Peak(s):  Vestal Pk  -  13,864 feet
Date Posted:  06/29/2007
Modified:  05/05/2009
Date Climbed:   07/02/2005
Author:  scotthsu

 Wham Ridge  

Route: Vestal Peak Wham Ridge (class 5.4)
Who: scotthsu (Scott) and Nice Axe! (Amy)
Elevation climbed: 2540' (Elk Park to high camp at ~11,400'); 2464' (camp to summit)
Time up: ~5 hrs 20 min (Elk Park to high camp); ~7 hrs (camp to summit)
Time down: ~4 hrs (summit to high camp); ~4 hrs (high camp to Elk park)
Equipment: 50m dry rope, light rack of nuts, tri-cams, cams, slings, belay/rap/anchor gear, harness, helmet (NO ice axe nor crampons)

Our primary route reference was Roach's book "Colorado's Thirteeners." We printed a map from topozone, but I'd recommend "Map of the Mountains between Silverton and Durango" by Drake Mountain Maps (waterproof topo). It even has the climber's trail beyond the Elk Creek crossing marked all the way to the basin at ~11,400'.

We caught the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Train on Friday morning (7/1) in Durango and got off at Elk Park. I recall there being only a few other people getting dropped off with us. The majority of backpackers got off at Needleton. We quickly lost sight of them and ended up seeing only ~4 people total until we got picked up by the train 3 days later.

Here is one of the first views of Vestal (left) and Arrow (13803', right) from the Elk Creek Trail.

Just past the beaver pond around 9980', we left the Elk Creek Trail and went south on rocks. Roach's directions for this section are good and we were able to follow them to the notorious Elk Creek crossing. The water was up to knee deep, and we decided to take off our boots, put on our Teva's, and wade across. Amy crossing Elk Creek:

After drying off and putting our boots back on, we hiked up the hill on the other side for a few minutes and fortunately came across the Vestal Creek trail without any problem. We marked this spot with a cairn so we would know where to drop down to the creek on the way back.

From here, the trail quickly got steep. Around 10200', we realized we had lost the trail, which heads SE into the forest. We ended up too close to the creek and had to go E on steep scree to find the trail again around 10400'. A good landmark to watch for is a rounded prominence at 10700'. The trail goes to the east of this prominence, and the creek goes west of the prominence. From here, the trail became a climber's trail and was essentially class 2 in spots. It was quite grueling in places with a heavy pack.

Around 11200', the terrain finally flattened out a bit, and we saw a big mountain goat, which visited our camp frequently over the next few days.

Here is a view of the Trinities (left, E. Trinity 13745', Trinity 13805', and W. Trinity 13765') and Vestal (right) from the west end of the basin at ~11400'.

We selected a very nice campsite above a rock outcrop on the north side of the basin. There was a faint trail heading NE up from the main trail into a grove of trees. You could even top rope the rocks directly below the campsite, which we wanted to do but never had the energy to do after long days out summiting. There were lots of scraggly looking marmots. One of them chewed up Amy's Teva sandals when we were out the next day. Make sure you hang up your sandals or anything else that's salty. Somebody needs to bring those animals up there a massive salt lick!

Here is a view of our route from the basin.

On summit day (7/2/05), we left camp around 6:30am. There was a faint trail in places up to the bench around 12200'. Early on, it involved a small stream crossing, some bushwacking through willows, then climbing on steep scree, and avoiding snow patches since we deliberately left axe/crampons at home. Above the bench, we had clear talus hopping past Vestal Lake all the way to the base of Vestal's N face. We pretty much followed Route 29.4 (not 29.4V1) as described in Roach's book.

Amy climbing grassy slopes on Vestal's N face:

After following ledges all the way to the western edge of Vestal's N face and scrambling up another few hundred vertical feet, we roped up and Amy led our first roped pitch, with fantastic solid rock:

I led the next pitch. I remember continued solid rock with very reasonable protection. In the next picture, you can see the grassy ledge (horizontal near the middle of the picture) that we climbed to the western edge of the face.

Amy led a 3rd roped pitch with lots of fun easy 5th class climbing. Looking down:

We both remember protection being pretty straightforward. There are a few obvious belay stances on the far western edge of the face. It's probably wise to set an anchor when you come to an obvious belay ledge, even if you have some rope left.

We unroped when the rock became broken, and we scrambled the rest of the way to the summit. It was mostly 3rd class with one or two exposed 4th class moves. I think there are probably many ways to top out with equivalent exposure/difficulty. Here is a picture showing the broken rock section near the summit:

Looking north with Amy on the summit of Vestal:

Looking south from the summit, with Jagged (13824'), Sunlight (14059'), Windom (14082'), and Eolus (14083') all visible. It was this view of Jagged that convinced us to take it on a year later!

We had beautiful weather and stayed on the summit for over an hour! What a luxury!

For the descent, we reversed Roach's description of the S Face route (29.3), and also made use of numerous cairns. It was easy to stay on class 3 terrain or easier (Roach lists the S Face route at 2+). There were one or two exposed spots near the summit ridge, but otherwise the exposure was completely manageable. There were sections with some loose rock, but overall the quality was very good for the San Juans. Amy looking back up at the S face:

Scott nearing the Vestal/Arrow saddle (12860') on the descent, with Arrow in the background:

We glissaded a few tiny sections but otherwise had dry rock. We made it back to camp around 6pm, making for a ~12 hour tent-to-tent day.

The next day we climbed E. Trinity and Trinity via Trinity Notch, with stunning scenery and unroped climbing. I may report on this in another TR someday.

The day following that (7/4/05), we hiked out. Other than my trying to cross Elk Creek on a log and falling into the creek, the hike out went very smoothly. We even managed to stay on the section of trail which we lost on the way up.

Always fun to see the train on 4th of July!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions
Nice Axe

Weminuche Rules!
02/05/2011 00:22
Great TR Scott! This wilderness was absolutely stunning and it's been one of our favorite places to explore. If you take the train, I highly recommend the bloody marys!!


thank you
06/30/2007 01:32
I needed to see this, thats an awsome trip, its been an absolute pleasure reading this, have a good one


conquer the bells!
11/30/2010 17:28
hey lordhelmut! thanks for your comment. i saw that you're gonna go for the Bells and Pyramid this weekend. Have fun and be safe!


11/30/2010 17:28
That is awesome! I have heard people say that the trip and climb of this peak were one of the finest mountaineering experiences they've ever had! I can't wait to do this! Thanks for posting


07/02/2007 05:57
Great first Wham report for this site, looks like a must hit.


07/02/2007 23:03
Do they sell margaritas too??


probably yes
11/30/2010 17:28
i'm not 100% sure, but i would think yes. it's quite impressive what they can whip up in that refreshment car! not to mention how good a microwave burger tastes after a few days out in the woods.


Needed notes...
07/14/2013 20:24
Thanks Scott for your TR. I am heading to this area soon and your notes on the route have been most helpful.

Thanks for your report!

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