North Twilight Peak (13075’)
Via North Face
13 miles RT, 4200’ gain
May 26, 2013
Participants: Sarah Strattan & Kevin Baker
Spring is flying by, and snow conditions did not cooperate early on to get out on some snow climbs. Another Memorial Day weekend trip to the San Juans was in order, and Sarah was game. North Twilight Peak is a secluded 13er in the Needles that doesn’t see many visitors despite its dramatic north face, which is visible from Highway 550 near Molas Pass. Long approaches to snow climbs can be tough, but we hoped the low snow year in the San Juans would make the trail miles pass by quickly. We enjoyed a mellow day on Grand Turk and Sultan Sat with Kevin and Sarah and were able to preview the couloir we hoped to climb the day before. It looked like there was still plenty of snow on the north face to still do the snow climb.
North Twilight's north face
We were off to a later start than we would have liked at 4:45am from Andrews Lake. It was a warm night, and we hoped the snow would be stable higher up despite the late start. The first couple miles went pretty quick with only a few drifts over the trail here and there. I ditched my snowshoes early and it was a gamble that I hoped wouldn't come back to bite me. We lost the trail for a bit, but found it after a few minutes of postholing. We were able to stay on top of the snow along the trail for the most part. We got our first views of North Twilight and it was still a long ways away. The trail to Crater Lake is very indirect with a lot of elevation loss.
Another view from the trail
I had read in a friend’s TR that they were able to contour over to the apron of the couloir and the bushwacking wasn’t too bad. We decided to leave the trail prior to hitting Crater Lake at around 11600’ and it turned out to be a big mistake. Cooper suggests going all the way to the lake, and then countouring west near treeling to the apron of the couloir. Either way requires some elevation loss and the line we took was a huge mess of recent deadfall and rotten snow. There must have been a recent wind event in the area as these were healthy trees that were down.
The promised land
Our pace dramatically slowed as we dropped 400’ into a nasty drainage inching our way closer to treeline. I felt sorry for Sarah as she was a trooper bashing her way through this mess with ski boots on and big skis on her back. We cut off some distance this way, but it sure wasn’t shorter time wise! We finally geared up for the snow climb at the end of dry ground and were pleased to find out that the snow was still quite firm.
Finally at the apron
The apron was pretty thin for a north facing line and there was a dust layer that made the lower section of the climb less than aesthetic. The north face has several options, and we were hoping to take the steeper, narrower couloir straight up the gut. We were hoping to go down the broader, mellower ramp that cuts across the face if conditions held up.
Sweet views from the apron of multiple options.
The steeper couloir of the right branch has a secluded cornice on top that doesn’t fully reveal itself until higher up. There is an exit left option higher up in case the cornice is not passable, so it was nice having another option if necessary.
The right branch from the split
Jed Flint's creativity for a magazine cover. Pretty funny!
The couloir steepened to about 50 degrees for a brief stretch, then laid back a bit at the top. The cornice was not near as menacing as it looked from below, and we were able to exit right easily.
3 foot cornice with an easy exit right
Sarah topping out
We really enjoyed the snow climb, but it was a lot of work to get there! The couloir tops out just west of the summit, and it’s an easy stroll from there. We didn’t top out until 12:50 and the chances of adding Twilight Peak to the already long day were out of the question after we did the math.
Twilight Peak from the summit. This traverse is tough with snow with a 4th class notch.
Surely it wouldn’t take more than 4 hours to descend by finding a better way through the trees! We took a long break at the summit enjoying the spectacular views from this special summit. The standard route on N. Twilight is the east ridge, which is a bit slow with snow. I felt like the broad couloir on the north face would be a quicker descent for me even if it meant facing in for a bit at the top.
The descent ramp
Sarah dropped in and it looked like the snow was still firm enough to warrant me wearing crampons. She wasn’t able to open up into full turns until near the couloir split as the snow wasn’t great for skiing.
Sarah dropping in
Poor conditions near the top for skiing, but good for kicking steps
I was glad to have my crampons on as the top felt more like 40 degrees. I faced in for a bit near the top until it mellowed out more. I passed on glissading the apron as there were too many rocks in the way. We took a long break at the end of the apron and decided to take a more direct bushwhack back to the trees hoping to find a wide open section.
Looking back at the climb
I have found the Weminuche Wilderness to have some of the toughest bushwhacking in the state. Obstacles tend to be non-stop in the San Juans, and we were in for a royal beat down in the trees. We contoured for a bit to stay out of the trees, then headed down for the inevitable posthole fest. Snowshoes would have been more of a hindrance because of the endless deadfall. The snow was rotten any direction we went and the streams had swollen quite a bit from the morning. We dropped to 11K, then made 3 tricky stream crossings while doing a sidehilling climb out of the valley.
Parting shot of the north face
It seemed like every minute just got tougher as ever sort of obstacle imaginable except for cliffs presented itself. We finally hit the trail after about 3 solid hours (to go 1.5 miles) of hard core off trail shenanigans. We seemed to be stuck in a time warp for the final 3.5 miles to the car as the indirect trail seemed to never end with another 700’ of uphill and postholing to be had.
Major league bushwhacking
We were back at the car right around sunset at 8:30. N Twilight is a sweet snow climb, but make sure you go all the way to Crater Lake on the approach or your day will be huge!