| Fall San Juan Extravaganza
Day 1: "American Pie"
American Peak: 13,806‘ (102nd highest)
Jones Mountain A: 13,860‘ (78th highest)
Niagara Peak: 13,807‘ (101st highest)
via Snare Gulch
Day 2: East Slopes
Uncompahgre Peak: 14,309‘ (6th highest)
via Nellie Creek
This is actually the third attempt at this trip, the first two never got off the ground. The weekend of October 6th and then the 20th both had too much snow in the forecast for me to think a trip to the San Juans would be worthwhile. I like to make my trips down there "count" so to speak! It's a lot of mileage and gas…
Saturday October 27, 2007
I awoke in my frost covered tent at the Mill Creek Campground around sunrise to a thermometer that read 23 degrees. It was a surprisingly comfortable night's sleep, however, and I quickly got myself ready for the climb. It was still a short drive to the trailhead, but luckily the road was mainly dry and I made it all the way to the Snare/Cuba Gulch trailhead. The road is no longer open to motorized travel, so I started on foot around 9.30am. The lower part of the route had virtually no snow, and what little was there was barely ankle deep.
Quickly I found myself at the Snare Stairs, a series of 12 switchbacks up a steep, loose talus slope. Resist the urge to cut the switchbacks, the rock looks incredibly unstable! In a short while I was at the top of stairs looking down on the sea of switchbacks below:
Ahead of me the basin was starting to open up and I was surprised at how little snow there was on the slopes I was going to be climbing. The south sides of these mountains were mostly dry, and any small snow patches were less than 6" deep. I worked my way up the basin and towards the south ridge of American Peak:
The slopes steepened and the semi-stable talus was covered in patches of thin snow. The going was smooth despite some loose and slippery parts; careful climbing deposited me safely on the ridge crest and with a view of my first stop straight ahead:
The ridge was gentle and fairly dry, and soon I was at the summit. The summit was covered in snow and the summit cairn and register were somewhere buried underneath. I took the requisite summit shots including one of Handies' standard American Basin Route:
I then began my descent taking time at each of the north face couloirs to peer down them. I am not sure which was which, but the two in the middle both looked particularly tantalizing for future ski descents! I am pretty sure this is Victory, what a great looking line!
The west side of American had basically no snow and the going was quick to the saddle with Jones. Here I stopped for an extensive snack and water break before heading up the East Ridge route to Jones' summit. The north face of Jones is particularly impressive on the traverse from American:
The lower portion was steep, and with the snow required frequent hand plants to keep my balance. There was more snow on this portion of the climb due to the eastern exposure. It seems the north and east sides of all the San Juan peaks are holding snow. It still was not deep, less than a foot, just more of a blanket covering the slopes. The upper part of the ridge has a nice defined crest and stunning views down the north face cliffs.
From the summit of Jones you get a commanding view of the surrounding area, this is the tallest peak in eastern San Juan County and there is nothing taller than it to the west until Vermilion, or to the south until Vestal. You are literally surrounded by a sea of San Juan summits; what a great place to be!
After admiring the view, it was time to head over to Niagara to complete the trio of peaks. The west side of Jones was back to being snow free and in no time I was at the Niagara-Jones saddle contemplating the best was up the snowy northeast ridge. Again, some handplants were required to hold my balance, but the steep snow covered ridge went smooth and soon I was admiring the surrounding peaks once again!
Descent from Jones:
Ascent of Niagara:
I descended back to the saddle and southeast through grass and spotty snow back to an old mining road that traversed Jones' south ridge. This road then joined the Snare Gulch road and provided smooth sailing all the way back to the car. Along the way there was old abandoned mining cabin and some incredibly inspiring views of the impressive north face of Half Peak to the south
I headed back to Lake City to find some food, but nothing is open in town anymore. Instead it was off to the grocery store to buy some Chef Boyardee Ravioli to heat up on my camp stove, a chapter of "No Shortcuts To The Top", and back to bed for another cold night.
Sunday October 28, 2007
Sunday I woke up to another frosty morning, had breakfast and packed up my camp to head over towards Nellie Creek. The lower part of the Nellie Creek road was dry and it was looking good for a nice short climb of Uncompahgre. I crossed the creek and headed up past the road split to be presented with a snow covered road. I kept going, but soon ran into this:
The photo doesn't quite do the steepness or the angle justice, but the ice on this slope got me. I started sliding, tried to correct, and ended up partly sideways. It took a few minutes to get some traction with rocks and dirt to straighten out and then back down the road to a small pullout where I could turn around. I parked at the road junction, about 1 3/4 miles from the trailhead. At least I would get a 3000' ascent, right? It was now 9.30 so my 9am start didn't happen, and I was almost 2 miles below the trailhead.
A little ways up the road it cleared out again, but then was off an on icy snow the rest of the way. I recommend to anyone looking at this peak in the near future to stop at the road split. The road is probably passable in afternoon when it is softer, and there was a pickup at the upper trailhead, but why risk it? The walk up the road was actually quite pleasant, as this unnamed 13er can attest to:
I started up the trail, there were sections of frozen mud and patch 3" deep snow but in general the trail was clear until a trail split around 12,000'. This was a great break spot and a good place to put on gaitors. The upper basin was mostly snow covered, and Uncompahgre looked awfully far away.
The going was slower than what it would have been if dry, but the route was easy enough to follow with Uncompahgre dominating the view ahead. A series of rolling benches soon had me at the base of the steepening slopes above
I was below the trail which went farther south, but this snow and talus "shortcut" had me on the trails switchbacks where I was able to make good time. The views of the basin below opened up and I felt that I had made more progress in the last 15 minutes than I had the first 2 hours. I could see that unnamed 13er that I was admiring from the road, and I was looking down on it:
The trail then wrapped around the back off the cliffs where a weakness in the cliffs allowed for easy passage up the steep class 2 gully. Once again I was not exactly on route, but this seemed to be a common error based on the use trail through this gully. The route is actually up the second gully, but the first wasn't too bad:
The upper slopes are much gentler and soon I was looking at the summit where two other climbers were hanging out. I had seen there pickup at the top of the road and their names in the trailhead register and wondered when I would see them. We chatted for a bit and then they started down. It was a little after 12.30 so I had my lunch on the summit.
The views were fantastic; this peak really dominates the surrounding landscape! The view of Wetterhorn really shows just how big this mountain is:
I started down and quickly caught up to and passed the other climbers. I made really good time on the descent and was back at the car around 3pm. It was going to be a long drive home, and I wasn't sure where I was going to sleep that night. I had found out Friday that I was temporarily kicked out of my apartment due to asbestos in the main corridor. Apparently the contractor that was patching our ceiling did not abate the popcorn ceiling and raised the asbestos level to a whopping 2% in the carpet. I ended up at a local hotel, but tonight I am staying at a co-worker's. Hopefully I can return home tomorrow!
I leave you with two views off the North Face; it's a long way down!!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):