Peak(s):  PT 13,540 B  -  13,540 feet
PT 13,498  -  13,498 feet
PT 13,123 A  -  13,123 feet
Post Date:  07/04/2013
Date Climbed:   06/22/2013
Posted By:  Furthermore

 School Bus Group      

Point 13,540
“Big Bear Peak/School Bus Peak” 13,498
“Woods Peak” 13,123

June 22, 2013
~11.1 Miles, ~5,500 Gain
TH: Rock of Ages (Silver Pick Basin, new) TH. (2WD ~6-6.5 hours from Denver)
Max difficulty: Class 3, arguably class 4.


Day 4:
It's been a while since I visited Silver Pick Basin and I forgot they changed the trailhead. I ended up sleeping in my car at the trailhead and started up the Rock of Ages trail at 5:10 AM. The wonders of a fine trail.

Before the Rock of Ages trail takes a hard turn back north to bypass the long north ridge of 13,540, I followed a faint trail across some talus heading towards the basin between “Big Bear” and Point 13,540. Without realizing it, I intercepted the Elk Creek Trail. A better option would have been to take the Rock of Ages trail to the Elk Creek Trail and then follow the Elk Creek trail before it turns west at ~11,400.

Morning light on “Big Bear” and “Woods”

When the Elk Creek Trail turned west at ~11,400, I headed south and found the old mining road leading into the basin between 13,540 and “Big Bear.” The road was in decent trail shape as I worked my way into the basin. Before I knew it, I reached the infamous school bus. Stationed permanently at ~12,600 year round, that school bus is probably the highest school bus in the US.

Looking up the basin between 13,540 and “Big Bear”

Approaching the school bus.

The school bus.

The school bus.

I followed the old mining road until it ended around ~12,800. The ascent to the ridge between “Big Bear” and Point 13,540 was tedious and dangerous. Although not hard climbing, at only class 2, much of the large talus was loose and ready to slide. Only the finest in the San Miguels.

Neat mining ruins.

More mining ruins.

Relieved, I reached the “Big Bear”-13,540 saddle and headed east on the class 2 ridge towards the summit of 13,540 where I arrived at 7:35 AM. The rock was much more solid on the ridge and the climbing was actually enjoyable. From the summit, I watched an army of people hiking into Silver Pick Basin for Wilson Peak. I was glad to be on a 13er.

View of “Big Bear”

“Big Bear” from the ridge.

Gladstone and Mt. Wilson from the summit of 13,540.

Looking down Navajo Basin.

Returning to the “Big Bear”-13,540 saddle, I glared up at “Big Bear.” The route wasn't obvious and the climbing looked tricky. Climbing west on the ridge, I inched toward “Big Bear.” Staying on the ridge crest for the last 200-300 feet didn't seem reasonable as the rock was extremely chossy and the ridge crest was exposed. I traversed across some talus towards a gully just left of the ridge crest on the south face.

Looking up at “Big Bear” on the traverse.

The summit massive of “Big Bear”

Up the gully I climbed as I carefully tested each hold. Class 3 maybe some class 4 was encountered as I climbed up the gully. The exposure was minimal but the rock quality was far from par. After the gully, I ascended loose class 3 back to the ridge crest which deposited me close to the summit. A short scramble later, I arrived on the summit of “Big Bear” at 8:30 AM.

My gully.

Looking down the gully.

Looking down the gully from the top.

Short scramble to the top.

My route up “Big Bear”

Excellent views of Mt. Wilson and El Diente Peak from the summit of “Big Bear.” I looked at the ridge leading towards “Woods” and was tempted to attempt the traverse. Knowing that a low fifth class cliff existed, I opted to descend and circumnavigate around “Big Bear.” Soloing exposed fifth class climbing on super choss isn't particularly my forte.

I returned to the “Big Bear”-13,540 saddle and carefully descended back towards the school bus. I found some snow to glissade which I enjoyed much more than loose sharp talus. The hike down the road went quickly and I quickly re-intercepted the Elk Creek Trail and started heading west.

Hiking on the Elk Creek Trail.


What I should have done is stayed on the Elk Creek Trail until I was on the west side of “Woods” and then ascended “Woods's” west ridge. That would have been an enjoyable climb. Instead, I climbed into the basin north between “Woods” and “Big Bear.”

Looking up at “Woods”

Loose talus climbing to the “Woods”-”Big Bear” saddle was less than desirable. Once I reached the saddle, I discovered a lovely cliff band that blocked easy access to “Woods's” east ridge. I tried a direct climb at the saddle but the rock was complete crap, exposed and at least 5th class. Knowing that this wasn't the crux of the traverse, I knew an easier option existed. From the “Woods”-”Big Bear” saddle, I descended ~100-200 feet on the south side of the ridge until I found a class 3 weakness.

Cliff at the saddle on “Woods”

Looking down the easier east ridge on “Woods”

Chossy class 3 climbing up the cliff led me to the “Woods's” east ridge which then eased to a decent class 2 climb to the summit where I arrived at 11:00 AM. I descended back to the saddle and back into the basin between “Woods” and “Big Bear.” The Elk Creek Trail was welcomed as I made good time back to the Rock Ages trail. I arrived back at my car at 12:30 PM relieved that these peaks were done.

Gladstone, Mt. Wilson and El Diente from the summit of “Woods”

“Big Bear” from the summit of “Woods”

Route Map.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

  • Comments or Questions
Kevin Baker

excellent beta     07/05/2013 04:33
Thanks for posting, Derek. I know Teresa tried that ridge between Big Bear and Woods and said it was pretty scary. Your way looks like a good way to do these. Thanks for all your 13er TR's!


Thirteeners Rule!     07/05/2013 23:18
Excellent Beta, in deed. And, excellent narrative, excellent photos, and, excellent cartography, too! So, there really is a bus up there! I wonder how and why that got to be?!? The Great Flood? Anyway, thanks for sharing this most excellent trip report! Thirteeners Rule!


Ick     07/08/2013 16:26
Thankfully I've done Woods, but I'm not looking forward to those other two, Is your ascent to the Big Bear/13,540 saddle a viable descent route as well?


Looks fun...     07/08/2013 17:52
If you like that sort of thing. See other comment regarding May/June in the San Juans.


How the Hell Did I Miss This?!?!     07/09/2013 16:50
Excellent job, Furthermore! Finally another trip report for these three ... I'd heard ”rumors” that you were going to do them. Thanks for posting an alternative to the traverse of all three. Neat to see the bus from close up instead from way far above. And, yes, choss and crappy rock does become the theme of the day for that trio, doesn't it. I was so glad to be on solid trail after our long day traversing those three. Our descent off of ”Big Bear” was actually on that right-hand skyline (on Image #19). Thanks for posting. Happy trails!

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