Peak(s):  PT 13,300 A  -  13,300 feet
PT 13,180 C  -  13,180 feet
PT 13,155  -  13,155 feet
Date Posted:  09/24/2019
Modified:  09/29/2019
Date Climbed:   09/01/2019
Author:  supranihilest
 San Juan Sentries: A Coward's Climb of the San Luis Southern 13ers   

This is part two of a four part report. Over a four day Labor Day weekend in 2019 I climbed 17 of 21 13ers in the La Garita Wilderness. You can find all parts here:


Today's climb would be by far the most involved of the entire weekend. While it would be the shortest I knew from reading multiple trip reports that it would contain a lot of scrambling on extremely sketchy rock in no-fall terrain. Little did I know it would be probably the worst rock I've ever been on.

The night after doing the "Baldy Lejos" group I attempted to drive up East Willow Creek to the trailhead there. This is the trailhead used for the standard route on "Phoenix Peak". I had considered doing an absolutely massive loop getting Point 13,300, Point 13,180 C, Point 13,155, then making a long traverse over to Point 13,015, Point 13,402, "Phoenix Peak", and La Garita Peak. I was a bit apprehensive about attempting to tack in the latter four peaks onto a day I knew was already going to be full of difficult scrambling. It turned out to be a non-starter since the East Willow Creek Road was washed out, including at least one bridge, so not only could I not drive to the trailhead but I didn't want to hike all the way over there not knowing just how bad the true extent of the damage was and end up getting stuck on the far side of something I wasn't sure if I could cross to return to my car. I'd have to save the "Phoenix" group for later.

19762_01
A sign lazily placed on the side of the road and nothing else? Eh it can't be that bad.
19762_02
Oh.

I drove back to the Equity Mine for a second night and got another late start in the morning, this time because my phone had somehow almost entirely discharged overnight and I needed to charge it for pictures; it's not like I could actually make any calls in this area, even from the peaks! Whatever, this was only three peaks and I'd be fine.

I hiked up the road once again and hit the actual trailhead, then started north on the San Luis Pass trail. This trail split and I took the right path which leads to San Luis Peak's south ridge route. I obviously wouldn't be going to San Luis but I'd cut off from the trail to reach Point 13,300 and it was faster to follow the trail a ways than just go direct off-trail.

19762_03
Yummy.

I followed the trail up to where I thought I should turn off. Really almost anywhere is fine, the north slopes of 13,300 are incredibly broad and inviting from everywhere.

19762_04
The willows aren't as bad as they look. Most of them on the middle slopes are the knee-height kind that are easy to walk through.

There were a couple of folks sitting on top of the first knoll and I got excited thinking there'd be a couple of others on this ridge traverse to help with route finding. I popped up right in front of them only to discover it was a pair of hunters and I was right in front of their scouting operation. Sorry, guys. Continuing up the slopes to the edge of a vast basin I was treated to an incredible view of the terrain I'd be climbing through.

19762_05
Wowza. Easy to the top of the plateau, then left across the ridge.

This was going to be pretty hairy. The ridge was studded with small towers and it looked like there'd be a lot of up and down along the way. One more shallow saddle led to the upper summit plateau, but not before it took me past some of the most incredible, smooth slabs I've ever seen.

19762_06
Easy terrain to the summit plateau. Very little easy terrain after this...
19762_07
I kind of want to come back with a rope and rack just to climb this. It looks ridiculous!

The closer I got to the technical section the less good I felt about it.

19762_08
The towers and blocks along the ridge becoming more and more prominent and difficult looking...

Upon reaching the summit plateau I noticed there was no cairn. Well, there was, but it was way off to my right and obviously lower in elevation than I was already at, which itself was obviously not the summit. The real summit was on the ridge before an abrupt dropoff. I wandered over to the cairn anyway to sign the summit register, which to my chagrin didn't exist, and then I made my way back to the summit proper.

19762_09
If you're here you're in the wrong spot. It's obvious this isn't even the high point just from the photo.
19762_10
The real high point is up there at the start of the ridge.

Things quickly got real on this ridge. It was about sixty seconds from nearly flat tundra to extremely steep, loose, exposed scrambling that was at least Class 3, perhaps Class 4.

19762_11
Very first part of the ridge. Crazy loose.
19762_12
Point 13,180 C is directly in the center. I scrambled down the ridge to right and slightly below the cube shaped block.

This ridge was pretty awful, to be honest. Most of the trip reports I read said to drop down on the south side since the ridge itself didn't go - I found that out quickly as it dropped off into extremely loose and complicated terrain with huge falls on both sides. The option to drop down was hardly appealing either. I down climbed to hard packed dirt that was difficult to get purchase on, even with trail runners. Loose rock for hands and little traction on dirt for feet. Did I mention the terrain below was more of the same, with a cliff?

19762_13
It's considerably steeper than it looks and drops off a cliff. All those rocks just pull right out of the ground too so don't bother using them thinking they're stable.

