Peak(s):  Turret Pk A  -  13,835 feet
Pigeon Pk  -  13,972 feet
Date Posted:  01/01/2012
Modified:  07/12/2013
Date Climbed:   12/28/2011
Author:  d_baker
Additional Members:   sgladbach
 Turret Syndrome  

Great things are done when men and mountains meet.” William Blake

Climbers: Steve Gladbach & Darin Baker

Turret Peak (13,835’)
Pigeon Peak (13,972’)
The Needle Mountains
San Juan Range

Trailhead: Cascade Canyon Wye (winter time stopping point along the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad)

Day 1, riding the Polar Express

Trip Schedule:
Day 1: approach to camp 1 (Needleton bridge area)
Day 2: approach to high camp (N Pigeon Creek drainage/basin)
Day 3: climb Turret Peak
Day 4: climb Pigeon Peak, descend from high camp back to camp 1
Day 5: catch train back to Durango
Note: Additional stats (mileage, elevation gain, routes, times) can be found within the report, under the heading for each day.

Views to the W from our high camp

Difficulty: It ain’t easy!

In terms of trip planning, waiting for a weather window and “good” snow conditions are two important factors in a winter trip, two factors for which we were fortunate to get.

In terms of physical effort once there, again, it ain’t easy!

In terms of mental effort, well, I had a few moments to work through.

-- Class 1 snowshoe approach on Day 1 with heavy (~50lbs?) packs

-- Class 2+ snowshoe wallow with off trail route finding on Day 2 that was a tremendous physical effort with heavy packs

-- Snow climbing on Day 3 with snowshoes and eventually ice axe and crampons, including mixed climbing/scrambling on rocks with crampons

-- More snow climbing on Day 4 with snowshoes and eventually ice axe and crampons, including mixed climbing/scrambling on rocks with crampons, punctuated with one ~30m roped section with a low 5th class crux at the top

That was what we encountered in terms of difficulty. There’s harder stuff out there for sure, but this trip led to a great sense of accomplishment for me as well as satisfaction for the way it went down.

13ers above the Ruby Creek drainage

(Highpoints l. to r., Animas, Pk 13, Monitor, and in the distance is Jagged)

Gear: overnight packs, tents, bags, pads, puffy jackets (down) & other important winter attire, Jetboil stoves & fuel, snowshoes, poles, ice axe, crampons, helmet, avy gear (beacon, probe, shovel), 30m/8mm rope, few pieces of rock pro, few slings w/biners, rap rings, and the ever important pee bottle

Resources Used For Trip Planning:’s 10-day weather forecast for Silverton, NOAA weather forecast, CAIC avalanche forecasts for both S & N San Juan zones, SNOTEL sites for general vicinity, TOPO! mapping software, prior knowledge to area

Snow Conditions: We didn’t come across signs of instabilities (whumpfs, shooting cracks or anything that propagated much outside of our kicked steps) in the snowpack while on our trip.

There were several avalanche debris piles that most likely ran after the last storm cycle, several days back from when we were actually in there. Some of these avalanches started near rocks – some looked like point releases – and others from (probably) stress alone. None of them had large or deep crowns, nor did it appear to have stepped down into deeper layers of the snowpack.

Most of the continuous snow that we climbed on was on NW/W/SW/S aspects, and overall it felt safe to travel on. There were areas we did avoid due to too much wind slab. When crossing under certain slopes or crossing gullies, we spaced out, or would wait for each other to pass so as to only expose one of us at a time.


Looking at Roach’s 13er guidebook some years ago, his description for the N Pigeon Creek approach for Pigeon and Turret appealed to me. A mention of this route on summit post only encouraged me more to do this route. Then, a TR by Jason Halladay using the route sealed the deal for me to visit this basin one day.

Then a couple of years ago I had read on 14erWorld about a SW couloir on Turret, and it mentioned what a great climb it was. I inquired about it from the poster (Cynthia Adams) and I also posted about it asking if anyone else had heard about it. Another member posted a google-earth image of it, and instantly I wanted to climb it.

