The ApproachVestal Pk (13864') via Wham Ridge
Arrow Pk (13803')
W. Trinity (13765')
Trinity Pk (13805')
E. Trinity (13745')
Sept 4-6, 2010
25 miles RT, 12300' gain
Participants: Dave "Hoot" Gibson, Dave & Emily Hale, Roy, & Kevin Baker
Sat approach: 8.2 miles, 3000' gain
Hoot sent me an invite earlier in the summer for his anticipated finish of Colorado's top 100 peaks on Vestal over Labor Day weekend. I was apprehensive about the good weather odds that late in the summer, as the San Juans tend to get hit early with snow. Wham Ridge has been high on my list of technical climbs to do, and the forecast was looking good for the trip to proceed! The Trinity Traverse has also been high on my list, so this weekend was highly anticipated!
I made the long drive from C. Springs down to Molas Pass by myself and got a few z's in the 4Runner at the pass. I didn't read Roach's directions for the trailhead closely and didn't realize that the actual trailhead is a bit north of the pass. Hoot got ahold of me and we were off a bit late at 6:30am. I was puzzled why he wanted to start so early for a pack in and find out that he wants to perhaps squeeze in Arrow!
Vestal Basin is a very remote place and the pack in seemed longer than it actually was. We descended some 38 switchbacks (I counted them on the death march out) on the Colorado Trail down to the Animas and connected with the equally pleasant Elk Creek Trail. We took our time enjoying the views on this beautiful day. Conversations with the group cover a lot of subjects! I was feeling strong with a light pack, but that didn't last long. We find the trail that heads down to Elk Creek at the beaver ponds and the smooth sailing is over. The Vestal Basin is MUCH steeper, with quite a bit of deadfall to deal with. It is still much more civilized than the Ruby Creek trail! Hoot and I toy with doing Wham today, but our energy wanes on the steep grunt to camp. We arrive in about 6.5 hours and decide to just do Vestal and Arrow together on Sun. Roy will stay in camp while Dave and Emily are interested in Vestal only. We're surprised by how many people who are up here and settle in at 11400' on the east end of the lower meadow below Vestal.
Steep grunt on the Vestal Basin trail:
Vestal and ArrowSun: Vestal & Arrow
3.4 miles, 4000' gain
The time to climb Wham Ridge has arrived. It looks VERY steep from camp, but looks are always deceiving from afar. Hard to believe most of it on the far right side of the face is no harder than 4th class!
Wham Ridge towers above camp:
We set out a bit before 6am, which is a bit early for such a short approach. We climb the steep but easily followed climbers trail in the dark to the upper basin and have to wait for it to get light enough to see where to go. We end up overshooting the base of the face on the north side and have to traverse across a boulder field to engage the face. The first third of the climb is no harder than 3rd class on grippy slabs with plenty of cracks to zip up!
We angle over to the right edge of the face on grassy ramps. Experienced rock climbers will do the entire climb unroped since there is only one short 5.4 pitch about 2/3rds of the way up, but the consequences of a fall are bad and we elect to do 4 short belayed pitchs. This is also Dave and Emily's first technical route on a summit, so we play it conservative.
Arrow looking mighty fine:
The first pitch is a short crack climb out on the face. We think it is the 5.4 crux, but it's not. Hoot and Emily climb the crack while Dave and I take a more direct line to avoid a tricky traverse.
Hoot leading pitch 1:
The 2nd pitch that we get the rope out for is 4th class but very exposed.
Hoot on pitch 2:
Pitch 3 is the true 5.4 crux, a short little pseudo crack just to the left of the ridge.
Emily on the crux:
The terrain lays back a bit after this and we enjoy some class 3 scrambling with a variety of lines to choose from. The face is a bit more broken the rest of the way and we have to watch out for some loose rock in spots, but generally the solid holds are plentiful. We stay pretty close to the edge of the face and are faced with what looks like a low 5th class step. We miss an easy grassy ramp that would have avoided this to the left and waste some time getting everybody up this. The step is more like 5.5-5.6ish, and I struggle through a reachy move since I'm just doing this in my new Merrell trail runners! Dave and Hoot ended up doing a shall we say interesting traverse around this.
The rest of the climb to the false summit is solid 4th class for the most part and is pretty exposed. We get out onto the face as recommended in the route description and climb a tight chimney that we exit to the right. It feels pretty protected until you get out of it! Some stemming moves are required to shimmy up this.
The last bit to the false summit is also pretty steep. I pick a line that doesn't look too steep until I'm on it a notice an old piton in the rock! We finally hit the false summit and it's a short descent into a notch followed by a gully climb to the summit. We top out at 11:42 and I shoot a vid of Hoot as he completes CO's 100 highest. Congrats, Hoot!
