Arrow (Wham-like route)
4 days (June 29 - July 2, 2013)
~11,900 ft vertical gain
Party: CarpeDM (Dave), Rainier Wolfcastle (Shawn), emcee smith (Mike) and nkan02 (Natalie)
This year has been a pretty bad year for me so far on a personal level, so some extensive mountain therapy was in order. CarpeDM put together a great group to climb a number of peaks in Weminuche around July 4th weekend and I couldn't wait for the trip to happen. I was very happy about David organizing the trip and I was impressed by the flurry of emails, beta and research that was coming from him on almost a daily basis for several weeks. Instead of taking charge, I was glad to sit back, relax and just look forward to the trip. Besides, it let me concentrate on finishing some last minute projects at work instead of pouring over maps, trip reports and route descriptions on some obscure peaks. Eventually it did backfire, of course
Wisely taking a full day off work to pack, I still managed to delay the group's departure from Denver mostly due to horrendous Friday afternoon traffic, as everybody seemed to be getting off work and out of town early. We departed Denver on June 28 at 3.30pm and headed to Grand Junction. With Shawn at the wheel, the drive to GJ went fast, we even managed to get to REI five minutes before their 8pm closing time so I could rent the trekking poles for the trip (I forgot mine at home). After that taken care of, we made a stop at Kannah Creek Brewing Company - I am not an expert on beers, but that place seemed like a good place for food and drink before a big trip. We rearranged the gear in the hotel room and were on the way to Silverton the next morning to board the train. With Shawn driving, I was trying to catch up on some last minute reading on the peaks on the agenda. As usual, Roach descriptions appeared cryptic and confusing, but I was getting the general gist - sparsely traveled approach trails and lots and lots of miles and vertical. Just what the doctor ordered.
An obligatory train shot (Silverton)
Unlike a very long train ride from Durango to Needleton almost 2 years ago when I visited the Chicago basin and Weminuche for the first time, I was happy with a short and sweet train ride from Silverton to Elk park.
The crew (L ->R Dave, Mike, Natalie, Shawn)
Day 1 - the approach to Vestal Basin
~6 miles, ~3,200 ft vertical (8,500 to 11,700 - Camp 1), ~5 hours (2.30pm - 7.30pm)
We got off the train sometime around 2pm, and started hiking at 2.30pm. After a little hesitation, we found the correct trail - just follow the set of perpendicular set of train tracks leading to the steep hill and then turn left. There is a sign about 0.3 mi from the train stop.
We are on the correct trail - it is important in the 13er-land
The first ~2.5 miles to the beaver ponds go fast. The trail is gentle and well established. On the way we get the first glimpse at the peaks and the scenery at the beaver ponds is just unreal. There were reports about moose sighting within a day or two of us being there but we didn't see the big animal.
Vestal and Arrow as seen from beaver ponds. Photo credit: Shawn
After the turnoff, things get serious. The trail gains about 1,700 ft in about 2 miles. Not only it is steep, but we had to crawl over a lot of deadfall. Natalie getting ready to go over yet another downed tree. Photo credit: Dave
Sometimes you have to go under the trees, instead of over.
We persevered, with Mike putting the strongest showing for the group, charging uphill as if it is nothing but a Texas plain. And because he is so fast, he gets to pick the campsite, and the first one he likes is at 11,700k (the best ones at 11,400k are taken, mostly by San Juan guides and their clients). Of course it is a big help in subsequent days, especially with Trinities. After about 5 hours of hiking, we were finally able to remove our heavy packs and to settle for the night.
Day 2 - Trinities traverse (West Trinity, Trinity, East Trinity)
~6.3 miles, ~4,000 ft vertical, ~10 hours (5.10am - 3.10pm)
Alarm goes off at 4am and we start on trail in the twilight by 5.10am. We cross the meadow just above our camp and start heading uphill. Our goal is the saddle between Vestal and the West Trinity at ~12,900. The climb also allows us to preview the conditions on Vestal - our goal for next day.
