| Chicago Transplant summits his 100th 13er!
"Sundog" – 13,432
From Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch TH
4.6 mi, 3000 ft
Partners: Dominic & Chicago Transplant
The massive amount of snow in the Lake City area seems to be keeping tourists away and taking quite a toll on local businesses. On Sunday evening we had a tasty dinner at the disturbingly empty Poker Alice while we discussed plans for the following day. After two days of rather solid hiking in the snowy San Juans, we were looking for a short Memorial Day hike to nab what would be Mike's 100th 13er before embarking on the long drive home. We finally decided that "Sundog" fit the bill and drove to the Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch TH to camp for the night. While this popular trailhead is usually bustling with activity, there were only two other vehicles there.
"Sundog" can be seen towering above the trailhead, its summit a mere 1.2 miles away. Upon our arrival we scoped out possible routes up the steep slopes. The standard route described in Roach's 14er book follows the Silver Creek Trail for about 1.5 miles and then ascends the north ridge, but from our vantage point the obvious west/northwest ridge dominating the skyline looked promisingly dry and easy. Surely it would be better than the snowy, north facing standard route. Looks can be deceiving.
It rained hard for quite some time during the night and I was worried we were going to discover a bunch of new snow up high in the morning, but that was luckily not the case. We awoke to mostly cloudy skies and the sound of wind. Although we weren't at all enthusiastic about the weather, we prepared for the short jaunt anyway. Kiefer had had it with the marginal weather I guess and decided to sit this one out. Mike, Dominic, and I set off up the Silver Creek Trail around 6:30.
After about 1/3 of a mile we left the trail and headed east, intending to cross the creek to gain access to the west/northwest ridge. That plan went out the window when we discovered that it would require losing a significant amount of elevation to get down to the creek, and then climbing a horrendously steep, snow covered slope on the other side. We concluded that we should have crossed the creek first thing down by the road and settled on climbing the standard route instead of backtracking.
We continued up the trail, postholing our way through the discontinuous patches of snow. After about 1.5 miles where the trail meets the creek we crossed to the other side on a "bridge" formed by the debris of a huge avalanche and started up the north ridge. The 800 vertical foot climb from here to tree line was difficult because the snow was soft and the postholing was pretty bad.
Once above the trees the ridge gains elevation very efficiently and we made good time up the steep talus. The cornices on the east side of the ridge were very impressive – they had peeled away but hadn't fallen yet. It seemed as if they were ready to go at the slightest suggestion. As we climbed higher the wind became stronger and the skies darker. We topped out around 9:30 and scrambled around for about 10 minutes trying to find some shelter from the wind where we could take a break. Unfortunately there was none to be found and poor Mike couldn't really enjoy and celebrate his 100th 13er. It was very anticlimactic, but lucky for Mike it wasn't over yet.
We'd planned on going over to Sunshine as well partly because it would be a new 14er for Dominic, but the snowy scrambling we could see on the connecting ridge promised some slow going for a while, the wind seemed to be getting worse, and Dominic announced that he'd rather not because he'd just thrown up a ways back! Mike and I quickly agreed to call it off and the three of us discussed our hasty retreat.
We didn't have any desire to posthole our way back down the north ridge, so we decided to try to descend our alternate west/northwest ridge route. Little did we know it had worse things in store for us. From the summit we could see that the start of the ridge was harboring a large cornice, but it looked like traversing below the ridge crest on a moderate snow slope would get us past it. It did. The consistency of the snow was perfect for kicking steps and nice ice axe belays.
After the initial traverse, we discovered the ridge had more tricks up its sleeve. It was getting a little gnarly and there were spots that didn't look promising. Luckily, every time we came to one of those spots something always worked out. The nastiest of the difficulties was a traverse across a rather steep snow slope. The snow was pretty hard here and we didn't have crampons, but Mike was able to kick some small steps and we had bomber ice axe placements so it worked out fairly well.
Finally we got past the tricky section and were on the dry, tame ridge we had seen from the road. This part of the ridge was composed of steep, very loose talus that wasn't pleasant to descend but it got the job done. All the while the increasingly powerful wind tossed us around.
Tree line came and postholing resumed, this time worse. We were pretty consistently sinking in to our crotches, but the slope was so steep that it didn't matter all that much. When we tried to cleverly escape the snow by heading for the dry southern side of the ridge, terribly loose terrain poised above impressive cliffs forced us to retreat back to the snow. This ridge definitely isn't as docile as it appears from the trailhead!
Before long the creek came into view below us… but its nearly vertical bank prohibited us from dropping down to it. We traversed the steep, snowy slopes above until the bank mellowed, worked our way down and crossed the creek, and found ourselves only a few minutes from the trailhead. The descent was quite the adventure – just what Mike needed to spice up the hike and make his 100th 13er much more memorable! I was pleasantly surprised with "Sundog" – it was more interesting than I had anticipated. However, I do not recommend our descent route.
Congrats again Mike!
pictures & map: