Original PlansDay 1 – hike in from Molas Lake, Arrow Peak (1)
Day 2 – Electric Peak, Mt. Garfield, Point Pun, Graystone (4)
Day 3 – Vestal Peak (What Ridge), Trinities Traverse, Peak 3?, move camp to upper Tenmile Basin (4-5)
Day 4 – Peak 7, Peak 8, Peak 9, The Guardian, Mt. Silex, Storm King (6)
Day 5 – pack to Peak 5/6 saddle, Peak 6, Peak 5, Peak 4? (2-3)
Day 6 – Jagged, Leviathan, Vallecito, pack down to upper Noname Basin (3)
Day 7 – Knife Point, Peak 10, pack to Animas Basin, Peak 12 (3)
Day 8 – Peak 15, Peak 16, North Eolus/Eolus? (2-4)
Day 9 – Monitor Peak, Peak 13, Animas Mountain (3)
Day 10 – Pigeon Peak, Turret, pack out to Purgatory TH (2)
(in order presented, up to 34 individual peaks)
End ResultsDay 1 – hike in from Molas Lake, Arrow Peak (1)
Day 2 – Electric Peak, Mt. Garfield, Point Pun, Graystone (4)
Day 3 – Vestal Peak (Wham Ridge), Trinities Traverse, moved camp to below Peak 8 (4)
Day 4 – Storm King, Peak 8, Peak 9, The Guardian, Mt. Silex (5)
Day 5 – Peak 7, pack to Leviathan saddle, Leviathan, Vallecito (3)
Day 6 – Jagged, Peak 6, Peak 5, pack down to upper Noname Basin (3)
Day 7 – Knife Point, Peak 10, pack to near Peak 12 saddle (2)
Day 8 – Peak 12, North Eolus, Eolus, Peak 15 attempt, Peak 16, pack into Animas Basin (4)
Day 9 – Monitor Peak, Peak 13, Animas Mountain (3)
Day 10 – Pigeon Peak, Turret, pack out to Purgatory TH (2)
(in order presented, 31 individual peaks)
Elevation gain: 38,862’
Distance: 99.7 miles
Elevation gain is a one-way, net gain calculation from the low point to summit, with multiple peaks added from the connecting saddle. (Who counts gain AND loss??) Backtracking, subpeaks, and scrambling for photos are not included. I figure this number is an underestimate from what was actually done by at least 900’, likely much more. Mileage is a rough guess estimate from map or internet sources, generally “as the crow flies,” so likely considerably underestimated.
BackgroundOver the last couple of years I’ve been working on more and more ambitious hiking and peak bagging trips. Growing up in Iowa I was nearly completely ignorant of the outdoorsy opportunities around the country, much less the mountain west and Pacific Northwest. Needless to say, my exposure to difficult hikes and challenging climbs was at a lowly zero.
In fact, my first hiking and backpacking trip wasn’t until I was 17 when I went to Yosemite with a couple of my cousins that were moving to California. Rather pathetically, I was blown away driving through Wyoming on I-80 and seeing the mole hills along the interstate. Yosemite, on the other hand, was breathtaking and encompassed everything I’d always wanted to see and do. To this day, Yosemite still ranks at the top of my list of favorite national parks. And although I did a lot of basic hiking for many biological field jobs after graduating from college, I didn’t start doing any serious scrambling or peak bagging until after I moved to Colorado in late 2008. Still, it was well over a year before I even did my first 14er.
However, once the dam was breached all hell broke loose. Over the next two years I had long trips to Oregon and Washington, Yellowstone and the Tetons, Arizona and southern Utah, and Yosemite and the Sierras. Hundreds of miles, dozens of peaks and canyons, and thousands of feet of elevation gain. But all of that would be nothing compared to this, the culmination of three years of projects.
I’d read about peaks in the Grenadier Range like Vestal and the Trinities. Seen gorgeous pictures of Storm King Peak and Lake Silex. A high concentration of 13ers in one of the most isolated parts of Colorado.
The original plan was to hit the Grenadier Range and then the north part of the Needle Mountains. However, after staring at the map my eyes were drawn farther to the south, to Jagged Mountain and the Ruby Creek area. The plan would continue to evolve and eventually encompass a potential 34 peaks in a planned 10 days. By far the longest backpacking trip I’d ever undertaken.
And what’s more, I would do it all solo. No rope, no emotional support, no help after a fall. Nothing extremely technical and no enormous single elevation changes, but there would be no days off and involved no car camping (my usual preferred style of hiking).
