This approach is detailed from a camp in Vestal Creek. For information about backpacking into Vestal Creek, please refer to the 'Getting There' section on the main page.
Though the Trinities Traverse can be run in either direction, this description runs from west to east. I find the traverse in that direction to be more aesthetic and relaxing, and it allows you to upclimb the crux fourth-class chimney.
From the meadows below Vestal and Arrow, hike the unmaintained trail up the forested hill and enter the next set of meadows at around 11,600', which are located below Vestal Lake. Leave the trail and hike up grass and weave through rock slabs to reach the basin between Vestal Peak and West Trinity. Climb scree (or snow) slopes to reach the Vestal-Trinity saddle. The scree on this slope is not as nasty as that found on the Vestal-Arrow "Dues Collector" slope.
The approximate round trip from a camp at 11,400' in Vestal Creek is 4.1 miles with 3500' of elevation gain.
From the Vestal-Trinity saddle, hike east and locate the climber's trail to begin your climb of West Trinity. The trail peters out as the hike becomes a scramble up large, mostly stable boulders. The routefinding here is minimal as you stay on or near the ridge crest for much of the way. If you find yourself in a notch that offers a view down one of the gouges in West Trinity's west face, backtrack for a short spell and find a passable route around the corner to the south. The climbing becomes more gentle as you approach the summit. Soak up your views of Vestal Peak
to the west and of Middle Trinity
, your next goal to the east.
Take an easy downclimb (Class 2) to the West Trinity-Middle Trinity saddle, staying south of the ridge crest. From the low-point, you'll start a cairned traverse along a significant ledge
on the south side of the peaks. The ledge will ascend and descend several times eventually allowing you to bypass what's sometimes called "The Fourth Trinity", a prominent fin-like summit
, which will appear on your left as a large flatiron-like structure. Once you pass this feature, you'll make a brief climb to your final stop on the ledge system. If you find yourself making a Class 2+/3 downclimb off one of the ribs as you travel along the ledge, you've gone too far! Another indication would be that you haven't noticed any cairns lately. The cairns typically appear at the high points of the ledge system, when the ledge passes through rock ribs at small notches. This last cairn on the ledge appears in such a location.
Leave the ledge and make an ascending traverse for approximately 300' . More cairns will continue to guide you as you climb toward the fourth-class crux chimney. In July 2004, we saw a cairn with a rock arrow directing you to look up. The 30' chimney has some loose rock, so test your holds and be aware of climbers below you. Gerry Roach indicates in his Thirteeners book that there is 50 more feet of fourth-class climbing after the chimney, but we found only easier climbing afterward. Past the crux, follow more cairns into a rocky "basin" – it's not really a basin in the strictest sense of the word, but it looks pretty flat and large relative to the terrain you've been on. Above the basin lies the summit of Middle Trinity. Generally, climb up ledges with some enjoyable third-class scrambling. We didn't find any cairns in this section, but I suspect there may be some. Finish your ascent – you're on top of the Trinities!
The downclimb from Middle Trinity is arguably the least enjoyable section of the route. Descend an obvious gully
(class 2+/3) to the Middle Trinity-East Trinity saddle. This section has loads
of loose rock, so take extreme care if someone is climbing below you! At the low-point is another crux of sorts because you have to cross a couloir. This south-facing couloir had plenty of snow in it during our climb in July, and it isn't reasonable to try to cross higher at the explicit saddle point. Cross the couloir and climb up an 8' wall on the east side.
From Middle Trinity Peak's summit, you may have guessed that the climb up East Trinity's gully
would be just as miserable as the downclimb of Middle Trinity. This isn't the case though. Pick your way up third-class ledges in the gully for about 300'. As you near the top of the gully, start heading to the right and top out on the summit ridge several hundred feet south of the summit. More third-class climbing
brings you to your final summit of the day! Take the time to look over toward beautiful Storm King Peak
. Are you dreaming of another trip to the San Juans, like we were?
The downclimb of East Trinity is straightforward. Drop east on class 2 terrain, eventually reaching a flatter area. Turn north and aim for the first notch in the Trinity-Peak Three ridge (this is not
the true low point on the ridge, which is actually further north). From the notch, descend scree or snow slopes back into the Vestal Creek drainage. The reward for your long climb is a delightful hike past a gorgeous lake
and through a lush, grassy meadow, while the Trinities lord over you
. Amazing views of Vestal and Arrow
are your final treat as you begin your return to camp. Try to find the trail before you enter the willows lower in Vestal Creek, you'll appreciate it!
Crampons would be useful during an early season climb (generally speaking this would be before July). Snow remained on the scree slope leading to the Vestal-Trinities saddle for our climb in early July, but it was avoidable. We found unavoidable snow in the south-facing couloir between Trinity and East Trinity, so an axe may be prudent year-round.
I can't imagine roping up for the fourth-class crux, but some parties may feel more comfortable.