On a trip into Chicago Basin in May of 2010, I had hoped to get into NY Basin to give the couloir a go. But it didn’t happen.

One way or another, I was going to experience Turret as a snow climb, and maybe Pigeon too.

In April of 2011, I decided to give them a go on a solo trip, attempting to get into the N Pigeon Creek drainage. Well, I only made it to ~10,700’ and turned back for various reasons.

December 2011 comes up, and I mentioned to Steve that I had time off, so if he wanted to pair up for something on his school break – let me know. He calls me. He wants to give Pigeon & Turret a shot.
Oh yeah, I’m interested….

Day 1: Approach to Needleton, Camp 1 (from Cascade Canyon Wye)

~635’ elevation gain
~2.75 hrs.

Steve is out in front, “riding” the rails with Pigeon Pk in the distance

A day after Christmas, and Steve is still a little sad about getting a lump of coal in his stocking

We get to Needleton and find accommodations nearby for our tents. We settle in for the night, with anticipation of the hard work ahead of us the next day.

Day 2: Approach to High Camp (N Pigeon Creek drainage/basin below Pigeon Pk)

~3475’ elevation gain (up the lower W/NW ridge of Pigeon)

Steep and deep, with phenomenal views of the W Needle Mountains

Still trenching

Bill Lechner was here

Side hill traversing above treeline to get to our high camp, which is the treed bench in the distance

All is well in ole’ Pigeon camp tonight

Camp is set up, snow is melting in the Jetboils, and we settle in for our first night in the basin. Overnight, winds pick up, and in this basin, the wind tends to circle around and hit from all sides. Although most of the winds felt like they were coming from the E.

I was hoping there wasn’t much snow to transport and load. We’ll find out in the morning….

Day 3: Turret Peak

~3.26mi’s RT (including side trip to scout/break trail for Pigeon planned for next day)
~2080’ elevation gain
~4.5hrs to summit (left camp at ~7:30am, back in camp by ~3pm)

Approach to saddle on S side of Pigeon

Once at the saddle, the slopes leading over to the saddle between Turret and Pigeon looked steep and had quite a bit of snow. Therefore summertime route didn't look like an option for us at this point, so we cut left (N) out of the saddle and scrambled up class 3-4 rock to try to stay above the majority of the snow fields.
After some elevation gain, we started to get on some steeper snow and we stopped for crampons.

Goat tracks were around, but no goats in sight. It’s cool to know they’re still climbing, but not cool that they didn’t want to hang out with us!!

Steve above most of the scrambling sections

Looking down at the saddle and the ridgeline we came up

Jet trails above Turret

We traversed high on the south facing slopes, and headed toward the saddle. At the saddle, we stashed our snowshoes that we had been carrying on our packs and headed for the summit of Turret.

From the slopes of Turret

Snowy ridgeline leading to “summertime” route

Steve on upper slopes of Turret

Ohhh…..this is so sweet!!

Steve on the summit of Turret Peak

Jagged Mountain

Me spreading my brother’s ashes on the summit

La Plata Mountains

Descending “summertime” route; the majority of our route can be seen below

At the saddle, we picked up our snowshoes and descended to the saddle. At that point, we had scoped out a low angle line to the saddle using the lower portions of the south facing slope. With the snow we encountered on the slopes above there, we were confident with the snowpack and would have safe travel.

After reaching the saddle, we continued down towards the valley floor, but then cut high along a bench to wrap around Pigeon’s S side to scope out tomorrow’s route, and to prep a track for our morning start.

Day 4: Pigeon Peak

~2mi RT
~2130’ elevation gain
~5.5hrs to summit (left camp at ~6am, returned to camp at ~2pm)
~We made up a winter variation of the summertime route, basically whatever looked safest and efficient

Early morning light while climbing up slopes of Pigeon

Rocky snowy slab scrambling

We ascended up the slopes climber’s left of most cairns we saw, and climber’s left of the main couloir on Pigeon, which splits like a Y near the top; the left branch goes to the N ridge, and the right branch turns and goes S along the “summertime” cairned route.

