Category Archives: Colorado

The Palisade

The Palisade and La Sals

With the weather making the Colorado mountains unpleasant, I realized that I should have stayed in Moab for another couple of days. Fortunately, southwest Colorado also has low-elevation sandstone towers, and I was able to find another “Cowboy Route” on The Palisade, an obnoxious but not unreasonable drive away. The weather in Grand Junction was not bad, but it rapidly deteriorated as I drove down 141 through Unaweap Canyon in the evening. This byway does not see a lot of traffic or plow attention, so I took my time driving the snowpacked road through a blizzard to the tiny town of Gateway, and continued with some trepidation on the partly-frozen mud road along the Dolores River. I pulled off at the 4WD road leading toward the Palisade’s west side, and hoped it would not snow too much overnight.

Dolores River from approach

The next morning, I was pleased to see only a dusting of snow. However, none of that would melt off the west-facing route before I was done, making me somewhat nervous about the “class 4-5 slabs,” made doubly treacherous by being snow-covered and/or composed of wet sandstone. Still, I set of hiking up the road in my puffy, continuing up the right-hand side of the wash after it ended. I saw a couple of cairns, but there was no use trail on this obscure peak.

Catwalk section

I made a sometimes-sketchy dirt traverse along the base of the cliffs, then easily found the obvious start of the route, a bit of blocky class 3 followed by a traverse to the left. The first crux, a dihedral, went easily thanks to positive holds and stemming opportunities, and I was soon traversing the catwalks above, which were fairly well-cairned. I had been slightly nervous about crossing this section in the snow, but there was enough bare rock on the inner edge of the ledges that I could proceed without too much caution.

Red bump and La Sals

This brought me to the slab crux, which would have been trivial when dry, but was now somewhat more thought-provoking. Traversing left past the shortest section, I found a seam and some blocks that offered more traction and counter-pressure, and carefully made my way to the top, rejoining the standard route at a rappel anchor. I was relieved, believing that I had climbed the hardest part in current conditions. Above, I followed cairns as the route zig-zagged toward a saddle in the mesa between the main summit and a red sandstone dome. I got a bit off-route, taking a harder line than necessary up one rock band, but eventually reached the short 5.4 mantel. I did not like what I saw: even with the cheater step, the first step-up on the small foothold was big, and far from secure with a dusting of snow over wet, crumbly rock. I tried traversing farther left, then nearly gave up before heading right, hoping the ledge around the red bump would offer an easier option.

Summit from red bump

To my surprise, I found that the ledge indeed led around to the top of the mesa beyond the bump. Better still, getting over the bump was only class 2-3, with low-angle slabs that could be carefully managed even when wet. It took awhile, but I was back on-route. From there, I found one more semi-sketchy bit of slabbing and an awkward crack/offwidth on the right, but mostly it was easy hiking to the summit. I passed the shack and box spring along the way — God knows how all that hardware got up there, or why — then found the advertised hammer and egg-beater on the summit cairn.

NW from summit

The views were magnificent, with red rock country and the La Sals to the south and west, and the fading storm over the higher peaks to the east. The sun had finally come out, making it warm enough to hike without my puffy. I took some photos, then reversed my route. The sun was starting to dry the rock, making things a bit more secure, and I was back at the car for a late lunch.

Thimble Rock

I had planned to tag Thimble Rock Point, a minor peak on the southeast side of Unaweap Canyon, but it was awfully cold and windy when I got out to check out the access road/trail and read the interpretive sign. Unaweap is an interesting feature, a canyon with two outlets separated by a minor saddle in the middle, with a wide variety of uplift rock to either side. I was glad to have seen it during the day, but not interested enough to spend the next few hours tromping through the snow. Another time, perhaps…

Fairchild, Hagues, Mummy

Fairchild and Hagues

I was reintroduced to the United States in just about the worst possible way, with a 24-hour layover in Fort Lauderdale for a flight that was delayed by two hours. Rather than sleeping in the airport, I paid $80 for a room at a hotel with an airport shuttle. However, the room wasn’t ready until almost two hours after I checked in, and the shuttle didn’t run early enough to get me to the airport for my flight. So I paid about $7 per hour to use the room — about what I would pay for an entire night in Huaraz — then another $2 to ride the city bus back to the airport. Welcome home!

