Too Cheap to take the Train – 6-23-12

Too Cheap to take the Train – 6-23-12

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jun 23, 2012
Activities Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Trad Climbing, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Summer


20.5 miles and 8800’ including the pack in / out
Day 1: Backpacked from Molas Pass (10,620’) down to the Elk Park stop on the Silverton / Durango NGRR to the Elk Creek trail up to ~11,400’ in Vestal Basin – 8.5 miles (approx) and ~3000’
Day 2: Wham Ridge (5.4) to Vestal Peak (13,864’), Vestal’s A-hole descent and Arrow Peak (13,803’) from camp ~3.5 Miles, 4,100'
Day 3: Pack out down the Elk Creek trail and up Molas Pass – 8.5 miles and ~1700’
Crew: Sarah and Prakash


I was looking for a low key alpine route to start the rock climbing season. I also wanted to fully use a Friday off by getting down to the San Juan. A short search led to a classic target in the Grenadier. Sarah decided to join me on this one and I decided to bring up a rope for some trad practice. It’s always good to bring the trad gear out for a walk periodically. The fresh air is good for them. Many thanks to Ben Conners and Kevin Baker for the accurate route info... My appreciation doubles for Ben’s genius naming the 3rd class exit out the backside of Vestal – Vestal’s Asshole. This afforded us a few grins. I first spent a confused hour or so tooling around mountain project finding beta recommending anywhere between 2 – 6 full rope lengths to get up Wham. I then e-mailed Ben who gave me what I felt was the most accurate beta possible for our group’s comfort level and climbing preferences. We saw a 30% chance of thunderstorms forecast for the area for Saturday and Sunday but decided to go check it out directly.

The Pack In

We reached the Molas pass campground at about 2PM after driving through most of the morning.

W001The Pack

Loaded for bear with packs in excess of 65lbs consisting rope, rack, kitchen sink, defibrillator and other comical, heavy backcountry essentials we headed down the 38 or so switchbacks from Molas to the silty Animas River. This Molas grunt while unintelligible to some saved us ~$85 each on the DSNGRR, or 17 standard foot-long subs… or what it takes to feed those that exit this grunt. We were soon down at the footbridge across the Animas and began heading up the Elk Creek trail. On this trail we met up with Matt Lemke and his friend on a 12-day Weiminuche tour and signed in at the register. The elk creek trail is steady up hill to the beaver ponds where there are some great camping spots. I think it’s a legitimate option to camp at the Beaver Ponds if you’d like to save up some leg juice for a Vestal / Arrow attempt with a lighter pack.

W008View from the Beaver Ponds

The Elk Creek crossing is pretty tame right now with the stifled spring runoff. A solid log bridge can be easily found and crossed with decent balance. The rest of the trail steepens with some deadfall (not too bad IMO).

W011Vestal Creek Trail

We got up to a meadow at the base of the headwall that leads to the peaks. We camped in the first clump of trees at the East end of the meadow. Matt and his friend set up camp in the meadow. We hit the hay at around 10PM with plans for an early start to beat the 30% thunderstorm forecast.

The Climb up Vestal

At a little after 5AM we set up the headwall. We were at the base of Vestal in a half hour and since Sarah hadn’t much experience with trad, we spent a half hour or so discussing some basics before heading up the face. I'd brought a pretty comprehensive rack overloaded with cams because I'd had some trouble removing passive pieces when I was a beginner. I brought a couple sets of finger sized cams up to a couple small fist-sized ones, full set of hexes, tricams, 3-4 slings, 2 32 foot length cord for anchors, 4 light quickdraws, 3, singles and 5 doubles.... waaaay more than you'll probably need.


The sun rose over Vestal Lake as we headed up the center of the face to the grassy ledge…

W026To the grassy ledge...

The ledge leads to the west edge of the face…

W029The grassy ledge leads to the West edge of the face

The route looked a lot easier once we were on it.

W031The Future is Bright

Arrow looks imposing from Wham…


The climbing started getting to class 3 with some exposure but not much yet.

W037Class 3 Begins

Some Mountain Project reports said that some teams tend to rope up by the two large boulders but we felt comfortable without since the climbing didn’t seem to exceed class 3 when we stayed on the route… plus, I felt like the angle of the rock didn’t warrant the use of a rope there.

W045Where some parties rope up for the first time on this route

W047Looking down from the twin boulders

The angle gradually steepens and the climbing starts getting to Class 4 at spots.

W054Class 4

A couple moves may need to be made off the face…

W055-modOff the Face Momentarily

W059Off the Face Momentarily 2

We finally roped up at the base of what I believed to be the 5.4 section Ben had described.

W062Base of the 5.4 Pitch

I went a total of about 50 feet (max) and didn’t find that the terrain above was conducive to roped climbing. It was mostly 3rd class terrain past this pitch with large blocks along the way which I felt might snag and drag the rope. Therefore, I decided to place an anchor and bring Sarah up. She did well on her first trad follow

W063Sarah follows the 5.4 Pitch

I packed the rope up after the pitch and we continued unroped thereafter.


W066Unroped 2

W068Unroped 3

The climbing started getting fun after a couple hundred feet of Class 3-4.

W069Low 5th moves in the offing

W073A little exposure

There are ways to get more than one roped pitch on this route but it is also possible to avoid significant difficulty and free solo the entire route IMO.

