The Adams Family 13er Traverse

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Trip Report
Colorado, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Jul 7, 2007
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The Adams Family 13er Traverse
Created On: Jul 9, 2007
Last Edited On: Jul 9, 2007


Pt 13541- CO Rank 223
Pt 13517- (soft ranked)
Pt 13580- CO Rank 201
Mt Adams (13931)- CO Rank 66

11.7 miles RT, 6070' gain
via Willow Lake Basin


It was high time to visit the Sangres since I hadn't been out there since Sept. My friends Jim & Karen Ohl were looking to climb Kit Carson & Challenger, so I joined them on the backpack to Willow Lake. I was able to get my pack weight down to 33 pounds, so maybe I am learning a few things about the dreaded backpack. We got a late start Friday evening at 8pm, so most of the hike to the lake would be in the dark. The stream crossings were much trickier than my visit in 8/05. I felt more comfortable on one going to all fours. There were some downed trees to deal with, but nothing too annoying. We arrived at 10:55 and setup our tents about 500 ft n.w. of Willow Lake.

Adams Traverse

We awoke at 4:10am in hopes that our friend Tony Strayer would join us before we started as he started from the trailhead at 2am. Lo and behold, he showed up a couple minutes before we gave up. We set out at 5:15am, navigating the trail through the willows above the lake.

I parted ways with Jim, Karen, and Tony where the 14er route begins heading up the loose n.e. slopes of Challenger. We would keep in radio contact throughout the day.

Columbia Pt & Kit CarsonColumbia Pt and Kit Carson were my companions on the day.

I setoff up the basin looking for the easiest way to gain the ridge to the first 13er, Pt 13541. Cliffs guarded its lower slopes, so I trended n.e. on loose talus and grassy slopes to an obvious notch. When I cleared the cliffs to my left around 12800' , I did an ascending traverse to my left on mostly class 2+ terrain and popped out on the ridge just 50 ft from the summit, topping out at 7:37. Oh the advantages of having a GPS!

Pt 13541 & The CrestonesThe airy summit of Pt 13541.

13541 is an airy ridge point with some pretty serious exposure on both sides. Time was precious on this day, so I hung around long enough to radio Jim and eat some gummy worms. The next goal on the ridge was 13517, a soft ranked 13er which misses being ranked by 3 ft. After dropping down the narrow n.w. ridge of 13541, it mellows out to an easy class 2 tundra walk. The climb up 13517 went quick, and I topped out at 8:03.

I knew the rest of the traverse to Adams would have some tricks up its sleeve based on a TR & pics from Jeff Valliere and John Prater. I was prepared for 4th class with some route finding. It didn't take long until I cliffed out on the ridge, so I dropped off the south side and regained it when it was feasible. I was then greeted with some impressive towers. It looked like I could split a couple on the north side and see what was on the other side, but dropping down again looked like the best bet.

I had to drop down 300 ft on the south side and hope the terrain would allow me to get around the towers. It finally did after some tedious 4th class downclimbing and I was able to regain the ridge just 300 ft below the summit of 13580. The worst was over, but I wasted a lot of time route-finding.

Ridge traverse to Mt AdamsLooking back at the complicated ridge between 13517 & 13580.

On the summit of 13580, I was able to contact Kevin Donavan, who I found out earlier in the week was going to climb Adams n.e. ridge. We would try to meet on the summit.

Some time near 13580 a helicopter buzzed overhead and banked right over Crestone Needle. I wonder if it was related to the death on the Crestones.
The rest of the way up 13580 mellowed out, and I topped out at 9:54. Adams was now only 1/2 mile away, but its steep south face stood in the way.

The descent off 13580 held no surprises, but I was now beginning to tire. I stayed slightly below the ridge crest on Adams to avoid some potentially nasty, exposed climbing. I ended up in a rib that required some 4th class to get out of unless I climbed back to the ridge crest.

Adams summit blockThe summit block of Adams looms.

After this it was steep, ledgy class 2 to the obvious ledge route that traverses across the east face. The summit block would be 5th class on the south side, thus the reason to traverse. The ledges were wider than they looked from a distance.

Ledges on Adams east faceLedge traverse across the east face of Adams.

When I wrapped around the corner there was Kevin! We finished the climb together up class 3 ledges, topping out at 11:28.
Adams is truly an amazing perch. The views of the 14ers across the basin are breathtaking.

Sangre 14er Majesty14er eye candy from the summit of Adams.

Only 14 people had signed the register this year. Adams is overlooked, but it is a special place. We stayed for a little over an hour on Adams as we chatted with a couple who came up the standard route. I had grand plans of tagging the other two ranked 13ers nearby, but another 1300' vertical didn't agree with my body today. Clouds were rolling in too, but it did not storm until much later.

I headed down the standard of Adams, staying below the s.w. ridge. There were patches of a trail, but it was broken. The descent to the basin was steep, but mostly on grassy terrain. I didn't read much about this route and ended up on the wrong side of the stream above Willow Lake that isn't on the map. I ended up having to cross it before it turned into a waterfall in 7 ft willows, not a pleasant experience indeed. I found a trail that led me down to the main trail and camp, arriving at 2pm. Jim, Karen, and Tony arrived around 3:30 I think, and were beat as I expected. They understood why my wife was turned off to the 14ers by Challenger's loose route!

The Epic Hail Storm

was up for packing out in favor of a nice meal and a bed, but nobody was interested initially. Jim gave in and we packed up. Just as we tore down the tents, thunder was heard. A little shower would feel good on the descent, right? Wrong. I left camp last at 5:15 and 5 minutes later it began to hail. I just left my shorts on thinking the hail would subside soon. Wrong. My hands began to get cold as the hail was pounding us, stinging head and hands.

The trail turned into a rushing torrent in spots around the headwall and the water went over our boots as it pooled up, rendering GoreTex useless. The hail accumulated at a rapid rate. This was by far the most violent hail storm I have been in, and it last at least 30 minutes! The lightning luckily never got real close while descending the headwall below the lake. The surge of water also made the stream crossings even more problematic. One required a leap onto a wet boulder over a 4 ft torrent. The storm finally relented, but it rained on us most of the way down. I felt bad for suggesting heading home as we could have been in our cozy tents! We got back to the trailhead around 7:30. I guess it was time to pay our dues with the weather!


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