Alpenglow on Vestal is mesmerizing. Photo credit: Dave
The saddle between W. Trinity and Vestal comes into view. Photo credit: Shawn
Vestal as seen from the saddle. Photo credit: Shawn
The views of the backside from the top of the saddle are stupendous.
The Chicago basin, Jagged and a sea of other peaks. Photo credit: Dave
Early morning scramble on the ridge heading up West Trinity. Vestal is in the background. Photo credit: Dave
We arrived on the summit of our first peak around 8am. Maybe because of that the views are particularly sweet. Our next goal is the main Trinity and Dave brought beta and research on doing the full traverse which is rated Class 4. Our first task is to find the Class 2 (per Roach) downclimb down to the bottom of the ramp. I lead the pack down looking for "C2" and find none. I eventually descend all the way to the saddle and look for options to downclimb down to the ramp. None of them seem like they would go without a rappel. Dave is guessing that we are probably just above the ledge where we needed to be, but getting to the correct ledge would involve climbing back up, going around, looking for the correct gully. We are thinking that it would probably be faster to drop down south towards Balsam lake, circumvent the Trinity and climb from the gully in the back. Dave us reluctant to give up his Class 4 route preference, but eventually we all agree and start the downclimb.
Dave starts the descent off West Trinity with C4 route on Trinity in the background
Shawn and Dave descending the back gully on West Trinity. Photo credit: Mike
I get down to about 13k and spy a series of grassy ledges that may "go". I decide to use them instead of dropping further down the loose scree to 12,600 ft as the Roach route description suggests. The rest of the crew keeps descending while I start traversing on the ledges. They are not that bad, but somehow it is my "off-balance" day. Maybe it is the approach shoes vs hiking boots or maybe the first day of hiking at altitude, but I keep slipping and falling on either grass or small talus, collecting a bunch of bruises and cuts by the end of the "traverse". I stopped once or twice to put some band-aids which slows me down. At the end, I ended up descending to about 12,600k anyway according to my GPS and stayed put waiting for the rest of the crew to show up. I also want a confirmation that we are about to go up the correct gully.
The grassy ledges on the backside of Trinity. Not entirely sure why I kept slipping there. Photo credit: Shawn
Going up the gully between Trinity and E. Trinity - fun scrambling. It reminds me of the Red gully on Crestone peak
Peak 6 and other scenery
I am ahead of the pack, but once in a while I stop and wait for the group to catch up. Truth to be told, I have no idea where I am going - I have no prior beta on the route, except for the Roach map and waypoints on my GPS which are a bit too broad for peaks like that. Mike is some distance behind me, followed by Shawn and Dave. When I am about 300 feet below the saddle of Trinity/E. Trinity, Shawn yells from down below that I am supposed to turn left and go up a Class 3 gully. I do as I am told and start scrambling upwards. The climbing is suprisingly tough for Class 3 - more likely a sustained Class 4 with maybe a couple of Class 5 moves thrown in here and there. Left side of the narrow gully seems a bit easier.
Class 4 gully on the Trinity peak (mellow section)
The gully gets narrow
While I am heading to the main Trinity, Mike decides to head over to East Trinity and wait for us there, while Shawn and Dave follow me. Just before topping out on the summit I cross another gully and only then realize that we climbed the "wrong" gully. Dave got his wish for Class 4 climbing on Trinities - no traverse, but still some fun good climbing. We all regroup on the summit by 12pm and promptly start descending the "correct" gully, which is your typical Class 3 loose scree. Dave radios Mike that we are heading down and then over to East Trinity pronto.
Dave and Shawn descending C3 gully on Trinity
Two gullies on the Trinity peak - left - ascent (C4) and right - descent (C3)
East Trinity and the ascent gully
Dave is topping out on the East Trinity Peak ~1pm
Three of us charded up East Trinity as fast as we can as the weather seemed to be deteriorating rapidly. Just as we are finishing final moves near the summit, we are hit by graupel. In a rush, I get a final cut of the day on a sharp rock and arrive on the summit a bit deflated and even slightly dizzy. While I am patching up the wound, the rest of the group is swiftly heading downhill looking for the "notch". We got hit by more rain on the way down, but thankfully, it is short-lived.
