Stairway to Heaven WI4

Page Type Page Type: Route
Additional Information Route Type: Ice Climbing
Seasons Season: Winter
Additional Information Time Required: Most of a day
Additional Information Difficulty: WI4
Additional Information Number of Pitches: 4
Sign the Climber's Log


Stairway to Heaven   
This climb is one of the most popular ice climbs near the ghost town of Eureka 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

Getting There

Silverton silverton
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. 
Stairway to Heaven Nice view of Stairway to Heaven from the snow covered road.
Stairway to Heaven Overview of Stairway to Heaven 

Route Description

Ice forms wonders each year and after climbing this one 4x, I experienced each time a little bit different route. It is rated as WI4, but pitch 3 can be more difficult and steep up WI4/5 some years. Also on pitch 2 there may be steeper short sections. There is more climbing above Pitch 5 - easier flows with some snow walking in between. I have done the extra Pitch 6 only once.  Remember the climb is popular and can get crowded. I have seen as many as 3-4 parties on it. 
Pitch 1: Climbs steep WI3, and is about 150 feet long. The ice is typically fat. Belay at the last bulge before it flattens out. There is mid section short easier terrain. 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. (I have done it in conditions literally getting showered by a stream of water!). Pitch 4: Easy WI3. Fat ice takes one to where it just begins to flatten out on a snowy bench. 
Pitch 5: Good though not difficult climbing awaits above. The final stretch is WI3, 165 feet. Climb up snowy bulges to the next large bulge of ice.  You can finish here and walk off left, or rappel the route. The walk off is a little bit exposed and some parties choose a short rappel to drop into the descent gully. I was always able to walk off without rappelling. Walk off is a good option if there are other parties below you, or if you have only 1 rope.
Some images from the climb
Stairway to Heaven, 1st pitch1st pitch
Anchor - Stairway to Heaven1st anchor and overview of 2nd pitch
Traverse on the 2nd pitchScenery from 2nd pitch
Tree anchorTree anchor at the top of 2nd pitch
Pitch 3 - Stairway to Heaven3rd pitch
3rd pitch detailDetail of 3rd pitch
4th pitch, Stairway to Heaven4th pitch
4th pitch, Stairway to Heaven4th pitch looking down
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.

Essential Gear

Descent from Stairway to Heaven  
V thread detail V-thread or Abalakov
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).

External Links

Stairway to Heaven on Mountain Project


Find more about Weather in Silverton, COClick for weather forecast



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