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Ah, Memorial Day Weekend! Let’s get away and do something. Yeah, the San Juans sound like just the ticket.
After the long drive from the Front Range, Jamie and I are just settling in for the night at the Uncompahgre National Forest Boundary on the Silver Pick Road when Mike pulls up. We catch up a bit and chat about tomorrow’s plan before retiring to bed around 12:15am.
Jamie’s banging on the truck windows jolts me from my slumber at 4am and we clumsy begin to prepare for the day’s adventure. Mike stumbles from his Xterra and we’re off at 5am.
Last night’s decision not to drive further up the road looks ingenius as the snowdrifts begin to lengthen and increase in volume. The amount of runoff is disturbing for this early in the morning, hopefully this isn’t a sign of what lies in our future!
As we hike along the road, the drifts disappear as quickly as they appeared. Dry road is abundant and it’s here the sun begins to appear over the Sneffels Range and majesty of the area we’re entering is slowly revealed. The Western Sneffels Range looms behind us, Dolores and Middle Peaks looming in front of us and Point 13,540 awaiting our arrival further up the road. I love the Wilsons; it’s great to be back!
When we reach the locked gate, the dry road once again becomes a figment on our imaginations. A few miserable minutes of postholing later, we strap into our snowshoes and plod onwards. Fortunately, this chore ended at ~10,900 feet when we reached the second(open) gate and treeline.
For the next few moments, we continued down the road before Mike convinced us that we should follow the “legal” route which paralleled the road while traveling a few hundred feet above it. Alright, why not? And up we go.
The going was steep and calves were burning yet it wasn’t too long. After some bushwhacking and traversing of some loose, scree slopes, we reached a climber’s trail. We begun to follow across the snow and scree and we headed up the basin. Looking back, I noticed that Jamie seemed to be moving as awkwardly as my steps felt. After waiting up for her, we decided to descend the 100 feet back to the road and resume progression from there. Mike decided to stay high as we began to return to the road.
Two skiers whizzed by us as we started hiking on the road. As we reached the next bend, the road swung wide to the west(right) and they started climbing the slope. Mike noticed this and quickly made his way over the icefalls towards a large group of boulders at the top of the slope we were climbing. Great, he’s lightning fast and resting while we struggle through a maze of postholes and slick spots up this slope!
Moving forward, the route mellowed and became a game of gain hundred or so feet while avoiding the local steep hill. It didn’t make for the most direct path but we couldn’t have moved any faster climbing up and down the steep stuff.
As we rounded the corner into Silver Pick Basin proper, Wilson Peak decided it was time to make its grand entrance for the day. Wow! It’s not as impressive as the view from the airport road but you’re not going to be disappointed.
Slowly we creeped forward while deciding which route would be best to take.
When we reached the split between the Northwest Face and the Rock of the Ages Saddle(can you sing this one for us, Mike?), our minds were set on the Face. From here, we had no choice but to begin ascending the steep terrain into the basin below the Northwest Face.
Up we went….slowly. It seemed like we weren’t making progress whatsoever yet we steadily inched closer to the area at the base of the face. Around this time, sunlight slowly crept its way across the face. Thankful to be up that slope, we threw our packs and settled in for a nice break before grabbing our ice axes and strapping on crampons for the climb.
Mike, our resident speed demon(sorry Kiefer!) blazed his way up the slope as we gladly followed in the lovely steps he’d kicked for us. As we climbed higher, the upper reaches of Wilson Peak began to reveal its secrets and pull us closer to our intended gully. Everytime I looked down, our cached snowshoes looked more and more like tiny, irrelevant specks laid out on the bright, white landscape.
Jamie and Mike were there to greet me at the top of the face. Upon catching our breath, they began to lead us into the previously mentioned gully. Here the snow was fairly soft and the angle was relatively tame.
That changed as we rounded the corner. The snow started to harden and gully began to really climb skyward. Once again, we formed a line and followed Mike’s steps skyward. As we got closer to a dead end in the gully, he informed us that the exit to the ridge wasn’t the most pleasant experience he’d ever had. We decided it would be better to traverse under the large boulder and follow the left finger of the gully higher up.
After we traversed to the gully, Jamie began to tire so took over the kick stepping chore. The gully got very steep(50+ degrees) for a short section
yet that was a blessing in disguise as I looked up and saw Mike standing at the crest in front of us. He informed me that the summit was only several dozen feet away. Jamie followed me up to the crest and as we looked to our lefts, there it was; the summit!
Wow, none of us expected the summit to be socked in with snow. All the snow made it feel like we were standing on the summit of a high peak in the Andes!
Looking around, we attempted to soak in as much of the view of the snow-covered San Juans as we could. It seemed like you could see everything! We could see Wham Ridge and Pigeon amongst the Needles/Grenadiers along with great views of the Sneffels Range combined a distant vantage point of Half Peak and the Rio Grande Pyramid. Even amid this view, we found time to screw around as I pitched batting practice to Jamie and Mike decided he “needed two balls”(cough, cough) for his attempt of snow billiards.
Alas, we’d been up here long enough and started descending the gully. Face-in downclimbing wasn’t too horrible once we got our rhythms. There were a few sections where rocks and/or ice made for a hairy moment or two, but we focused on our tasks and arrived at the top of the face relatively soon.
Now, the fun stuff, glissading! Mike, Jamie, then me….going third should be nice. Wrong! Upon reaching our cache, I was completely whitewashed and had snow virtually covering my entire torso.
Now we just wanted to get back to the vehicles so we snatched up the shoes, threw them on our packs and began glissading every reasonable slope in order to return to the road as quickly as possible. Not everything worked perfectly and there was minimal postholing yet we had glissaded almost 2000’ vertical upon flying down a last, steep glissade before dumping ourselves out on the road.
From here, the road hike out was a pain and some short stretches of postholing ensued, but nothing too bad. Every change, from treeline to major trees hanging over the road excited us until we were able to see the trucks marking the end of our day!
Memorial Day Weekend, the San Juans….consider the ticket punched!
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