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Pigeon Peak

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Pigeon Peak

Page Type: Mountain/Rock

Location: Colorado, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 37.63232°N / 107.6466°W

Object Title: Pigeon Peak

County: La Plata

Elevation: 13972 ft / 4259 m


Page By: shanahan96, Liba Kopeckova

Created/Edited: Sep 17, 2003 / Aug 29, 2014

Object ID: 151877

Hits: 23273 

Page Score: 94.44%  - 47 Votes 

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This page was completely erased, no information preserved, just photos and the climbing log. So I am starting all over with some new and hopefully useful information. I have not climbed Pigeon Peak yet, but have been to Needles, and I am planning to climb this beautiful peak hopefully this summer (does not sound like a material for aging Duchess though...)


Pigeon Peak is one of the most prominent mountains in the Needles area. It can be seen from the train as it proceeds along the Animas River from Durango towards Silverton. It rises nearly 6000 feet (1,829 meters) in under 2.5 miles (4 km) from Animas River. Its east face is a 800 feet (245 meter) cliff. It is located in Ruby Basin. Although not a fourteener as its neighbors in Chicago Basin (Eolus, Sunlight, and Windom Peak), it is still a very desirable peak to climb (really just a few feet shy of being a 14er).

Colorado Rank: 57 - this makes this peak very desirable for those trying to complete Centennials (= the highest 100 peaks in Colorado).

Best Time to Climb: July, August (snow does not melt until then), September.

Commonly done together with Turret Peak, which is easier to climb. 

Pigeon Pk., from the Pigeon... 
Pigeon Pk., from the Pigeon... 

History: Pigeon has a rich climbing history, starting with 1908 first ascent by Cooper and Hubbard, and continuing to this day with assaults on the great east face. Rosenbrough in his The San Juan Mountains - A climbing and hiking guide - writes that the first party to be lured into the Needles solely by its climbing possibilities was William S. Cooper and John Hubbard in 1908. A couple of years earlier in 1906, Cooper had visited Silverton and climbed Kendall Mountain. From the summit of Kendall, he saw "mountains that I must see again and at the earliest opportunity; the whole San Juan country, the Needle Mountains in particular, and, first of all, Pigeon Peak".
Cooper and Hubbard approached Pigeon from New York Basin. They were forced to abandon an attempt on the south face, next to the east facing precipice. A rain shower and an uncomfortable smooth granite slope leading to a series of two or three steps of giant size forced them to retreat and try a gully on the south face further face. Two or three hundred feet below the summit, they were forced left (west) from their direct route to a notch on the southwest ridge from which they were able to reach the summit. After sunbathing there for two and half hours, their final deed was to look down the 900 foot (they thought it was 1500 foot) 85 degree east face - almost as spectacular as the east face of Longs. 
Pigeon was next climbed by two well known pioneers in Colorado mountaineering history. In 1920, Albert R. Ellingwood and Barton Hoag reached the summit via "the large, prominent crack or couloir running up the south face". This was probably the same route taken by Cooper and Hubbard. Ellingwood and Hoag did not find any evidence of the 1908 ascent and in their report incorrectly assumed that they had made a first ascent. Ellingwood and Hoag also climbed neighboring Turret Peak and apparently did achieve a first ascent of it. 
During the 1930s, Pigeon Peak received renewed interest. In August of 1935 H.L. McClintock, and Lewis Giesecke discovered what is now the standard route on Pigeon. From a camp in Ruby Basin above Ruby Lake, they walked up the grassy ledges on the west side of the north face. They made the first traverse of Pigeon by descending the southeast chimney. 

Needle Mountains

The Needle Mountains are a vast climber's paradise. The fact that they are wild and rugged, with few roads and trails, has tended to make them a preserve for mountaineering. Only the Chicago Basin area saw any of the mining activity that swarmed over the rest of the San Juan in the last century. Except for ascents in Chicago Basin, and of Pigeon Peak, many of the first ascents of major peaks were not accomplished until Colorado Mountain Club and San Juan Mountaineer expeditions of the 1920s and 1930s. each decade since has seen new routes and climbs established, especially technical ones. There are still new routes to be explored on remote pinnacles and cold, dark north and east faces. In fact, there is a lifetime of climbing possibilities here.

The Needles proper, as part of the large Weminuche Wilderness, lie between the Animas River to the west and Vallecito Creek to the east. In a general sense, the term Needle Mountains also encompasses the West Needle Mountains, west of the Animas River, and the Mount Oso group, to the east of Vallecito Creek.

