| Finding The Route--Peak Nine 13,402
pack in-17.2 mi round trip 4970ft elevation gain
Peak Nine-9.2 mi 5160 ft elevation gain 9/6/2012
Peak Nine in the Grenadiers, Southwest Ridge
I had wanted to climb Peak Nine in the Grenadiers for some time now. The summer of 2012 was dry and warm, allowing me plenty of opportunity to get in shape and stay that way. So away I went. This report uses the Snowdon Peak and Storm King topo maps
I found two reports on 13ers.com, which were somewhat helpful--mostly that the peak was doable. I had used Rosebrough's book San Juan Mountains, 1986, in the past and was attracted to this comment: "Art Tauchen climbed north...Tauchen feels that Peak Nine was the hardest peak on his trip into the eastern Grenadiers." (page 183). I had climbed the Eolus group with Art back in the late 70's, and found him to be mostly mountan goat. If he found this peak "hard" what on earth was I thinking that I could climb it?
The weather forecast obtained in Silverton promised me several days of good weather. With only mild trepidation I hoisted the pack and took off from the Molas Lake trailhead. This was my third trip into this area using this trail: I won't bore anyone with a trail description down to the Animas River, up Elk Creek and up Vestal Creek near 11,400. It is just as hard as it was in the early eighties, only more obvious. I made camp nearer to the Arrow-Electric section of the basin as I had the insane idea to also do Electric and Garfield this trip.
Camp in Vestal basin, 11,200 ft
That night the temperature in the tent dropped to 34 degrees and my water bottle outside froze. But the morning dawned with me on my feet almost past Vestal Lake.
Morning, west face Vestal Peak
The plan was to cross into the Ten Mile drainage over Trinity/Vestal pass to head east up to the Peak Nine and Eight area of Leviathan Creek. There were three obvious points to cross, I took the middle.Nearing West Trinity a faint trail traversed to a grassy bench near 12,800. From there I continued easterly and down on funky talus, finding cairns about every quarter mile, to 12,100 at a very nice grass area. From there I wandered up, past two tarns, toward the visible Storm King pass, then south to the Peak Eight-Nine saddle at about 12,900.
12,200 tarn, upper Ten Mile drainage, Peak Nine and Eight
Leviathan Creeek is a spectacular green basin, looking south to the north walls of Vallecito and Leviathan with Jagged poking up behind.
Vallecito, Leviathan Peaks; Jagged Peak distant
To the north I looked back at the main Grenadier range of Vestal, the Trinitys and Storm King.
Trinity Peaks from Peak Eight-Nine pass, 12,900 ft
The northwest ridge of Peak Nine rising sharply above me, I circled around the talus(of course, what else?) and came to the peak proper at 12,800. There I "pondered my future" as Jerry Roach would put it.
Northwest ridge and face, Peak Nine
One of the reports of Peak Nine told of a ramp, traversing southeast, gaining, after ups and downs,150 feet. I expected to see a ledge or something, but I was looking at a thin slice of vegetation that seemed to go straight up. Further observation showed the slice was a goat path! Well I thought, just go take a look at it, you've come all this way.
Goat path? the route?
I worked my way up over a dirty wall and sandy ledges, up past two wide cracks, up more steep crappy ground and I was on the plant life, hanging on to the the left cliff wall. Further steep progress and lo! a cairn. At that point the way southeast was more apparent. I looked around at this rest spot and realized that I had climbed the ramp described and the ramp was 150 feet up in elevation. Note this because the other trip report does not make this clear.
The route east was moderate sidehill walking with the occasional move over rock. Cairns were visible and quite reassuring. I was glad to have them and added rock to most.
typical traverse terrain, southwest face Peak Nine
I turned a corner and surprised a goat! It disappeared quickly. In about 0.4 mi I came to a wide relatively shallow couloir which I followed up to the southeast ridge.
Wide, shallow gully, Peak Nine, leads to ridge crest
There I looked down to Lake Silex then west to the summit area. Definitely a long way yet to go, but the route was working for me this far.
ridge to summit, Peak Nine; weather changing!
I stayed for the most part on the south just below the ridge, occasionally moving up onto the ridge, hoping for safer ground or taking a look around. The rock was solid, but downsloping and dirty with debris. About two thirds of the way I finally stayed on the ridge, sometimes just north, staring down into the void. The view was terrific!!
At a flattish sub-summit I down climbed into a notch, then down further a few feet more to turn a corner where I was pretty much just below the summit. I found the access climb to the summit proper where the dark rock contacts a pinkish granite.
4th class access to summit, Peak Nine; do you see the surveyors tape?
With a few comfortable 4th class moves, I was up and walked 70 feet to the summit cairn!
The day had turned overcast and warm--the weather was turning, probably with monsoonal moisture flowing towards me with malevolent intent. There was no summit register damnitall. I sat, ate, drank, took pictures--but no nap.
Summit Peak Nine, Mount Oso distant
Time to go!
The descent was just a reversal of all the foregoing. I took my time, haste would only get me in trouble. I reached the wide couloir, descended and found the cairns that pointed to the traverse back west between the upper and lower cliffs. The traverse went well if slow, then I looked down the initial ramp. Why does looking down make the climb worse? Even more carefully I worked down, plenty of hand holds on the right, like a banister on stairs. Looking down to my left was, well, uncomfortable. Finally I again reversed my moves and downclimbed the wall to the talus at the base. Down!!--I feel this ramp was the crux of Peak Nine because of the steep, crappy nature of the ground with a dreadful drop south. Now I could look forward to ascending Vestal pass on the return.
Looking down on the initial ramp of southwest face, Peak Nine
my route in red-what I consider the crux of Peak Nine
The skies were clearing on the climb back up out of Ten Mile basin, the views wonderful.
Deep topaz blue Balsam Lake in Ten Mile Creek drainage, Peak Four and The Heisspitz
Storm King, Peak Nine, Eight and Seven, upper Ten Mile drainage
Windom, Sunlight,Eolus; Pidgeon, Animas Mountain from the westerly Trinity/Vestal pass
The descent into Vestal basin went quickly, using the scree at the westerly pass. The hike back to camp seemed to take forever, it felt like a long day. It was a long day! I cooked up some kind of slop, ate it and went to sleep.
In the morning cloud bands would float over, and the source was westerly. In my estimation this is a good indication the weather will be worse in the San Juans, but today or tomorrow I didn't know. What I did know is I could look forward to a long pack out and I felt tired. Garfield and Electric weren't going away, and besides I could climb them from a camp on Elk Creek. Descending Vestal basin to Elk Creek Trail in the rain and mud is not considered fun. I packed up, shouldered the load and turned down the path. I was in the shade most of the way down Vestal Creek, but the humidity was high, making the hike down sweaty.
The walk out on Elk Creek trail to the Animas River, then up the 1600 feet to the trailhead went smoothly under partly cloudy skies. I drove to Silverton, dried out the gear and ate a steak. The next day I did a quick walk up Bonita Peak early to get morning pictures. The Grenadiers were shrouded in mist. It began to rain at 10:30 at Gladstone. Good call, John, I thought, I'll be back next summer...
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