| Finishing the 100 highest on Wham Ridge
On Wednesday, September 1, 2010, I climbed Capitol alone in a relatively mad rush to finish the 14ers. Finishing the 14ers was a really fun and wonderful accomplishment, but there was a different, and personally more important goal also within close reach. Climbing Capitol put my peak count at 99 of 100 of the State's 100 highest peaks. Why the push to get Capitol? Simple. Erik Kling, one of my friends, was also at 99 of the 100 highest, and we had the same peak, Vestal, as the remaining unclimbed peak. Earlier in the summer, we hatched plans to finish the 100 highest together on Vestal Peak over Labor Day weekend.
I awoke at 6:30 a.m., took a shower, and threw my pack in my truck. I headed out over Cinnamon Pass to meet Erik and Tom Courtright at the Molas Pass Trailhead south of Silverton. We met up at 9:15 a.m., and while in the parking lot, made the final adjustments to our gear, sorting out what gear would be shared during the pack in.
Tom and Erik packing up for Vestal Basin.
All extra space in our packs was filled with cans and bottles of tasty beverages. We started the hike into the Grenadier Range at 10:00 a.m. The hike in went smoothly and we were able to watch one of the trains puff by as we crossed the tracks to get onto the Elk Creek trail.
The train passing through on the way in.
The hike to our high camp beneath Vestal consisted of 8.2 miles and about 3,000 feet of elevation gain. We arrived at camp at 4:00 p.m., happy to be free of the pigs that most people call backpacks. We sipped some Gubna IPA and basked in the astounding view of Vestal as it loomed tall above our camp. While we taking in the view, a herd of mountain goats invaded our camp.
Goats and Gubna. Photo by Erik Kling.
They were so aggressive that we were afraid the goats might get tangled up in our tent cords. They were obviously salt hungry, and were looking for urine. That night we slept well.
Vestal and a urine-hungry mountain goat.
There were a few other parties in the basin that weekend with similar goals. We awoke at 6:00 a.m., had a short breakfast, and were hiking towards Vestal by 6:30. As we approached the base of the Wham Ridge, we were awestruck at how much the face looked like a huge curling wave of rock that was getting ready to break over us.
The curling quartzite wave of Wham Ridge.
We followed the immediate western edge of the face that Roach rates 5.3 in his 13ers book. This lower section was nowhere near that difficult, and made for a speedy approach to the grassy ledges higher up on the face. We unpacked and put our climbing gear on while at the famous grassy ledge, and then continued to solo up about 2-3 pitches until the rock started to get steeper.
Soloing the first few pitches above the grassy ledge. Photo by Erik Kling.
Once there, I found a nice ledge and made an anchor, and we flaked the rope and tied in. Tom and Erik tied into the other end very close together, and I led about 9 pitches to the top of the major false summit of the peak with them following.
Patrick leading the Wham headwall. Photo by Tom Courtright.
From there we un-roped and traversed over to the true summit bypassing a sketchy looking chockstone. Upon closer inspection, the chockstone seemed to be pretty solid. We arrived on the summit a little after 10:00 a.m. For the climb I used a light rack of 6 stoppers and the smallest 6 Tricams. I rounded out our rack with 10 shoulder slings, four quickdraws, and 6 free oval carabiners. This rack proved to be completely adequate, and I would recommend it to future parties who wish to climb the Wham Ridge roped.
Once on the summit of Vestal Erik Kling surprised Tom and I with a cold bottle of Damnation Golden Ale and three plastic goblets. He doled out the beer, and we toasted to finishing the 100 highest peaks in Colorado (Tom is almost there at 91/100).
Tom, Patrick, and Erik toasting finishing the 100 highest.
After taking obligatory summit photos and having a snack, we packed away our climbing gear and proceeded to descend the easier southern route on the peak. Roach rates this descent at Class 2+, but it was clearly evident that it was solid third class, as we were using our hands quite a bit during the descent. We wrapped around the back of Vestal to the reportedly dreadful scree that fills the saddle between Vestal and Arrow Peaks. We arrived at the saddle and saw the scree. We ended up scree surfing down, glad that we did not ascend this way. We found ourselves at the base of the rock ramp of Arrow at about 12:30.
The ascent up Arrow went quickly as the rock ramp is clean and high friction.
Working our way up Arrow's ramp. Photo by Erik Kling.
We topped out at about 1:30 and took in the astounding views of Vestal. I can't think of a better perch to take in our earlier climb of Vestal.
Kicking back on Arrow.
We continued to have stellar weather, and relaxed for a while on the summit. We descended back to camp and arrived at 3:30. We celebrated with cold cans of Ten Fidy, Gubna, a bottle of Colorado Whiskey that I had brought in as a surprise, and a bottle of Full Sail Imperial Porter from Burbon Casks that Kling hadn't told us about. We ate and slept like kings.
We slept in a bit this morning and started hiking towards the Trinities at about 8:30 a.m. The upper portions of the Vestal Basin are wonderful, as you gain new perspective on Arrow, Vestal, and the three Trinities. We reached the eastern saddle between Vestal and West Trinity and launched up West Trinity's southwest ridge until we topped out. Near the top, Balsam Lake, which is south of the Trinities came into view, and its beauty stunned us all. It is without question the most beautiful lake that I have come across in the highcountry.
The wildly iridescent Balsam Lake.
From the summit of West Trinity, the knife edge between it and Trinity Peak was obvious and somewhat intimidating.
The knife-edged ridge between West Trinity and Trinity Peaks.
Luckily, the route does not follow this knife edge, but skirts south of and below it. Once past the obvious edge, we started to scramble back up to the ridge between the two peaks and ascended an easy and obvious chimney to regain the ridge. We were on the summit of Trinity peak soon after. As I neared the summit of Trinity, I looked back at Tom and Erik as they were passing a point on the connecting ridge. Their position made for a great mountaineering photo.
Tom and Erik back on the Trinity Peak knife edge ridge.
The last part of the Trinity Traverse consists essentially of descending a rubble filled gully down the east side of Trinity peak to the saddle between Trinity and East Trinity Peak. The same gully continues up East Trinity, and the route finding in the gully is simple and straight forward.
The rubble-filled gully between Trinity and East Trinity Peaks. Photo by Erik Kling.
Once on the summit of East Trinity, the hard hiking is over, and we were able to relax. We descended the northeast ridge of East Trinity through the shale beds until we reached the East Trinity – Peak Three saddle. From there is was an easy jaunt back to camp, where we arrived at 1:30. The views on the way back were phenomenal.
View of the Trinities.
View of Vestal and Arrow on the way back to camp.
We again soothed our legs with tasty libations, napped, and ate copious amounts of food. The following day we packed up and made the relatively easy hike out to Molas Pass, where we packed up our cars and headed to Silverton for a big lunch at Handlebar's.
In all, I can't think of a better peak and route to finish the 100 highest on than Vestal's Wham Ridge. The climbing is truly easy, and if everyone in your party feels competent, soloing is not a ridiculous proposition by any means. If you have ever soloed the first or third flatiron and felt comfortable, then you will be fine cordless on the Wham Ridge.
Finally, I wanted to give special props to both Tom Courtright and Erik Kling. I have had countless incredibly fun days hiking, climbing, skiing, and partying with both of you, and I look forward to rounding out the 200 highest with you both. I am also looking forward to celebrating you both finishing riding the 14ers, which should occur in Spring of 2011. Thanks Homies.
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