Peak(s):  Fifteen, Pk  -  13,700 feet
Date Posted:  08/08/2015
Modified:  08/24/2019
Date Climbed:   08/04/2015
Author:  Mtnman200
Additional Members:   blazintoes, RandyMack, SnowAlien, CarpeDM
 Peak Fifteen: Failure Is Not an Option   

Little Finger, Peak Sixteen, Peak Fifteen, and Turret Peak from the upper Ruby Creek basin

Introduction: My teenage sons and I turned back on Peak Fifteen on August 16, 2014 ( and returned to the Republic of Texas with me having only one of Colorado's 200 highest peaks (the "bicentennials") left to climb. I was determined to reach the summit the next time. Failure is not an option! I put out some feelers in the spring, and eventually an enthusiastic team of five formed. All were very interested in the Ruby Creek bicentennial peaks. A sixth climber was going to join us but opted out due to a broken toe and resisted my suggestion to simply tough it out. I won't name names, but it starts with Kiefer.

Team: Natalie ("SnowAlien"), Dave ("CarpeDM"), Amy ("blazintoes"), Randy ("RandyMack"), and Eddie ("Mtnman200")

Gear: 9.2 mm x 60 m rope; assorted cams; quickdraws; rap rings; ATC rappel/belay devices; rock shoes; webbing (for building slings); harnesses; autoblocks; helmets; Delorme InReach satellite communicator


Trip Reports by ( username in parentheses):
Ben Conners ("benners"):

Darin Baker ("d_baker"):

Derek Wolfe ("Furthermore"):

Brian Schultz:

Communications with people who climbed Peak Fifteen (ascent date in parentheses):
Tom Pierce (7/21/2014)
Darin Baker (8/4/2012)
Ben Conners (9/4/2012)

Current Peak Conditions:
Charlie Nuttelman ("nuttelmc")
Martin Smith

The Trek to Ruby Creek:
We all agreed to rendezvous in the upper Ruby Creek basin on Sunday evening, with the plan being to climb Peak Fifteen (13,700') on Monday and then Monitor Peak (13,695'), Peak Thirteen (13,705'), and Animas Mountain (13,786') on Tuesday.

The forecast called for copious quantities of monsoon season rain over the weekend, especially on Sunday, with reduced rain chances on Monday and Tuesday. Randy and I arrived in Silverton on Friday night and on Saturday took the afternoon train, which was full of big city gapers and a handful of backpackers. The train surprisingly left on time and dropped us off at the Needleton bridge over the Animas River at 3:35 PM. We grabbed our heavy backpacks and headed up the rustic Ruby Creek trail, stopping for the night at beautiful Ruby Lake, one of our favorite high mountain lakes. Although it was raining in Silverton in the morning, only 15 or 20 raindrops fell on us in the afternoon.

On Sunday, Randy and I slept in and then continued on to the upper Ruby Creek basin, where we set up our tent in the meadow at 10 AM, just before rain began.

Our campsite in the upper Ruby Creek basin

Meanwhile, the morning train from Durango with Dave, Amy, and Natalie was running an hour late. As soon as the rain let up about 1 PM, Randy and I cooked lunch. Hard rain began just after we finished lunch, so we retreated into our tent and let the peaceful sound of the steady rain lull us into napping peacefully.

Dave and Amy are still smiling during the brutal Ruby Creek approach in pouring rain (Photo by Natalie)

The rain continued for several hours, and from inside our tent Randy and I expected our three partners to announce their arrival by uttering uncomplimentary colorful metaphors about the miserable rain. The soggy trio arrived about 7 PM and quickly set up their tents in the rain. I imagine they were somewhat less than ecstatic to hear that Randy and I had managed to avoid backpacking in the rain with our early arrival. After cooking dinner under our rainflies, we all crawled into our sleeping bags for much-needed rest and warmth (in the case of Amy, Natalie, and Dave) or just plain rest (in the case of Randy and me).

