| Fruits of my labors -Wham & Trinity Labor Day Weekend
Vestal's Wham Ridge has beckoned me over the past two years; a thrill filed with an equal mixture of enthusiasm and dread. I re-read the Roachs' description, examined trip reports and asked questions of those who posted them. Could I climb it without a rope? I thought it prudent not to try on my own, but go with an experienced trad climber. After weather kept Furthermore and me from attempting Wham when we hit Arrow in August 2011, Wham was top on my list for this year.
I found a worthy partner in John Ortega. I had decided on Beartown for different scenery and to avoid a repeat of the grunt up the switchbacks from the Animas on the way back. Reaching this TH is no easy matter; it took 2 and 1/2 hours from Rio Grande Reservoir. As we found on our way out, the western approach over Stony Pass from Silverton is much easier to drive - it took us an hour and forty-five minutes to reach Silverton from the TH, and that was at night.
The plan was to hike in that Friday, climb Silex and Storm King Saturday, then Vestal and the Trinities Sunday, hiking out and heading home on Labor Day. Hiking at dusk Friday, we found a trail into a clearing; the trail to Stormy Gulch is on the other side of the creek. There's a crude wood sign labeled Stormy Gulch, but not far after that, the trail becomes obscure. By the time I pulled out my compass, it was to verify that we'd trended southwest instead of due west and were in a drainage south of the one we wanted. A summit for Saturday was not in the cards; we found our way to a camp by Trinity Lake and I scrambled up a buttress fastened like a magnet in the middle of the broad east-facing scree slopes of Peak Three's south ridge. My camera battery was dead and I wish I'd taken John's: the view of Arrow, Vestal, and the Trinities from here was truly awe-inspiring. Anyhow, I could now tell John without a shadow of doubt that we were where I thought we were. We killed time in the afternoon enjoying the views and walking around Trinity Lake.
It rained much of Saturday night, but Sunday morning was clear, with a bright nearly full moon to aid our predawn climb over the short shoulder separating the Trinity Lake basin from Vestal basin. This was talus and scree; toward the top, I found a jutting rib to use for handholds to help pull myself up. The rain at least had dampened the dirt, making it easier to clamber up the slope.
We couldn't just scree-surf the other side; we found ourselves picking our way down a class 2+/3 pathway that had one small spot with a bit of exposure. No pic of this, since it was just a blip before our objective of Wham Ridge and the Trinity Traverse.
We dropped into Vestal basin made quick progress. As we passed under the Trinities on our left, the moon marked our target:
Right around 7:30 (an hour and a half after we left camp), we reached the base of Vestal Peak and began climbing the steep slabs and grassy slopes.
We passed a group of four on the grassy diagonal ledge leading across Vestal's face toward Arrow, and began the scrambling.
Here's a pic I took of John scrambling up Wham.
We followed the route, sticking to the right-hand edge of Vestal's east face. Some class 3, a lot of class 4; it never felt dangerous or scary to me, but I have scrambled a lot of ridges and engaged on some questionable downclimbs the past two summers, all with the phrase in my mind "If you think you can do Wham, you can surely do this."
We came to the crux after only 15 minutes of climbing from the grass. I'd seen enough photos to recognize that prominent crack in the beautiful quartzite slab. I was for checking it out, but John though this ramp along the edge looked better. That ramp was too smooth; I didn't like the look of it, and John tried partway before coming back down. I espied a way around it to the right. The moves to the right of the ramp were nothing more than class 3; gaining the rock above it was probably low class 5 but did not feel exposed or troublesome. With such solid rock to cling onto, our confidence soared. Here's a look at it; the roundish hole and vertical crack in the face to the left, the ramp to the right of it; our route took us on the right side of ramp and then climbing back left, above the pinkish rock sitting above the ramp. No rope needed! (*This is not any sort of advice or recommendation; we just didn't feel the need to rope up.)
After this, I angled more to my left and John and I found our own ways up the broken rock on Vestal's upper ramparts. The rock here was not as solid, but still nothing like the loose stuff that is so common in the San Juans.
As we continued up the ledges, buttresses, and narrow grassy gullies, I looked back to see how the other party was faring. However, the whole upper part of the solid quartzite slab was hidden, and all I could see was the lower portion and Vestal Lake. A pretty view.
