Highway to Hell WI4

Page Type: Route
Lat/Lon: 37.88811°N / 107.55748°W
Route Type: Ice Climbing
Season: Winter
Time Required: Most of a day
Difficulty: WI4
Number of Pitches: 5


Highway to Hell WI4
Highway to Hell WI4
Stairway to Heaven and Highway to Hell
Stairway to Heaven and Highway to Hell as seen from the road
Across the valley
Stairway to Heaven and Highway to Hell as seen from the top of Fist Gully Ice climb

Highway to Hell, AKA Highway 66
 is a solid fat ice climb located in Eureka, just past the historic town of Silverton. The climb is located on the western flanks of Peak 13,419 (sub peak of Niagara Peak), and northeast of the formerly Outward Bound Hotel - now Eureka Lodge. The climb is several pitches long. We climbed 5 pitches. The lower ice steps were easy with short sections of WI2-3 and some snow slog in between. I am assuming when snow is high this lower sections may be covered by snow. We climbed during the dry season of January 2018, the area was clear of snow and clear of any avalanche danger. The upper 2 pitches are fine long and sustained WI4 climbs. 

The climb is located to the right (south) of classic Stairway to Heaven ice climb, and the approach is the same, you just continue past Stairway until you reach the base of Highway to Hell. The climb is visible higher up from the road. It is closer to parking than Stairway to Heaven, but not as obvious since it is oriented more towards the north. If you hike up the road higher up then you get a great view of both climbs: Stairway to Heaven and Highway to Hell (see photos on the right). 
Jack Roberts in his Colorado Ice provides only a very brief description: 2 lines only. He also uses the name Highway 66. I chose Highway to Hell because this is how I was introduced to it by other climbers and this is the name used on Mountain Project. I think if the approach would be easier this one would be a classic climb. 
Citation from Colorado Ice"Normally this is a solid, fat climb that is at least three pitches long, although in lean years it can be discontinuous flow. Generally fun and rumbling."
Plan an early start. It is possible that there will be other parties on this climb, especially if one climbs over the weekend.

Elevation in Eureka: 9,862 feet (=3,006 meters)

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.

There is high avalanche hazard on this climb, so always check snow condition prior venturing on this climb. 

Northern San Juan Avalanche Forecast
Climber's Hut - if you need to spent a night, there is a climber's hut in Eureka - very simple hut, one room with beds (no mattress), table and chairs. There is a stove and wood to make fire. I think there is a jar where you can (and should) leave money for lodging. 

Getting There

Sunrise, Eureka
Sunrise, Eureka
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. Drive past Howardville through a valley, past Minnie Gulch, 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. Highway to Hell is just to the right to it but not visible since it is oriented to the north.  
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. There is usually a trail to the start of Stairway, you may have to break the trail from here to the Highway to Hell. I recommend this option for the approach. 
The 2nd option is more difficult, you have to cross the frozen creek below the Eureka Lodge, 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. I recommend this option for the descent, it is much steeper than the previous one. 

Route Description

Highway to Hell is the obvious ice fall located about 200 meters to the right of Stairway to Heaven. Mountain Project describes that the climb is a little steeper than Stairway, but I do not agree, at least conditions in January of 2018 were easier. It really has only 2 pitches of WI4 climbing, the 4th pitch was full 50 meters of WI4 without breaks. There are no fixed anchors on this climb unless you find v-threads left by other parties, which is common on this climb. We had to build only one v-thread and used the old ones. 

Approach: I recommend to use the approach for Stairway and traverse below the Stairway to Heaven to the beginning of the climb. You are above trees and route finding is obvious. There will be most likely a climbers trail for the approach. Hike up the gully until the beginning of ice.

Pitch 1 and 2: easy rolling ice, mostly WI2 with some steps of WI3. I am suspecting that pitch 1 is usually covered with a deep layer of snow. We had very dry start of 2018 year and there was almost no snow at all, exposing lower angled ice. 

Pitch 3: Another easy rolling ice with a snow slog to the base of pitch 4 - place where the steep climbing starts and the ice splits into 2 ice falls: Road to Nowhere to the left and Highway to Hell to the right. Road to Nowhere is less steep and as the name suggest, it has a dead end. 

Pitch 4: Lovely long pitch of 50 meters sustained climbing at WI4 difficulty. My favorite part. There is a short snow slog above leading to more open area and another pitch of WI4 climbing. 

Pitch 5: shorter, starts easy and steepens higher up. WI4. 

Descent: Rappel with 2 60 meter ropes using v-threads and one tree (below 5th pitch). We were lucky to find v-threds set up, I had to created only one because the previous party v-threds was engulfed in ice. 

Return to parking: We descended the gully below Highway to Hell to the start of the cliffs (do not drop all the way to the gorge). We traversed above the cliffs and crossed Animas River below Eureka Lodge and gained the road. This option is shorter, but steeper rather than traversing back along the Stairway to Heaven. 

Highway to Hell
Highway to Hell

Highway to Hell WI4
Highway to Hell WI4

Highway to Hell
Highway to Hell

Highway to Hell WI4
Highway to Hell WI4

Highway to Hell and Road to Nowhere
Highway to Hell and Road to Nowhere

Highway to Hell
Highway to Hell

Essential Gear

  • Personal climbing gear: boots, crampons, harness, helmet, ice tools, belay device
  • 2 sixty meter ropes
  • Rack of ice screws and slings
  • Material to set up v-threads for descent
  • Trekking poles for the approach
  • Hot beverage
  • Extra gloves, ? hand warmers

External Links