Monday's Climb (and Non-Climb):
Dave advised that the forecast had been updated to a fairly good chance of rain on Monday, but only a 20% chance of rain on Tuesday afternoon. This meant that it would be best to put off the attempt on the forbidding Peak Fifteen until Tuesday. Because Randy and I had to catch the Wednesday morning train back to Silverton so he could get to work on Thursday, the two of us would only have one shot at Peak Fifteen. We would have to make it count.

Natalie, Dave, and Amy had lots of wet gear and did their best to get it dried out while we all ate breakfast. It appeared that the weather might hold for an attempt on Monitor Peak, Peak Thirteen, and Animas Mountain, so that became the plan for Monday.

Animas Mountain, Peak Thirteen, and Monitor Peak from our campsite

Randy and I had climbed these peaks with my other son (David) on August 17, 2014 and, while they were a blast and we'd love to repeat them, we decided to stay in camp to avoid anything (injury, blister, etc.) that might keep us from giving Peak Fifteen our best shot on Tuesday. Besides, our boots and socks had gotten wet from hiking through the heavy, and very wet, vegetation between Ruby Lake and the upper meadow. Staying in camp would give Randy and me a chance to get our boots and socks dried out.

Dave, Amy, and Natalie headed off toward the basin below Peak Thirteen and soon disappeared from view. (See Natalie's trip report at: Meanwhile, one of the notorious Ruby Creek goats arrived. Randy and I independently decided to name him Fred. For those who are unfamiliar with Ruby Creek, the goats here are attracted to urine for its salt content and can be quite the pests. Fred seemed to have been excommunicated from his herd, as he was all alone. Later, a small herd of three goats arrived, but they never invited Fred to any of their urine-tasting parties.

Fred the goat's lower legs are wet from crossing Ruby Creek. Hey, I know you folks like your goats

In the afternoon, light rain fell twice for about 30 minutes each time but did not keep Amy, Natalie, and Dave from bagging all three summits, and they returned to camp with smiles on their faces. The team made plans for tomorrow's climb of Peak Fifteen and decided that "go time" would be 5 AM. After dinner, we all got our packs ready and hit the sack early, although some of us didn't sleep too well due to being too wound up about the challenging climb ahead of us.

Tuesday's Climb: The Moment of Truth

Animas Mountain, Peak Thirteen, and Monitor Peak in the early morning darkness, along with someone's headlamp

Skies were clear, with many stars visible; always a good sign. The moon had been full on Friday, so we had a lot of moonlight this morning. After cooking breakfast, we set out at 5:10 AM and immediately crossed the creek so we could bypass our ongoing nemesis, the willows. We headed up the valley to a broad gully that climbs steeply to the saddle east of Little Finger. The gully was mostly filled with a snowfield which had melted back enough that several snow-free feet were available between it and the rock face on its side. Amy and Natalie motored up the snowfield with their microspikes and ice axes, while the others climbed the rock/scree adjacent to the snow.

Natalie, Randy, Dave, and Eddie climbing the gully to the saddle east of Little Finger (Photo by Amy)

Natalie ascending the snowfield toward the saddle east of Little Finger

Looking up the gully toward the saddle east of Little Finger

Eddie, Natalie, and Amy at the saddle, with Little Finger & Peak Sixteen behind

We reached the saddle at 7:10 AM and then did a descending contour to the south-facing couloir that climbs to the Peak Fifteen - Peak Sixteen saddle. Time for us to be on our "A" game!

Natalie, Dave, and Amy are starting up the couloir toward the Peak Fifteen-Peak Sixteen saddle

In the lower section of the couloir, a small snowfield included a snowbridge that some of us ducked under. For some reason, no one volunteered to pose for a photo while standing on the snowbridge.

The snowbridge some of us walked under; it's taller than it looks

Dave and Natalie at the first belay station between the lower snowfield and the wet headwall

Natalie and Randy at the first belay station we used (Photo by Amy)

Further up the couloir, we reached a steep wet headwall that blocked our way. From last summer's attempt on Peak Fifteen, Randy and I knew there is no way around it and that we should simply climb straight up the wet headwall. Amy was skeptical about whether our rock shoes would have sufficient traction on the wet rock, but Randy convinced her and she then zipped up the headwall, followed by Randy. Once there, he belayed the rest of us up.