Needle Mountains TOPONeedles TOPO
Pigeon PeakPigeon Peak as seen from Trinity Peak.

List of peaks - Needle Mountains
Mount Eolus14,083 feetNeedle Creek Accessfourteener
North Eolus14,039 feetNeedle Creek Accessnot recognized as a separate fourteener; it is a short scramble from the low point between Eolus and North Eolus
Glacier Point13,704 feetNeedle Creek Accessroute goes up its easy southeast ridge from lakes
Twin Thumbs13,420 feetNeedle Creek Accessthe north Thumb is harder, rope is needed for short sections
Peak Eleven13,540 feetNeedle Creek Accessclimb from the col between Twin Thumbs and Peak Eleven
Sunlight Peak14,059 feetNeedle Creek Accessfourteener
Sunlight Spire13,995 feetNeedle Creek Accesstechnical route rated 5.10 or easier if aided
Windom Peak14,082 feetNeedle Creek Accessfourteener
Jupiter Mountain13,830 feetNeedle Creek Accessseveral non-technical routes, or a very difficult Windom-Juniper ridge
Aztec Mountain13,310 feetNeedle Creek Accesscan be climbed from Columbine Pass
Heisspitz13,262 feetNoname Creek Access4th class scramble in a gully
Peak Four13,410 feetNoname Creek Accessagain 4th class scramble in a prominent gully
Peak Five and Peak Six13,283 ft and 13,705 ftNoname Creek Accessboth go from the 12,900 foot pass between them
Jagged Mountain13,824 feetNoname Creek Accessis one of the more difficult and certainly one of the most rewarding climbs in the Needles
Gray Needle and Noname Needle13,430 ft and 13,620 ftNoname Creek Accessinteresting technical climbs
Leviathan Peak13,528 feetNoname Creek Accessclimbed by its southwest ridge, 3rd class scramble
Vallecito Mountain13,428 feetNoname Creek Access3rd class scramble
Knife Point and Peak Ten13,265 ft and 13,400 ftNoname Creek Accessare climbed from the col between them
Peak Twelve13,120 feetNoname Creek Accessthe route not very technical from pass south of the great wall of Monitor Peak
Monitor Peak13,695 feetboth Noname Creek and Ruby Creek Accesshigh east face has some of the longest rock climbs in San Juans
The Index13,400 feetRuby Creek Accesstechnical peak, route rated 5.7
Animas Mountain13,786 feetRuby Creek Accessboth technical and nontechnical routes
Peak Thirteen13,705 feetRuby Creek Accessboth technical and scramble routes
Little Finger, Peak Sixteen, and Peak Fifteen13,200, 13,500, and 13,700 ftRuby Creek Accessall these peaks are technical and hard to get to
Pigeon Peak13,972 feetRuby Creek Accesssemi-technical route, rope may be needed
Turret Peak13,835 feetRuby Creek Accesshike up the talus from Pigeon-Turret saddle
Hope Mountain13,012 feetVallecito Creek Accesscan be approached on an old road that crosses north of it going east to Hazel Lake
Grizzly Peak13,700 feetVallecito Creek Accessthere are several Grizzly Peaks in Colorado, climb obvious ramp from Jupiter-Grizzly saddle
13,554 feetVallecito Creek Accessusually done via ridge from Grizzly to McCauley
Echo Mountain13,309 feetVallecito Creek Accesssteep southwest slopes to the ridge west of the summit
Thunder Mountain13,108 feetVallecito Creek Accesshas a 0.5 mile long, sheer cliff face that stops any attempts from the basin, better to climb from by its southeast ridge
Greylock Mountain13,575 feetVallecito Creek Accessis the only walk up in Grizzly Gulch Basin
Florida Mountain13,076 feetVallecito Creek Accesscan be climbed most of the way by an old road that traverses south out of Vallecito Basin to Trimble Pass 12,840
Bullion Mountain and Mount Valois13,182 ft and 13,185 ftVallecito Creek Access0.5 miles west of Trimble Pass, and Valois 0.5 miles southeast, are easy walk ups.
Emerson Mountain, Sheep Mountain, Amherst Mountain, Organ Mountainall thirteenersVallecito Creek Accessto visit these thirteeners follow the trail south from Trimble Pass three miles to Florida River (good camping)
Peak Seven13,682 feetVallecito Creek Accessis the northernmost peak of Needles Proper, it is climbed by angling over to its easy north ridge

What a list of peaks! What a project to climb them all!

