| The Fine Eastern Grenadiers
November 02-03, 2012
Totals ~18.4 Miles, ~10,700 Gain
Trailhead: CDT at Beartown (4WD required, ~6.5 hours from Denver)
Little snow and a stellar forecast made my decision easy to return to the San Juans. These peaks were rather intimidating to approach solo but I couldn't resist with this Indian Summer.
November 02, 2012. ~4.8 Miles, ~2,200 Gain.
I left Denver around 9 AM on Friday and made the drive towards Creede. Once past the Rio Grande Reservoir, I forgot how long and slowgoing the 4X4 road was to Beartown. Crossing the Rio Grande River this time of year was the way to go since the water level was so low. I arrived at the CDT trailhead above Beartown around 3:15 PM, was able to pack, and start hiking towards Hunchback Pass around 3:40 PM.
Hiking over Hunchback Pass was familiar and I was able to make good time up and over the pass on the decent trail. A co-worker had mentioned a forest fire near his house (located near Vallecito Reservoir) but I complete forgot about it until I reached the top of Hunchback Pass. Everything was very hazy with a smoky smell lingering in the air. Taking deep breaths of smoky air wasn't very enjoyable.
With such a lack of beta on these peaks, I was unsure of a trail that would go up Stormy Gulch/Trinity Creek so I left the Vallecito trail at ~11,040 and bushwhacked my way level at ~11,000 feet towards Trinity Creek. Crossing Vallecito Creek was pretty and I bushwhacked ~.5 miles before intercepting a surprisingly decent trail.
Directions for locating the Trinity Creek Trail up Stormy Gulch from the Vallecito Trail:
If descending from Hunchback Pass, follow the Vallecito trail to ~10,700. Look for a waterfall near a final switchback. After locating the waterfall, which is NOT the waterfall after immediately crossing Vallecito Creek at ~11,000, follow the Vallecito trail for ~150-200 feet south of the waterfall and cross Vallecito Creek. After crossing Vallecito Creek, look for a small camping area and fire ring. The Trinity Trail heads west from this campsite and can be tricky to follow due to downed timber until ~10,900.
Following the trail made travel up Trinity Creek easier than I was expecting. As the valley opened up, the views of The Silex and Storm King were sobering as the peaks towered over 2000 feet above the valley. A very special place. I crossed Stormy Creek, departed the trail and started up steep grassy slopes towards Silex Lake. Around ~11,800, the grassy slopes ended and the final quarter mile to the lake was a time consuming talus hop with my camp pack.
The Silex on my approach to Silex Lake.
I arrived at my bivy spot near the north shore of Silex Lake at 5:40 PM. Rather surprised, Silex Lake was already frozen over, hard. Finding water was challenging but I was able to move some boulders and get under the 8 inch thick ice. As I tried drifting to sleep early, I watched an amazing sunset as the smoke accented the reds and pinks. Bivying at 12,000 feet this time of year was rather brisk.
Frozen Silex Lake.
Breaking through the ice to get water.
Sunset from my bivy.
Sunset over Peak Nine from my bivy.
November 03, 2012. ~13.6 Miles, ~8,500 gain.
My alarm went off at 5:10 AM and I packed up my bivy site, stashed my gear, ate breakfast and started climbing up towards the Storm King-Peak Nine saddle around 5:40 AM by headlamp. Travel the entire way to the saddle was up loose talus. I arrived at base the of Storm King's southwest ridge and started climbing directly up the ridge. Route finding during the day wouldn't be an issue but it was somewhat challenging in the dark. I stayed on the ridge crest directly as I climbed through a few short class 3 sections. Eventually, I reached a notch which I had to back track down and bypass to the west. Staying left of the ridge crest for the first ½ of the ridge would keep the difficulty at class 2.
After bypassing the notch on the left, I started up some minor class 3 sections staying on the ridge crest. I should have climbed up a class 3 chimney ~200 feet above the notch, and then traversed into a class 2 talus gully which would have taken me to the summit. Since it was dark, I missed the class 3 chimney to the gully and I stayed on the ridge crest almost the entire way. Lots of class 3 scrambling with a few short sections of class 4. I arrived on the summit of the Storm King at first light at 7:10 AM. It's a good thing I couldn't see the exposure on the north side of the ridge!
Summit view from the summit of the Storm King.
With just a little bit of light, I was able to find the standard route down the Storm King which was significantly easier than the ridge crest. I arrived back at Storm King-Peak Nine saddle where I took a short break. From the saddle, I descended west down mellow slopes and traversed around the north side of un-ranked Peak Eight at ~12,600. As I worked my way up to the small pond at ~12,700 northeast of Peak Seven, I had to negotiate some icy slabby cliff bands. The morning light on Peak Seven was amazing.
Upper class 2 gully on the Storm King.
The key class 3 gully on the upper southwest ridge on the Storm King.
Peak Seven and the lake at 12,700.
From the small pond at ~12,700, I headed west up grassy slopes to intercept the north ridge on Peak Seven. For the most part, I stayed on the ridge crest as I climbed up Peak Seven's north ridge. The climbing was mostly class 3. I arrived on the summit of Peak Seven at 8:40 AM which had some of the best views around. I love the Weminuche.
Typical class 3 on Peak Seven.
I returned to the small pond at 12,700 and started my traverse towards Peak Nine. Traversing below Peak Eights south face was obnoxious as the loose talus made travel slow. Contouring at ~12,600, I made my way towards the Peak Nine-Peak Eight saddle.
At ~12,800 before reaching the Peak Nine-Peak Eight saddle, I headed east on a flat area as I looked for the “secret” grass ledge that traverses across the south face of Peak Nine. I knew Peak Nine was going to be the most challenging peak of the trip. Let the excitement begin.
Peak Nine wasn't a joke and was definitely one of the more challenging 13ers that I have done. The climbing wasn't all that difficult but the route finding was very complex, the rock was questionable and the peak is very remote.
The secret grass ledge wasn't that hard to locate since it is the only reasonable path across the south face of Peak Nine. I followed the grass ledge southeast as the ledge did a slight angling ascent for ~150 feet vertically before leveling out. Once the grassy ledge leveled, I followed the ledge for at least a quarter mile before reaching a class 3 gully which took me near Peak Nine's southeast ridge just below the ridge crest.
The start of the grassy ledge that traverses below the south face of Peak Nine.
Class 3 gully after the traverse on Peak Nine.
Ledges just below the ridge on Peak Nine.
Staying on the ridge crest wasn't an option, so I traversed on small rubble ledges ~30-50 feet below the ridge crest heading back northwest on the south side of the ridge. After a few hundred feet, I was forced to the ridge crest and then followed a ledge on the north side of the ridge. Once again, I crossed across the ridge and followed a ledge on the south side of the ridge to the final summit block. To this point, most of the climbing was class 3 with some short sections of class 4. I was starting to get mentally exhausted as I still didn't know what to expect and I was already committed on a complex route.
Looking back on the ledges that traverses just below the ridge crest on the south side on Peak Nine.
Traversing on the north side of the ridge looking back down the ridge.
From a prior report, I knew not to climb directly up the summit block but to climb up a class 4 gully to the ridge crest on the eastern side of the summit block. Fortunately, the route was “well” carined and I was able to climb up the class 4 gully and make the final class 3 moves to the summit where I arrived at
Final summit block on Peak Nine.
Climbing up Peak Nine took substantially longer than I had anticipated. Backtracking down my ascent route, I returned back down the ledges and climbed up to the Peak Nine-Peak Eight saddle where I descended north and then traversed back to the Storm King-Peak Nine saddle. Gaining the Peak Nine-Silex saddle wasn't going to be easy from my position. I descended back down talus towards Silex Lake and then back up towards the Peak Nine-Silex saddle. With a light dusting of snow along with the loose talus, it was an energy consuming battle to the Peak Nine-Silex saddle.
Route up Peak Nine. Taken from the summit of Peak Seven.
Peak Seven from my descent on Peak Nine.
The Silex and The Guardian from the Storm King-Peak Nine saddle.
The gully leading up the the Silex-Peak Nine saddle.
Once at the Peak Nine-Silex saddle, I traversed east on ledges towards The Guardian. Since I didn't want to lose 200-300 feet, I climbed directly through a small cliff band, class 4. After passing through the cliff band, I followed wide ledges towards the Silex-Guardian saddle. Directly climbing up the Guardian's northwest ridge would be difficult so I stayed on class 2 ledges as the ledges angled up the Guardian's south face. Directly south of the summit, I climbed a short class 3 gully which took me to the northwest ridge near the summit. I arrived on the summit of The Guardian at 2:00 PM.
Route up The Guardian from the Silex-Peak Nine saddle.
Class 2 ledges on south side of The Guardian.
The short class 3 gully on The Guardian.
Storm King and the Silex from near the summit of The Guardian.
The views from The Guardian down Vallecito Valley were astonishing, not to mention great views of the Chicago Basin Peaks, Jagged and others. I returned back down The Guardian to the Guardian-Silex saddle. Near the saddle, I stayed on a very narrow ledge on the southwest side of the ridge. The ledge was exposed as it angled toward The Silex.
Looking back on the narrow ledge on the Guardian-Silex traverse.
Following the ledge, I ended up near the middle of the south face of the Silex. From the middle of the face, I climbed up loose class 2 to the summit where I arrived at 3:00 PM. Crazy that my camp was so close but yet so far away.
The Guardian from the summit of the Silex.
The Storm King from my descent of Silex.
In an effort to avoid the loose class 2 crap on the south face of the Silex, I descended the Silex's southwest ridge. About ½ way down I encountered a 40 foot cliff band which I was able to bypass on the east side of the ridge down a class 4 chimney. The final 100 feet to the saddle were even more interesting and challenging. A series of cliff bands blocked easy access to the saddle. I stayed on the ridge crest descending sustained class 4 with maybe one short 5.2 section.
After arriving back at the Peak Nine-Silex saddle, I descended the horrendous talus slope back towards Silex Lake where I arrived back at camp around 4:15 PM. Repacking gear and making a quick freeze dried dinner, I was on my way back to the car. I descended my ascent route from Silex Lake and followed the Trinity Creek trail back to the Vallecito Trail. With a camp pack, hiking back over Hunchback Pass was tiring and I arrived back at my car well after dark at 7:30 PM.
The horrible talus gully descent from the Silex-Peak Nine saddle.
Frozen Silex Lake.
I was hoping to do another day of climbing but Peak Nine just took so much longer than I had expected. That's ok since these peaks were some of the most rewarding 13ers I have climbed to date.
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