Weather as we are heading down from the saddle
Shawn descending back into the basin on the way back to camp.
Wildflowers are in full bloom
As we get lower in the basin, the weather clears. We roll into the camp around 3pm, already pretty beat up from 2 days of climbing. Trinities didn't go down without a fight.
The Trinities as seen from our camp site.
Day 3 - Vestal (Wham ridge) and Arrow (off-route)
~6 miles, ~4,500 ft vertical, ~12 hours (5.30am - 5.15pm)
Finally the peak I've done some research on! Our goal is Wham ridge and we all pretty nervous. The reputation of the route definitely preceeds itself. Dave wants all of us on the rope with him as a sole trad leader, but I am hoping to go as far as I am comfortable unroped and then if I am stuck at the crux, ask for a rope. Shawn is definitely going to be roped up (and carrying it) and Mike is leaning towards my scenario. In preparation for the route, we climbed together a few routes in Eldo canyon.
Alpenglow on Wham as seen approaching the Vestal lake
Wham of a cairn
Because we are camped at 11.7k we take the non-standard approach. The alarm goes off again at 4am and we are on the trail by 5.30am. We start by hiking the same ramp leading towards the saddle between Vestal and Trinities, but then take a right towards Vestal lake. We did have to lose some elevation to go around the lake and we admire the views and the giant cairn that somebody built. We take the grassy ledges and arrive to the bottom of the climb after 7am. We all put on harnesses and Shawn and I change into rock climbing shoes, while Dave and Mike stay in their La Sportiva Boulder X approach shoes. At 7.30am we start climbing.
Natalie at the bottom of the climb. Photo credit: Dave
Mike and Natalie at the lower part of the ridge. Photo credit: Dave
Dave and Mike starting the climb
Shawn on Wham ridge. Photo credit: Dave
The climbing actually is super fun and does not exceed Class 4 for the most part. Of course, the thin spots (cruxes) feel a whole lot different.
Plenty of holds
Shawn and Dave stop to rope up, mostly because a heavy 60 m rope is throwing Shawn off-balance. It is certainly difficult to climb with that extra weight on your back. Mike and I continue soloing.
Somewhere around 13k we encounter something that looks like it may be a crux. I take the face route and although the holds are there, I distinctly hear the hollow sound behind the major hold, so I don't rely on it too much, which restricts the options somewhat. Mike takes the ridge route which looks like a short dihedral.
Looking above the first "crux"
Mike approaching the dihedral
Once he clears the obstacle we share the sentiment that hopefully that was the real crux. However, about 100 feet later I encounter something that looks like it maybe the real crux.
The angle of the climbing definitely steepens
Crack climbing on the face
Mike, Dave and Shawn climbing
The crack feature, although tricky, seems to be within my abilities, although I take great care to rehearse the route in my head. Waiting for the rope would mean about 1.5 hr delay at this point and my joints start to stiffen out in cold wind. I take a deep breath and go for it. I top out at the upper ledge quite relieved Slip definitely would be fatal. Mike is steadily climbing up towards me. I expect him to stop and wait for the rope but he keeps going. For some time I don't hear anything and the next thing I know he tops out on the ridge dihedral.
Mike is topping out
That makes two of us above the crux. We yelled/radioed down to Dave that we would like to proceed to the summit and get ok. The rest of the route is a blast - solid, fun, Class 4-5.easy climbing (with more careful route finding the route can definitely be kept at C4). Mike and I having fun picking different lines. At some point he finds himself unexpectedly cliffed out and has to climb to the ledge that I am on - that provided some added excitement.
Blocky upper route
We even stumble on some ledges and cairns which feels odd.