How To Get There 

Crossing Animas River
Across Animas River from Purgatory Flats 
Durango Silverton Trail
Durango Silverton trail operates daily during summer season, and provides access to peaks in Chicago Basin, Needle mountains, and Grenadiers.
Purgatory Trailhead -
 a nice trail, starts close to Durango Mountain Ski area.  The trail starts at the Purgatory campground located on U.S. 550; 26 miles north of Durango or 24 miles south of Silverton. From the Purgatory campground, the trail steeply descends 1.5 miles through the wooded Purgatory Creek drainage to Purgatory Flats. Once in Purgatory Flats, the trail turns south and follows the Cascade Creek drainage for less than 3 miles down to the Animas River. (the trail never crosses Cascade Creek, I made that mistake on my first trip and tried to figure out a way across. There used to be an old bridge, which got washed away). The Purgatory trail is easy to follow, and you reach the Animas River at 7,700 feet, 3.7 miles from the TH. Cross the Animas river across a nice suspension pedestrian bridge, and then follow Animas River Trail for 5.1 miles to Needle Creek (turn off for Chicago basin) and another 0.9 miles to Needleton train station. Do not go east up Needle Creek Trail but continue 0.7 miles north on the Animas River Trail to the East end of the footbridge over the Animas River at Needleton. The trail is very scenic, you can see the  Durango Silverton train going by. This approach is long, can be done in 1 day with a climb by hardcore people:) I used it to get Duchess in that way since pets are not allowed on train. 
Round trip distance: about 30 miles. This would be the same approach as for Chicago Basin, except for Ruby Basin you have to walk further north. 

Needleton Trailhead via Ruby Creek or North Pigeon Creek - this is the stop of Durango Silverton train. You board your train in Durango. The train is rather expensive (I believe about 85$ per trip and they also charge 10$ per backpack), but very scenic, and you can drink beer en route. The Durango & Silverton Train operates from May 1 through October 30. During the peak summer season, four trains daily run on the line. Because of the numerous schedules, it is very important to make reservations in advance. 
Get off at Needleton and cross the suspension bridge to the Animas River's east side.
Round trip distance: 12 miles

Frequent sight
Frequent sight
Ruby Creek Trail start
: From the east end of the Needleton footbridge, walk 260 yards north on a wide trail past several private cabins to a rickety old gate and Pigeon Creek. Cross Pigeon Creek, pass a rusty rail car and walk 0.2 miles north on the continuing Animas River Trail to a long meadow at 8,260 feet. There are several idyllic campsites here, and Gerry Roach calls it in his Colorado 13ers guidebook "Camper's Meadow". Walk north as the meadow narrows and enter the meadow's 100 yard long northern lobe. Walk around the east end of a large tree that fell into the meadow and across the trail. Twenty feet north of the fallen tree, look through the trees on the meadow's east edge and find a strong trail that angles north up the steep slope east of the meadow. This trail, the Ruby Creek Trail, does not connect to the Animas River Trail, and finding is the the key! This trail is not that hard to find if you are looking for it. There is a cairn at the edge of the meadow to guide you. 

Leave the Animas River Trail and climb the initial steep slope on the Ruby Creek Trail. Hike 100 yards east through small trees to the southern edge of another idyllic meadow called "Upper Camper's Meadow". Look sharp and follow the faint trail as it takes a surprise turn to the south. Hike 100 yards south, then 150 yards east to the bottom of a steep slope that is the beginning of the Needle Mountains. The Ruby Creek Trail is faint here, and can be difficult to follow. When the trail angles north up the steep slope, the route finding becomes. 
Follow the Ruby Creek Trail 0.3 miles NE to a rounded ridge at 9,200 feet. Continue 0.2 miles east on the trail as it enters the North Pigeon Creek drainage and climbs to North Pigeon Creek at 9,500 feet. Cross to North Pigeon Creek's north side and here the trail splits: the obvious main trail angles NW across the slope. This is not the shortest approach. This trail is a variation, which would bring you to Ruby Creek and Ruby Basin. 
A lesser trail climbs steeply NE above the creek. Take this one. The drainage above this point is rough, and it is not recommended a direct ascend up the creek. 
From North Pigeon Creek, climb 0.15 miles NE on the brutally steep Ruby Creek trail and follow it up a tiny ridge to yet another faint trail junction at 9,800 feet. The Ruby Creek approach and the North Pigeon Creek approach diverge at this junction (the Ruby Creek trail will leave the tiny ridge and traverses NE). The junction is marked by an aspen tree with a columbine carved into it. 

