| 8-Day Needles Backpack and #57
8/30/08-9/6/08: ~67 miles, 27,600 feet of elevation gain.
Turret Peak: 13,835 (89)
Pigeon Peak: 13,972 (57)
Peak Twelve: 13,140 (532)
Peak Eleven: 13,540 (224)
Mt. Eolus: 14,083 (32)
North Eolus: 14,039 (NR)
Glacier Point: 13,704 ft. (NR)
Sunlight Peak: 14,059 (29)
Windom Peak: 14,082 (33)
Jupiter Mountain: 13,830 (92)
Grizzly Peak C: 13,700 (145)
Hope Mountain: 13,012 (NR)
This trip has been in the works for over a year and was originally going to be a full tour of both Grenadiers and Needle Ranges; however, schedules and even partners changed in the 48-hours prior to leaving. Once I realized I would be alone, I scaled back the itinerary and focused on the Needle Group. Still, what transpired was an incredibly rewarding experience that I wouldn't trade for anything. The trip report is basically a journal that I kept along the way (and going to be pretty wordy as are all of my reports), but I hope you have even a fraction of the enjoyment reading it as I had living it…
Saturday, Day 1: Ruby Lake from Purgatory TH: 12.5 miles 3,200 feet gain.
Craig (Cheeseburglar) and I left the TH at 7:30 and quickly made the trek down to the flats, reaching the Animas River crossing at 9:30. My 70-pound pack weighed heavily as the hike to Needleton proved tedious. We slogged along the Animas and made it to the Needle Creek Trail intersection at noon.
Beast of Burdon
We stopped for lunch and watched the 30 or so people leave the 2nd train of the morning headed for Chicago Basin. (We passed someone already that said they counted over 40 the previous day). I was glad to be headed for the seclusion of Ruby Basin instead of fighting the masses around the 14ers.
We started up the trail at 12:30 and followed Roach's description. Study it, know it, bring a copy for your reference – it's a real adventure. The fallen tree is across the Animas Trail and is sawed to clear the path. (There are other downed trees in the meadow you can ignore) The surprise turn south in the upper meadow marked with a rock cairn – past the timber pointing you in that direction, and the columbine is really an impressive piece of artwork.
When Roach says the trail becomes brutally steep, he's not embellishing (the rest of the trail is just abnormally steep) and if you don't like switchbacks, this is the trail for you. We counted 3 in the 4 miles and 3,000 feet ascent to Ruby Lake. Shortly after rejoining the lower trail, a tree branch grabbed my water bottle and sent it down the ravine. I watched helplessly as it tumbled down the side of the mountain. I still had my Camelback for my day pack, but that was going to be my source while at camp and backpacking.
We reached the campsite at the small lake west of Ruby at 5:30 and I had had enough. We settled in, ate some dinner, and talked over a few of the 12 Fat Tires that Craig had packed in. For you fisherman, the small lake had trout jumping everywhere. A neighbor made it to the lake just before dark and camped across the lake from us.
Sunday, Day 2: Rain Day and move to high camp: 1 mile, 500 feet gain.
This was supposed to be our climbing day for Pigeon and Turrret but we woke up to a steady rain at 4 am. We put off our departure until 6, but still no let up. I went back to sleep until Craig woke me up to tell me he had to pack out since he wasn't prepared for the rain – he only brought a bivy. He left about 9:15 and took the other 2-way radio I had and he graciously left the remaining beer and his extra Nalgene to replace my lost water bottle.
I spent the morning, thinking of my little girl, taking intermittent naps, and with a book that I promised my wife I'd read but then grad school and our daughter's birth put it on the backburner. (Happy Birthday 2006 Sweetheart) I got out of the tent around 1:00 and the rain seemed to be slowing. I packed up and hit the trail about 1:30. I stopped at our neighbor's campsite across the lake and dropped off a couple of the beers to make his day a little more pleasant. The trail above the lake is much like it is below it – steep, difficult with fallen trees to negotiate I found myself off-trail bushwhacking through willows and opted for hiking up a creek (which was actually drier than the willows). I found the trail again and it stays north high above the creeks and willows. The terrain finally mellowed around treeline and I found a nice campsite at a bend in the creek between two waterfalls. As I settled in to my new home for the next few nights, I pulled a pine tree down within a couple feet of my head trying to hang my food. Still had constant rain so trail mix was for dinner tonight.
Monday, Day 3: Turret Peak, Peak Fourteen Ridge Hike ~5 miles, 3,300 feet gain.