Welcome home

Fortunately my car was still at Ted’s house, so I spent a night there, then he joined me for some peak-bagging near Estes Park. I had done the southern half of the Mummy Range before Peru via Ypsilon’s Blitzen Ridge, so it seemed appropriate to finish off the range on my return. All of the northern peaks are walk-ups, but they turn out to be a long walk from the Lawn Lake trailhead, so it was a full day.

Ypsilon from Fairchild

We arrived at the trailhead a bit after 6:00, to find a few others already packing up. It had rained on the drive up, and the weather remained unpromising as we started. The Lawn Lake trail was frustrating after the summer’s direct Peruvian trails, with the pointless near-horizontal switchbacks common to American stock trails. It started raining as we reached the open area below Lawn Lake, but there was no lightning and I had my Peruvian trash bag, so I didn’t mind too much.

Never Summer Range

The rain soaked the willows above the lake, which in turn gave me a brief leg-washing. Ted had injured his foot a few weeks before, and was feeling slow, so I took off by myself to tag Fairchild while he headed straight for Hagues, the range highpoint. I made quick work of the talus-hop with my Andean fitness, then jogged the descent and caught Ted a bit below Hagues’ summit. I gather the standard route is class 2 from the other side, but I found some class 4 shenanigans along the ridge that made it the day’s best peak. The summit was somewhat spoiled by a radio repeater, but the weather had cleared enough for good views of the Never Summer range to the west, the lowlands of southern Wyoming to the north, and an unnamed and mostly-frozen lake between Hagues and Rowe Peaks, below what used to be the Rowe Glacier.

The descent to the saddle with Mummy was a somewhat tedious talus-hop, but the terrain improved from there, with an easy climb to the summit and a grassy stroll down its southeast side to the Black Canyon trail. It took a bit of woods-thrashing to find it, then an endless trail-hike to return to the car. After a well-earned burger in Estes Park, Ted headed back home and I drove off to find a place to sleep before the long drive west.

Ypsilon (Blitzen Ridge), Chiquita, Chapin

Ypsilon and Spectacle Lakes

Ypsilon Mountain is one of the better peaks in the Mummy Range in northern Rocky Mountain National Park. While its west slope is unremarkable tundra, its steep, complex southeast face rises 2000 feet from Spectacle Lakes, containing several interesting routes. Blitzen Ridge is one of about ten routes that have been on my list of to-do potential classics for years, and I was pleased to finally check it out in manageable early-season conditions.

Enter the suck

After sharing my normally-peaceful camping spot near Estes Park with some people who rolled in late and noisy, I woke early and was headed up the trail to Ypsilon Lake by 6:00. A guy who looked like a climber had started a few minutes before me, and despite his wearing clunky mountain boots, we leapfrogged for most of the approach to Spectacle Lakes. The trail started out clear and dry, then became a small stream, with the snow going from patchy around 10,200′ to near-continuous by 10,800′.

Blitzen Ridge

It had been warm overnight, and the snow had formed the usual, wretched Colorado spring slush-bog in the trees. I cursed and floundered along an old set of boot-prints to just above Ypsilon Lake, then found relief on some bare, south-facing slabs on the way to Spectacle Lakes. I skipped the lower, easy part of Blitzen Ridge, crossing between the two lakes and climbing a spur ridge and gully to reach the main ridge just below the four crux towers (the “Aces”).

Looking back at a tower

I skimmed the route description on my phone, but mostly just figured out something reasonable to get over the towers, summiting them all but not trying to stay directly on the ridge crest. On the first and second, I followed some grassy ledges on the left side, zig-zagging back and up to gain elevation from time to time. The third felt like the crux to me, with some exposed climbing on golden rock to the right. The route-finding was tricky in places, and I did a bit of backtracking before finding something that felt comfortable.

The route description mentioned a rappel off the fourth tower, but that was clearly a mistake, since descending its uphill side was trivial. The other towers were a bit trickier to downclimb, either staying right on the crest, or traversing sometimes-slabby terrain to the right. I would say the third tower was the crux for me, but the difficulty is very dependent upon route-finding choices.

Summit cornices

The ridge above the towers is no harder than class 4, but remains fun and narrow. The angle of the rock layers rewards staying on or just left of the crest, with inspiring views of Ypsilon’s southeast bowl, with the “Y” couloir and (at least right now) massive cornices overhanging the summit ridge. I had to cross snow in a few places, but the south edge of the ridge crest had mostly melted out, making for almost summer-like conditions despite the lingering snow everywhere else.