I wasn't having any of this. The consequences of even a small mistake here were too high; any fall would probably be fatal and with the amount of loose rock I couldn't justify continuing this way. A gully I had spied on the way up Point 13,300 held more promise. It also didn't look like fun but at least it wouldn't kill me. Carefully I climbed back up to 13,300's summit plateau and then hiked back to the saddle before the plateau. I located the gully, which looked like steep, somewhat irritating Class 2, and started down.

19762_14
Not ideal but better.

I hoped there was a way up Point 13,180 C from the basin or this would be a short trip. The basin was almost entirely filled with talus, though it wasn't super loose like the ridge was! There was a saddle at the far side that looked steep but doable and I could just hike down to the Continental Divide/Skyline trail if I couldn't find a good way to the other two peaks.

19762_16

19762_15
The saddle in upper middle held the key to the coward's way up 13,180 C.
19762_17
I hiked over the minor saddle in the middle, between cliffs above and below.
19762_18
Yep, that'll go.

The hike up the Class 2 talus to the saddle was by far the loosest - but not most dangerous - part of the day so far. It was sometimes so loose I'd literally lose two steps for every one I took until I found rock that was stable enough to make a few positive moves. It took me what felt like forever to get up the saddle, and I was definitely huffing and puffing up this one. From the saddle the hiking returned to easy and more importantly stable ground. In one direction stretched the ridge to Point 13,155. In the other a talus slope led to Point 13,180 C. It wasn't long before I was on the summit of the latter.

19762_19
Broken but stable and easy.
19762_22
Yes! Lots of easy hiking to get to Point 13,155! Organ Mountain is the prominent peak left of center, while 13,155's summit block is visible below the center skyline ridge.
19762_23
The look back on the ridge from 13,300. Yep. Glad I didn't bother with that mess.

The ridge between 13,180 C and 13,155 was mostly easy. Mostly. There was a long stretch of Class 1 grass and then things got bad again, somehow even worse than before.

19762_24
Preview of the nasty stuff coming up.
19762_25
Cave below the summit, visible in the other photo. This gives you some idea of how eroded and crappy this rock is.

There was a bunch of volcanic hoodoos to navigate on the ridge before the ridge again turned benign, and then the summit block itself to get up. I approached the hoodoos with trepidation. These things looked absolutely disgusting to climb on. Big surprise, they were! I can't state enough how truly heinous this "rock" is. I put "rock" in quotes because it's barely even rock, in my opinion. This crap is loose as can be and soft to boot. Merely touching it caused it to crumble. Weighting anything, hand or foot, caused the rock to move almost without exception due to how soft it is. It felt like anything and everything could break catastrophically no matter how careful I was. It's basically just pebbles and stones embedded in melted together volcanic ash and dear lord I cannot state how utterly awful and scary it is scrambling on this stuff.

19762_26
Doesn't look so bad, does it? Ho boy, she's a doozy.

I started navigating the hoodoos slowly. I wanted to move quickly through this junk but it would have swatted me down for that. At first I tried ridge crest proper. Nope. Could barely even get to the ridge crest, let alone scramble along it due to how craptastic this stuff was.

19762_27

I then tried going around it to the south/right. More of the same, and the runout on this side was exceptionally steep. It required crossing ribs and gullies and I got over maybe one or two before turning back as things steepened and the ribs got bigger and more exposed.

19762_28
Up and over and around. It's steeper than the photo shows. Doesn't look like a fall here would be particularly bad but it was.

I tried one more time around the north/left side of the ridge. This was a little easier but turned out to have the same problem as the down climb off Point 13,300 - traversing on steep dirt (which was now soft and tractionless instead of hard and tractionless) with ridiculously loose rock to use as handholds. I tried climbing up a chimney that, were it solid, wouldn't give me any pause, but got part way up and ripped a huge handhold off. Absolutely no way was I going to continue to risk it on this junk. Only one of the other trip reports I read even came close to describing the seriousness and fear of this section.

19762_29
"I will fall on you just for looking at me."

I had the same dilemma I did coming off Point 13,300: where do I go? Do I abandon this peak? I took a look down the saddle to the Skyline Trail. It was crazy steep and loose, of course, but it might just go. I'm not sure I could get back up it if it proved to be too hairy to go down, but my only other option besides the hoodooed ridge was going way back to an easier saddle closer to 13,180 C. No thanks.

With a deep breath I started down towards the trail. I had to butt scoot the upper part it was so loose, basically steep talc-like dust/sand and pebbles. I would have felt a lot better doing this in crampons or microspikes and and ice axe; hell, climbing the hoodoos would have been better with crampons and axe too! I continued downward as the angle slowly relented and the talc-sand slowly turned to grass. I feel like it probably took me half an hour to descend just a couple hundred feet down this with how careful I had to be. A fall would probably be uncontrolled.