Randy, making sure he's anchored to the second belay station (above the wet headwall) (Photo by Amy)

Having successfully made it past Crux No. 1, we continued up the couloir toward the Peak Fifteen - Peak Sixteen saddle. When we spotted a blue sling high above us to climber's left, we knew it was time to leave the couloir and begin traversing onto Peak Fifteen's south face.

The most useful information that helped us here was a photo from Darin's trip report that he'd borrowed from Bill Middlebrook. I in turn am appropriating the photo from Darin's trip report because it is so helpful.

Photo from Darin's trip report taken by Bill Middlebrook. The arrow shows the tiny saddle seen when traversing Peak Fifteen's south face

The intrepid Amy and Randy free-soloed to a ledge where they waited for the rest of us. Natalie then climbed to the ledge, placing a few small cams along the way for protection. Dave and I then simulclimbed to the ledge, with me cleaning the pro as I went.

Amy is in her element on Peak Fifteen (Photo by Natalie)

Dave and Eddie preparing to traverse onto Peak Fifteen's south face

Natalie is about to reach the blue sling we saw (Photo by Amy)

Natalie belaying Dave and Eddie as we simulclimbed (Jagged Mtn. and Peak Sixteen behind)

From the ledge, the ever-fearless Amy free-soloed up another short, but very steep, pitch to what is probably the same location as Terri Horvath's belay station in Darin's trip report. Natalie then scampered up and established a belay station. After Natalie belayed Dave up, she and Dave belayed Randy and me as we climbed simultaneously. One of my handholds was the size of the tip of my pinky finger, and I was glad to get to easier ground. I was also extremely glad that each of us had brought rock shoes.

Now that we were above Crux No. 2, the terrain laid back and we could breathe a bit easier. A ramp that angled to our right included grass, rock, and San Juan kitty litter. The ramp soon brought us to a left-angling gully that, in my opinion, never exceeded third class. We scrambled to the ridge and continued an adrenaline-fueled push to the summit, which we reached at 1:15 PM. In the past four years, the makeshift summit register that we found included only 15 signatures.

The number of signatures in the 2011 - 2015 summit register stands in stark contrast to the number of visitors on any given 14er

I replaced the makeshift register with a proper register and later sent the makeshift register to the CMC. Some of you know what I mean by "proper." Right, Darin and Ben?

When I climbed my first high 13er (Mt. Meeker (13,911')) on July 9, 1970, just a couple of weeks after getting the cast off an arm I'd broken after repeatedly jumping off a friend's garage, I obviously had no idea that 45 years later I'd complete the bicentennials. It's been a long, enjoyable, and ultimately satisfying journey. Finishing the bicentennials on Peak Fifteen seemed almost surreal.

Natalie, Dave, Eddie, Randy, and Amy on the summit (Turret Peak & Pigeon Peak behind)

Randy takes a summit selfie with his Nikon digital SLR as our group gets ready to head down

We headed back to the ramp above Crux No. 2 and did four rappels more or less directly to the Peak Fifteen - Peak Sixteen saddle.

Peak Sixteen from the third rappel station

Randy on the fourth (and last) rappel to the saddle. He's doing it left-handed "just because I can"

Dave takes his turn on the final rappel to the saddle

Two more rappels brought us to easier ground at the lower section of the couloir. Because the climb to the saddle east of Little Finger had been a bit sketchy and also to minimize rockfall potential due to having such a large group, Randy and I separated from Natalie, Dave, and Amy and contoured through New York basin to the Pigeon Peak - Turret Peak saddle and then down to our campsite. It turned out to be a much longer and far more tedious route than expected, so Randy and I were quite exhausted when we finally reached our tent. A huge shoutout to Dave for giving us something to aim at in the basin!

The next morning, Randy and I said goodbye to our partners and started backpacking down the Ruby Creek trail shortly after 6 AM to catch the morning train back to Silverton, where a tasty lunch awaited us at the Brown Bear Cafe. All in all, it was a very memorable and successful trip.