Snow flurries over summit plateau

I topped out in a mild flurry of corn snow, looked at the rain- and snow-storms to the east and south, and took off south across the tundra toward Chiquita and Chapin at a purposeful walk. The route description recommended descending the bowl between Ypsilon and Chiquita, but that looked unappealing, and would dump me back in the hellish snow near Ypsilon Lake. Instead, I continued to Chiquita, briefly contemplated descending its broad east ridge, then decided to continue to Chapin and take the hopefully-clear Falls Creek Road back to my car.

This plan mostly worked well. The traverse to Chapin was snow-free, and I also managed to avoid snow most of the way back to Chapin Pass and the road. Unfortunately my luck ran out perhaps a half-mile from the road, and I had some awful encounters with thigh-deep slush, sometimes with flowing water beneath it. I wrung my socks and shoes out once after a particularly nasty bog encounter, then again after stumbling out onto the plowed and mostly dry road. From there, it was a long but not unpleasant hike jog back down to the pavement, then an uneventful road-walk to the car.


Face to be skied

Welcome to the 2018 season! The early part of this season should be a bit different, because thanks to my “Scott sponsorship” (the man, not the brand), I have AT skis. I was hoping to use them this winter, but the dismal winter in the southern Rockies, among other things, scuttled that plan. Maybe next winter I will pick somewhere likely to have a better winter.

Jacque from parking lot

Instead, I started my ski season in May. Just like last year, where my first run in several years was a survival-ski down the Middle Teton Glacier, I chose something hard enough to guarantee more survival than fun. When I climbed “Drift Peak” near Leadville last spring, I traversed from Fletcher, then plunge-stepped down something I thought might make a good ski run. Since I needed to break up the drive north, I decided to return to Mayflower Gulch and try skiing it.

Moonset over popular run

Mayflower is a popular backcountry ski trailhead, so there was one other person camped there, and two more trucks arrived before I started skinning up the road around 6:30. There were the usual spring dog turds melting out of the track, but still just enough snow coverage to ski from the parking lot. I took my time skinning up the road toward Boston Mine, passing one side-road before taking another that seemed to get a fair amount of traffic. I eventually emerged from the woods at the bottom of a broad, gentle slope that looked to be a popular ski.

Sketchy ski-track

There seemed to be several possible ways to reach Drift’s northwest ridge, so after some annoying sidehilling, I switchbacked and booted up one of them at random. I had come up too early, and had to walk along the ridge a little before picking up the skin track, which made its way somewhat precariously along the ridge crest. No doubt this avoids avalanche danger earlier in the season.

Upper north ridge

From below, I had seen a couple of people switchbacking up the ridge’s headwall, and indeed there was a nice zig-zag track. However, it was steep and side-hilled enough that perhaps it was meant for ski crampons. I carefully followed it for awhile, back-sliding occasionally, then put my skis on my back and slogged up the exposed talus to the summit ridge. A combination of lack of fitness, a heavy pack, and altitude made the climb shamefully slow.

Annoying snow in chute

I sat on the summit for awhile, watching people summit nearby Quandary, then switched to downhill mode and carefully side-slipped around some rocks to the face. This seems to be a popular ski run, showing 4-5 recent tracks made by people much better than me, i.e. able to link nice S-turns. I struggled a bit with the crusty powder and frozen snowballs, making a few cautious turns, then stopping to pant and plot my course.

The slope steepens near the bottom (50 degrees?), and splits into several narrow chutes separated by rock buttresses. I almost started down the wrong one, then followed the tracks skier’s right across a few to the correct one. It was still steep, narrow, and slow, but it went. Finally, on the smoother apron below, my old ski racer instincts kicked in, and I was able to carve some nice super-G turns and then shoot straight down the low-angle slope toward the parking lot. I had planned to spend another day in the area, but the spring snow was obnoxious enough that I decided to try my luck farther north.


Kite Lake road and Democrat

I had taken my skis up to Denver, hoping that enough snow would fall in two weeks of winter to make some easy peaks skiable. Buckskin is one of the last of Colorado’s top 100 peaks I have not climbed, and possibly the last I will bother with. Located near the town of Alma, with a high winter trailhead well above 10,000 feet, it should be skiable from the car this time of year.

