| San Jaun Jihad: 10 14ers, 5 days
The 10 mountains I climbed/hiked were Mt. Wilson, Wilson Peak, El Diente, Sneffels, Uncompahgre, Wetterhorn, Redcloud, Sunshine, Handies, and San Luis.
The first order of business for my much anticipated mountain vacation was to kick out all my hung over friends that were sleeping on couches, floors, and even in a spare sleeping bag in the bath tub. I threw a huge bash at my new downtown pad for a friend's birthday the night before, so after a few hours of sleep and some heated words with people who refused to leave their resting spots, I was on the road to the mountains for my San Jaun 14er Jihad. I had never been to this part of Colorado, so I was eager for the upcoming week. The scenery was amazing on the drive down, especially the lakes out past Gunnison.
I met Scot (14ers.com user name Floyd) at the esoteric Deer Lake trailhead at about 5:30. For some reason, this trailhead is seldomly used to access Navaho Basin, even though it's an hour shorter driving wise from Denver than the Navaho Lake trailhead. You have to go over a pass and then regain a couple hundred feet of elevation on the return trip, but it is well worth it in my opinion. We backpacked in at a good pace, and dark fell upon us about a mile or so from camp. We tromped up to the basin and noticed there were tents scattered everywhere. We didn't know if we'd be able to find our friends Matt (14ers.com user name del_sur), Aubrey and Jen (14ers.com user name Aubrey), but sure enough, we heard our names being called and it was them. We chatted for a few minutes, and as soon as camp was set up I ensconced myself in my sleeping bag and fell asleep.
Day 1: El Diente, Mt. Wilson, Wilson Peak, pack out
The alarm sounded at the ungodly hour of 3am, and Scot, Matt, and I were hiking at 3:30. We made our way up the basin and around the lakes and started climbing up El Diente's awful couloir. The rock was loose and the terrain was steep…it did not make for a very fun climb, especially in the dark. Thankfully the 3 of us started so early, because we ended up kicking quite a few rocks down the gully. The incessant foul language didn't cease until we reached the saddle, which coincided with an inspiring sunrise:
From the top of the saddle we made our way around some notches and gained the summit quickly. It was pretty cold on top so we didn't stay too long. We met several other 14ers.com members on El Diente…it's surprising how many familiar faces you see in the mountains sometimes. We started to make our way across the El Diente-Wilson traverse and hooked back up with Aubrey and Jen. For the most part I would say this "classic traverse" is just a class 2 ridge walk:
However, there was one part that provided some excitement with some near vertical solid rock. We soon found ourselves at the base of the crux of Mt. Wilson. I have never seen such a convoluted mess on a mountain before. There were about 20 people that comprised a few different groups; some were roping up, others were hollering up and down the pitch in confusion. We waited for 30 minutes and not a single person moved. We didn't know what the hell was going on. We said screw it; we made our way up and down the "Wilson Step" in less than 15 minutes, passing stationary climbers along the way. We were only on the summit for 2 or 3 minutes at the most; we didn't want to hold anyone else up. Descending Mt. Wilson was about as fun as ascending El Diente; loose crap that was nothing but a pain in the ass. We got back down to the basin at around 11 and Scot and I contemplated Wilson Peak. Clouds were rolling in, and it didn't look good. We decided to head up to the saddle and see how it looked. We hooked up with another group and decided to go up together…the weather was sketchy the entire way:
The area was scattered with all sorts of abandoned mining equipment:
Dark clouds and lightning surrounded us on three sides, but we kept a constant eye on the direction the storms were heading and the distance of the lightning. I never noticed lightning that was closer than 12 miles, but I know how capricious storms can be at this time of day, so I was still a bit worried. Nevertheless, the storms didn't come towards us, so we just kept on going up. We reached the summit at 1 or so, and were reminded of the tragedy that took place on this mountain last year:
One of the affable gentlemen that we were with was finishing the 14ers on that peak, so we all congratulated him before we took off down the mountain. Here is a view of some of the mountains I would climb in the next few days:
I went ahead of the group on the decent because I wanted to pack up camp and head back to the car so I could join Aubrey and Jen on Sneffels the next day. Just as I got back to the basin the weather started to clear up:
After packing things up and relaxing for a bit, Scot came trudging down the trail and said something to the effect of "no way in hell I'm packing out tonight", so we said our goodbyes and I made the 5 mile trek back to the car. I drove to the famed Biergarten in Ouray and enjoyed a feast of burgers and beer. After a ridiculously long day (3 summits and who knows how many miles walked and feet gained), I felt like I earned it. After dinner I drove most of the way up to Yankee Boy basin and, too tired to set up camp, I fell asleep in the back of my Pathfinder.
