| San Juan Fifth Class Fun
Labor Day weekend. Awhile back, when Jamie and I were making plans for the summer, we decided now would be the perfect time to climb our first fifth-class, alpine style mountain together. We were quite familiar with the centennials and thought Teakettle would make an excellent outing.
We weren't the only ones who liked our idea as Kiefer and Mike decided that our San Juan adventure would be the perfect way to spend their holiday. Jamie's friend David was in Ouray also, so our team was set at five.
Teakettle in the early morning
As we pulled off on the side of the road in Yankee Boy Basin, our gaze was drawn to the heights, specifically Coffeepot, in order to figure out our route around the cliff bands. Lowering our sights, we discovered that last night's rain left us with an unwelcomed gift; wet, tall plants to bushwhack through! After finding a semi-weakness in the jungle, we decided to suck it up and plow through the overgrown greenery. 100' vertical later, we had escaped the carwash and began to crank up the steep, grassy slopes.
Up and further up we went. Oh, it was steep but we were pleased with our efficiency in gaining altitude. Halfway up the 2100' vertical slope, we glanced at our watches to discover that we'd only been on the trail for 34 minutes! Everyone was pleased to hear that.
Heading up the steep, grassy slopes towards Coffeepot
Unfortunately, we still had half the slope to climb and the horrid scree slog loomed as we left the lovely grass slopes behind. The going slowed in an unpleasant gully. Here the rockfall danger increased and everybody made special care not to dislodge any death rockets on the climbers lower down the slope. As we made our way up the gully, Mike and Kiefer disappeared from our sight.
The horrid scree gully
At the top of the gully, David began to climb over large rocks covered with loose scree. Jamie and I reluctantly followed since we didn't see the faint climber's trail off to the right. When Kiefer and Mike appeared 100' above us, we realized our mistake. After plowing our way through this misery, we reassembled our group at the Coffeepot, relieved to be through that nightmare. Finally, we were able to turn our attention to Teakettle!
Teakettle from the bench below Coffeepot
From our vantage point, we were easily able to locate the Black Gully across another scree field. After arriving at the second gully from our break plateau, we began the descent through more loose trash towards Teakettle. The rock in this gully was even worse than earlier! Carefully we made our way down one at a time. At the bottom of the slope, we picked up a climber's trail and quickly made our way to the base of the Black Gully.
Nearing the Black Gully
The Black Gully was as unpleasant as it looked from afar.
Entering the Black Gully
Mike had begun his ascent and yelled down that everything was loose and wet. After he went around the bend at the top, we began more one-at-a-time climbing giving the other party members plenty of space. At the top, I began moving towards the right fork of the gully. Mike was standing at the apex of this chimney waiting for me and pointed out a little crack which made this exit "a little less difficult". After struggling up it, Mike revealed that he struggled also and really didn't see a good way out. Kiefer and David agreed as they pulled their way through this misery. Jamie must float or something because she just walked out of the gully and gave us all a weird look.
From here, we spotted a party of two descending the next section of the route. Being only a minute or two away, we elected to wait for them to pass before continuing onwards. As they drew closer, we discovered it was Sarah Thompson and Dominic on their way to Coffeepot and Potosi! The seven of us chatted for a few moments before taking off for our respective summits.
Even though we had two cliff bands left to pass, the going was straight forward on a climber's trail. Next thing you know, Mike and Kiefer are setting their packs on the ground in front of the infamous summit block as the rest of us round the corner.
The infamous Teakettle summit block
After everyone puts their harnesses on, we have a last minute refresher course on any questions anyone is unsure of. Then we turn to the Teakettle…..
I, for one, was extremely excited about Teakettle seeing that it would be my first alpine lead(5.3). When Jamie and Mike were ready on belay, I started up the 40' pitch. After setting a #1 cam lower down, two ledges allowed easier access to the area where the chimney began. After putting in the #0.5 cam at the chimney's base, I began the final section. Hand and footholds were abundant on the left side, but were lacking on the right. Luckily, the chimney was a perfect width for smearing which made for enjoyable climbing until two small rocks presented themselves a couple of feet before the summit. Here I placed the #3 cam and climbed onto the summit! Wow, it's really a small one(7-8 people max). After setting up four anchors, I prepared to belay the others up.
Nearing the top of the summit pitch
On top. My 100th unique, ranked Colorado summit!
Kiefer, with his new PF Flyers, made specifically for rock climbing flew up the pitch. He was extremely excited to be up there, maybe even more than on Dallas! David came up next; he was very nervous with his lack of experience but we kept reassuring him and he did just fine with a little positive encouragement. Great job David! Jamie came next and cleaned the pro en route looking like she'd been doing this for years. Mike was last, and he has been doing this years. 5.3 is so easy for him that his biggest challenge was not climbing too fast to avoid getting caught in the rope's slack!
Jamie Nellis climbing the summit block
Once he got up, the five of us packed the summit quite well!
The team on the summit
#1: Kiefer and Mike, with Potosi behind
#2: Relieved and Nervous David
#3: Happy Jamies
With everyone safely up, it was time to get moving if we wanted to nab Coffeepot before Kiefer had to head for work. After setting everything up, we all returned to the base of the pitch,
Jamie Nellis rappeling Teakettle
removed our harnesses and took pictures in Teakettle's handle. By now, time was ticking for Kiefer so we started for Coffeepot.
After descending the Black Gully, Mike and I began to haul up the slope for Coffeepot in order to get the rope and pro setup before Kiefer arrived. It was good timing too as he arrived just as Mike started me on-belay.
Coffeepot was more difficult than Teakettle for me(5.5). The holds were much scarcer yet the chimney was a great width for counter pressure.
Me figuring out the challenge of Coffeepot
Halfway up, a crack presented itself for a place to put the #1 cam, but that was the only spot which offered a spot for protection. After that, it was a challenge climbing the final dozen feet or so. Upon arriving at the apex of the climb, it was quite the relief to find two solid holds to pull myself over the top. I was very happy to be done with that pitch. While setting up the anchor, a guy appeared from over the slope towards Potosi. He was wearing jeans and sweatshirt with a hood…..weird! Meanwhile, Kiefer was climbing the pitch, he didn't have any of the issues of my lead. Once he topped out, we set up the day's second rappel. He jetted down and began the slog down the slope towards the trailhead.
After re-anchoring myself, Jamie and Mike took their turns climbing the pitch. They didn't agree with my assessment of the crack(5.3/5.4), maybe it was being on lead? While we were setting up the rappel, the sweatshirt guy appeared on the summit. Mike was halfway through his rappel when I noticed the guy starting to downclimb the smooth west face. No, no, no; that's certain death! After informing him of where to downclimb, he went down the crack, grabbed his stick and took off for Yankee Boy. WTF?
The shock of that guy was quickly erased during my rappel. My foot slipped out from under me while entering the overhang and my body was thrown against the rocks cutting my right hand and leg in multiple places. So much for a clean body after just getting rid of those last cuts! Jamie did a miraculous job bandaging me up before we headed back down the horrid scree slope.
Luckily, we were able to do a fair bit of scree surfing back to the grassy slopes. From there, it was a plod back to the vehicles where we gladly changed into sandals while having a beer before heading to Telluride.