Mike found the cairn!
As a side story, when we were about half-way up the Wham face, we noticed two other unroped climbers fast approaching from the bottom. They quickly got past Shawn and Dave and were catching up with myself and Mike (although we had a significant head start on them). At some point Mike was climbing a Class 4 chimney not far from the summit and releasing small pebbles as I was standing nearby. He saw those two other climbers below, yelled "rock" and asked to give him some space. I started climbing the same chimney after Mike, trying hard not to release any additional rocks, as it was loose. I noticed a shadow to the side of me - it was the same person we just saw down below - bypassing me on the left. He was definitely not looking for the easiest route up! Four of us topped out on the false summit roughtly at the same time - around 10.30am or so.
Natalie and Mike on the false summit of Vestal. Photo credit: Ed
I paused to change back into my hiking shoes and soon joing the rest on the proper summit. We did not find a summit register. The brief introductions with Ed and Jon followed. One of them turned out to be a professional rock climbing guide. He was not working and just re-doing the Wham ridge for fun with a friend. That explained a lot about the efficiency and speed of their climbing! I will call them "guides" in the future, although only one of them was an actual guide. Mike decided to stay on the summit and wait for Dave and Shawn while I was still hoping to climb Arrow that day. The guides were heading back down, so I decided to join them for the descent. The hike down went fast.
Descending the Vestal's standard route
Either they knew the route very well or we just seemed to see the cairns all the time, but I struggled to find anything harder than Class 3. We cruised down to the saddle with Arrow pretty fast. Here Ed offered a crucial piece of information that he heard from his tent neighbors - San Juan guides - that the best descent route from the saddle is the line closest to Arrow. So we traversed the saddle, whipped out the trekking poles (finally - I was carrying them around all day for that) and started the descent, which was not bad at all, just normal scree surfing. We were down to the valley floor in no time.
Arrow (non-standard route - ascent), standard route - descent
I am rather too embarrassed to write about this, but here it goes. Bottom line - do your research and carry the route descriptions with you. On the way down Vestal I tried to convince the guides to head up Arrow with me, and we kept watching the weather, which seemed to hold, but in the San Juans you never know. Neither they or me had any good beta on the route. All I knew that we had to ascent a 2nd or 3rd ramp, which is supposed to be Class 3. I kept looking at the map and my GPS but the map was too small and I couldn't see the countour lines. All I could tell that the route starts somewhere around 12,000, roughtly at the same level as Vestal Lake. Finally Ed declared that some ramp (which actually looked like a stack of grassy ledges) looked good and quickly started heading up. Jon followed. I wasn't so sure. I knew those two can climb anything up to 5.12, but I did not want to take chances and wanted to make sure it is the correct ramp. Oh the irony. I obviously didn't remember the Roach description where he says - ascend the "grassy ledges". Instead, I was looking for something like a wide stone ramp which I saw in the pictures. So I stayed behind, poking around with my GPS. I even descended back to around 12,000 ft, finally determined that it was, it fact, the correct ramp and headed back up. In the process I lost about 20 min to 30 min and the guides were already half way up the ramp and there was no way for me to catch them. So I stashed the poles and started climbing.
Beginning of the ramp
I should have made the switch somewhere around this point. Instead, I kept left, preferring the solid rock
The climbing was easy and fun, and from the beginning I stuck to the stone ramp, practicing my slab climbing skills. Somewhere around 13.3k climbing gradually got more difficult, with better holds at the left side of the ramp, near the ridge. At some point I looked down and realized that I wouldn't be too comfortable downclimbing what I was coming up.
Hmm. How did I get up there?
Around the same time I saw the guides coming down from the summit and stopped to ask them a few questions. It appeared that they were descending a higher ramp. I was starting to guess that I was supposed to make a switch to that higher ramp but I missed the turnoff. I yelled across to them if they see a good ledge that I could use for the traverse. Ed thought that a series of few small ledges looked as a good option to him, but I was sure they won't work for me. Jon advised me to go up higher to catch a better ledge system above. They asked me if I was ok, but I was not so sure. More than anything, I was just really mad at myself for missing the correct turnoff. I put on the rock climbing shoes for the second time that day and started climbing. The climbing in the next 300-500 feet was very similar in difficulty to Wham ridge.
