Wham in a day
This brief trip report is for all of you hard core people who like long days and big adventures. This report is to clarify some approach and descent issues so that someone else can do this without any glitches in a one day push and have the most chance for success.
First: Climbing the Wham (5.7 route or the Ridge)in one day is a very big but doable day from Molas Trailhead. Here are some observations/suggestions, that are really only relevant to some one who is starting and finishing the climb in the dark. With this in mind my only comments are that some of the visual clues and beta are not readily apparent when you are hiking in at 3am or hiking out at 9pm.
Second:The switchbacks are very well done, do not view these as a deal breaker and a reason to make this a camping trip or to have to wait to take the train in and add a day to the route. You will not suffer badly when you come out. You can knock those out quickly on the way down, and go slow and steady on the way out. The beta down the switchbacks to the the large bridge crossing is very straight forward (there is a small bridge prior to that). When you finally cross the large bridge and follow the trail you will eventually come out to a clearing and the train tracks will be off to east and you will walk towards them. Here is my first tip
, look for the Elk Creek Trail
head sign, which is on the east side of the railroad tracks approximately a couple hundred yards from the exit out of the clearing after the large bridge crossing. It is very easy to miss in the dark (as we did since we were heading to the Train stop and anticipating finding the other spur up to the Trail Head/Colorado Trail/Weimanuche Wilderness sign). The sign sits back and is dark. If you miss this sign and the trail, your second option in order to connect with the Elk Creek Trail, is to follow the train tracks to the Elk Creek Train stop. Roaches book instructs you to go the the east end of the turn- around train tracks (east of main tracks)to find a spur trail which will connect you to the Colorado Trail, I feel this trail no longer exists. However, due east of the train stop sign is a narrow trail that leads up to a clearing, where I believe the spur is relocated to. However, in the dark, never having been there, we had no success finding this trail to the main trail as the book described. Instead we bushwhacked our way east up a hill and eventually connected to the Elk Creek Trail/Colorado Trail, many have done this. This misadventure is why I make a big issue of looking for the tall dark wooden sign on the east side of the railroad tracks after you leave the bridge. When you get on the Colorado trail above Elk Creek, the next 2.7 miles are a piece of cake except that the trail eventually does climb and is fatiguing.
Third: Despite all the beta which makes the getting through the Beaver Ponds sound like a place to get really lost, this is not the case. In fact, this was the easiest part, the trail that goes on the south side is well trampled and leads right around the eastern edge of the pond, over some rocks and straight out to the "camping" area north of the ponds.This trail takes you right down to Elk Creek.
Fourth: Crossing Elk Creek, again this is not big issue, it had been raining the days prior to our trip and even so, right were we dropped down to the creek were two good crossings (without taking shoes off).
Fifth: Once you cross the creek, there was a lot of beta about the trail being hard to find and getting on the wrong shoulder of the creek. Again, the trail is so well defined, as long as you keep the exit out of the creek in sight(even if you have to go upstream for a crossing), you can't go wrong. All the way to the meadow ,the trail is well defined and can't be missed.
Sixth: When you get to the east end of the meadow, there is a cairn on the south bank of the creek that marks your departure point for the Wham (and stash your pack). At this time, the Wham is on your right side and if you get on the well defined trail but narrow trail in the grasses, you have a very good (but steep) trail up the last 3/4 mile to the base of the Wham.
Descent/Return: As they say summiting is only half the trip. So here are my tips for descending
. When we got to the top the spider trails down the south side were numerous and bad scree, hard to chose here, but definitely stay to the west, We went east to head to the shoulder between Vestal and Arrow and ended up down climbing the class 5 Southeast route. Quite harry, very lose and consequences of making a mistake is likely death. My tip:
look very closely at each section before committing and I suggest going down the southeast side. The saddle between Vestal and Arrow is heinously loose and basically you will be surfing down the whole thing. However at the lower saddle you do have a good trail which connects up with the approach and dumps you back to the turnoff at the meadow (where we stashed our packs).
Returning is a pleasure, knowing you are done and that the end is near (despite dreading the switchbacks). You can't lose the trail, but once you leave the switchbacks it is all straight forward. One last place to get disoriented (agian only in the dark) is when you are leaving the lower fields to go up on the bluff back to your car. There is actually a "Y" in the meadow before this small ascent (approx. 1.3 miles before the parking lot). Make sure you stay on the main trail so that you do
go up this small set of switchbacks. Make sure when you exit the loose ramp with two or three switchbacks you go due west, there is a big trail that goes right (south) and this will kick you onto the Colorado Trail and back to Molas Lake, you do not want to go this way as you will miss the Molas Trail head where you parked. When you come up out of the loose hill there is a sign post there with no words on it just arrows point to camping (west) after that it is a short ways to the car.
Good luck. We did it in 19 hours, minus the time we waited for the rain to stop, heinous descent thru scree and vertical rock sections and a few glitches finding the Elk Creek Trail start