Democrat, Lincoln, Bross

I slept at a parking area near the mill on the way to Kite Lake, then got a late start because it looked cold outside. I skied about 100 yards up the side of the road, saw bare dirt ahead and bare slopes above, and returned to the car, driving most of another mile up the road before parking near where I almost got stuck in a snowdrift. I set off again, this time with just mountain boots. Other than the occasional drift, the road was dry with patches of ice all the way to the summer trailhead.

The patches of snow were annoyingly breakable crust over sugar, up to knee-deep in the willows, but they were mostly easy to avoid. I slogged up a talus-slope, then made a short, windy traverse to what I guessed correctly was the summit. After looking around a bit, I decided to plunge-step down a snowy gully for a change, then retraced my steps to the road and the car. The drive home down highway 285 showed more bare slopes, even on the eastern side of the Sawatch where they would normally be wind-loaded. Overall, conditions in central and southern Colorado seem to be about like early November of a normal year. No skiing for me this winter.

West Needle

Real Mountains across Animas

I had set my alarm for 4:00 AM, planning to harvest some of my last remaining cluster of Weminuche 13ers around Noname Creek, but the prospect of 2.5 hours of headlamp and a long commute across from Purgatory crushed my motivation. Instead, I went back to sleep, then drove on up to Andrews Lake for an easier day to West Needle Mountain. This seldom-climbed 13er, south of Twilight Peaks, is a much more reasonable 15 mile round-trip via the Crater Lake trail and the head of Watertank Canyon.

Traverse toward col

There was only one other car in the lot, but the trail evidently sees quite a bit of horse and foot traffic during the summer. I took my time to Crater Lake, jogging some of the downhills but not in any hurry. Beyond the lake, a trail continues to a gentle saddle at the head of Watertank Canyon, then fades to faint game trails. I descended a bit, then linked benches and ledges on a southward traverse, crossing one obnoxious boulder-field, but otherwise finding fairly pleasant terrain, and a couple of cairns. The rock above looked more like the Grenadiers’ solid bedrock than the Needles’ kitty-litter.

Col from West Needle

After traversing below some buttresses, I climbed a grassy slope to the col just northwest of point 12,932′, finding a well-used game trail and some sheep droppings. The game trail continues on the other side, traversing south before fading well above the lake at the head of Twilight Creek. After crossing more talus, I finally got on West Needle’s northeast ridge. It looked steep from the col, but turned out to be mostly class 2, with a couple class 3 steps higher up. I wandered around the broad summit plateau a bit, then sat down to admire the view of the Real Mountains east across the Animas.

The return was pleasant and mostly uneventful. Though it was t-shirt weather, I met only one other person on the trail, a man with two dogs, one of which followed me for a couple miles before returning to its owner. There were a few young women fishing at the lake, and a couple preparing for an elk hunt, but things were surprisingly quiet for such a pleasant day. I made part of the drive back to Durango before stopping at my usual Lime Creek camping area.

Moss, Lavender, Hesperus

Hesperus from Lavender

The La Platas are an isolated group of 13ers west of Durango, unconnected to the rest of the San Juans. The rock varies widely, from solid granite to nasty red and white choss. I had visited in May 2016, coming in a long dirt road from the west to climb Sharkstooth and Centennial in the snow before being defeated by the ridge between Centennial and Lavender. This time I came in from the east, ascending Tomahawk Basin and traversing across Moss and Lavender to reach Hesperus, the range highpoint. I was planning to also tag Babcock and Spiller, but lacked the energy after some route-finding shenanigans.

Beattie again

There is not much in the way of parking at the junction of the La Plata River and Basin Creek roads, but I found a wide flat spot to sleep, then got a lazy start around 8:00. It had reached 70 degrees in Durango the day before, and it was calm and pleasantly warm once I reached the sun. I followed the old road to the Tomahawk Mine, then found a faint, occasionally cairned trail continuing up the drainage to the Little Kate Mine. Expecting the choss-piles I had experienced on my last visit, I was surprised by Babcock’s sheer north face, and the cliffs and pillars on the ridge leading to Moss.

Steep finish on Moss

Trying to be clever and save time, I headed straight northwest toward Moss’s summit, finding mostly turf with only a bit of loose talus. Unfortunately, Moss’s east ridge and southeast face are quite steep. After some shenanigans along the ridge, I retreated a bit, then found some fun, steep, blocky low fifth class climbing on the southeast face leading to the summit. The descent toward Lavender was an easy talus-hop, as was most of the climb. Near the top, I found a short third class scramble and a move onto the summit block. Leafing through the register, I saw a couple familiar names (hi, Bob!), and was impressed that someone had apparently arrived via the north ridge, which had defeated me before and still looked intimidating.