See below if you’re interested in seeing a little more detail on what I brought and what I ate.
Day 1 – Hike in to Vestal Basin from Molas Lake, Arrow Peak – 4852’, 10.5miThis is going to be hell, I thought as I started down the trail from Molas Lake. Before dawn on the first day, I was well on my way down the trail. In the dark, walking through the calm morning air there was nothing but me and my thoughts. It was far too easy to start second guessing myself as to whether I could really pull this thing off. But there was no way I was giving up on this before I’d even started.
As the trail dropped towards the Animas River, the sky came alive with a rosy hue over the Grenadier Range. Taking that as a positive sign, I snapped a few pictures and continued the long descent. At the river several backpackers were finishing breaking camp before catching the train back out to civilization. Soon I was heading back up, regaining all of the elevation that I had lost descending to the river. In the background, Arrow and Vestal grew bigger and bigger.
After briefly getting off-track at the beaver ponds, I turned off and continued up into Vestal Basin. At the first meadow, Arrow and Electric loomed large, granite mounds rising out of the evergreens below.
At the second meadow, I paused to talk to a couple of other climbers and then dug into my reserves and started out of the basin and attacked Arrow’s famous Northeast Face. The ramp slopped aesthetically in a gentle sweep before climbing more steeply up to the summit ridge. Off to the left, Vestal’s Wham Ridge stands out in sharp relief, tempting or frightening would be climbers below. The rock was solid and the going was pretty easy until turning into fun Class 3+ terrain before the ridge.
I had little time to enjoy the summit ridge and the top because the weather that had been slowly building took that moment to unleash a light hail storm. Not wanting to descend without enjoying the top or risk a slip, I hunkered down below a boulder and waited for the weather to pass. A short while later, the sun reappeared and I got to look out to the horizon and glimpse the other peaks that I’d be attempting over the next nine days.
The descent was uneventful and I quickly set up camp before turning in for a much deserved rest.
Day 2 – Electric, Garfield, Point Pun, Graystone – 4025’, 7.2miI left at about dawn in order to aid navigation, setting a trend for much of the rest of the trip, and it was off to Electric Peak. I headed back down the trail and then angled up below Arrow to the short cliff bands to the left of the talus at the Electric saddle. Working my way through these I topped out and noticed a small ramp on the East Face, similar to Arrow’s, sweeping away. It looked like it would readily go, so after a slightly steeper lower section I followed it up all the way to Electric’s Southeast Ridge. Here there are three options: 1. Continue around the corner to the standard Class 2 gully 2. Follow the Class 3 ridge to easier Class 2 terrain above 3. Stay on the East Face R of the ridge on Class 3/4+ terrain. At the top I found one of only a handful of registers out of all of the peaks.
I descended the standard gully route, which is steep Class 4 briefly at the bottom, and then contoured across to Garfield. Depending on your choice of ascent route, this can be fairly simple Class 3 or steeper, looser Class 4+. Higher on the summit ridge the route becomes narrower and more bridge-like in places. Another register awaited on the summit, where I looked towards Chicago Basin off in the distance, shrouded in mist that would tend to be heavier in the south than in the north for most of the trip.
Back on the ridge, the route to Point Pun proved to be hard to follow in places, at times navigating knife edges and descending to avoid drop-offs while other times cruising along easier talus.
From Point Pun it was mostly easy Class 2 scrambling to Graystone, racing weather that was once again slowly building and turning the skies gray. I’d intended to continue down Graystone’s East Ridge and descend to the saddle shared with Arrow. However, drizzle changed my mind and I took the more direct route, bailing off the North Face of Graystone, cautiously negotiating slick granite and loose spots before reaching the basin below.
At the Arrow/Electric saddle the rain had passed once again. I gathered my things back at camp and then headed to the base of Vestal Peak, setting up a makeshift bivy at Vestal Lake to allow a slightly easier third day.
Day 3 – Vestal (Wham Ridge), Trinities Traverse, pack to Peak 8 – 4699’, 9.5mi
The previous night I met a small group camped at Vestal Lake that was planning on attempting Arrow and Vestal. Even with a rope and in a group, that were questioning whether they would really climb Vestal. With that in the back of my mind, I was a little hesitant to try it on my own. However, in my experience, many climbs appear harder than they actually are and there is no harm in getting on the route and getting a closer look.
I cruised up easy terrain and then followed the angling crack to the standard route on Wham Ridge. The climbing proved to be fun Class 3+ on solid rock. A glance to the right reveals Arrow’s two prominent ramps. Turning back on occasion to really get an appreciation for how the face slopes away and how steep it really is. But at no point do you ever really feel that you are perched at the edge of a cliff. In fact, I passed the 5.4 crux before I even realized I was on it.
Higher up the route is supposed to relent slightly, but the route I chose was actually consistent Class 4+ terrain with mild exposure at times. Still, mostly solid and very fun, only adding to the excitement. At the top the summit surprisingly lacked a register. Including stopping to take pictures, it took just under two hours.
With a long day still ahead, I took a few pictures and then started down the backside of Vestal. Not sure where I should start to cut across, I probably began too early and had to descend a small canyon like gully on the left side of the ridge. This dropped me out into the basin west of the Trinity saddle, the loose scree of which I then had to climb to reach said saddle.
The climb to West Trinity was mostly uneventful and fairly quick. The transition to Middle Trinity is a little trickier. Go over the small rise at the saddle before descending slightly to the ledge system. After that follow cairns and the path of least resistance through ledges and the Class 4 crux, noting that some spots may be more difficult if you are off route.
The descent from Middle Trinity to the saddle is pretty straight forward. However, there is a gully with steep walls that you have to find a way across. It is probably easiest to descend slightly and find a way out that leads directly to the steep ascent gully, but I chose instead to traverse slightly to the left side of the ridge. This initially was moderate terrain, but proved to be a difficult transition back to the standard route.
Getting off East Trinity ended up being one of the most difficult parts of the traverse. Descending slightly proved easy enough, but the route I chose started to veer right (where I think continuing on the ridge may get treacherous). This wasn’t a problem until I had to cut back left between sections of cliff on very loose scree. Very cautious scrambling eventually led to the saddle and the scree slide down into the basin.
I briefly considered going for Peak Three. I knew that it wouldn’t be too hard technically, but I just didn’t think there would be enough daylight to make it and move camp as well. So wasting no time, I hiked back to my gear below Vestal.
Still not done for the day, I slung it on my back and began trudging yet again up to the Trinity/Vestal saddle. On the other side, the trail is scantily marked and you have to keep a careful eye out for cairns, essentially staying fairly tight against the short cliffs at the base of the peaks to your left. Descend only after you start to encounter trees and see the lakes in the upper basin coming closer.
Busting out the rest of the hike, I managed to reach the base of Peak Eight and set up camp. None too soon, either, because just after I climbed into my tent the heavens opened up. Wind, rain, and hail pounded my tent so hard that I had to hold it up to keep it from buckling under the assault. Thankfully it hadn’t happened the night before where I’d had no protection but my rain fly draped over my sleeping bag.
Day 4 – Storm King, Peak 8, Peak 9, The Guardian, Mt. Silex – 4827’, 10.5miThis is where my plans started to deviate from my original schedule. I’d planned to camp at Balsam Lake and then make a big loop to bag six eastern peaks, followed the next day by hiking south to Peaks 4, 5, and 6, and then Jagged and the rest. However, I thought that starting that far away on top of a six peak day would prove to be too much. Probably a good decision.
So, once again serenaded by a chorus of pika squeaks at dawn, I set off for Storm King. The talus, although loose in places, was easy going Class 2+ and I topped out in just over an hour. As would be the case for much of the trip, the skies were hazy with smoke from a forest fire, blurring what would otherwise be a gorgeous view.
From the Storm King saddle, Peak Eight’s prominent gully was mostly clear of snow. Wanting a more interesting scramble, I chose to climb just to the right on Class 3+ terrain. However, the best part was the summit ridge above, yielding knife edges and moderate exposure at times much of the way to the top. A short, but sweet climb.
Next in line was Peak Nine, one of the bigger question marks on my itinerary. Beta is somewhat scarce and largely inadequate online, as if it’s meant to be kept hidden to protect unknowing hikers from a sinister mountain of death. In reality, it’s a pretty easy and fun scramble. See here for my new route description.
From the Peak Eight/Nine saddle I scanned the West Face for ways to access the upper slopes. Nothing immediately presented itself and I descended slightly to the small bowl below to try to get a better look. Once again I searched the face for an access route, the little beta I had saying start left and ascend right to the ridge. Defeated I started to walk away, only to turn back and look once again. Finally, I spotted a minor gully that appeared to break the otherwise fairly steep lower cliffs.
