre (Oct 2007)
2008 on Pikes, I finished the 14ers with my family. Pikes also represented my 88th out of the highest 100. The 12 remaining were mostly difficult and remote, plus by then I had started getting deeper into the whole of the 13ers. The “list” was less of a priority as it was no longer so much a goal as it was a milestone on a now much deeper journey. Two years after finishing Pikes I stood atop Dallas on July 31, 2010 for number 98. Two more to go, but it would take exactly 2 years to the day to reach the summit of Jagged and number 99. Jagged is not only one of the most difficult peaks on the highest 100 list from a technical standpoint, but from a logistic one as well.
Pikes (Aug 2008 )
I was lucky enough to share many of these summits over the years with some great climbing partners. Some of the ones from the early days have moved away, and others have taken their place. Early on I did most of the centennials solo because my partners only cared about the fourteeners. A seemingly natural tendency for many, but knowing I wanted to climb the highest 100 and seeing how many of them are next to fourteeners, I thought it made a lot of sense to try and chase both parts of the list concurrently. The deeper I got on the list, the more like-minded partners I started to find, many of whom I found through this site either directly, or through other partners I met here. Because of the holiday weekend and family or other obligations, not all of those partners were able to share in the finale, but with so many great experiences along the way over the years, you were all still there and were all still a huge part of the success this past weekend.
In July of 2010, I first met Kevin (Papillon) and Sarah (Wooderson) in a hotel in Durango after Brian (lordhelmut) and I made the long drive down to pick up the train with them for a long weekend trip to Ruby Basin with Pigeon as Turret as our main objectives. It quickly became apparent that our styles were going to mesh well, and we spent time at camp talking about future climbs. We realized we all were nearing the end of our highest 100 lists, and even then started talking about the idea that we could all finish together someday. Based on the peaks we had left on our lists, Rio Grande Pyramid seemed like the most likely candidate for a group celebration, and after climbing Jagged last month, we were ready to go.
Pigeon (July 2010)
Kevin Baker was also on that Ruby Basin trip, I had met him the previous fall on Mt Silverthorne and had also climbed Gladstone with him that May. We were hoping it would be a group of 4 finishers, but the timing just didn’t quite work out. I am glad Kevin still decided to join us for this event though, he was on 4 of my last 6 centennials and really helped bring it home.
Caroline (USA Keller) and I have actually know each other the longest out of the people in our group, but hadn’t seen each other for a few years. We were briefly roommates actually when she rented a room from me while working at Beaver Creek, and shared a summit of Culebra later that year.
Keegan and I had met once before a couple of years ago for my 200th overall 13er but hadn’t seen each other since. Kimo and I just met this past winter on a climb of Huron and the team was rounded out by Joe and Kelly (Moon Stalker) who I just met for this climb. A great mix of friends old and new and a just plain fun mix of people to hang out with for 3 days in the wilderness.
Jagged (Aug 2012)
All of that is a really condensed five-minute history of numbers 1 through 99. As I sit here trying to figure out where to start on this trip report, I thought that just seemed like an appropriate way to reflect on how the journey began to help tell the tale of number 100 and what it meant to stand on that summit with this group of friends. I am sure Kevin and Sarah have their own thoughts on their own journey from 1-99, but maybe quite similar as fellow Midwestern transplants who went from flatlanders to 13er enthusiasts.
The Approach and The Finisher
The plan was to split up the drive down with a camp at Marshall Pass and some breakfast in Gunnison, but with the camp slightly off the road, we didn’t end up getting our group assembled until the Rio Grande Reservoir Trailhead. We geared up there and started the surprisingly mild approach to Weminuche Pass. Unlike most of the approaches I have done in this part of the San Juan, this approach was only about 5 miles and barely 1500 feet of vertical gain.
Weminuche Creek Approach
We crossed the third creek near Weminuche Pass and found a great large campsite to the left that was perfect for our oversized group. With such a short approach, we had taken it easy on the drive, and without even really pushing made camp in about 2 hours and spent the afternoon chatting it up around camp. We even got a surprise visit from our camp neighbor - long time forum member Tommy Dorr.
