South Ridge

Page Type
Colorado, United States, North America
Route Type:
Time Required:
A long day
Class 3

Route Quality: 2 Votes

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South Ridge
Created On: Oct 10, 2004
Last Edited On: Nov 4, 2005


RT Distance: 6 miles
Elevation Gain: 3200'
(distance and gain calculated from a camp at 11,400' in Vestal Creek)

This approach is detailed from a camp in Vestal Creek. For information about backpacking into Vestal Creek, please refer to the 'Getting There' section on the main page. Even though this route is statistically short, don't be fooled. The approach is very time-consuming, and you'll need much of a day to complete the climb, even from a high camp in Vestal Creek.

Hike down the Vestal Creek trail until it begins the steeper 200' dropoff to the small meadow at 11,000'. Though you can take the trail all the way to the meadow, a bushwhack is a sensible alternative. To do this efficiently, leave the Vestal Creek trail before it begins the steep drop. The key is to locate a good crossing of the creek, which might be difficult. Once you've crossed, you'll find generally open forest all the way to the slopes on the north end of drainage. Climb these slopes southwest toward the north-facing couloir between Arrow and Electric Peaks. If you've come from the meadow below, just ascend talus to the couloir that's plainly visible from the trail. Climb this couloir, which can require an ice axe even late into the summer. Once you've reached the upper basin, rest for a moment under Graystone Peak's north face before resuming the trek north. Hop over large boulders to the small Graystone/Electric saddle at 12,260'.

From here, the approach gets trickier. To keep the difficulty at class three, you have to navigate steep slabs on Graystone Peak's north slopes, circling around to a small saddle at the base of Graystone's northwest ridge. Choose the best line while making an ascending traverse to this saddle. Earlier in the summer, these slopes may be completely covered in snow, and they can be slippery when otherwise wet. Next, descend a small step and then reascend to another small saddle west of Graystone. Finally, your first view of Mount Garfield and Garfield Lake! Round the corner and stay to the right on the high ground and then descend easy slopes striped with bands of rock to the north end of Garfield Lake.

Route Description

From Garfield Lake's north end, hike south along the lake's western edge about a third of the length of the lake where the shoreline becomes less practical. Your objective is Garfield's 12,700' saddle with Point Pun. You'll find that the slopes leading to the ridge crest are a lot less steep than you might have thought when you first laid eyes on them. Choose a path up steep grassy slopes and weave through cliff bands to reach the ridge. Check out that drop-off to the west!

Now you begin the exhilarating third-class south ridge. You'll stay on or near the ridge crest much of the way, dealing with a couple of obstacles by dropping on the ridge's east side. One section requires a short climb up a gully with a few trees in the way. After a series of false summits, you've arrived at your goal! If you hang out long enough, you'll probably hear the whistle of the DSNGRR's steam engine chugging along next to the Animas River thousands of feet below. Return to camp via your ascent route.

Essential Gear

An ice axe and crampons are imperative for an early summer climb (generally speaking this would be before July). Snow lingered in the initial couloir for our party in early July, and it was unavoidable. We would have appreciated crampons, but we made do without them. Because this couloir is north-facing, an axe may be prudent year-round.