The North Pigeon Creek approach leaves the Ruby Creek Trail at the 9,800 foot trail junction and continues up the tiny ridge. Climb 0.2 miles east up the tiny ridge, following a faint trail that fades to a cairned route that in turn fades into bushwhacking. At 10,200 feet, bushwhack 0.6 miles east-SE up and across steep slopes to 11,000 feet in the upper North Pigeon Creek drainage. The drainage gets easier here, and the worst part of the approach is over. Climb 0.5 miles east-SE through open trees in the drainage to the west end of a large flat meadow at 11,740 feet. Stroll 0.1 miles east-SE into the idyllic meadow - great spot for camping. Pigeon Peak rises dramatically 0.7 miles to the east. Turret is hidden. 


Pigeon from the Pigeon/Turret...
Pigeon from the Pigeon/Turret saddle
Northwest Basin: The standard route - Ruby Creek Approach - involves getting into the Ruby basin high on the northwest side. From the 11,600 foot camp by Ruby Creek. Climb 0.2 miles west to 12,000 feet, then hike up 0.5 miles southwest up a blocky but easy slope to the 13,100 foot Pigeon-Turret saddle. Cross the saddle and drop 0.3 miles west-southwest to the 12,780 foot saddle south of Pigeon. Cross this saddle, and descend 0.1 mile west down a steep rubble slope to 12,400 feet. Contour 0.2 mile northwest then 0.15 mile northeast under Pigeon's cliffs into the tiny basin between Pigeon's long northwest ridge and steep west ridge. 
From 12,400 feet in the tiny basin, climb 0.3 mile east up the basin's steep grass slopes to 13,500 feet (class 2). Dodge small cliffs en route. Continue 0.1 miles east up steeper, rubble gullies to the northeastern base of the summit pyramid at 13,700 feet (class 2+). Climb 30 feet south up a blocky weakness in the summit pyramid (class 3). Climb 15 feet up a steep, chimney like slot (class 4). This is the route's crux. Continue 80 feet south up the weakness, then climb 100 feet east to the highest point (class 3). Pigeon's summit is the northern of two points and is capped by a cracked block.

North Face: There is much more direct route that lies west of the first large gray rock ridge that runs from the north face of Pigeon. It climbs grassy ledges and continues up the northwest ridge. Under ideal conditions and excellent route finding it is not too difficult, but it is easy to get into technical trouble here, and a rope and protection ought to along for those anxious moments. To gain the route, contour west below the north face to climb the "grassy ledges" described by Ormes which lead to the northwest ridge. The north face route is by no means the walk up that some have characterized it to be. The right route is hard to find and in bad weather can be difficult. It is also possible to take a more direct route on the north face by several technical variations on the east side of the north face, which are about 5.5 in difficulty and hard to protect. About the only way to protect the eastern routes are with knife blade and angle pitons. The rock is too crumbly to trust other protection.

East Face: 10 pitch route (five involving 5.9 climbing) was noted in the January/February 1978 issue of Climbing. The route follows a prominent dihedral crack system on the right (north) side of the face. One pendulum was used to switch cracks, but otherwise the route was all free. The rock is reported to have been extremely rotten.

Southeast Chimney: The common descent off Pigeon, particularly if the next objective is Turret (Colorado rank # 89), is the southeast chimney. To find it from the top, use a couloir which descends south from west of the summit and splits about 400 feet down, then rap the chimney to the saddle. Two double rope rappels are required. The first from a chockstone 30 feet below the start (many old slings around it - examine condition of the slings), the second 120 feet long, from hardware, 80 feet lower. The second rappel is 120 feet long. The ledge at the start of 2nd rappel holds comfortably only 2 people. And you can't see the rappel anchors from the top of the first rappel. This grungy chimney would not be a good ascent  route. 

External Links


Click for Silverton, Colorado Forecast

Additions and Corrections

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Brian KaletNeedle Mountains Links

Brian Kalet

Hasn't voted

Looks like there are SP pages for Leviathan Peak, Peak Fifteen & Knife Point in case you want to add links to your Needle Mountains list...
Posted Dec 11, 2013 3:05 pm
Liba KopeckovaRe: Needle Mountains Links

Liba Kopeckova

Voted 10/10

Added. Thanks.
Posted Dec 11, 2013 9:37 pm
Brian KaletRe: Needle Mountains Links

Brian Kalet

Hasn't voted

Looks like you misspelled Leviathan as Levithian...
Posted Dec 12, 2013 12:21 pm

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