The Accidental Battle On San Juan Hill

The Accidental Battle On San Juan Hill

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jan 23, 2010

Gear Needed

Crossing creek near San Juan Hill...

Gear Needed:

Ice Axe
Traction Devices
GPS and Maps
Lots on Concentration

The Trip Report


There are some days out there hiking when the conditions and the terrain just test you to the maximum and you have to fight it out mentally through the trip in order to be successful. Today was one such test that really tested my capacity to deal with all the changing conditions.

Our trip participants were Gimpilator, Redwic, FTZE and of course me EastKing. Our goal to was to get two new mountains in the Wild Sky Wilderness. For Redwic this was the first hike in two months due to both him and his wife having their first baby (congratulations Redwic). For FTZE this trip is another trainer for his goal up much larger mountains in the future (Everest by 2013). For Gimpilator and I, it was a chance to bag another two peaks that don’t get much attention by most of the hiking world.

The Beginning

We started out at 9:00 a.m. pumped and ready to bag two new summits. We made great time heading up the first forest road (FR-6560) up to the cutoff to the second forest road. Everything here was going pretty good on the first forest road and the second forest road (FR-6564) which was decommissioned a while ago was a little rough but we were making good time on that as well. All us of were pumped on trying to make these two summits and it looked real good early. The weather was even cooperating early on with breaks in the clouds and occasional sun flashes.

Forest Road 6560

The Obstacle and a New Route Change

All was going well until we hit a 75-foot washout on the decommissioned road (FR-6564). The result of this washout was a very steep slope of mixed snow and mud on both sides and a hazardous crossing that in dry condition would need extreme care in crossing. To us this washout was much too hazardous to try to cross and looked more like an injury trap. At this point the wind had left our sails and we knew this trip was going to be much tougher than we first anticipated! I for one was disheartened at this and for next two hours of this journey was struggling to find my motivation to continue here.

The Best View Of The Day

While Gimpilator was checking a possible place to cross Redwic was looking for an alternative route up the mountain. After a lengthy discussion and long comparison of GPS’s of how to proceed, it was agreed upon to head up the slope from the road in a clear-cut about 50 feet above the road. In order to get to the clear-cut we decided to go up this steep mud/ice slope (not nearly as hazardous as the washout). Once in the clear-cut the trip up was smoother and our momentum was getting stronger again. The mixed snow in mud began to convert over to full firm spring-like snow and we penetrating through the clear-cut. We stayed in this clear-cut all the way to another service road above.

San Juan Hill - SE Approach

Once on the other decommissioned service road above we decided to take it all the way to end and then analyze the GPS’s in order to find out where to proceed from here. In was agreed upon at that point to aim for the saddle, which we could see in and out of the clouds.

Ascending Along Creek Tributary

We decided to side traverse a slope all the way to a stream crossing, the same stream that caused the washout early on the in the hike. There were time here that we were walking on top of solid ice and thankfully I remember my microspikes for this section. Once Gimpilator, FTZE and I hit the stream we decided to cross it. Redwic though did not realize we crossed it and decided to head up the nice slope along the side of the stream. It took a while for us realize that Redwic was not behind us but luckily Redwic was close enough to be yelled at in the distance (and we had walkie-talkies just in case). It was apparent that once we saw the route Redwic, which was much safer and better, we knew we had to head back over towards him. Unfortunately we were going to have to hazards stream crossing again. This stream crossing required us to get our axes out and side traverse another icy section and then cross the stream to meet up with Redwic.

Reality Check: A Change in Plans

San Juan Hill - SE ApproachWe have to cross that??

It was almost noon at this point and we well behind schedule. Getting one of those summits looked rather bleak and none of us wanted to headlamp out bushwhacking down in hazardous conditions. We had to make a smart decision of what to do here. Then we noticed on the map that we were closest to San Juan Hill. Gimpilator, Redwic, and I had already summited this mountain but FTZE had not and it would at least give us a reason to press on. After further discussion it was agreed to that we were going to try for San Juan Hill.

Ascending SE Approach...

There was new life in the trip and now new energy in the trip. We decided to go up a couple of slope to attain the ridge in order to get to San Juan Hill. This was not easy though because the slopes were steep and we still had 1400 feet more to attain the ridge. We were lucky though in one way, there was little in the way of avalanche danger here. Going up the steep slope was quiet tough though. While Gimpilator glided up the snowy slopes, the rest of us found ourselves postholing up the 35-40 snow slopes, which was clear zapping all of our energy. But we struggled through this section where we kept rising until we hit a couple roads. At this section we put on our snowshoes and started on the first road until it ended. Then we headed up the slope to the second road where we took the second road (FR-6574) to the foot of the last slope to the south ridge of San Juan Hill.

FZTE and Gimpilator on FR-6570

Heading north to San Juan Hill summit...

At this point my spirit was finally coming back and I found some new energy behind me. Unfortunately Redwic was getting tired here had a minor pull in his calf muscle. We checked out Redwic, who felt strong enough to continue and we pressed on. At this point it started to snow. Ironically it was the first snow any of us had seen falling from the sky in a while (strange it doesn’t feel like January). We headed up the last slope where we attained the ridge and then traversed the ridge to the summit. The very last leg of this trip featured nice fresh powder, which I personally prefer a lot.

Finally We Won The Long Battle To San Juan Hill

FTZE on the summit

After a long five and half hour ordeal we finally made it to the summit of San Juan Hill. It wasn’t the summits we wanted but it was at least something for our efforts. For FTZE this was a brand new summit and another step to his ultimate goal. For the rest of us it was a consolation prize for our hard work. Though there were no views here except of the falling snow and of the tall trees we felt a strong sense of victory here. Our happiness though was short lived because sunlight at this time of year is at a minimum and we had to be on the move down the mountain. It was 2:30 pm and no one had much desire in head-lamping out.

Back At San Juan

Time to Get Down

EastKing Glissades!!!

After spending maybe a couple minutes on the summit we decided to head down the mountain. We decided to head down a steep slope to the first forest road below. This section was quiet hazardous descending a steep wooded slope on snowshoes. Though we descended this slope carefully we made good time this very steep and wooded slope. Once onto the road we decided to look for another slope to descend. This was because the snow was holding well and we knew the worst that was going to happen to us was that we were going to posthole. We started to realize by doing this we could possibly avoid needing to use headlamps in order to get back to the car. The slope in the next round of cuts was moderate but the snow held perfectly for this kind of descent and we made good time heading down many of these slope. As expected the lower we went the less the snow was falling and less fog we encountered.

Finally we hit one of the bottom roads. We knew in good shape once we check our watches and realized it was 4:15 pm and we 700-feet from the car. The last leg of the journey was tougher than the other slope only because we hit snowline in which the snow became mixed with mud and then dirt and slippery routes. Our last obstacle was a steep washout down to the road in which we stayed above the road until we found a fairly safe way onto the road. Once onto the road we were home free!!!!!!!


What was a 5½-hour ordeal up became a 2¼-hour fun trip down. Most importantly we made it back safely and before nightfall. Though all of us were armed with one and two headlamps apiece, none of us had to use them. I want to give a special thanks to Redwic for navigating the route down San Juan Hill. He did a good job in getting us down the mountain fairly rapidly. I also congratulate FTZE on his summit trip and thank Gimpilator on his guidance on many of the upper slopes of this trip. It was because of all of you that this trip ended up as the success that it. Thanks again for a wonderful trip up in the mountains.


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