Lavender, Moss from Hesperus

The traverse to Hesperus was supposed to be tricky, but I found it straightforward, with a bit of optional third class climbing getting through some notches. The rock sharply changes from nice granite to layered red and white choss partway along the traverse, so the best route stays near the crest to avoid sliding talus. I found a solid wind-break on the summit, and a bit of a trail for the standard route up the west ridge.

I retraced my route partway, then side-hilled across the south side of Lavender and Moss before descending Moss’s south ridge. I thought about climbing Babcock, but its northwest face looked steep and snowy, so I wussed out and dropped down a chute to Tomahawk Basin, taking the trail and road back to my car.

McCauley, Grizzly, Hope, Aztec (12h45)

McCauley, Hazel Lake, Hope

While nowhere near as serious as the Sunwapta ford for Kitchener, which comes directly off a glacier and contains chunks of floating slush, the Vallecito ford is still seriously unpleasant. While it is only 10-15 seconds long and no more than knee-deep this time of year, it must be done early in the morning on a dayhike, when temperatures are still below freezing and the sun has not reached the bottom of the deep valley. Unfortunately, the Vallecito trail is the best access to many deep Weminuche peaks, via Johnson or Sunlight Creek, so I force myself to do it once a year. This year I tried to make it as comfortable as possible, starting late at 6:15 and carrying some old running shoes for the crossing.

Lake 13,100 and Windom

I had planned an elegant lollipop route, heading up Johnson Creek, over McCauley and Grizzly, then across the head of Grizzly Creek to Greylock and 13,121′, exiting via Sunlight Creek. This would also give me a chance to take a side-trip to the highest lake I know of in North America, nestled at 13,100′ below Windom. Unfortunately, the north-facing descent into Grizzly Creek was covered in sugary snow, making it somewhere between unpleasant and treacherous, so I had to improvise.

Hunter camp

With my late start, I had less than an hour of morning headlamp, though the day had not started to warm up when I reached the crossing about 1h45 in. There was a thin hand line this time, and plenty of sticks for balance. I put on all my layers, took off my shoes, socks, and pants, put on my wading shoes, grabbed a stick, and walked across as quickly as I could. My cold hands functioned just long enough to get dressed again on the other side, where I left my wading shoes and jogged up the trail trying to warm up again. I met a couple hunters looking for elk, then passed their luxurious camp, with several mules, a large canvas tent, and what looked like a heated tepee.

Sunset on Organ and Amherst

I finally met the sun around 9:00, shortly after crossing the Johnson Creek bridge, and was soon comfortable in a t-shirt on the long, switchbacked climb toward Columbine Pass. I expected to find some backpackers, but I had the place to myself other than a bit of trash left by some previous slob. I remembered the trail’s impressive scenery, with the rugged north side of Organ and Amherst across the valley, but I had forgotten the maddening, pointless switchbacks in the middle part of the valley.

Jupiter, Windom, Grizzly from McCauley

I left the trail in open woods around 11,200′, climbing a mix of grass and talus on the east side of the Hazel Lake drainage, following my descent route from last year. I left the valley before the lake, following a mix of steep turf and class 2-3 rock that deposited me almost directly below McCauley’s summit knobs. The highest, southern one was decorated with a large iron spike.

3rd class traverse

After descending the summit knob, I stayed on or just left of the ridge crest on easy class 2 ground to the saddle with Grizzly. From the saddle, I wove left and right around a few steep bumps, then found an exposed class 3 traverse on the left leading past the final bump, joining Grizzly’s standard route southwest of the summit. From there, I climbed to the ridge connecting Grizzly and Jupiter, then boulder-hopped up its north side to the summit. I examined the snow-covered 1500-foot descent to Grizzly Creek as I ate a Clif bar, and decided I did not want to subject myself to that misery. However, returning directly felt like a waste, so I looked around for other things to climb.

