| San Juan Day Trippin' - Part 1
Whitehouse Group, Imogene Pass Peaks and Last Dollar Road
July 4, 2013
"Corbett Ridge" (~13,100')
"Angel Knob" (12,580')
Whitehouse Mountain A (13,492')
Mount Ridgway (13,468')
"Reconnoiter Peak" (12,980')
July 5, 2013
Chicago Peak (13,385')
"Tomboy Peak" (13,095')
PT 12311 (12,311')
Whipple Mountain (11,922')
Finally, the Chinese project I have been working on is out the door, it should have been out June 13th, but lingering coordination and changes from the owner/hotel operator dragged this one out to July 2nd. Just in time to get a vacation day and make it a 4 day weekend for the Fourth of the July! It wasn't that long ago a 1-day weekend felt good. Steve and I had started coming up with ideas a few weeks ago, and our plans were to head over Beartown and explore the 13ers in the upper reaches of the Vallacito with the Storm King Group being the #1 goal. A week before our trip we find out that the Papoose Fire (part of the West Ford Complex, and near Rio Grande Reservoir) has closed all access to that area east of Stony Pass. Well shoot, now we need a plan B. Not wanting to backpack somewhere just to get trapped, we started looking at the idea of day tripping around the Telluride area, keeping ourselves mobile in case another lightning strike decided to light something else on fire and we need to hightail it out of there. A few nice trips starting coming together and we hit the road Wednesday night heading to that place all mountain climbers seem to gravitate towards on long weekends: The San Juans.
Day 1: Whitehouse Group
Furthermore was up here just a few days before us, and put up an excellent trip report on this group. Our route was pretty much the same as his with one exception, we climbed "Corbett Ridge" from a slightly different route. There is no real need for me to go into a whole lot of detail on our day as ours pretty much mirrored his in all other aspects, we might have taken some slight variations on the various cruxes between the peaks, but generally its the same trip. If you want information on these peaks, its best to read his report: Here. I will just briefly touch on our "Corbett Ridge" variation in case people are interested in this route instead.
From the trailhead there is a hill with an old trail remnant that goes up to the right marked for hikers and horses only. If you go up this you end up in a nice meadow with beautiful wildflowers and views of "Corbett" and Whitehouse up ahead. We spied the ridge coming off just left of the right skyline and started to make our way towards it. Furthermore's route was the left skyline.
"Corbett" and Whitehouse Alpenglow
The meadow eventually ended into some trees and there were a series of game trails that traversed their way to a creek drainage coming off the north face of the peak, at the head of the creek was a waterfall and cliff band so we left the creek and bushwhacked up the very steep slopes to the ridge proper. You can see the ridge and the steep forested slopes here:
Overview of our ridge up "Corbett"
After a brief flatter section the ridge proper started to rear up, but still forested. It was easy to follow to treeline where we took a break admiring the far reaches of the valleys to our north and dreading the steep scree that lie above us. The first section of the ridge was quite steep and loose and we each took our own line going up the "two steps forward one step back" terrain.
Steve starts the steep scree
Soon the terrain got grassier and progress was much better. We overcame a small cliff band with a few easy class 3 moves and finished the ridge to the false summit before traversing over and reaching the true one.
Gets grassier near the top
The rest of the trip pretty much mimic's Furthermore's, a traverse over to the "Angel Knob"/Whitehouse saddle and up the miserable scree to "Angel Knob"s summit. We took a loose class 3+/4 ridge on the right side of the gully hoping for better rock, but it wasn't much better. The route up Whitehouse was much better and started with grass, then a loose but not that bad talus gully before a bowl of red rock that made it feel like the moon, or a volcano's crater. The summit views were spectacular though!
We found our way through loose gullies, around PT 13150 and up Ridgway, then down towards "Reconnoiter". We did a brief exposed class 3 downclimb, then a short nasty snow filled gully to surprisingly soft dirt that we were just glad was not hardpan and then around the lower ramparts of "Reconnoiter" to the class 2+ gully on its WNW side to reach the summit. We descended one gully north of Furthermore's route, which he refers to as the lower saddle. The gully does go through and there really are no cliff bands in it, although there are some larger boulders near the bottom with mini-gullies weaving through. They are loose and steep, but keep the route at difficult class 2. We then went through the bushwhack/deadfall hell before finding a creek bed that made progress easier. We dropped to around 9800' and then traversed back to the road and the car, and headed to Ouray for some food.
Day 2: Imogene Pass Peaks and Last Dollar Road
We camped near the bottom of the Imogene Pass Road and headed up early, driving the road with no other jeep traffic kept the focus on the road instead of what to do if a vehicle came the other way. A few spots are kind of tricky, but the stock 4Runner Steve drives handled it all very well. The Ouray side is rockier, but the Telluride side has more shelf road sections and seems harder for passing. We parked near the pass at around 13,100', a high trailhead for the elevation of peaks we were planning! The first peak on the agenda was my "hometown" and screen name "namesake" peak, Chicago Peak. The ridge started out from the overlook with a trail to some old power/telephone poles before getting rougher.
Usually heading to Chicago crosses the Prairie
The rougher sections can easily be bypassed on the right, the slopes are steep but the rock is not too loose by Telluride San Juan standards. We bypassed all the tough spots and headed up the easier final ridge section directly on the ridge crest.