We hang around for a bit and enjoy the moment. There are some clouds swirling around, but I'm not too worried about any precip. The much maligned south face route is the descent route, and it's a loose, junky mess. We stick fairly close together and piece together the best line, staying right of the main gully.
Several paths fan out and we do a pretty good job of not getting off route. We pick up a trail that traverses to the Arrow saddle and descend the "Dues Collector" slope, which we're thankful we didn't have to ascend!
Hoot and I part ways with Dave and Emily as they plan on packing out partially to the river tonight. I encourage Hoot to do Arrow with me and it is a very enjoyable scramble on grippy slabs. The initial slabs are mellow enough to walk up. Arrow is aptly named and it does get very steep near the top, but there are plenty of cairns to guide the way and keep the climbing at class 3. There is a bit of loose rock to watch out for, but not bad for San Juan standards. The bummer with doing Arrow after Vestal is you have to drop all the way down to about 12600 feet. We move pretty efficiently up the ramp even though I'm feeling pretty "scrambled out."
Typical terrain near the top of Arrow's ramp:
It takes a little over an hour to ascend the 1200', which is pretty sustained scrambling for the top half. Hoot leads the way on the descent, and we pay attention to the cairns as the route is pretty intricate near the top. Roy is happy to see us back to camp as it is after 6 before we arrive, over 12 hours for less than a 4 mile distance!
Wham Ridge in profile from Arrow:
Solo Trinity Traverse5 miles, 3500' gain for climb
8.2 miles, 2130' gain for pack out
I wasn't too motivated to tackle the Trinity Traverse since I was pretty beat from a long day of scrambling. It also rained a bit, but the skies cleared and I struggled out of bed. Seems like if you can get past the first 30 minutes of grogginess, your motivation jumps!
The Trinities are a very short approach from camp, so I set out at 6am in anticipation of a short but challenging traverse. It would be a nice test of routefinding abilities. I headed up the Vestal Basin trail and found the climbers trail at 11740', where my friends Steve and Jeff were camped. They had done the traverse the day before. I ended up leaving the trail early because it seemed like it was heading to Vestal Lake. I weaved up grass and slabs to the moraine below the Vestal/W Trinity saddle.
I found a trail up the scree that led to a higher saddle south of the true Vestal/W Trinity saddle. It added some distance, but didn't look as loose. The climb up W. Trinity's west ridge was a bit more sporty than I expected. The trail fizzles out when bouldering commences, and there were times when I stayed below the ridge crest. The view over to Trinity is intimidating to say the least!
The descent to the Trinity saddle is straightforward but loose. Luckily there is a nice ledge system well below the gnarly knife edge on the ridge and is well cairned. It passes through at least a couple notchs and the key is to watch for an ascending traverse that is cairned but is not very visible from the ledge system. I went one notch to far as there was a bad cairn and had to backtrack. Once on the route, I was able to follow the cairns with a watchful eye to the 4th class crux chimney. I was glad to have Cooper's photo of the chimney, because there are a lot of chimneys on this face!
The crux chimney climb:
The chimney was pretty solid and fun. Once out of that, I continued right to another 4th class section that got me close to the ridge. A rogue cairn led me to the ridge crest in error, so I had to downclimb back to the ledges. The cairns led me around another corner to where I could finally see the summit. From here, it was pick your own line up the south face.
East Trinity was all that remained now and it looks pretty formidable from Trinity! The route goes up the gully in the center of the face. The descent of Trinity was down a pretty loose gully that takes you pretty close to the saddle. I climbed out of the gully below the saddle via a nice 4th class crack and got into the gully on E. Trinity's west face. This gully actually splits about 2/3rds of the way up, and I should have stayed right. Two surprising 4th class chimneys made things entertaining near the top and I knew I was in the wrong gully, but the terrain was reasonable.
This will work!
A cool little arch was just below the summit and it made sense to just pass through it!
Now it was all downhill from East Trinity, right? Well, it's best not to let your guard down in the mountains as I slipped on some mellow talus just below the summit. I came down on my left hand and cut open the palm pretty good on the sharp rock. The one time I forget my first aid kit and this happens! Luckily, the wound was minor and I stopped the bleeding quickly with TP. I descended the north ridge of E. Trinity down to a notch and caught a nice climbers trail that dropped me down to the basin. I admired the views from an unnamed lake. This is one of the most pristine places I have been to in CO!
I was back to camp in a bit over 7 hours and packing up was a breeze compared to winter! The long slog back to Molas Pass took FOREVER by myself, so I had to play mental games. Whoever designed the CO trail had a sadistic sense of humor because the switchbacks are a bit of an overkill. I staggered back to the truck fueled by a bag of gummy bears. Vestal Basin, I'll be back!