We topped out along the N ridge, above the left branch of the couloir split. From there, we crossed a tiny saddle, and headed towards the crux of our climb.

Crux is coming up

The crux is the small snow field in the center. The snow field on the upper right side goes along the cairned route, and looked to risky to climb.

Before reaching the crux pitch

Closer look at crux pitch

In the above photo, the lower snow field was avoided, and the upper snow field we climbed roped up.

We approached it from the left side on a wide ledge, with a fixed belay. This is where Carson would be proud of us; we did it old school – because we tied in with bowlines!

We slung a big rock with webbing for Steve’s belay anchor, and I lead out, placing one nut at the start of the traverse, and then got onto the snow. The snow was in good shape for climbing, perfect for kicking steps up the short but ~60degree slope, with very effective ice axe belays. To the right of the snow slope, I placed another nut before going up to some easy class 3 rock ledges.

Then came the crux, the part that required the rope work, or so we thought because a fall here would end badly.

A 6’ low 5th class rock step. To protect the exit, I had to use the pick of my axe wedged in a crack because the one nut I had left was not going anywhere with the rock I had to work with.

I lead through this part, wrapped around a boulder for a terrain belay, and brought Steve up. Crux behind, rope coiled, we continued on to the summit with some class 3 and 4 moves here and there.

A Rewarding Summit

Steve Gladbach on the summit of Pigeon Peak

Darin Baker

Chicago Basin 14ers and Turret on the right

Another look at Jagged, with Rio Grande Pyramid and The Window to the E

We retraced our steps carefully, got to the crux where Steve belayed me as I down-climbed it, and then he rapped it.

Descending the same snowline we used for our ascent, everything went well, with the exception of the occasional rock slab under the snow that our crampons liked to skate on.

Looking back at where we just were

Still Day 4: Packing up & Heading Down to Camp 1

~3475’ elevation loss (from camp, not counting from summit)

This is a damn fine trench

Back to Camp 1 at Needleton Bridge area at ~6pm, set up camp one more time, and settled in shortly thereafter. Slept quite well for the first 6hrs or so!

Day 5: Ride the Rail, One More Time

~635’ elevation loss

Thank you Pigeon and Turret, I would love to return and climb you again someday!

Thank you for reading,

Hindsight & Personal Notes

This trip was a great way to end the year! For me, the year started off badly with the sudden loss of my brother Dale. So to end the year with this trip, and to spread his ashes on Turret was special for me.

And to do this trip with a friend, and someone whom I’ve looked up to for 10 years or so, was just as special. Thank you Steve for being a great partner on this awesome winter trip! It seems like when one of us was tired, either physically or mentally, the other was right there to keep us going forward. As the opening quote states, “great things Are done when men and mountains meet!”

Looking back at my solo “attempt” last spring, I’m pretty sure if I had made it into the upper basin, I probably would have been too intimidated to climb the peaks, so I’m glad this trip came together like it did, and we came home safely. I did lose my headlamp off my helmet at the crux move on Pigeon, and bent one of my trekking poles, but other than that, this trip was smoooooth! The butterscotch schnapps was pretty smooth too….

 Comments or Questions

Congrats fellas!
01/02/2012 08:24
Simply awesome! Excellent work guys.


very nice!
01/02/2012 11:47
Well done and excellent photos, Darin.


awesome baby
01/02/2012 13:59
the second day looked like it was real work, short, steep and 8.5 hours for less than three miles

the peaks and pictures looked great

Dad Mike

08/12/2014 23:13
Nicely done boys. That's one hell of a trip. I wish I could have been there with you.


Great stuff
01/02/2012 15:45
Nice work, gentlemen. Great looking photos, sounds like a trip that will have front page in your memory books.



Butterscotch Schnapps
01/02/2012 17:46
I was very excited to see this report out. Very happy for your excellent experience, team effort, safe summit and return, and that Steve didn't bring the Cinnamon schnapps on this trip! Poignant and touching end to the year Darin with remembering your brother.