East from Aztec

Hope Mountain is only a minor bump on the other side of Hazel Lake, but as an “amphitheater peak,” it has good views of the surrounding higher mountains. I dropped to the lake, got some water, then made my way up the talus to its summit, where I found a wet “geocache” in a PVC tube. With plenty of time to spare, I decided to tag a peak or two south of Columbine Pass. I took the high trail traversing to the pass, looked for tents in Chicago Basin, then easily side-hilled south before climbing the ridge to point 13,190′, which is not a real peak. I still had some time, so I continued talus-hopping over to Aztec Mountain. This was the last unclimbed peak I cared about in the Chicago Basin area, so climbing it eliminated a future trip across the Animas from Purgatory. Yay!

Route map

I traversed back south of 13,190′, then dropped down the center of the Johnson Creek drainage, eventually rejoining the trail near where I had left it in the morning. The switchbacks sorely tested my patience on the jog down to the Vallecito, where I met the hunters, still looking elk that I believe are still up in the high country. The return ford was much less miserable, as the air temperature was well above freezing. Hike-jogging the long Vallecito trail, I passed one backpacker on his way out, and reached the trailhead a few minutes before headlamp time. Though I did not tag the summits I had planned, I should be able to clean out the remaining peaks around Sunlight Creek in a single trip next year.

South Mineral 13ers

Ice Lake Basin

Though the days are short, and snow lingers on north-facing slopes, the weather continues to hold in the San Juans. I had hoped to tag several 13ers near scenic Ice Lake Basin, but a case of projectile diarrhea left me with little energy. Given the timing, I am guessing I was not careful enough in my water choice on the way back from Organ Mountain. Fortunately I had planned ahead, spending all of $8 on suitable antibiotics while I was in Mexico, so instead of driving back to Durango to throw a couple hundred bucks at the American medical-industrial complex, I swallowed two pills and was back to normal in 24 hours.

SE side of Rolling

Continuing along South Mineral Creek past the campground, I carefully drove up the rocky road to the trailhead for the Rico-Silverton trail to spend a couple of days cleaning out the nearby 13ers. I started with the ones to the west, traversing from Rolling around to Beattie. Based on an online trip report, I made my way around to Rolling’s southeast side, where I found willows followed by loose talus, then a bit of scrambling along the east ridge to the summit. The east/northeast bowl would have been faster and likely better.

Descent off Rolling

I continued along a ridge to the western sub-summit, then made my way carefully down its north face, a sketchy mix of powdery snow and loose rock, to the connecting ridge with V9. I think this face would be similarly unpleasant even when dry. The ridge up to V9 was a pleasant, sunny respite. I had hoped to continue to impressive San Miguel Peak, but the connecting ridge looks loose and complicated. The north side of V9 was more choss and powder, though fortunately less steep than Rolling, and after more careful downclimbing, I finally reached the pass leading to Lake Hope.

Across choss to Sisters

The talus toward 13,300 started out pleasantly solid, then turned loose again higher up; at least it was snow-free. After checking out the summit, I followed some other poor unfortunate soul’s tracks in the intermittent snow along the connecting ridge to Beattie. Now to get home…

Rock glacier descent

I did not like the look of the southeast ridge, so I continued to the saddle with Fuller, then took off across the rock glacier to the southeast. This was as straightforward and tedious as one would expect. I planned to join the road to Big Three Mine, but ended up heading down through the woods almost straight east toward the parking lot. The terrain was mostly open and friendly, with bits of game trail switchbacking down the slope. After a final bit of steep grass, I emerged on the road near the trailhead, where I set out my chair to read for the rest of the afternoon.

Twin Sisters

Twin Sisters from the west

These are the two similarly-high peaks east of the trailhead. I started as before, following the trail south, then turned east when I saw an easy passage through the willows toward the south end of the Sisters. I managed to follow grass most of the way, then slogged up loose stuff to the base of a gully on their southwest corner. There was a strong west wind above the trees, so it was an unpleasantly cold climb up the loose, snowy, shaded gully. When I finally reached the top, I took a few minutes on the sunny east side of the ridge to recover.

Twin Sisters from south

Since the whole massif is loose talus, the only reasonable route is right along the crest. The west wind froze my left eyeball as I stumbled along with all my layers on and both hands balled up in my gloves. A notch between 13,205′ and the southwest Sister gave me an excuse to drop down around the east side, where I took another break to warm up again before continuing to the summit. I found a sheltered spot to peruse the damp register, then added my name.