The rain finally subsided around 1 this morning, but still no star to be seen at 3:30. So, I hit the snooze until 6:00. I was on the trail at 6:30 in less that optimal conditions but I was sick of my tent. I got within 100 feet of the Pigeon/Turret saddle around 7:45 and still didn't like what I saw of the weather, but thought it may burn off. I found a rock to shield me from the wind and I sat and waited to see what would come of the day. After an hour, an unfamiliar feeling hit the side of my face – sunlight! I turned, looked at the saddle and saw nothing but blue sky.
I quickly made for the saddle and was greeted with an amazing view down to New York Basin and of Eolus's west face. There were still several clouds approaching so I opted for Turret rather than Pigeon since it would be an easier escape if needed. Turret was an easy class 2 mountain and I hit the summit around 9:15 and finally was treated to the glorious area's views.
Pigeon From Turret
Grenadiers From Turret
I did the scree ski back to the saddle but still not confident in the weather, I opted to skip Pigeon since it is such a committing route. I scouted the route from above and called it a day – I'll try again tomorrow. So far, the weather has been less than cooperative.
I made my way back to camp and whipped up some beef stroganoff to go along with my last Fat Tire, then nap time. I woke from my nap to hear a fire crackling. I looked up over a couple of rocks and the neighbor from Ruby Lake had come looking for me. Pigeon had eluded him for years and this would be his 90th Centennial. I had pretty ambitious plans for the next day so I invited him along for my 2 am departure.
I spent the afternoon taking some pictures around my campsite and the weather improved enough for me to try Peak Fourteen. I set off at 4 pm up the grassy slope directly above my campsite. I gained the ridge at 5:00 and had a lot of fun scrambling about, coming to the ridge's highpoint at 5:15. I then saw the work in front of me and there was no way I'd make it and back to camp before dark. I continued across a couple more "bumps" in the ridge and took several pictures before turning around at my pre-set time of 5:30. Even if you don't get the peak, a visit to Ruby Basin should include a visit to this ridge. The views up the basin and of Pigeon's NE face are incredible.
Ruby Basin from Peak 14 Ridge
Pigeon From Peak 14 Ridge
Sunset over Ruby Lake
Tuesday, Day 4: Pigeon Peak 4.5 miles, 3,900 feet gain.
Pigeon would prove to be one of my most rewarding summits. Coupled with the approach, it also hands down the hardest summit. (Just the hike from basecamp, it's still right up there.) We (Chris, my neighbor, and Simba, his peak-bagging dog, and I) set off at 2 am. I hoped to move to a camp high in the basin to try Animas, Peak Thirteen, and Monitor before heading for Chicago Basin the next day). We got to the Pigeon/Turret saddle at 4:45 and Chris wanted to wait for daylight before proceeding. I settled in behind a rock (I was very familiar with this saddle at this point) and enjoyed the stars for the next hour before dawn started to break around 6:00. If I had known this, I would have definitely opted for a later start time. Watching dawn break from 13,100 feet is an incredible and incredibly cold experience. I was anxious to start moving again.
The route drops behind the saddle to a rock rib, descends about 1,200 feet to North Pigeon Creek and then makes its way up a steep grassy slope after you have circled about 300 degrees from your campsite. Think Longs Peak but after the keyhole you drop to Black Lake on your way to the trough. I got in some great climbing/scrambling on my way to the summit (Roach's Route) while Chris and Simba took a climber's trail to the right that I would find out on the descent never really exceeds Class 2. We arrived at the summit at 9:45 and stayed for a full hour and a half talking mountains and the area's basins that he's explored.
Upper Ruby Basin from Pigeon
Animas, Monitor, Peak 13 from Pigeon
Pigeon really leaves its mark on you during the descent. It's not often you sit on the summit dreading the 1,500 feet you have to regain, mostly in 4-5 inches of loose gravel. Holy Cross isn't even in the same league. This mountain is incredibly loose and slick where you don't want it to be, but very solid where you need it to be.
I finally made it back to camp at 1:15 but didn't have much info on the Animas Group and from my view on Pigeon, what I did have didn't look like something I wanted to try by myself. So, no camp move, just took the afternoon to relax and recover from the previous few days. I sat in the creek for 15 minutes to ice my hips, knees, and ankles and then made sure everything was dry before I pack up the next day. I spent the remainder of the afternoon basking in the sunlight, reading, and relaxing in general – this was a very good day.