Hope to see you both in the coming months!


Walking in a Winter Wonderland
01/02/2012 18:11
Wow. The second posted TR of 2012 sets the bar pretty high...
Great stuff, Darin.
Hope to see you in the hills this spring.

Summit Lounger

01/02/2012 19:27
Great climb and report. Jagged looks pretty good.


01/02/2012 21:24
What an awesome experience - thanks for the outstanding report and photos.
Darin, your brother is most certainly honored!
Congrats to both of you on an excellent adventure.
Happy New Year!


01/02/2012 22:36
Thanks for the comments everyone....

I think there's been some significant winter ascents in the past week, so this trip is not alone nor are we the only ones that probably have an imprint on our personal experiences of achievements in CO winter peak climbing.

2012, here we come!!


Fabulous report and photos!
01/03/2012 01:37
Thanks for the winter-time inspiration!

Kevin Baker

01/03/2012 05:43
Heck of a trip, guys! Both of those peaks in winter is a fine accomplishment. Thanks for sharing, Darin.


Thanks Darin,
01/03/2012 15:24
for the fine company, strong partnership, and friendly listening. And, Ooooh, what a trip! You captured it well.



What Matt said
01/03/2012 16:07
Bar is set pretty high Darin. Incredible trip. What an experience to be down there this time of year!


William Blake
01/04/2012 04:20
Good stuff, guys. Thanks for the vicarious ride. And congratulations on getting these, Darin. Many of us (myself included) would have opted for higher percentages of success. These are admirable ascents to say the least.


So Shine
01/05/2012 05:59
I was sitting in a Moab diner while you were out accomplishing these feats. Mountain Gazette #183 was laid open on the table. The editor tells of a soldier who stood far too close to an atom bomb blast, who later became a poet, professor, and a peacenik, an educator who taught his college students in Durango to love literature. His name was Leonard ”Red” Bird. And his poem, So Shine!, printed right there on dull fibrous newsprint, provides a dose of inspiration to reach deep inside, pull it all out, and then let it go. I realized that's what freedom is, or, as the Mountain Gazette proclaims: The Way of the Mountain. Darin, your report is the realization of that mantra, a way of life, Red's words incarnate...

Each budding self exists
As one translucent slice of time
That plays across the radiant sun
But once. Every breath
Depletes the finite gift.

Even at birth, as we swim
Towards first breath, we catapult
Into space as glorious rainbows,
And fade just short
Of bridging the abyss.
So plunge into the dance, and shine.

Strong and beautiful work, gentlemen.


Awed and inspired
01/06/2012 12:55
That's how this report left me. Thanks for the beautiful photos and congrats!


01/06/2012 19:33
Tough winter trip, safe and successful!

Nice write-up and great photos, Darin.

Kudos, gents.

Chicago Transplant

Great Stuff!
01/09/2012 23:35
Great trip Darin (and Steve), winter in the Weminuche, can't beat that! Great insight to your route. It looks much different than when I was there a few 4th of July's ago... and much colder. Way to go in getting winter summits of these tough centennials.

PS - The couloirs on the West Needles caught our attention too, but as you know, we ended up going at it from the other side and saving a train ride.


To boldy go where few will go in winter!
01/12/2012 01:37
You guys are awesome to attempt such a winter feat! Few people will ever experience a trip like you guys did here. Congratulations... job well done.
Steve, you must have one hellva Christmas stocking!
Darin, you are a great brother to remember your brother like that.

Thanks for sharing....loved it!


Great Job Gentlemen!
01/12/2012 04:55
Nice pics and write-up as well.


Just Awesome
01/15/2012 15:42
I decided to sit down this morning with a cup of coffee and catch up on my TR reading, and this one was first on my list .

I can only imagine what that basin must be like in winter, with views of Vestal, Arrow, Jagged, and more from high on the summit ridges. I bet that is quite the experience.

Hats off to you both on a bold and inspiring trip.

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