Camp Life (by Caroline)
The weather wasn’t perfect, so we decided to get a jump on the day with a 5am start. The trail started right across from our camp - marked with a weathered post that says “Skyline Trail”. The trail wasted no time, and reared up quickly on the elevation gain. After a stiff push the trail started to wrap into the Rincon la Vaca basin The trail started to drop, and then hit some deadfall where it disappeared. Apparently this was not even the right trail as we found out later. We are not sure exactly where we lost it up high, but it wasn’t too hard to get back on track. We were below some cliffs so traversed grass until we cleared them, then did an ascending traverse across a meadow to the top of a tree patch and found the trail there. We followed it to a nice rock outcrop which made for a nice break spot.
Moon over RGP (by Kelly)
The trail stays good from this point, but there is a sharp right turn to get to the saddle between RGP and PT 13278 that you need to look out for. When we reached the saddle we took another break for some sunblock and to get ready for the 1600' talus grunt to the summit.
RGP from the Saddle
We found a loose gravely use trail up the first headwall and a brief flat reprieve. We opted to go a little left of the loose gully that the trail seemed to continue up and instead hit some bigger talus to the ridge crest and another brief flat spot. These flat spots broke the climb up nicely!
Use Trail (by Caroline)
We kept up the steep ridge on fairly good rock, either that or we have just gotten used to how loose the San Juans are. As we neared the summit the realization set in that we were mere steps from finishing the Highest 100, the feeling was almost surreal and I started having flashbacks to many of the previous climbs. It was hard to believe I was about to etch my name next to the others who had finished this list before me. It felt good to know I was going to be sharing this milestone with friends, 2 of which were finishing the same list at the same time.
Up the Ridge
We stopped to regroup and take our final steps up the ridge in near unison, where we shared hugs, high fives and handshakes with our group and humbly accepted our partners’ congratulations. Then it was time to break out the celebration brownie that I had bought at City Market and decorated myself. It was a tasty treat for sure!
Summit Group (by Caroline)
The summit views were amazing, I had often seen Rio Grande Pyramid from other peaks, but the views surpassed expectation. In typical Chicago Transplant/Papillon/Wooderson fashion, however, it was time to press on and climb more peaks. We started our descent off the south gullies, which turned out to be rather loose and messy, but still the quickest way to combine with neighboring Window Peak.
Descent Gullies (not so fun...)
We traversed grass high along the dyke that creates The Window, another feature I had seem from afar many times. Finally standing in it was surreal, for one - its huge! It has to be 100 feet tall on each side and nearly 150 feet wide. The view of the Needles is a special one, and Caroline was able to get a wide-angle fish-eye shot to show both walls at the same time. My new screen background:
Window and Needles (by Caroline)
We continued traversing below the dyke until it gave way to steep grass slopes that led us to the summit.
Traverse below 13017
We decided we might be starting to push our weather luck, and didn’t stay long as we really hoped to be able to climb PT 13017 and not “orphan” it behind. We moved quick, crossing grass then surprisingly stable talus to the east ridge of the peak - which we heard was the better route. We started up class 3 talus blocks, through 2 short class 4 steps and up to the narrow summit ridge.
PT 13017 Crux with Kelly, Caroline and Kevin
The ridge is narrow and exposed, and quite exciting. On the way up, we stayed on the crest and through a knife ridge and exposed notch before reaching the very tiny summit. We summited in waves as we had become spread out on the traverse and this turned out to be a good thing - we couldn’t have all shared the summit if we wanted to!
Keegan on Summit Ridge
The register had 16 names in 4 years, we put half again on the summit in one day. On the way back down, we found a class 3/3+ chimney that avoided the notch and knife edge, traversing below it on a narrow ledge. Back to the base of the ridge, we waited for all to regroup, and then 6 of us headed on to see if the weather would hold for one more while others headed to camp.
PT 13017 Ridge Overview
PT 12724 B is mostly a grass ridge and goes pretty quickly. The views were of course great looking back to the upper valley and the peaks we had climbed.