Wednesday, Day 5: Backpack to Chicago Basin, Peak Twelve, Peak Eleven
~4 miles, 2,000 feet gain of backpacking, ~1 mile 1,200 feet of climbing
I packed up and left the campsite at 6:30, just as light was hitting the basin. The weather looked similar to Monday with low clouds, hopefully it will hold off like Monday as well. The hike to the Monitor-Peak 12 saddle wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be and there is actually a decent trail to climber's left. I made the saddle at 8:45, dropped my pack and made for Peak 12's summit. The cloud ceiling was around 13,600 so I wouldn't be able to get my farewell photo of Ruby Basin, but I still needed to scout out the route to Twin Thumbs Pass. I descended, traversed below Peak 12 and made it to the base of the ascent gully at 10:00. I thought the next hour would be pure misery but it really wasn't that bad. The last 20 feet or so was dicey Class 3 climbing with the full pack on the back, but I hit the pass at 10:45 feeling an incredible since of accomplishment – I was now at Twin Lakes.
Twin Thumbs from NoName
I traversed below Twin Thumbs and had a snack on a ledge above the northern lake. After lunch, I left my pack, grabbed my camera and set off for Peak 11. (Thank you Furthermore for the excellent route info.) This peak did not disappoint. The views are absolutely incredible in all directions. I don't usually sign summit registers but I had a feeling this one would be interesting. I opened the canister and a business card from 1979 fell out. The register dated back to 1973 and there were only 3 other entries from 2008 – all from one party on 8/20.
Jagged from Peak 11
I started my descent around noon, took some photos around Twin Lakes and made my way down the trail. I ran into 14ers.com member Joey, chatted a few minutes and let them go ahead while I scoped out a campsite. I saw one from above that I wanted but found it to be closed for restoration, cross the creek, however, and there was a perfect spot at 11,600 with cover, 3 waterfalls within view, and a creek a short walk away for water. As I got settled and packed for the next day, I found something that made me laugh – my 11th 14er essential, my Which Wich Bag.
Relaxing at my Chicago Basin Camp - I know it's out of focus, but a tree stump served as a tripod for this one.
Thursday, Day 6: 14ers 54-57, Glacier Point, within 100 feet of Sunlight Spire (unintentional), pack to Jupiter base camp.
~11.5 miles and 7,500 feet of climbing and ~1.5 miles and 400 feet of backpacking
I set off for Eolus at 4:30 and the trip up was uneventful but I gained the NE ridge about 100-150 feet from the summit which made for an exciting and airy scramble. I arrived shortly after 6:30 and was treated to my first sunrise from a summit almost immediately.
Ruby Basin from Glacier Point (Shot from N.Eolus didn't have quite enough light)
I left for N. Eolus at 7:00 and the catwalk went very quickly and from N. Eolus I finally had my farewell photo for Ruby Basin. I descended some loose rock to the east of the catwalk headed for the N.Eolus-Glacier Point saddle where I found a use trail (more goat than boot prints) that ascended NE and gained the gentle SE ridge. I hit the summit at 8:00 and descended Roach's 1V2 couloir directly to Twin Lakes. Even though there wasn't any snow, it wasn't that bad. I ate lunch at the lakes and forged on for Sunlight Peak – this is where my day would get a little ugly.
I sometimes take for granted how well 14er routes are marked and the trail description call for an ascent of a red gully. I saw one at the back of the basin, turned up my mp3 player, put my head down and marched forward. The gully entrance greeted me with a cairn and I made my way up to the ridge. When I got there, I wondered why I couldn't see the Spire to the east and the terrain didn't look like Bill's description. Call me stubborn or lazy, but I thought I could make the most of it. I traversed below some cliffs to my left (like Bill's description) where the exposure was intense and I was making some pretty interesting moves. I thought I would see a cairn around the next bend, but I didn't – there, in front of me, was the Spire. I now realized my mistake. By the way, the views from the ridge of Sunlight Basin are incredible but my "pucker factor" was pretty high so I decided to forego any photos. I backtracked, descended my route and finally came to the correct gully. I made the summit at noon and my little route snafu had cost me about an hour and a half. I hopped to the summit block but unfortunately (the one time I wanted people around) no one was there to take the hero shot.
At least I picked an absolutely perfect day to make such a stupid mistake because there wasn't a hint of concern in the weather as I set off for Windom. An uneventful climb led to the summit at 2 pm where I met a couple vacationing from New Jersey. It was her 1st 14er! I have to admit #57 felt pretty darn good. I've now stood on top of every Colorado 14er, but I have to get Pikes without any automotive help.
Eolus from Windom
I still wanted to try Peak Eighteen, but I wasn't sure how my Sunlight debacle would affect me. I got to the saddle, took two steps toward 18 and my body basically said "No way." Plus, it was getting late (I was considering moving camp for Jupiter) and when I took a swig from my Camelback, it was empty. All signs said to head for home and as I hiked out of the upper basin I kept looking at Peak Eighteen, kicking myself for being such an idiot.
