| San Juan Solitude - the 13ers
San Juan Solitude - the 13ers
I'm working on the list of 637 ranked Colorado peaks over 13000'. I'm getting pretty close to reaching that goal and this summer most of my remaining peaks are the shorter 13ers far from home (i.e. the San Juans). The interest in peak bagging has grown geometrically since Spence Swanger, Mike Garret and Bob Martin expanded the paradigm in the late 70s and early 80s. Thousands of climbers are summiting Colorado peaks all summer long. However, most peak baggers still haven't gotten around to climbing the lower 13ers. With no peaks in the top 300 in my sights, it happens that not too many people will be trudging around the areas that I want to visit.
What a throwback the climbing of 20 years ago this trip turned out to be! Solitude, solitude, solitude! When my trip began July 13th, I hadn't bagged a new 13er in eight months. I'd been doing some climbing, but mostly I spent the winter working on different goals which still involve the 14ers. I also had made several recent repeat summits accompanying friends on their top 100 goals; the first peak of this trip was one of those. When Matt Sherman, Linda Jagger and I headed up Teakettle on Sunday, July 13, I expected plenty of company. Surprisingly, we had the mountain to ourselves; we never saw a soul after leaving the car.
Why do they call it Teakettle?
Matt finishing off the summit block
Homage to Chicago Transplant
This day turned out to be a harbinger of things to come. For the next 19 days, I never shared a summit with anyone that wasn't in my party. In fact only on one summit (Centennial Peak, an unranked walk-up near Hesperus) did another party even attempt on the same day; they were high school students from a summer program in Cortez.
Late afternoon on the 13th, after climbing Teakettle, I joined Mark Schmalz, Terry Schmalz, Jim Morton and two dogs (my Cooper and the Schmalz's Summit; both are Aussies) to backpack up Middle Cimarron drainage, just east of Coxcomb and north of Wetterhorn. My summer 13er trip for 2008 had begun. We arrived at our camp at 5:30; after rain, tents, dinner, and a plan we settled into bed to contemplate our new 13ers for 2008.
Mark and I bagged six new peaks on the 14th: first two walk-ups, then Heisshorn and El Puntofollowed by another walk-upbefore finishing on an unheralded, unnamed 13er that turned out to be the crux peak of the day. Terry, Jim, and the dogs had joined us for the first two peaks then went back to camp for their naps. 10 ˝ hours after leaving our tents, Mark and I trudged uphill into camp in a downpour. We had had to bail down an alternative drainage when the first thunderclaps stimulated the autonomic "tight-sphincter response" just 30 minutes after our final summit. Of course, Jim and Terry were well-rested and ready to head out, so we packed up and headed down the hail filled trail; we were off to a new trailhead for tomorrow's adventure.
July 14th set the tone for the next 18 days; climb everything you can, stay high till just before the thunder hits, get back to the car and head for a new trailhead. Using this strategy, I was able to get 57 new peaks (44 ranked 13ers, 10 unranked 13ers, and three ranked 12ers) in 19 days; gaining a little over 96,000'.We spent almost the entire trip on a loop from Ridgeway to Silverton, Durango, Cortez, Telluride and back to Ridgeway and Silverton. Mark climbed with me about half the time; he had to make a couple trips back to Montrose to spell his sister who was watching over Mom who is recovering from a broken hip. Mark's brother and sister-in law (Silverton retirees) joined me for South Hayden before Cooper and I took off for North Hayden. Mark bagged his first "7 ranked 13ers in a day" and we also had a 6 banger and 5 banger (combos of ranked and unranked 13ers and ranked 12ers).
Our hardest peaks were non-descript 13ers and 12ers; our #1 most difficult was probably 12,968' (east of Wildhorse, south of Blackwall). Before locating a feasible route (rope was in the car), we had to give up on the north side about 80' below the summit (where we had followed evidence of a game-trail to a little platform which held the skull and horns of a ram and offered a sheer, fully exposed wall w/800' drop). We weren't proceeding here without a rope and pro and a leader with leaden balls. After walking 300 degrees around the summit we found a low class 5 route that allowed us to reach the summit cairn which was slung with a rappel sling, but alas, no rope on hand to take advantage of it.
View of 12,968‘ from the north, as seen from the summit of Blackwall. We made it to just below the summit on this side, but had to bail. Our successful route was from the south.
View of 12968‘ from the southwest
A snow climb of Lavender/ Moss from the north proved dicey. We were armed with axes, rope and pro, but no crampons. Dave Cooper's route needed crampons. After spotting a narrow dirt ledge, we went one couloir west of Dave Cooper's route where I spotted Mark through a critical hole and he dropped a 15' sling to me for a handhold. On the return, we rapped the snow couloir.
Dave cooper's recommended couloir is second from the right. The ramp we took up is along the wall defining the right side of the first couloir on the right.
Mark was excited to stand on Lavender's summit. Mark was the initial force behind the CMC's Lavender award honoring both the climbing pioneer Dwight Lavender (who died of polio at 21 after putting up more first ascents in the San Juans than anyone before or since) and his Pulitzer –prize winning twin brother David Lavender (who wrote about the west including "One Man's West", the story of him growing up in Telluride in the 20s and 30s).
Mark stands tall on Lavender
Another day where crampons (which neither of us had brought from home) were sorely missed was for Babcock and Spiller from the south. We had some difficulty determining Dave Cooper's critical "third gully from the right" which is the recommended route to Middle Babcock. Middle Babcock is the NOW accepted high point of Babcock (according to Cooper, Roach, and apparently, Nolan); the high point seems pretty obvious once you're on it!. We chose one couloir right of Cooper's route and, at the ridgetop, were able to traverse west to West Babcock's summit w/o touching snow. We did, however, descend the snow route to head over to Spiller.