The Needleton bridge over the Animas River. The next day, 3 million gallons of mine waste leaked into the river from the Gold King Mine near Silverton

Here comes the train to take us back to Silverton:

Special Recognition - A Big Pat on the Back (or Tip of the Climbing Helmet) to:

My dad, Larry Mack, who was my partner on 190 of the 202 bicentennial peaks from 1970 - 1998. (I did three bicentennials as solo climbs);

My sons, David Mack and Randy Mack, who were my partners on eight of my bicentennial peaks from 2011-2014;

My partners on Peak Fifteen: Randy, Dave, Natalie, and Amy;

My beautiful wife, Judy Mack, for allowing me the freedom to have adventures in the mountains. Judy also encouraged me to finish the bicentennials after I didn't even attempt a single bicentennial for 13 years; and

The late, great, Bob Martin, who encouraged me when I wasn't sure I was up to some of the more difficult peaks. Bob told me that some of the 13ers took him two or three tries before he succeeded, which made me feel better when I didn't summit a peak on my first try.

A postcard I received from Bob Martin in 1995. I hope I'm climbing into my 80s like he was

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions

Finishing strong
08/08/2015 17:38
Hell of a peak to finish on! So glad you were able to get it and have your son with you too! Congrats to you and everyone on the trip for gaining the summit...


Nicely done!
08/08/2015 18:49
Congrats on your successful climb and thanks for the report and pictures. This and Jagged are a couple of my most memorable and rewarding climbs... far from the 14ers and associated crowds.


weight off
08/08/2015 19:26
your shoulders. THat one must’ve kept you up at nights. It does not give in easy. I remember not really breathing easy till I was back at the Little Finger saddle. And that’s a hell of a tribute at the end there. To share 190 of those summits with your dad is something to be cherished.


08/09/2015 15:17
Awesome stuff. Way to go.

Steve Knapp

Republic of Texas strikes again
08/09/2015 17:18
Great report! One of my favorite areas of the state. I still need Peak 15, this will be useful someday.

Did you lose the Ruby basin trail going in or out? I’ve lost it both trips in there, ha. Some tough bushwhacking with an overnight pack.


Very cool
08/09/2015 22:20
I’m happy for you all. Peak 15 don’t mess around, and it didn’t mess with Texas.


Going out with a bang!
08/10/2015 12:01
What a privilege being part of the team that helped guide you and Randy up the ever–fierce Pk 15. You both should be rappelling pros by now!

Watching Natalie blossom as a new trad leader was a joy to see. Major props to both Natalie and Dave for meticulous training and planning to make this trip successful for all five! I only lost one toenail schlepping gear up and down the treacherous Ruby Basin. I have only one request please: would you post a picture of the old summit register for a peak that is seldom visited so that those who have been to the top in years past also receive recognition for their mountaineering accomplishments especially considering the beta received from these individuals. Some interesting names on that old one for sure...

P.S. Randy has A LOT of potential as a future rock climber...


Congrats again Eddie and the team
08/11/2015 11:56
Thanks for putting report together. This was a really fun and challenging peak to climb. I am very glad everything came together. I knew Dave wanted it too. Surprisingly I even found some decent pro, at least a few times. Amy, you are amazing. Downclimb rapels just for fun? But now I feel bad for making you haul 7 lb of trad gear down so I can indulge in peak bagging frenzy in Weminuche Let’s do something fun soon!

p.s. Special thanks go to Tom Pierce for exhausting amount of beta and beautiful gold webbing and rappel rings, that made us all feel safe on the mountain. It’s been very much appreciated.

p.p.s. Randy, don’t follow Amy


08/12/2015 01:39
to you, Mtnman200. Going to change your avatar name to Mtnman300 and start work on the "Tri’s"?

Looks like a fun peak to finish on, and glad you had good company.


A pleasure
08/12/2015 15:52
Eddie, it was a pleasure to meet you and climb with you and Randy – especially on your final bicentennial peak. And now that you’ve relocated to Colorado, I expect that you’ll be able to extend that list. But won’t you need to change the header name on those summit registers? (Also, I agree that Randy has a lot of climbing skill.)


08/28/2015 08:23
Nice report and congrats!

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