I got back to camp at 4:10 and wasted no time preparing dinner and filtering some water. My body quickly informed me that there would be no moving of camp and very little movement of any sort for rest of the evening.
I won't sour my report as to the reason, but I suddenly had an urge to move my campsite. I packed down to the Columbine Pass Trail at 6:30 and up to the field for the approach to Jupiter. I must have seen two dozen deer along the way and this side of the basin is incredibly lush and a very pleasant and peaceful area. I found a campsite at treeline on Jupiter's SW slopes and settled in around 7:30, filtered some water and enjoyed a beautiful moonrise over Aztec Mountain as the setting sun turned the sky a bright purple.
Friday, Day 7: Jupiter, Grizzly Peak C, Hope Mountain, hike to Trimble Pass
~11 miles, 4,200 feet of gain.
I left camp at 6:30 for Jupiter's SW Slopes and made the summit by 8:30. It was shaping up to be another perfect Colorado day. The climb was uneventful and I found it quite easy. I descended the loose south face using Garratt and Martin's route to combine Grizzly Peak C. Grizzly offered great scrambling, solid rock, and amazing views. This was my favorite peak of the week, especially after seeing it from the south later in the day.
Sunlight, Windom, Jagged from Jupiter
Grizzly Peak C and Hazel Lake from Jupiter
I summited my first "bi-centennial" at 11:00 and had the pleasure of etching my name about a half a page below the Roaches. I had thoughts about McCauley Peak as well, but I really wanted a relaxing afternoon to enjoy my final day in this paradise.
I walked the shores of Hazel Lake and made my way up Hope Peak, an unranked 13er that had vows from a wedding that took place on the summit in 2001 in the register. This would sadly be my last summit of the trip. I took my time making my way back to Columbine Pass and once there, laid down for more than an hour basking in the views of the mountains I had been fortunate enough to climb over the past few days.
Grizzly Above Hazel Lake
Eolus From Columbine Pass
Peak 11 From Columbine Pass
Jupiter, Grizzly Peak C, and Hope Mountain
Too windy for a nap, too early to head for camp, I set off for Trimble Pass at 3:00 to get a look at the Endlich Mesa approach. I passed a couple of groups of teenagers and made it to the pass in 45 minutes. I took a few photos and turned back for camp. Back at Columbine Pass about 4:30 and then to camp at 5:15 where I had my last freeze-dried dinner. (I actually have come to enjoy the dinners, it's the trail mix and peanut butter and honey breakfasts I can't wait to be done with.)
As I got packed up, I realized I was definitely ready to be back home. My family returns Sunday from there trip "home' to Seattle and I miss them terribly. This has been an incredible trip but I'm looking forward to getting back to reality.
Saturday, Day 8: Return to Purgatory TH: 15 miles, 1,400 feet.
I slept from 8:30 – 10:30 very well, but then fought for every minute of shuteye until I finally couldn't take it anymore at 3:00. I was on the trail at 3:45 and hoped to use the trail that avoided the backtrack to Twin Lakes. I was camped at the intersection, but the trail quickly dissipated in the trees near the other campsites. Instead of wandering about, I just stuck to the trail I used on my approach, passing the intersection to Twin Lakes. It added a little distance, but it was an easy trail so I really didn't mind. I couldn't help but think of how thankful I was to be descending the Needle Creek Trail rather than the Ruby Basin approach (I won't even call it a trail.) I hit the Needleton TH at 6:30, the Animas crossing at 8:30 and as I descended to Purgatory Flats, I ran into a guy talking on his cell phone with a visitor's guide to Durango in his pack – I knew I was getting close. Once at the base of the final hill to the trailhead, I put my head down and really got after it. It was a little longer and higher than I remember because I was drenched in sweat and absolutely spent when I hit the TH at 10:20. 15 miles in six and a half hours with a full pack… not bad after 8 days. The front seat of my car never felt so comfortable as I pulled away.
Half of the fun of hiking is replacing all of the calories that you burn in the process. I made straight for Gunnison and my buddy's restaurant, Palisades where I had 2 meals for my lunch, still needed my Baconator Value Meal and Frosty from Wendy's in Aspen Park and now as I type this while I enjoy my second stack of pancakes and a steak omelette at IHOP Sunday morning, I thank you sincerely if you've read all of this. I had a tremendous time making these memories.
I leave you with a few lessons learned on this trip:
1. When Mountain Home says wait 8-9 minutes for their Freeze Dried Meals, they mean it. I got anxious after 6-7 and chipped a tooth on a noodle.
2. When hanging 30 pounds of food, don't use a dead tree.
3. Hike with your head up, you never know where you may end up.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):