Guardian, The - 13,617 feet
Silex, Mt - 13,628 feet
Guardian, The - 13,617 feet
Silex, Mt - 13,628 feet
|Eastern Grenadiers: Approach, The Guardian and Mt Silex|
23-27 Sep 2015 Eastern Grenadiers Trip Report
Climbers: John and Hoot
Trailhead: Beartown Continental Divide Trail
Day 0 and Day 1: Approach, The Guardian and Mount Silex
Distance 10.5 miles
Wednesday: Drive to Beartown's Continental Divide Trailhead
Ever since finishing off Colorado's centennials on Vestal Peak in 2010, I've been looking forward to returning to the remote Grenadier range hidden away in the San Juan Mountains. For bicentennial peak baggers, the Grenadiers present a "target rich" environment! The six Grenadiers east of Vestal Peak are all ranked bicentennials as is nearby Peak Seven. I took advantage of a rare September Thursday and Friday with no classes for the 4.5 day trip. While my initial call for partners yielded none, I got incredibly lucky when John responded that he would join me. I could not have had a better partner!
I left Colorado Springs a little after noon on Wednesday and met up with John in Creede around 4:30pm after a rainstorm had mostly passed through. John loaded his gear in my 4Runner and we headed to the Beartown trailhead 51 miles and almost 3 more hours away. We took SR 149 to the Rio Grande Reservoir turnoff where we left pavement behind. The changing aspens above the reservoir were beautiful. At the northwest end of Rio Grande Reservoir, near the Ute Creek Trailhead, the 4WD road (Forest Service 520) became more of a Jeep trail and began to present minor challenges here and there. I had been warned that this approach to Beartown gets very rough and narrow as it follows the Rio Grande River west. Several people recommend the alternative but significantly longer approach via Stony Pass and Silverton. But since I was eager to test out the 4WD capabilities of my new 4Runner, I happily chose this approach. While the road did get quite rough climbing Timber Hill and was muddy in places from the recent rain, my 4Runner did great! I only had to lock the rear differential once. However, I definitely would not try this route, even if dry, without a 4WD vehicle with good clearance.
We reached the FS 506 turnoff for Beartown and drove across (through) the Rio Grande River as the day's light was beginning to fade away. As the clouds cleared we noticed a dusting of new snow on the higher peaks. The 5.6 miles on FS506 which follows Bear Creek took us about 50 minutes to drive. In the dark, we drove half a mile past the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) trailhead and turned around just before reaching Kite Lake. We were the only ones at the small 2-vehicle parking area right at the 11,700' trailhead. That night, I slept in the back of the 4Runner and John bivied outside.
Thursday: Backpack to Camp
Thursday morning we headed out from Beartown's CDT trailhead in the dark at 6am as planned. The initial 800' climb to Hunchback Pass along a good trail only took 36 minutes. From the pass we descended about 1800' on the CDT through willows and then in the trees along Nebo Creek and then Vallecito Creek. A little above Nebo Creek we stopped at a large campsite and we spoke briefly with a camper who was in a group doing a 6-day backpacking trip. He was one of only two people we saw and spoke with the entire trip. After a passing a beautiful waterfall on Vallecito Creek, and descending some minor switchbacks, we passed a second smaller waterfall and found a cairn along the trail which marked our easy crossing at about 10,700' (10,600' on the USGS topo). There is a nice camping area with a view of the lower falls on the west side of Vallecito Creek where we crossed. From the crossing, we headed west into Stormy Gulch on the north side of Trinity Creek. The trail here was faint in places but not difficult to follow. We ascended about 330' through the trees before coming to a nice campsite in the trees at about 11,000'. While I suspect we had the nicest campsite in Stormy Gulch, it was half a mile below the turn-off to Lake Silex. This added a little extra distance and time to our climbs which clearly wasn't an issue for John. We spent half an hour setting up camp. At some point John noticed a huge pile of bear scat just outside our camp. I was glad I had packed in my bear vault to store my food.
Thursday: The Guardian and Mount Silex
We left our camp at 9:20 am with considerably lighter packs. But we filled up with water from Trinity Creek shortly after leaving camp. Following several faint trails through tall weeds, we made our way to the west side of the slope below Lake Silex. There was a faint trail through the lower rocks on this slope, but it quickly faded away. We climbed up about 800' mostly on rocks before reaching the stark but beautiful Lake Silex at 10:25 am. There are several small camp sites surrounded by rock walls on the northeast end of the lake, but it is surrounded by steep loose talus slopes on all other sides. Making our way around the west side of the lake required a bit of scrambling up and over obstacles. To attack the nasty-looking climb from the lake to the Nine-Silex saddle, we first climbed through somewhat solid rock above the lake's south end. Then we traversed east and climbed on loose rock in the couloir leading to the 12,800' saddle. We reached the saddle at 11:15 am.
From the saddle we could see most of our route to The Guardian less than a mile away. We began by descending about 200' and then traversing across a loose talus slope. We'd be on loose rock for most of the afternoon. About half way to The Guardian from the saddle, we had to climb through some cliffs which required class 3 scrambling with a bit of exposure. Above this section, it was easy going for a while longer until some more fun class 3 scrambling was required to approach the summit. We reached the summit of The Guardian, the eastern-most Grenadier, at 12:40 pm under cloudless September skies. From the summit, we had great views all around including the view to the west of all 7 peaks we would summit in the next two days.
Following John's excellent hunch, we headed south off the summit of The Guardian along its south ridge, curving west a bit, until we reached 13,280' where we turned right to the northwest and traversed just above 13,000' toward Mount Silex. This allowed us to avoid the slower class 3 descent. Initially we traversed on grassy slopes but then we came to the key long ledge which we had read about in a prior trip report. On this ledge we moved quickly traversing under the two Guardian-Silex saddles and reached Mount Silex's class 2 south face which we followed up 400', reaching the summit at 2:15 pm. The summit of Mount Silex provided more spectacular views, especially of Storm King to the west and Lake Silex far below.
After a 20-minute break on Mount Silex, we started down Silex's southwest ridge which we knew would present some class 4 and perhaps class 5 challenges. John and I decided to circumvent these and dropped off the south side of the ridge pretty quickly. The descent back toward the Nine-Silex saddle off the ridge was steep and very loose. We might have been better off staying on the ridge, but it all worked out fine. We got back to the saddle at about 3:20 pm. At this point I was feeling pretty beat. I think John would have been happy heading over to Storm King at this point, but I was dragging a bit and hoping to get back to camp before dark so we agreed to head back to camp. From the saddle, John took a beeline mostly on scree down to Lake Silex. This proved to be a fast and efficient way down. I held up while John ran down and then I followed descending at a more conservative pace. We scrambled back around the west side of Lake Silex and then descended back to camp mostly the way we had come up. After filling up on water in Trinity Creek, we returned to camp at 5:30 pm with plenty of time to cook and enjoy a tasty freeze-dried dinner. My GPS logged 10.5 miles for the day with 4200' of climbing. We planned a 6:30 am start for Friday morning. Since I normally wake up by 5:00 am, I didn't bother setting my alarm.
to be continued ...
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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