PT 12724 B
We retraced to a small saddle, down a grass slope, and bushwhacked along the Rincon la Vaca creek through marshy grass, wet willows, over deadfall and across numerous stream crossings until we finally met up with the marked trail at the back end of a large meadow. We were surprised by a few moose right before a brief summer shower pushed us along.
Moose mama and calf
The trail is pretty flat and then meets up with the Weminuche Creek trail about a mile from camp where we enjoyed another enjoyable evening, talking about climbing, life, and what makes us tick. We had a great evening really, and camping in the edge of that meadow with good friends after such an accomplishment was about the perfect way to culminate the journey. Sure some of our friends couldn’t be there with us, but you were all there in spirit and we couldn’t have finished without you.
Another Day of Peaks
Monday we woke for a 5am trail time again, and followed the familiar path from the day before, right down to losing the trail and stopping for breakfast at the same rock outcropping. We left the trail a little earlier this time though, and started up the steep grassy and willow slopes of PT 13278.
RGP from slopes of PT 13278 (by Kelly)
We hit the ridge and got a good look at the ridge to the summit, grassy and gentle on the left with a steep volcanic cliff to the right. The route to the summit went quick, and we had a nice break enjoying the views.
PT 13278 Ridge
Time for at least one more 13er before heading back to camp, so we started on our way. The ridge to PT 13261 was interrupted by a chossy looking tower, but it was easily bypassed on the right.
Tower Bypass (on right)
A steep talus ascent, and we were on another summit. We had so far made short work of the day as it was only about 9.30. We decided not to leave the 12er Simpson Mtn behind, and started the descent towards its grassy ridge.
PT 13261 Descent
Simpson's Gentle Ridge (summit to left)
Simpson was the easiest peak of the weekend, which is always kind of a nice way to end a long weekend isn’t it? The views of the weekend’s journey were good, as well as views back towards civilization as we could see the road we had taken in.
PT 13278 (L), RGP (C) and PT 13261 (R)
We unfortunately had to traverse a little and go over a short bit of ridge to get back to the basin above our camp, however. It was easy terrain though, and we quickly were above the steep slopes leading to the creek.
The bushwhack was surprisingly easy, much less deadfall than the day before, but it was a bit wet along the creek. We popped out right at camp, packed up, and headed back to the cars. Before departing for our respective journeys home.
Needle Mountains Zoom
Between the summit views, and the drive back through the San Juans and along the Sawatch, I probably saw close to half of the Highest 100, which provided for a very reflective drive. An idea that had started some 10 years before while on vacation to Rocky Mountain National Park when I lived in Chicago, had now been reached. But it was more than just a goal, more than a list, or a milestone. It really had changed my life. It might sound kind of cheesy to say something like that, but its true. After that climb of Grays and Torreys in 2003, after three ski trips and two climbing trips in less than two years, I knew that I belonged in Colorado, that this was where I wanted to live. I knew I couldn’t fully enjoy this outdoor pursuit without moving here, and I did.
I love Chicago, I love the buildings, the food, the sports teams and most of all my family. But from a recreational standpoint, its not “me”. Living in Colorado and being able to enjoy the outdoors to the extent that I do, fits me. I used to walk along the lakeshore, or up and down neighborhood streets for hours. I once rode my bike all the way from Wrigleyville to Lake Forest - close to 30 miles outside of the city - just to get out and enjoy the outdoors. I feel fortunate to live where I do and I look forward to many more adventures in the mountains.
Thanks again to all of my partners over the years, there are too many great people to list here, but you all know who you are! An extra thanks to the people who were able to come out this weekend, especially to Kevin and Sarah for letting me share in your finisher. Thanks as well to my family, I am very close to them and now that I live out here of course we don’t get to see as much of each other. They know that this is where I belong, and how much I enjoy the mountains I now call home. And thanks to you for reading about this journey, I know it was a little wordy, but I hope you enjoyed the ride....
San Juan Glory - RGP cairn and the Needles
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):