Can you find the third gully from the right?
The answer is the fourth snow patch (count the small ones too) from the right. It's the first BIG snow patch from the right. Were you correct?
The descent route from Spiller
Peak elevations in this area are generally accepted to be screwed up on the map. Middle Babcock is higher than East Babcock; Lavender is higher than Moss, and several climbers argue (in Hesperus' large register/ journal) that Lavender is higher than Hesperus. Hesperus, one of the Navajo's four sacred mountains, is a common destination for those on a journey more spiritual than physical. The journal on top is sprinkled with musings, stories, and sketches.
Hesperus in morning light
My personal elevation dilemma occurred on 13,241' Fortress Peak (near Coxcomb). Though the map shows the easier south summit to be 1' higher than the harder north summit; I thought the north summit was higher. A sketchy 50' climb up a loose 5.5 chimney put me on the north summit where I built a very small cairn (I didn't want to entice climbers over to what is not generally accepted as the higher summit, but I was psyched that there was no evidence of a previous cairn, so I wanted to claim it!).
My dog, Cooper, joined me for 42 mountains; he took a few rest days (I worried his paws might be getting tender) and he got left behind two days (Lavender/Moss and Babcock/Spiller) where I thought it best he stay at the car. Also, I tied him up a few times a couple hundred feet below a difficult summit finish and he immediately learned to take a nap while I tagged the top and returned to retrieve him. Mind you, he can comfortably scramble some pretty hard stuff (into the mid class 4 range) and even silently endured a 15' free rappel as I lowered him down an overhang when Mark and I (well, REALLY Mark!) made bad route choices on a harder 12er.
Since I got Cooper late last fall and most of his hiking had been in the winter, I got a rude awakening when we experienced our first thunderstorms. This dog was terrified. The first time, Jim Morton took him back to camp in beautiful weather while I was continuing the day on Heisshorn, El Punto and beyond. Later, the sky spoke. Jim told me Cooper had been inconsolable, but I figured things would be better if I was with him.
A few days later, Mark and I and both of our dogs were sharing a tent at the base of the Twilight peaks when I experienced my first storm with Cooper. He wanted out of the tent, he wanted in the tent, he ran away and then barreled into the zipped tent at a full sprint, head down. I didn't know what to do! Finally I broke a prescription tablet of mine in half that I must keep on hand for periodic anxiety attacks. Fortunately, it seemed to be a medicine that worked as well on dogs as on humans. The next day he climbed the four 13ers and the ranked 12er in the Twilight group. Mark's Aussie is much older and stays in camp or gets tied up along the way for all but the walk-up peaks. We broke camp at 3 PM ; the torrential rain, hail, and thunder hit about an hour later, sometimes only 50 yards away, as we hiked the 6 mile trail back to the car. Try holding back the leash on a panicked Aussie yanking you down an icy and flooded trail while wearing a full pack. That's work!
The severe afternoon storms took a break for most of the rest of the trip and Cooper relished the hikes. I loved having him along, especially for the 50% of the trip that I had no other company and Cooper frolicked in the freedom of running unfettered when we were far afield and I knew we'd be disturbing no-one. He always covered twice the distance that I did. He has a great sense for the best route and likes to get ahead to relax when he reaches the summit.
Cooper expresses his desire for a rest day
Another advantage of the less oft traveled peaks is the longevity of the registers. Those that existed went back several years and you recognize most of the names as fellow peak baggers whom you know or whose names you see a lot. There are many, but some from this site include Sarah, Dwight, Dominic, Kiefer, and Furthermore. These are some views from near where we saw their names.
Sneffels group from Cow Benchmark
View of Ouray looking down the famous amphitheater from the top of Cow Benchmark (shouldn't this peak be a little closer to Bull Hill?)
The most exciting though, was an original 1934 register placed on a ranked 13er by Carleton Long of the famed San Juan Mountaineers. The entire first page was filled with names from the summer of 1934 (over half were women). The top of the next page was signed by Mike Garret in 1984: a 50 year hiatus! The second page had just filled. There were as many climbers in the 1984-2008 window as there were in the summer of 1934. All the determined peak baggers whose names we all know were there. I'll not identify the peak exactly, but those who research the CMC summer outing of 1934 will have the general vicinity.
The only register that ever excited me more had the original signatures of Dwight Lavender, Frank and HL McClintock, Bob Orrmes and , of course, me! That register is on an unranked 13er, but it is in such a popular area it probably won't be there much longer.
Mystery Peak. Traverse 90 degrees around the left side to find an ascent route.
Recognize Dallas from this side?
A quick trip to Lake City highlighted a great new restaurant (No-Name Restaurant) where I dropped $500 on barn-wood framed photography by the owner's mother-in-law. Gas for the trip still outweighed this splurge.
If you can't identify this on your own, you're a newbie.
At the end of the trip, I did run over to the Snowmass area to hit three 13ers on the Highland Peak quad.
Views from the east (L to R) of Snowmass Peak, Hagerman, and Snowmass from Willoughby Mountain. Shouldn't the feature on THIS side be the one honored with the name "S" Ridge?
This temple near the summit of Bald Mountain on the Highland Peak quad is home to the Guru with the answers. It seems his name is Ron and he recommends something akin to spray-paint and a good comb-over.
I may fit in a few more new 13ers before snow season begins (this past weekend aside), but this was definitely my big peak bagging spree for 2008.
Mark and I recording for posterity that we aren't as young as we were when we met very near here on the Colorado Trail 20 years ago this same week.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):