I knew that the true summit was out of sight, but I still yodeled on the second summit, only to find that this was still not the true high point. At 9:15, I found myself on the true high point; I signed the register and passed it to John, took in the astounding views, and reflected a little. I was elated - Wham Ridge is a great route, but more than that, I had anticipated this so long, and with some doubt as to my ability, and to find myself standing on this summit and thinking that none of the moves I'd made to reach it had stretched my abilities, I felt a heightened sense of satisfaction and tranquility. And maybe more; I can't put it all into words. The next two photos show the view southwest: first, immediately (and a couple thousand feet down) to Balsam Lake; second, the panorama peaks in the Chicago Basin and NY Basin - I believe it's either Pigeon or Turret at far right, then Eolus in the middle, and finally Sunlight, with Windom peeking from behind.
We didn't linger long, but moved off the summit to the south. We'd previewed the low shoulder between W Trinity and Vestal in the basin, so we knew we'd have a lot of elevation to lose and regain. Here's our view of the ragged ridge running to that low point; to make better time, we opted to keep the ridge on our left, descending shelves, talus and scree down a shallow gully.
The trick here is not to stray too far from the ridge crest. I soon found this cairn, which pointed us to a ledge up and over the ridge. Missing this could cause you to detour out of the way to the west, losing additional altitude that would need to be reclimbed.
After this, we found ourselves on a broad flat part of the ridge, heading due south in route to West Trinity.
West Trinity was some easy class three, no route-finding to worry about as you can stick straight on the ridge or trend some to the right (west). Reaching the summit just after 11:30, two hours after leaving Vestal's summit, we were rewarded with this view back to Vestal and Arrow.
Turning our attention ahead, the knife edge on the ridge between West Trinity and Trinity Peak looked ferocious, but I knew we'd be bypassing it on right.
Cooper's description of the route to the middle Trinity is dead-on and there are plenty of cairns. I would only add that, from the summit iof W Trinity, the central peak seemed very close and it's easy to feel like you've gone too far on the ledge systems below the ridge. I was eager to regain the ridge and John kept urging me onward below, so I was sure we'd gone too far and would circle back when we finally got to the ridge crest, but that wasn't the case. Most of this is class 3, but there are some class 4 moves required to get upwards and there are two possible class 4 chutes/chimneys to use.
I think the chimney in Cooper's 50 Classic Scrambles book is located to the left of the resting block in this photo:
John thought he saw something farther on, and this is a good sample of what our scrambling looked like; I did not manage a photo of the short vertical class 4 chute we ascended.
We made it from W Trinity to Trinity in 50 minutes; I think Cooper's guide suggests an hour and fifteen minutes. It looked to me like there are several possible micro-routes, and at least two or three cairned, so use your best judgment once you begin your bid to regain the ridge. Our bright sunny day was darkening with clouds, so we didn't tarry long on the summit.
Moving along the ridge to the descent gully, I was relieved to find it not as bad as pictures from East Trinity have made it out to be. I likened it to the standard gully on Crestone Needle; not a couloir full of debris, but a gully criss-crossed by rock ribs and ledges. Granted, there was some loose rock, but nothing too bad.
Following is a close up of John descending the gully and then a view of our descent gully and the upcoming ascent gully to E Trinity, then a close up on John in the lower portion, to get a better idea of the terrain.
We were making decent time, but not outpacing the clouds, and we got a slight smattering of rain and some fun grappel that made the rock slippery. The gully up to E Trinity was rife with rock ribs and ledges littered with rock chips.and rock ribs. We moved with steady deliberation to avoid a nasty fall. The climbing was predominantly class three, but there were enough hard 4 moves over rubble-topped rock that I would not have wanted to climb down this. For the Trinities, West to East is the safer way to go.
This move was the hardest, owing to the slick rock.
Soon after, we found ourselves atop E Trinity between 1:45 and 1:50, the better part of 8 hours since launching from camp. We headed off E Trinity's south ridge.
Here is a view to the right (south) of the ridge as it turns east, looking at Trinity Lake, where we were camped. The slope down from here looked to be scree and there was also a fold that could have hid a cliff-band, so we kept to the ridge.
Shale pancakes on the lower part of the ridge; once down we headed right (south) down some obnoxious scree back to our camp, which we reached at about 3:15.
After filtering some water, eating lunch and packing up camp, we opted to hike out, since we didn't have time on Monday to climb anything. We left camp sometime between 4:10 and 4:25, bushwacking down the basin on deer trails until we found the true Stormy Gulch trail, which is plagued with dead-fall. It took us until 6:15 to reach the clearing on the other side of the stream (and we marveled as to how we managed to get off the trail) and then it took until 9:00 to reach the car at the Hunchback Pass TH. As mentioned at the beginning, from there to Silverton was an hour and 45 minutes, and I needed gas, so luckily the station on the highway outside Silverton was open. I got to my driveway in Denver at 5:20 or so, and to bed shortly before 6 am, my brain marveling at the last 24 hours of consciousness, before sliding into much-needed slumber.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):