Formation of an Idea
What do you see?
A daunting task and scary climb on one of Colorado’s largest faces? No, no you don’t. Look again, that baby’s a beauty! It’s virtually a carbon copy of Wham Ridge, you can climb that! The face has a myriad of opportunities waiting to be unearthed by the adventurous soul.
It's What You Make of It
With that I detach myself from the photo, throw on my running shoes and venture out into the crisp night to ponder the subject. The North Face of West Trinity. Why haven’t I heard anything about this before? Does it get ignored because it’s a bicentennial? Because everyone only climbs Wham? Is there another reason, maybe those cliffs? Ah, screw it. Who cares, we can climb that face! All I need now is something concrete to throw at Mike. Uh, well.....
In the next week or so I discover that people do climb that face here and there. As you can guess, it’s not popular but you can keep the route at 5.5. The monstrous cliffs guarding the bottom of the face aren’t problematic if one engages them from their left end. Okay, now we have something working here!
Getting up West Trinity's North Face
After a painfully long hike into Vestal Basin(don’t you just love that hill?), Mike and I are all setup for a big first day in the Grenadiers, West Trinity’s North Face and the Trinity Traverse, but are worried that today’s rain showers and the ever-present threatening clouds will squash our plans. By 8:30, we’re in bed; hopefully tomorrow will treat us nicer.
The following morning brings us relief in the form of calm, clear skies. Without cumbersome backpacks, we float effortlessly along the trail as the Trinities eye us from above. As we get higher in the drainage we discover that crossing Vestal Creek could be a bigger problem than expected. Since leaving camp it has gotten deeper! Forays into the ever thickening willows reveal no solutions and the rapidly approaching cliffs are quickly decreasing our options.
After poking and prodding for a few more moments, Mike returns from the brush with somewhat positive news. As we head into the willows the wide section of the stream doesn’t seem to exist but many small branches are hidden throughout the willows. A little willow thrashing here, a bit of creek dodging there and soon we’re on the other side looking up at West Trinity.
Alpenglow on Arrow and Vestal
A short, wide grassy gully leads us to the base of West Trinity.
Mike and West Trinity
Vestal and Arrow Basking in the Early Morning Rays
Ferocious cliffs block easy passage on this end but we’re already aware that we need to traverse to the east(left) end to locate an easier way to get onto the face.
Ferocious Cliff Bands Block Easy Passage Upwards
After traversing lots of loose blocks and a tiny bit of scrambling we come across a couple of possible access points near some black water marks. To the right of the marks, we find an opening. The awkward, fourth-class move isn’t too rough but a lightly dripping runoff from yesterday afternoon’s storms isn’t helping our nerves getting through this slot. After we both complete our ugly task, we gather ourselves, happy to be on the face!
Hangin' Out w/West Trinity
The view above us is slightly puzzling.
Now we were expecting to ascend a certain distance on grass ledges before roping up, but while glancing up the face, they seem to be everywhere! Not knowing exactly where to go, we decide to stay near the left side of the face going as straight up as possible while taking advantage of the ledge system the best we can.
The ledges weren’t difficult to follow for several hundred feet. We continued switchbacking up the face with occasional minor scrambling required thrown in to keep us honest. Halfway up the face the ledges ran out leaving me to tell Mike we had come to the end of our grassy highway. Right before pulling out our gear we saw another ledge off to our left up a dozen feet or so…..and back to the ledges we go! With route finding increasing in difficulty we slugged through ~10 more minutes of prevailing on ledges before calling it good at the base of a large, blocky wall.
End of the Ledges
After gearing up, I shot up the first pitch on low fifth-class(5.2-5.3) rock. The now scattered grass ledges made life a little hairy than necessary as they greased the bottom of our rock shoes with last night’s rain.
Mike Watching Pitch 1
Our second pitch alleviated those problems as it got down to business firing up the face. Most of the climbing was in the 5.3-5.4 range along with the 5.5 crux bulge.
Mike Climbing on P2
As we climbed higher on the face, the climbing became blockier and protection was much easier to place than on the runout first pitch. Mike and his nut tool went to war with my #0.5 pink tri-cam just above the crux, but in the end they were soundly defeated and we left it behind for the marmots to gnaw to death.
With only ~125 feet left to the apex of the face, I was easily able to roof the third pitch(5.3-5.4) up the now increasingly knobby rock.
Pitch Three, Roofing It
Once Mike topped out, we enjoyed the view down the sweeping North Face before strolling over to the summit.
Long Way Down
Holy smokes, the Needles are dominant from this perch!
One w/the Needles
Connecting the Trinities and a Freefall
With the technical portion of our day behind us, we turned our attention to the infamous Trinity Traverse. A nice trail led us through the nastiness of our beloved San Juan scree to the now familiar grass ledges starting at West’s saddle with the main Trinity Peak.
The Next Objective
Things were straightforward for awhile as we toured the ledge along the south slopes of Trinity scrambling over the sporadic rock band wondering where to start our ascent.
Just as we were beginning to question ourselves for sauntering too far along the ledge, we came across the familiar looking fourth-class chimney. As expected, the rock wasn’t the most stable thing you’ll ever come across so we took turns hiding while the other person climbed in relative peace.
Mike in the Fourth-Class Chimney
Above that we set our sights on the gigantic bowl to the east. Our new ledge system, complete with steps up and down over rock, brought us there somewhat efficiently. With nowhere left to go but up, we scrambled back and forth along the path of least resistance to the summit of Trinity Peak, my 100th 13er.
Back at West
Jagged is spectacular from this vantage point and we could have lounged on the summit all day, but we have plans with a final Trinity.
Moments off the summit we began descending the large gully towards the Trinity-East Trinity saddle. As we got deeper into the gully, the amount of loose rock multiplied exponentially leading Mike to try different passageways in an attempt not to kill me by filtering a barrage of rocks my way; I can handle that later on my own. Halfway down, a short, solid section of scrambling offers us a reprieve from the looseness. Once that’s over with we stuck with the horrid scree looseness all the way to the saddle.
Downclimbing Trinity Peak
Ascending East Trinity isn’t much better. Random rocks shoot down the gallery during our climb forcing us to scramble on opposite sides of the gully. Near the top Mike scoots off to the left over solid rock towards a small window.
Window of Opportunity
Once through this obstacle, we pull a final few moves before reaching East Trinity’s summit. Storm King, Silex and the Guardian form the marvelous eastern end of the Grenadiers and are attractive from this vantage point, but alas, they must wait for another day.
Once our summit lounge is complete we begin dragging our tired bodies down East Trinity’s East Ridge. Downclimbing is tedious but we make good progress towards the saddle with Peak Three. Nearing the saddle we find ourselves stuck above our final obstacle, some short cliffs barring easy passage to the scree field above the unnamed lake at 12,396’. Mike downclimbs some nastiness through the crack but doesn’t recommend it so I traverse right another 10-15 feet to a large flake before deciding to head down. Before descending I test several handholds in the area, then start down the wall. Halfway down I shift my weight off my feet and my right handhold brakes off flinging me backwards the remainder of the distance to the ground and sliding several seconds down the hill. After regaining my wits, I stand up sore as all get-out and stumble down the endless scree field after Mike. A faint climber’s trail makes travel marginally easier.
Down at the lake we exchange steep scree slopes for rolling grassy slopes as we contour right, staying high, in an attempt to avoid another round with the creek and willows.
West's Numerous Options
A half-mile cruise leaves picking our way through a final cliff band before regaining the trail back to camp. Tired and satisfied with the day’s effort after twelve long hours we crash on the rocks overlooking the basin and cook some dinner gazing back on what we just accomplished.