This gully, the third on the right from the saddle, is fun Class 3+ for a short distance. A long ascending traverse on Class 2 terrain leads to the summit ridge. A short, slightly cruxy scramble puts you on the ridge with only a short jaunt to the top. This apparently is not the only way to bag this peak, but I thought it went quite easily on a mountain that is considered one of the trickier climbs in the area.
In order to save some distance, I had intended to follow Peak Nine’s ridge southeast to Silex’s saddle. However, the ridge looked potentially very sketchy on what was already crumbly rock in many places. Not something I wanted to attempt and risk a delay, much less a fall. Some day I wouldn’t mind trying the ridge as well as Nine’s Northeast Face, but not this day.
Therefore, it was back down all the way to Nine’s base over rough scree until the easy cruising brought me around to the basin below Silex and The Guardian.
It was about at this point that I got a little stupid. I got tired of traversing the endless boulder field and couldn’t decide which peak to start with first, so I just aimed up and started climbing. The problem with this was that as I got higher the visibility above became more limited, almost like having myopia, and I literally couldn’t see Silex or The Guardian. The unfortunate consequence of this is that the high point I was shooting for ended up being the subpeak at the exact midpoint between the two. Oops… I would have laughed if the desire to cry wasn’t more overpowering.
After reorienting, I found a pretty direct route up The Guardian. Then down the same way and back to the midpoint, where I found a narrow ramp system that led much of the to Silex. From there it was an easy scramble to the top. Tired but far from done, I turned back down and carefully descended the loose scree.
Eventually I reached the lake below Peak Eight where there was still plenty of time to take some pictures at dusk before dashing back across the saddle. At my campsite I found that some furry little bastard had found my drying socks and decided to see what Smartwool tasted like. I like to think that he choked on the sweet stench. I pumped some water and then wasted no time burrowing into my tent for the night. After 14 peaks in just 4 days, including the hike in, I was happy to have one of the hardest days behind me.
Day 5 – Peak 7, pack to Leviathan saddle, Leviathan, Vallecito – 3038’, 7.5miThis day would be one of the shortest days of my itinerary so I treated myself by sleeping in. After finally dragging myself out of bed, I trudged back up to the small lake at the Peak Seven/Eight saddle. Dropping my pack at the lake, Seven proved to be pretty straight forward, taking just over an hour from camp.
The traverse to Leviathan was a pain, considering the relatively short distance, with smooth terrain interspersed by a little steep terrain or short cliff bands. The worst, however, was the steep boulder fields dropping into the basin to the northwest of Leviathan. The constant shifting weight of my pack was not born well by my feet. By the end of the day the bottoms of my feet and toes were literally be rubbed away.
For the time being, I ignored the pain and relentlessly climbed up to the Leviathan saddle. Finally able to drop my pack the tenderness was at least lessened, but far from gone. I put together some makeshift bandages from paper towels that I was using as tissues, something that I should have done a couple of hours earlier.
The scramble up Leviathan had a couple of interesting sections, but nothing particularly noteworthy. I contemplated the direct ridge descent to the Vallecito saddle, a route that is not recommended in the beta and which I considered just sketchy enough to avoid the risk considering the relatively short distance saved. Heading back the way I came, and just before the low point before the subpeak, I found a cliff band heading down the mountain. Just as this peters out you can follow moderate terrain almost directly across to the Vallecito saddle.
Vallecito was one of the easiest peaks on my itinerary, so was pretty uneventful. Returning to the saddle and then traversing across once again there is relatively little elevation change and before long you reach the small lake below Jagged Mountain. I arrived early enough that I had time to sit and relax for a while waiting to see if the sunset would prove photo worthy. While there, I saw my first people sightings since Vestal Basin, two days before. At dusk I rushed back to set up my tent and then slathered on the Neosporin before crashing for the night.
Day 6 – Jagged, Peak 6, Peak 5, pack down to upper Noname Basin – 2312’, 6.5mi
Expecting another moderately short day and not anticipating any significant weather, I again slept in for an extra hour. After rolling out of bed, I got a good view of the sun illuminating Jagged before me before doing an easy contour around to the base of the climb. Three other parties were in various stages of progress on the mountain, by far the most people I’d seen in any one place and the only ones I’d seen actually climbing a peak.
Not sure where to start but never shy to tackle whatever I come across, I climbed Class 4/low Class 5 blocks and cracks to the right of the ascent gully, easily passing a roped (and I assume guided, $900 anyone???) group. Shortly after I arrived at the base of the technical climb, which is a few short technical steps (5.0 with minimal immediate exposure) interspersed by relatively easy hiking and scrambling.
Following the route around to the backside and the narrow ledges, there is a few hundred feet of exposure, but very little that is immediately threatening. A couple more Class 4 spots puts you on the top. Just over 1.5 hrs from camp, including picture taking. Somewhat short, but very sweet!
On top I met a summitpost internet acquaintance, which proved fortuitous because by the end of the day my feet were even more painful than the day before. Finding him later in the day, I asked him if he had an extra pair of socks. Best $30 I ever spent, without which I probably could not have finished my trip.
At camp I methodically packed everything away and dove over the Jagged saddle. Part way down I stashed my things and contoured into the basin below Peak Five and Six. Six ended up being a scree slog, probably one of my least favorite peaks. I then followed the ridge across the Peak Five. The last scramble to the high point is kind of interesting and there are nice views in all directions from the top, with another nice aqua blue lake below.
I had intended to continue to Peak Four if there was time, which indeed there was, but my feet would have none of it. There was no way that they could stand another two miles of serious scree scrambling. So back down into upper No Name I came across my new friend and followed him down to the meadow and creek junction branching up to Knife Point. This was again helpful because there is a route that follows the top of the cliff bands instead of the marshy creek area below. As the sun set I performed some more orthopedic first aid and hoped that they would improve by morning.
Day 7 – Knife Point, Peak 10, pack to near Peak 12 saddle – 3854’, 6miI waited almost to the point of giving up for my new friend to bring the socks from his lower campsite. But the wait was well worth it and the thick socks felt like heaven on my raw feet.
Bush whacking my way up into the valley below Knife Point was annoying but fairly short. I tried to ascend a little too early and ended up going up, down, and around cliff bands before finally dropping into the main gully on the left side of the slope. This proved to be somewhat steep and loose in places and definitely more tedious than I wanted to deal with that morning. Finally at the saddle, it was reasonably quick to continue up the Class 2 East Face. From the top I scouted a route on Peak Ten, which has little beta and is most likely rarely climbed.
Back at the saddle I found a gully that climbed briefly and then started a slow ascending traverse across the S/SE Face. At the midpoint there is a moderately sized gully to cross that has a few possibilities, none of which are particularly easy. Then closer to and below the summit the way gets more difficult again and route finding is simply take it as it comes. Lots of chimney climbing or awkward moves on kitty litter rock. On the summit block there is probably an easier route clockwise, but I chose to go right and climb Class 4+ moves up to the top. From the well deserved summit I paused to take in my surroundings. Across the way I could see small specks in the shape of climbers navigating the narrow ledges and the backside of Jagged. In the end it was a fun climb, but not as much bang for the buck as Jagged itself.
Across the face again and then much faster back down into the valley. Down by the creek the wildflowers were growing thick and I took a minute to appreciate the scenery. After packing up camp I got to enjoy my some more on trail hiking and then was briefly below 10,000 for the first time in seven days. Then it was time to turn off and head for Animas Basin. I wasn't able to find the trail heading up at first and did some annoying bush whacking before finding the switchbacks. Compared to trying to follow the creek just below, this was easy cruising even with a pack and after a week of climbing.
I'd originally planned to hike all of the way up to the pass, bag Peak Twelve, and then head down into Animas Basin. However, on the way up a light sprinkle turned into heavier rain. By pure luck, I just happened to be passing a perfectly positioned fallen rack that formed a natural rain shelter right on the trail. So as the temperature dropped and the rain came down, I set up my pad and bag and then hoped that the trail wouldn't flash flood and wash me down the mountain. Not perfect, but nice not to have to worry about packing a wet tent in the morning.
Day 8 – Peak 12, North Eolus, Eolus, Peak 15 attempt, Peak 16 – 4562’, 8.5miRelatively dry and with the day dawning clear, it was a good morning. I rolled over and peaked outside only to find a porcupine staring unhappily at me. Obviously I was blocking his way and preventing him from his normal routine. He wandered off, clearly cursing me, before I could get a good picture of him.
I grabbed my things and kept heading up to the Peak Twelve saddle, where I dropped my pack. Twelve hardly deserves to be named, but it is a 13,000' mountain. The summit was an easy stroll, even if much slower than it should have been at this point, and then over the top and down to the North Eolus saddle.
I chose a low 5th class route to get onto the ridge heading up to North Eolus, although I think that there may be a Class 3 way around to the right. After easy Class 2 there was a short sloped wall of Class 3 friction climbing with indirect exposure. More easy climbing led up to the top and some fun C3/C4 blocks to the North Eolus summit.
From there the easy catwalk led across to Eolus. The last leg is a hard to follow trail or more fun C3/C4 blocks more directly to the top. After a full morning, my day was long from over. I looked behind me and then dropped off towards the southwest. Here I found a steep gully full of very loose scree spotted with ice. The descent was tedious and slow and not recommended, but it does go.
I descended from the very upper reaches of New York Basin until eventually coming to the ascent gully for Peak Fifteen and Sixteen (note the small tower sitting below it). The ascent and the route-finding can be difficult, sometimes climbing in the gully and sometimes wandering out onto the left face. The rock quality often leaves something to be desired, which doesn't match well with the sometimes moderate exposure.
At the saddle I veered off to the left to tackle Peak Fifteen. I crisscrossed the face numerous times trying to find a suitable and not completely idiotic route. I saw a few possibilities that wouldn't be too bad, but wondered about the descent. Finally, after fearing I would psych myself out, I carefully retraced my steps one last time back to the saddle. Of the attempted mountains, this would end up being the only peak that I didn't summit.
Peak Sixteen, on the other hand, was a very short climb from the saddle. The initial face was carefully traversed and then more fun C3/C4 blocks up to the summit. Very nice, if not for the ascent gully.
In fact, the descent would prove to be much harder to reverse. Two spots that I didn't think too much of climbing (one nearly friction climbing with exposure and the other low Class 5 on bad rock) proved very difficult indeed (bypassing the latter). Although I'd go back, this leg of the journey was draining considering the distance traveled.
At the bottom, I did another ascending traverse up to the Little Finger saddle. The scree dropping back into Animas Basin is very fine, almost powdery, and I'd hate to have to ascend this way. Really, I'd probably refuse to do it. At the bottom I regretted having to hike back up to the Peak Twelve saddle to get my things (and hoping that no rodents ate my little remaining reserves). As it turns out, the hike ended up being fairly easy, with plenty of daylight to spare. I had the whole meadow to myself while I set up camp as the sun set and the shadows closed in.
Day 9 – Monitor Peak, Peak 13, Animas Mountain – 2686’, 4.5miI could almost taste the finish this morning, again happy to have one of the harder days and 26 peaks behind me. I slept in and then started plodding up the easy slopes below Peak Thirteen. The fatigue was weighing a little more heavily on me again, but I still managed decent progress upwards.
I found the ramp under Peak Thirteen and then went around the two towers after the saddle. From here it was an easy scramble up the steep gully and then yet more fun (but smaller) blocks on the ridge leading to the summit of Monitor. Ascent time of less than two hours, despite being Day 9. If it wasn't for the massive approach hike, this would be a pretty nice peak- in complete contrast to a TR I read that it was one of the harder routes around.
Following the same route back down to the saddle, I then circled partway behind Peak Thirteen and climbed fairly solid kitty litter blocks to the summit. Again in contrast to a report that I'd read, the descent towards Animas proved much harder than the ascent. Perhaps I was off route, but it was far from simple C3, with at least one fairly difficult big step to negotiate.
The traverse to Animas was fairly slow due to lots of kitty litter scree accumulated along the slopes. Just below the top the route again got more interesting on C3/C4 blocks. If only the entire mountains weren't as fun...
I started traversing from Animas while generally angling down. I eventually hit a gully that looked like it probably dropped over a cliff. Following my same angle of attack more or less towards the original ramp I eventually came across cairns that marked the way out. Nothing too hard, but I closely checked every step to make sure I didn't end up sliding and taking the short way down.
That evening I was so jacked to finish the last day that I ended up getting up to try some light writing.
Day 10 – Pigeon Peak, Turret Peak, and hike out to Purgatory TH – 4007’, 29mi (at least)My alarm didn't sound this morning, but I was out of bed and hiking in five minutes at 6AM, still in the predawn. I made it my goal to try to bust this climb out as fast as possible. Saddle 6:50, notch 7:00, base 7:13, top 8:11, despite a light drizzle starting on the way up from the base. I'm guessing a very reasonable time for a fresh hiker. On top I admired the views but was again prevented from getting any really nice pics, this time by largely overcast skies.
The ascent sapped much of my remaining reserves and the traverse to Turret took quite a while longer. But still just as sweet as it was the last one of this trip. 31 peaks in 10 days, one more than the minimum I'd hoped for. I enjoyed this moment and then started down for the last time.
One of the few things that I overlooked while planning is just how far Purgatory TH is from Pigeon. 31.1mi one way via Ruby Creek according to Roach. I’m not sure it’s really that far, but fortunately it would be mostly downhill. So hopefully fairly fast as long as there wasn’t much route finding or many obstacles. With a 6AM start I was hoping to be off the mountains by noon. Hiking generously at 3mph for 20-25mi would be ~7-8hrs. Best case scenario back at the TH by nightfall, worst case midnight.
The plan started out well enough, leaving at 6AM and then leaving camp just after noon. However, I soon discovered that there is no kidding involved when they say the trail is rough and bushwhacking is not a rare occurrence. The way wasn't too hard to follow, but bushes covered the trail and downed trees were common in places.
Then, as I approached Ruby Lake, the weather gods decided to frown upon me at last and unleashed the rain. Nothing too intense, but enough to leave a heavy due on all of the vegetation. With my new Gortex Solomon shoes, you would think this wouldn't be a problem. But evidently not. My new thick socks weren't able to protect my feet when the water soaked all of the way through. The worst part: I still had over 20 miles to go.
Ruby Lake would have made for some nice pics if not for the still threatening skies, but it was still a nice distraction from the long hike back. Just past it I initially missed the point where the trail crosses the creek and starts switchbacking down. Fortunately I realized my mistake fairly quickly and somehow crossed the creek at a point where the trail was still right on the other side. Back and forth down the mountain side, I experienced the other bad part of the Ruby Lake approach: it is a LONG ways up. Lucky for me, I had gravity on my side. I don't want to think about how miserable it would be going up with a heavy pack.
I made it down to the Animas before my feet really started to rub raw again. However, hearing a train in the distance I wanted to beat it back to the station to get a glimpse at part of the reason people are so willing to spend a hefty sum of money to ride it. I arrived there a few minutes before the train, only to see it then go flying past, to the dismay of hikers already waiting there. Apparently there is more than one.
I paused to grab a snack while I was still waiting and chatted briefly with a couple of hikers. As I got up to walk away, a hiker asked "Where are you going?" "Purgatory," I replied with a smile. Hey, at least things were looking up.
It took several more hours of agonizingly slow (seemingly) hiking with ever more tender feet (including another crudely thrown together first aid endeavor), but I did end up making it out shortly before dark. Just enough light remained for me to hitch a ride back to my car. Shrugging off my pack and throwing my car into drive, I beat a hasty retreat back to civilization and life sustaining fast food and indoor plumbing. It's the little things in life that make a difference.
Additional NotesThe following day I took the guided tours and hiked at Mesa Verde. My feet were so sore that even this easy hiking was almost too much for me to handle. I had intended to start on the Wilson group the day after that and then do some Telluride hiking, but there was just no way that I could do that without destroying my feet even further. In the end, this worked out well because I was able to meet friends in Ouray for some alpine canyoneering after another day of rest.
I don't like to take the time to cook or clean or carry the extra weight while backpacking, so I don't carry a stove or fuel. My food primarily consisted of: Clif bars, other energy or granola bars, tortillas, bagels, jerky, dried fruit, snickers, peanut M&Ms, nuts, tuna pouches, and other odds and ends. It's probably a bit of an underestimate, but I figure I had 1750 calories/day. Thus why, even after being in civilization, after I got back home I had lost about 10lbs.
My total pack weight at the start was about 38lbs total. Of this about 12lbs was food and 3.5lbs camera equipment. Other primary items included: 5lb Osprey Aether 85 pack, 6lb MSR Fusion 2 tent (unfortunately didn't get around to buying a new tent), 3lb sleeping bag, 19oz Thermarest Neoair All Season pad, 2.4lb Camelbak Mule, water filter, and clothing.
Photos were chosen primarily on the basis of aesthetics and secondarily for route portrayal. Therefore, there is a lack of photographic evidence for a few parts, such as on Day 4, which was particularly hazy, and Day 10, which was largely overcast. Though if you want to see more, I'll be happy to oblige.