Day 2: Mt. Sneffels SW Ridge
Aubrey and Jen drove by and woke me up at about 6am and I followed them up to the Yankee Boy basin trailhead. We made good progress and arrived at the saddle quickly. We ascended some loose gullys, but they weren't the kind that caused so much cursing like so many seem to do. Maybe I'm just abnormally impatient with such gullys. Shortly after the fun class 3 scrambling started. The rock was extremely solid, and the exposure was definitely felt in some places. There were a few narrow ridges with sheer drop-offs on each side. My camera wasn't working, but Aubrey has a much more detailed trip report posted anyways. We gained the summit at 9 or so and relaxed for a few minutes until a strange kid arrived bragging about how he climbed Sneffels without water. I asked him if he wanted some of my water, and he said he had his own. Confused, I offered him a swig of my whiskey instead. He turned that down as well. The down climb was uneventful and we were back at the trailhead before noon. We said our goodbyes and I headed off to Ouray.
In Ouray I purchased 4 overpriced disposable cameras and got advice about the best hot springs in town. I spent the afternoon sipping beer in a hot vapor cave with a nice girl from Italy who just moved to Ouray to work at her family restaurant. She entertained me with captivating stories about her vacations in the Alps. What a relaxing day that was...a great scramble in the morning and hot springs in the afternoon. As inviting as it was to enjoy a good dinner with her, I decided I didn't come all the way down here to chase girls, so I packed up my stuff and headed for the Matterhorn Creek trailhead late that afternoon. The 4 wheel drive road from Ouray over engineer pass was a bit of an adventure in itself. It was snowing at Engineer pass:
Along the way I passed a herd of sheep that reminded me of some quaint English hillside:
I arrived at the trailhead and set up camp and was sleeping shortly after.
Day 3: Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre
I awoke at 4:30 am and was hiking by 5am. That hour before sunrise was pretty nerve racking; I remember hearing about a guy being stalked by a family of mountain lions on this particular trail in the early morning hours. But I had my big WWII USMC issue knife with me…so I was ready for the kitty to pounce. The sun rose when I was above tree line and the views of Wetterhorn were mesmerizing:
I was making great time and I had the entire mountain to myself. This was my first solo class 3 scramble, but honestly I was more worried about the damn lions that morning than the climbing on the mountain. There were really only a few sections that required the use of hands…mostly the final summit pitch. The rock here was very solid, although one wouldn't want to fall as there is a pretty big drop off below. I was at the summit at 7:30 or so, and the views of the San Jauns were breath taking:
I stayed at the summit for a few minutes enjoying the view and then made my way back down to the big basin between Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn. When I was planning this trip I was nervous about my body not being able to handle the miles and elevation gain in so many consecutive days, but I was feeling great, so I jogged between Wetterhorn and the base of Uncompahgre. I decided to take a "short cut" and ascend one of Uncompahgre's north facing gullys:
That proved to be a huge mistake because the rocks were extremely loose and the climbing was steep and uncomfortable. After a long miserable hour in the gully, I reached the summit ridge of Uncompahgre and soon after arrived at the summit. There were some friendly folks up there, one of which was the local weather guy, and he insisted it was going to storm in 30 minutes or less. He took a quick picture of me before I hauled ass off Uncompahgre down the standard route:
This was much easier than going up Uncompahgre's god forsaken gully. I jogged most of the way back and arrived at the Matterhron Creek trailhead a little after noon. It was a long day mileage wise, but it only took a bit more than 7 hours because there isn't much elevation gain between the two mountains. After relaxing for a while I packed up camp and drove over to the Redcloud/Sunshine trailhead.