I hit the trail and breathed a sigh of relief. I'd at least go to the summit block and see how that was, so up the trail towards San Luis I went before cutting south/right up more easy grass on 13,155. Several hundred vertical feet of good, untrailed Class 1/Class 2 took me up past a rocky fin on the ridge, which I bypassed on the east/left side, and then to the bottom of the summit block. The summit block looked intimidating from afar, but for the first time today the rock was good and solid. It was unusual in that it reminded me more of eroded limestone; smooth with pockets and rounded features. It was almost like the block had been underwater. A short chimney scramble led to a small shelf below some boulders, then over the boulders to the small, airy summit. Other trip reports stated the block was Class 4 to the summit, but I didn't find anything I'd consider harder than Class 3. Ironic given how difficult I found the rest of the ridge.

19762_30
Summit block of Point 13,155. The lower chimney is Class 3 up to the ledge, then either Class 3 or Class 4 over the boulders to the top.
Photo by Otina Bergsteigen, used and modified with permission. Source trip report: https://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=12688

I signed the summit register, quickly down climbed to 13,155's north slopes, and hiked back to the trail. From there it was a long hike to West Willow Creek. I passed north below all the terrain I had skipped, again glad I took the cowardly way. I still hit each summit so no big deal. I zipped down the trail alone. It was late enough in the afternoon that most people doing San Luis' south ridge had long since finished. I'm always happy for the solitude, especially in such beautiful terrain. There was a big chunk of elevation re-gain up and over Point 13,300's north ridge but otherwise the trail miles went by quickly and easily. I drove to Creede for what felt like the dozenth time and had an excellent brisket sandwich at Tommyknocker Tavern for dinner - the pickles are what made it. From there I drove west to Spring Creek Pass where I located camping for the night up a logging road just a bit farther north. Five more thirteeners to go tomorrow!


Statistics

Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself)
Total distance: 15.43 miles (this day) / 53.41 miles (weekend to this point) / 71.38 (weekend total)
Total elevation gain: 4,833 feet (this day) / 17,104 feet (weekend to this point) / 22,798 (weekend total)
Total time: 8:01:26
Peaks: Three 13ers (two ranked, one unranked)

  • Point 13,300 (13,285 on maps)
  • Point 13,180 C (unranked)
  • Point 13,155

Splits:

Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Equity Mine West Willow Creek Traihead 0:32:03 0:32:03 0:00
West Willow Creek Trailhead Point 13,300 1:43:48 2:15:51 0:00
Point 13,300 Point 13,180 C 1:27:19 3:43:09 7:43
Point 13,180 C Point 13,155 1:43:20 5:34:12 11:20
Point 13,155 Equity Mine 2:15:54 8:01:26 Trip End

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30


Comments or Questions
SnowAlien

Ridge traverse
09/25/2019 00:10
We stayed the ridge proper and found some great rock (along with some not so great). Fantastic scramble and views. We scrambled up 13,155 directly from the ridge too, super fun! Also the vertical didn't exceed 3k for any of those day loops.


Grizzly Adams

Summit block
09/25/2019 22:16
I'd agree the route you/Otina marked and a few others on that E? face were definitely only class 3, the class 4 route is the one you bypassed. I think we climbed the summit block three or four times that day looking for some "overhanging" stuff someone had read about but were never able to find it. Ridge proper is the way to go, a fun traverse in a beautiful area!


SnowAlien

Overhanging summit blocks
09/25/2019 19:31
are the best!!! make for sick shots. I guess I'll have to do a TR eventually. Really fun ridge run with great rock (well, except that one spot when the hold popped out, but I blame my crack addiction for even going there)


supranihilest

.
09/29/2019 05:05
@Natalie and Griz: I'll openly admit I'm a scaredy cat when it comes to climbing crappy rock. I'm used to Devil's Lake, Wisconsin, which is bombproof quartzite, and the Flatirons. This stuff on the other hand, I just couldn't justify what I thought was the risk while solo. If I had a partner along for second opinions I might have gone for it, but as it is I still got the peaks! Terrible style for sure but I'm cool with that. Plus if there's any other mega-cowards like me who see this then they'll know there's viable options that aren't the ridge!


CaptainSuburbia

Reverse route
11/01/2019 20:00
I did this ridge a few weeks after you in reverse order after summiting San Luis. I was able to stay on the ridge, and think maybe the climbing and route finding was easier from this direction. I remember thinking that some of the stuff I climbed up would not have been too fun going down.


supranihilest

Up vs down
11/04/2019 13:50
@CaptainSuburbia: It'd be an interesting experiment to do it in reverse. I'm positive the climbing up Point 13,300 would be better though I can't say much about the 13,155-13,180 ridge in reverse. It looked bad from the summit and obviously I didn't like it from the bottom, but I didn't get close enough from the summit side to really scope out what it'd be like in that direction. I do plan on going back for redemption at a later date so maybe I'll do it opposite that time.


CaptainSuburbia

Experiment
11/05/2019 10:29
I'd be interested in knowing how it goes if you do it again in reverse.


supranihilest

Experiment!
11/05/2019 10:32
If I do it in reverse I'll probably post an entirely new report about it for the sake of documenting it. Regardless I'll at least send you a PM with the details.



   Not registered? Click Here


Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. 14ers.com and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless 14ers.com and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the 14ers.com Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.




© 2021 14ers.com®, 14ers Inc.