Photo credit: Ed
Photo credit: Ed
Lower ramp with Wham in the backgound. Photo credit: Ed
My goal was to traverse over to the standard route, but they don't really connect until very close to the summit. After pulling a number of class 5 moves I finally spied a Class 4 chimney that may "go" to the summit. It did in fact work and to my great relief, I finally topped out on Arrow around 3pm. The rock was actually pretty solid and climbing was fun, just way harder than Class 3 that I expected.
The view of Vestal from the summit of Arrow
Hard earned summit
I signed the register, put on my hiking shoes and started the descent watching cairns like a hawk. In the next 500 feet or so I kept gazing at the lower ramp and marvelling at my foolishness.
Holds are there, just need to test everything. Photo taken on the way down
Standard route on Arrow
Anyhow, I made the correct switch to the lower ramp around 13k at this time and crab walked the slabs down to the bottom. While lower on the mountain I noticed two people hanging out at the Vestal lake - I thought it maybe Dave or Shawn waiting for me, so I headed over in that direction. It turned out to be the two guides. We descended the standard route to their camp at 11,400 ft together and Ed was peppering me up with questions about the quality of the rock and the difficulty of climbing of the route I took. It sounded like he would trade places with me for the climb! Gladly, thought I. We agreed to keep in touch for the future and parted ways. The last 300 feet of hiking back into the camp was a brutal excercise, but I arrived there shortly after 5pm to find the whole crew back at the camp. Without the good beta, they absolutely hated the descent from the saddle between Vestal and Arrow and were rather demoralized. We all agreed to take Tuesday as a day off, ate dinner and retired early to our tents.
We woke up between 7 and 8am to the sound of rain. Ahh, so nice we don't have to hike today. We cooked a nice breakfast and spent sometime reliving the events of the last two days. Dave declared that we were no longer "Vestal Virgins", proving once again that one needs to brush up on Roman history before hiking with UofC people.
The camp life
Cooking breakfast. Photo credit: Dave
After breakfast I decided to do some laundry as I was running low on clean clothes. Since I brought a lot of clothes, it took a long time. Dave found me around noon with the news that they decided to move the camp down to 11,400 ft as the SJ guides had left and vacated the spots. It also sounded like the group just wanted to hike Arrow on Wednesday and board the train on Thursday. I felt that I still can try to hike a couple of peaks before Saturday, when my train leaves. I studied the maps and decided that I will hike out back to Elk Park on Tuesday, do the Ruby Creek approach on Wednesday, hike Pigeon and Turret on Thursday or Friday and catch the train on Saturday. I was sad to separate from the group but excited about staying a few more days in Weminuche. I ate lunch, filtered water for the long hike out, packed the camp and departed the high Camp at 2pm. I stopped by the crew's new camp and found them staring at goats.
At the new camp. Photo credit: Mike
Ready for the hike out. Photo credit: Dave
I left my detailed agenda with Dave, asked to arrange the car ride back to Denver on my behalf and departed at 2.30pm. The hike out to Elk Park was uneventful - I did not see any moose - and I arrived there around 6pm. Since there was still daylight, I decided to hike as far as I can on train tracks towards the Ruby basin. I made is as far as Noname creek, about additional 5 miles and set the Camp 2 by 9pm.
Hiking along the train tracks
Dave, Shawn and Mike climbed Arrow in perfect weather on Wednesday (standard route) and were back at the camp sometime after 11am. Shawn hiked out back to Elk Park the same day and caught the 4pm train, while Dave and Mike caught the train to Silverton on Thursday. Dave and Shawn were kind enough to arrange a car ride for me on Sunday. To be continued...
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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