W074More low 5th class study material

We approached a wall which seemed like exposed 5.4 to me. I went to the left a little bit and found a more prospective chimney with better holds, also 5.4-ish.

W077Exposed 5.4?

I started up the base of the chimney...

247up the base of the chimney... photo (c) Sarah

and continued as it headed towards a small roof...

249up towards the roof - photo (c) Sarah

I traversed under and around the roof with big juggy holds above. A reachy move gets you over the roof but the handholds are great. The move tends to push your midsection over the face, which appears to amplify the difficulty of the move. A stem gets you up the last bit...

250Traversing around the roof - photo (c) Sarah

and then Sarah followed... I slung a horn above the roof with some cord for her to use as a handhold, just in case. She didn’t need it…

W079Free-climbing 5.4

The climbing and rock quality continued to impress.

W080Solid Rock Quality

W081Back to solid 4th class

W082Nearing the top now...

Before we knew it we topped out on the false summit.

W085Topping out on the False Summit

W086The True Summit

The true summit is less than 5 minutes from here.

Vestal Summit and Descent

We reached the summit at around 10AM. The views from the top of Vestal are amazing…

W087The Grenadiers

the Chicago Basin group is seen in the distance…

W089Chicago Basin group

Sarah approaches the summit with Arrow in the background…

W092Approaching the Summit



We lounged on the summit for at least a half hour since the weather looked amazing. We began descending the well cairned SE couloir route… which didn’t really stink too bad but actually made for some decent talus hopping fun.

W098SE Couloir Descent

W101The SE Couloir

We soon got down to a grassy traverse around the back side of the peak (Vestal’s buttock?) to the saddle between Vestal and arrow


From the saddle, a scree skier’s (skreer?) paradise exists… skreer’s Dav shot…

W103Dav Shot

And the turns that followed…

A002Scree Turns

We were back in the upper basin by noon or so and with the good weather and vanishing headache, decided to head up Arrow as well.


A thick pall of smoke from wildfires had settled in the Vestal basin area…


We walked around the base of the peak to the ramp breathing in the smoke, thick enough that at times we would taste it. The ramp is cairned from time to time.

A006The Ramp 1

The ramp heads up pretty high before it breaks off right and heads higher.

A011The Ramp 2

The climbing starts getting up to Class 3 a few hundred feet below the top. The exposure is not bad at all.

A012Route turns to Class 3

Harder terrain is available if you want to stray off route for extra credit. If not, cairns are frequent although it might take some searching and good eyesight.

A014Easy to stray off on to harder, more fun stuff

We found 4th and occasionally low 5th class moves when we went off route in search of interesting climbing.

A016Easy to stray off on to harder, more fun stuff 2

A0184th class finish

We summitted arrow with the smoke remaining in the area. Somehow I felt like the smoke kept the thunderheads from building - several puffy white clouds showed up to fulfill the thunderstorm forecast but slowly melted away despite the warm day.

A021Arrow Summit and Beyond

Sarah approaches the summit.

A020Sarah approaches the summit

Cairns can appear in the weirdest of places on this mountain…

A025Weird Cairn Locations on Arrow

We descended the peak carefully at the top and more quickly once down on the ramp. The smoke slowly cleared out and afforded us a better view of Vestal by the time we were down in the upper basin.


The Pack Out

We broke camp and began hiking out by 8AM on Sunday. As we hiked down the Vestal trail we stopped to take a look at our destination, which looks depressingly far away…

A032-modMolas Pass from Vestal Creek Trail

The Elk Creek crossing is no adventure with the scanty spring runoff this year.

A035Elk Creek crossing

The Beaver ponds may be no maroon lake but look pretty serene all the same…

A038The Beaver ponds

We reached the footbridge at Elk Park station a little after noon and I filtered water at the Animas River not realizing what a bad idea that is. Instead walk up the trail to Molas a couple hundred yards and get water in a much clearer creek. We decided to count down the switchbacks resulting in what seemed like a pretty short hike back up Molas pass. Looking back at where we started ~5.5 hours earlier

A040Looking back towards Vestal Creek Drainage

We were back at the Jeep at around 2PM and onward to Silverton to eat giant smothered burritos which cost 1/9th of what we saved by approaching from Molas Pass.


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-7 of 7

cftbq - Jun 28, 2012 1:18 pm - Hasn't voted


good beta and nice photos; thanks.


maverick - Jun 30, 2012 11:39 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: awesome

Thanks. It's a pretty area and easy to end up with good pics.


astrobassman - Jul 1, 2012 12:26 pm - Voted 10/10

Nice Work Prakash

I love the Dav Shot. This climbing looks much better than what we had in the Elks a few weeks ago...Good to see you were able to get down to the San Jauns on one of your long weekends.


maverick - Jul 8, 2012 3:06 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice Work Prakash

Yeah man, the solid rock was nice. You'll love this one.

Josh Lewis

Josh Lewis - Jul 5, 2012 12:36 am - Voted 10/10

Too Cheap also

It was neat to meet you in person. Wish we could have done that route but did not have the proper leading experience. I too was too cheap to take the train! :-D


maverick - Jul 8, 2012 3:06 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Too Cheap also

Nice to meet you too Josh. Hope the trinities went well?

Josh Lewis

Josh Lewis - Jul 9, 2012 1:59 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Too Cheap also

We got smoked out and had to bail. So we did a bunch of other things which eventually I'll have a mega trip report on.

Viewing: 1-7 of 7



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