Final ridge up Chicago
Maybe I can convince the Chicago Blackhawks to bring the Cup up this one? Probably not, but it would be cool. From the summit we headed north with the intention of climbing "T5", about a mile and a half away. We knew it did not combine with peaks to the north of it due to the sawblade of St Sophia Ridge, and we were hopeful it would go in this direction. We had ourselves convinced that others had done it, but it turns out we were wrong.
"T5" from the summit of Chicago
The ridge crest stopped us in our tracks as a tower interrupted it and the dropoffs to either side were downright scary, steep loose junk that spilled over cliffs on the left, and impossibly steep on the right. We backtracked slightly and found a steep loose gully we could downclimb to maybe traverse low enough to avoid the ridge. 3/4 of the way down, we gave up. It was miserable, and the stuff ahead didn't look so good either.
Looks like crap, lets go back
Turns out this ridge is a sawblade like St Sophia Ridge too, guess "T5" is best done alone. That's okay, it has a cool snow line if you know where to find it (hint: you can see it from Potosi)
Sawblade ridge to "T5" seen from "Tomboy"
We were having a hard time spying a good line over there, its steeper than the photos even suggest, and we knew we would have to downclimb it, and then reclimb this crappy gully. We turned around and headed for "Tomboy" instead, but the slow moving terrain wasted nearly an hour of our time! The descent off the ridge to "Tomboy", which lies off the ridge crest and lower than the ridge, was loose but not difficult.
Dropping to "Tomboy"
The ridge up "Tomboy" was much the same type of rock, but not too much vertical and we finally were on our second peak of the day. Skipping "T5" we would have been here over an hour ago. Oh well, in the name of exploration heading towards "T5" was not such a waste of time, sometimes peaks just don't combine together that well after all. This is the ridge up "Tomboy" seen earlier from Chicago Peak:
Ridge up "Tomboy"
We reclimbed to the ridge, where we tried to traverse below Chicago Peak, but that didn't work and we ended up sidehilling really loose crappy rock back to the ridge. Just go back over it, its easier. The jeeps were starting to gather and it was nearly 11am now. Some food and off to "T7" with the hope that the weather will hold on for us, it doesn't look promising.
Route to "T7" from near the car
"T7" is a grassy peak in a sea of chossy talus piles and is therefore quite the pleasant little climb. We had to drop first to get to the saddle, but with such a high trailhead it really is okay to lose a little elevation now and then. We reached the summit quickly with the smooth, grassy travel and enjoyed the peace away from the "Jeep Parade" over Imogene. The weather towards Sneffels was looking kinda bad, but nothing looked like it would be severe and "T8" was so close!
Grassy slopes go easier than loose scree!
Having read Furthermore's report on these peaks, we knew there was a difficult stretch ahead on the ridge to "T8", I left the ridge earlier than Steve, and descended lower, finding talus benches that took me below the "T7"-"T8" saddle by a good couple of hundred feet. Steve tried to stay higher and I could see and hear him above me knocking all kinds of junk down, luckily I was ahead and out of danger.
Looking at the connecting ridge from the "T8" side later on
Steve is up there somewhere, I can hear the rockfall...
I was able to start my 200' climb back to the ridge on grass, which above turned to scree but was not too bad. As I was ascending Steve passed over the ridge above me on now stable terrain. I guess his way was faster after all, but I can't I was complaining about the extra vertical I had given the loose rock I could hear him on, the grass seemed nicer and the flowers were pretty!
... but I liked the grass better
The weather held enough for us, just a brief light drizzle as the weather by Sneffels moved off to the northeast to be filled in behind with clearing skies. We went down my ascent route and traversed back across to the car where we ate some food before the long drive to Telluride. It took an hour to go 7 miles, which is normal on these type of roads. Lots of uphill traffic on the shelves had us pulling over and backing up the whole way to town. We walked around town for a little bit but decided maybe we had some more in us before dinner/camp and headed towards the Last Dollar Road.
It took a while to drive all the way up to the Whipple Trailhead, but the trail was in good shape. By the time we got there it was getting late and to be honest, I would have rather just ate my dinner and called it a day. The trail went quickly, however, and soon we were at the saddle and the wilderness boundary for the Mt Sneffels Wilderness. A use trail took us to treeline and as we got our first glimpses of PT 12311 I became glad I was adding these peaks on, what a cool looking little 12er!
Seen from Whipple:
PT 12311 from Whipple
A class 2/2+ route goes up the backside and the views of the Sneffels range are pretty good from here. The western Sneffels peaks are all big scree piles, but this peak was grassier on the northwest to complement its rougher south and east sides and was a nice perch for a late afternoon. Whipple was an easy bushwhack from the saddle and had a rounded, broad, grassy summit with views for miles. The view back to town and the ski area was particularly nice:
Big views from a "little" peak
Back to the car it was now 7 and time for me to make my dinner. Steve decided Last Dollar and Gray Head were so close he would climb two more, but the time he got back I was already dozing off in the tent at 9.30, content with "only" a 6 peak day.
Part 2 tomorrow, the Wasatch group over by Bridal Veil, and my other namesake (sort of) peak: San Miguel. Thanks for reading...
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):