| Ruby Basin 13ers - July 4th weekend
Pigeon as viewed from Animas River
Ruby Basin 13ers :
Pigeon Peak 13,972
Turret Peak 13,835
Monitor Peak 13,695
Peak 13 13,705
Animas Mtn 13,786
Climbers – Mike (Chicago Transplant), Kevin (Kevin Baker), Sarah (Wooderson), Kevin (Papillon)
Mike and I had been going back and forth about heading into Ruby Basin for some time now. At the last minute, I threw out my 4th of July plans to my friend Kevin and his girlfriend Sarah, who just so happened to be taking a week off of work to knock off some San Juan 13ers in the region. Kevin Baker had plans in the region as well, along with a 14erworld group. It was a damn crowded weekend for Ruby Basin standards, I wouldn't be surprised if we set a new record for most people on Pigeon Peak's summit in a day.
Mike and I drove down after work Friday as the crowds were mounting quickly in Summit and Eagle Counties. After a quick meal at Smashburger in Junction, we headed South and met up with Kevin and Sarah, who had kindly let us crash with them at the Rio Grande Best Western, no more than a block away from the train depot. My compensation for them was a 22oz of the Maharaja.
We boarded the 9am train and arrived at the Needleton stop at 11:30am. After the bridge, we took an immediate left, passing the cabins in the region en route to the Ruby Trail turnoff. Kevin and I found a nice stash for the beers in the Animas and then made way for the cut out tree along the trail.
cut out tree after cabins
Mike had input all the integral waypoints from Cooper's description and a distinct beep would go off when we'd reach certain locations. When we reached the cut out tree, 0.37 miles from the bridge, the first beep went off. The approach was brutal. For 4.1 miles, this felt so much longer. Around the first third, we sped ahead of Kevin and Sarah and decided to wait for a bit. We lost track of one another and wouldn't meet up again till camp.
Anyways, Mike and I pushed on, catching up with the 14er world group and packing in with them for the majority of the rest of the approach.
As mentioned in numerous descriptions of the route, the trail gets tough to follow after Ruby Lake. When passing the lake, stay low, almost right up next to the lake 99.9% of the time. From the East end of the lake, use careful route finding, there are 3 or 4 different trails that can lead you to the basin, just stay to the left of the creek and don't venture too far from it. No beatin' around the bush, this approach is, as Kevin stated, "as advertised".
looking back at trail east of lake
Mike and I met up with Kevin Baker and Dwight via walkie-talkie once in the upper basin at 11,600 feet and set up camp, with the 14er world group not too far behind. As we were settling in, I noticed 2 heads pop up through the willows, approaching camp. It was Kevin and Sarah, who persevered through some tricky route finding with no gps and no one else to navigate with. I was glad to see them.
campsite w/ Animas in background
Being in an open basin made hanging food a chore. Some of the guys found a wall, set up a rope system and hung their bags a couple feet from the ground. Mike had other plans.
Mike hanging his food
As the day gave way to night, we were presented with some awesome views of the valley, especially Pigeon.
Pigeon in the evening
There was some drizzle overnight, but nothing to get all worked up over. Most of us woke up around 5am, and were on the trail minutes later. When camping as high as we did, there is no approach in Ruby Basin. Within a minute or two, we were climbing straight up the northern slopes to the 13,100 foot saddle between Turret and Pigeon.
Pigeon from the saddle
Pigeon's face was an intimidating sight and the morning light enhanced its appeal. The weather, like clockwork, cooperated with us throughout all 3 days in the basin and then rained would fall around bed time for an hour or so, then stop with some wind here and there. Deep sleep was hard to come by, but the vastness of the region and the appeal to the climbs kept spirits very high.
From the 13,100 foot saddle, you perform a demoralizing 400 foot descending SW traverse to a notch along Pigeon's southern ridgeline along grassy slopes. From the notch, you have to continue on another 400 foot descent, basically circumnavigating the entire mountain. Pigeon is a fortress and will test your endurance, fortitude and motivation. Its got it all. Once you are finally finished losing all the elevation you just worked for, you are presented with a 1500 foot ascent in no more than half a mile.
route up Pigeon after the 800 foot down climb
Around 13,400 the scrambling begins. The groups consensus was that it never exceeded class 3 with a few exposed 3 moves, and easy 4 moves. Since this isn't a guidebook, I'll leave the rest to figure out, just take my word that its fun.
Kevin, Sarah and Kevin scrambling
We reached the airy summit just before 10am with great weather and good vibes all around from both groups. It's both a cool and demoralizing feeling standing atop this mountain. You feel a genuine sense of accomplishment but at the same time, a harsh realization of getting back to the saddle and gaining nearly 1500 more feet to reach Turret.
looking straight down at the saddle from the summit
came you name all of these peaks?
After spending some time on the summit, we finally descended and made the arduous descent back down to 12,400 feet. I couldn't help but think of a Maroon Bell downclimb or something shitty of that nature. My advice, bring trekking poles.