Day 4: Redcloud, Sunshine, and Handies
I awoke at a leisurely 6am and hit the trail at 6:30. I was feeling sluggish after 4 days of continuous hiking. I was really slowing down, but the scenery was inspiring, and I started to feel better after a few Starbucks double shots. The hike up Redcloud was uneventful to my recollection:
It goes without saying that there were great views from the summit, as is the case for any San Jaun summit from what I have encountered. The trail from Redcloud to Sunshine was a nice little jaunt:
The hike up the last summit block of Sunshine felt like I was on a trail to the clouds:
Alone, I sat on the summit for 45 minutes just relaxing, reflecting, and sipping whiskey. What a great morning that was. The views were inspiring in every direction. I descended the South Fork trail which saved quite a bit of time. It's always nice to do a loop hike instead of an in-and-out anyways. I got back to the trailhead around noon and had some lunch. I packed up camp and then drove up the road to the Handies trailhead. I can safely say that American Basin is the most beautiful spot I have seen in Colorado (or any other mountains for that matter):
I was still feeling pretty tired, but I didn't feel like sitting around the rest of the day. I had finished the 2 books I brought, and there wasn't anything to do but kill the case of beer I had. As fun as it is to get smashed in a beautiful mountain basin by yourself (note sarcasm), I decided a quick jog up Handies sounded better. I felt reinvigorated after a smoke and a few cold ones, so I got my gear together and started running up the trail in American basin at 2pm:
I am well aware of the "off the summit by noon" rule, but I was confident that if a storm did swing in, I could get down very quickly. Its only 5.5 miles and 2500 feet elevation gain anyways. I was really flying up Handies…I stopped for a 5 minute breather at Sloan Lake:
The next thing I knew I was on the summit. The views were by far the best I have encountered on a Colorado summit:
I was a bit nervous about being up there at that time of day, and being alone didn't help, so I only stayed on top for a few minutes. The clouds were really starting to build and I was hearing thunder from two different directions, so I made a hasty retreat back to my truck. I jogged most of the way back down and arrived at the trailhead an hour and half after I left. I was pretty proud of myself after gaining 2500 feet in less than an hour, but recently I heard about Roach's average of 5000 feet/hour and I was put right back in my place.
I drove to Lake City and found a great little restaurant. I ordered a New York strip steak, and that wasn't enough, so I ordered another. I find I usually spend a good portion of a down climb pondering how I will stuff my face once I get back to civilization…is it a pizza/beer day? Or perhaps the taco bell challenge is in order. Either way, I've learned that a voracious appetite is inherent to mountaineering. After paying the appalling $60 tab, I made the long drive to the San Luis trailhead on lonesome roads through the darkest, quietest country I have encountered in Colorado.
Day 5: San Luis Peak
After a good nights sleep I was up and ready to hit my last peak of the trip. I knew I wouldn't see a sole the entire day, which would be nice considering what I would go home to in downtown Denver that evening. I was making decent time when I wasn't stopped to take care of business…not to get into details, but 30+ ounces of steak will change things up a bit the next day. There were lots of nice little ponds along the trail, but nothing too eventful in my opinion. The trail was very easy to follow; it would be hard to get lost on this one. I arrived at the summit a few hours later and wasn't too impressed. It was cold and windy, and the views weren't that great, so I rested for 10 minutes and then headed back down. San Luis is a mountain I wouldn't return to hike, although the remoteness was definitely appealing.
All in all the San Jauns were everything I thought they would be. The weather cooperated for the most part, and the mountains were unlike anything I have experienced in Colorado. I am eager to return to the San Jauns next summer, particularly the Needle Mountains of the Weminuche Wilderness.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):