South Twin from North

The crest of the north-facing ridge toward the northeast Sister was covered in snow with a crust that either broke through to powder, or was too hard for me to get traction in the wind, so I was forced onto the talus on the east side. Happily, once past the saddle I found a sort-of trail of compacted talus, making the climb to the summit a bit easier. The register contained a number of entries mentioning Hard Rock, though the race doesn’t go over the peak.

I continued down the northeast ridge, finally in more pleasant conditions, looking for the supposed Hard Rock 100 trail. Since it starts out on the other side of the valley, I ended up doing a bit of extra cross-country through the woods before picking it up as it makes a rolling traverse to the southwest. Listening to a podcast and concentrating on my footing in an icy section, I nearly ran into a young man doing the same peaks in the opposite direction. After a brief conversation, I continued down some steep switchbacks, then along the valley floor back to my car, and away from this talus-pit.

Electric, Garfield, “Point Pun,” Graystone

Garfield again

Unlike most of the rest of the San Juans, which are made of relatively recent volcanic choss, the Grenadiers are an uplift of ancient bedrock. This is most obvious when looking at the central peaks, Arrow, Vestal, and Trinity, in which the bent rock layers are clearly visible. They are also hard to reach, being separated from the road by the 1600-foot-deep Animas River valley, and not along any maintained trail or abandoned mining road. Though the climbers’ trail into Vestal Basin to the north is much easier to follow than it was when I first visited in 2012, there are no 14ers in the area, so it thankfully has not been “comfortized” by CFI. On my previous Grenadiers visits, I tagged Arrow, Vestal and Trinity, and the eastern peaks from Storm King through the Guardian. This time I came for the western peaks: Electric, Garfield, and Graystone. Being closer to the car, I thought these would be a shorter day, but thanks to some awful terrain, they took a bit longer than the central peaks.

Grenadiers from Molas Lake

It was somewhat cold sleeping near Molas Lake, not enough for my water bottle to freeze, but enough to freeze my Camelback hose, frost the inside of my windows, and force me to fully mummify my sleeping bag. Still, I forced myself out of the car and onto the trail by 5:40 for the usual nighttime commute across the Animas. There was no one camped along the Colorado Trail, and no footprints in the dusting of fresh snow as I climbed to Vestal Basin — I had the range to myself.

Arrow, Electric, and talus notch

I left the trail where it turns east near Arrow, aiming up talus toward a notch between Arrow and Electric containing a permanent-looking snowfield. The talus started out well-behaved, but quickly turned awful. Not liking the look of the notch, I headed to the right, at one point comically falling off a beachball-sized boulder as it slowly rolled beneath me, bruising my thigh. The suck continued up Electric until I eventually gained a third class rib on the south side, which I followed to near the summit. I found two registers: a wad of wet but legible paper in a PVC tube, and some dry pages from a Simpsons calendar in a salsa jar. I have seen a similar Simpsons register on another peak in the area, but I don’t remember which.

Garfield and talus-bowl from Electric

I made my way down the choss toward Graystone, then headed west through the talus-bowl toward its northwest side. Without the snow, I could probably have walked up slabs to its north ridge, but the fresh snow made them slick and impossible. I ended up walking all the way around, to a point where it made more sense to tag Garfield first, then traverse back east along the connecting ridge. I passed “Garfield Lake” on pleasant, dry slabs, then made my way up a turf-y gully to the ridge, where I finally found some fun.

Garfield and Point Pun

The traverse out to Garfield was mostly class 2-3, with one fourth class step that could probably be avoided to the right. I tagged the closer, higher-looking point, then spent 20 minutes tagging the farther one, which had a cairn. The traverse back to Graystone over “Point Pun” was mostly fun class 2-3 on solid rock, with the best line staying near the crest except for detours around a couple notches between Pun and Graystone.

Right (l) and wrong (r) way down Graystone

I planned to return by descending a snow gully between Graystone and Arrow. Unfortunately, I did not traverse far enough — the easiest gully descends from the low point of the ridge — and did some sketchy downclimbing on a mixture of crusty powder, choss, and hard older snow. It was slow, careful work, but I eventually made it back to the talus bowl, hacked through some ice to replenish my water, and made my miserable way back down the talus to the trail. I went straight through the notch this time, finding a suitable passage in the moat west of the permanent snowfield. I again had the trail to myself on the way home, reaching the car a bit after sunset, in time to eat dinner and watch some TV before another cold night at the pass.