This is what we were looking at when we rounded the first corner.
looking up at the notch. 400 feet above
And we're not done quite yet
and another 400 feet to the saddle
This was a royal pain in the ass, but in reality, the upclimb wasn't as bad as it looked and went by rather quickly and effortlessly when putting one foot in front of the other. After reaching the saddle, it was surprising how quickly we made Turret's summit, which was no tougher than a class 2/2+.
The climb wasn't as exciting as Pigeon, but the views were equally as good.
looking west towards Animas River and La Platas in the distance
Pigeon from Turret
Turret Needles and Pk.15
We all reached camp around 2:30pm or so and took a much needed rest. Well, not all of us. Mike decided 4500 vertical wasn't enough for one day and took off towards Peak 12, while Kevin and Sarah took a nap and Kevin Baker and I hung out in the sun. For anyone who hasn't climbed with Mike, he floats up mountains, doesn't seem to ever slow down and never shows fatigue. Its pretty amazing actually.
Monday proved to be much bigger than expected. When looking at the Animas Group from down in the basin, it looks like a straightforward, 4 to 5 hour day. We set our alarms for 3:30am just to be sure since we had a 3:45pm train departure. Kevin and Sarah decided P and T was enough excitement for one weekend and slept in to give themselves ample time to reach the depot. Mike, myself and Kevin Baker braved the surprisingly chilly morning and were quickly presented with a steep, 2000 foot ascent towards Monitor. This slope was damn steep, definitely worked the lungs and legs.
It was a beautiful morning though…..
30 second delay shot en route to Animas Group
We found the slanted ramp leading to the ridgeline and the entrance to the maze that is Monitor Peak. The name of the game on this day would be kitty litter management. While the climbing isn't extremely tough, its relatively exposed, has some legitimate class 4, sometimes low 5 moves and is filled with loose crap all over the place. Its probably the most methodical climbing I've done to date, up and down.
ridge to Monitor
Twilights with an awsome potential ski line
peak 13 with some classic peaks in the background
Animas Group ridgeline
The toughest part of climbing Monitor is the 50 foot downclimb on loose rock, followed by a 4th class, exposed upclimb with loose rock. Its more annoying than it is difficult. From there, its simply following the path of least resistance to the summit. We made the summit around 6:45am, admired the views for a little bit, then pressed on given our tight schedule.
Upon regaining the ridgeline, we climbed up to the SE side of Peak 13 and planned out our next move. Our initial thoughts were climb the ranked peaks and try to find a ledge system around Peak 13 without excessive down or upclimbing. Well, it did not exist but luckily we decided it would be a fun climb nonetheless, so Mike pushed ahead and found a way up the maze of ledges. We were presented with an exposed 4th class chimney, which Mike flew right up, I came in at a slow second and Kevin rounded out the trio. Kevin and I were a bit worried about not being able to downclimb this section, had there been no safe passage above, but Mike found a way.
climbing up pk13
Mike and Kevin climbing below
peak 13 summit
Kevin and I followed Mike's lead and made our way to the summit a little after 8:45am, signed the register and immediately continued on to Animas. The downclimb off the west ridge of 13 was easy class 3, but the jagged, crumbling nature of the rocks was wearing on both our hands and psyche. We made quick work of the traverse to Animas, enjoyed some solid scrambling, with some segments of low 5th class moves and finished the trio around 10am.
some fun scrambling
our campsite 2000 feet below
all scrambled out
Camp was 2000 feet below and we were running low on time. We definitely picked the wrong way down the mountain. Instead of back tracking to the Animas-13 saddle, we found a loose gully to the NW of the summit and proceeded to downclimb some of the most methodical, slow, sketchy terrain of the day. To make a long story short, we got split up and found our own ways down the mountain and they were anything but straightforward.
We reached camp around 11:45am, packed up fast and made way for the train. Somewhere along the way, mike waited up for Kevin and I agreed to continue along slowly and have them catch up somewhere on the western edge of the lake. I decided to push on past the lake and found myself off-trail soon after. There are cairns all over the place around here and sometimes they do not lead you in the right direction. At one point, there was an option to either go low or high as I was rounding the ridge to head towards the N.Pigeon Creek drainage. I picked the high road and what ensued was the most ridiculous deproach I've experienced. To make a really long story short, I made it to the depot with 5 minutes to spare completely spent from climbing up and over the various ridgelines and drainages of the western Weminuche and forgetting this whole ordeal couldn't come any sooner.
With that aside, on a good note, Kevin Baker was able to nab a ride back on the train despite approaching from Purgatory and I gave him a lift since we were headed up 550 as it was. After enjoying no less than 10 free refills of Coke with the train concession mug, we parted ways with Kevin and Sarah and made the 5.5 hour drive back to Avon. This is one of the those climbs that'll take the rest of the week to recover from, but well worth it.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):