OverviewEureka in the San Juan Mountains. The climb is located on the western flanks of Peak 13,419 (northeast of the formerly Outward Bound Hotel - now Eureka Lodge).
Eureka is an abandoned mining community nine miles northeast of Silverton on Hwy. 110. Highway 110 is a bit misnomer, as it is an unpaved road that connects Silverton to Lake City via Cinnamon Pass. The first section of the road is well maintained and accessible by low clearance 2WD vehicles. The road is kept open even in the winter, and there is a nice cross country ski trail next to it leading back to Silverton.
Stairway to Heaven is the very obvious, blue, staircase ice flow in the area - a most popular outing (classic). The route is commonly ascended in 4-8 pitches if you rope up from the very beginning. Otherwise, it is generally five to six rope 60 meter rope lengths.
Plan an early start. It is very likely that on weekends there will be other parties on this climb.
Elevation in Eureka: 9,862 feet (=3,006 meters)
There is high avalanche hazard on this climb, so always check snow condition prior venturing on this climb.
Northern San Juan Avalanche Forecast
From the Main Street in Silverton, continue onto good dirt road - Hwy 110 - which is snowplowed for the first 9 miles. As you pass through Silverton turn right onto 110 = county road 2, if you go straight uphill on 110, it will take you to Silverton Ski area. Continue along the Animas River through the valley, through Howardsville, past Minnie Gulch, and all the way to Eureka. Park at the large parking lot on the west side of the road. There is a dry toilet (hard to access in the winter since the door gets buried in the snow).
You can see Stairway to Heaven from the parking lot if you look northeast - it is the largest ice pathway on the western slopes of Peak 13,419.
Hike up on the snow filled road towards the Eureka Lodge (Jack Robert's in his Colorado Ice climbs calls it still Outward Bound Hotel). You have two options - continue on the higher road, pass the Stairway to Heaven climb, and watch for the footsteps leading to the less steep section of the gorge (about 0.9 miles from the parking lot). You have to cross the frozen river, and continue up the slopes towards the climb.
The 2nd option is more difficult, you have to cross the frozen creek below the Outward Bound Hotel, and continue on steep slopes towards the climb. If the river is not frozen, there is a bridge on the property of Eureka Lodge and some climbers go there and use it.
Route DescriptionPitch 1: Climbs steep WI3, and is about 150 feet long. The ice is typically fat. Belay at the last bulge before it flattens out.
Pitch 2: WI2-3, about 200 feet long. Go as far as you can to the last step before the obvious curtain above. This pitch is very easy, and the climbing sections are short. We had to simu climb a short section to get to the tree anchor. Some people break it into two pitches for this reason.
Pitch 3: WI4, about 100 feet long. A steep and often wet pillar leads to a nice, protected spot directly after the pillar.
Pitch 4: Easy WI3. Fat ice takes one to where it just begins to flatten out on a snowy bench.
You can finish here and walk off left, or rappel the route. The walk off typically requires a short rappel, but you avoid other climbers on the route. Stairway is very popular and expect other parties below you.
The descent goes in five full 60 meter rappels. A chain and bolt anchor at the top gets you started. Reportedly there is a line of bolt anchors the whole way down on climber's right, but these get often covered by ice/snow. We found 3 bolted sections, and two trees.
You can also walk off up and left through the forest, and traverse right into prominent gully. I have not tried to walk off, and it appears that most parties descent via rappel.
Full rack of ice screws, V-thread tool, draws, screamers, webbing for v-thread.
Helmet, crampons, ice tools, harness, 2 sixty meter ropes.
Warm clothing, gloves (consider hand warmers).