San Juans Climbing Tour

29 Jul - 4 Aug 2000 - by Doug Cook

Jagged Peak (13,824), Twin Thumbs Pass (13,000), Jupiter Mountain (13,830), Grizzly Peak (13,700), and Teakettle Mountain (13,819)

During this seven day grand tour of the San Juans, we were blessed with near perfect weather and summited three Centennial and one Bicentennial Peaks. We backpacked and climbed at least 32 miles and 13,000 feet to summit Jagged Peak, hiked over 13,000 foot Twin Thumbs Pass (Ugh!), and then climbed Jupiter and Grizzley (a Bicentennial) before catching the train back to Durango. We added Teakettle Mountain onto the end of the trip since we were in the neighborhood. (Well, Durango is in Western Colorado although not really near Yankee Boy Basin, but Teakettle is a really fun climb!) Teakettle is another Centennial/Thirteener that requires some technical rock climbing like Jagged Peak.

Bob Reimann planned the trek to pick up several of the Thirteeners he needs to summit to complete the Centennials. Doug Hill, Bill Moore, Neil Perrin, Bob Comyn, and Doug Cook did their best to keep Bob on route (it worked most of the time!) and belayed him when he lead climbed the final pitches to the summit of Jagged and Teakettle. Congratulations to Bob Reimann on completing his 95th, 96th, and 97th Centennials!!

Saturday, July 29 We drove from Denver to Durango via Gunnison (eight hours) and motel camped.

Sunday, July 30 We caught the 7:30 AM Durango/Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad out of Durango. Boarding was required between 6:30 and 7:00 AM. The coal fired steam-engine train is a fun experience for first timers (the grit and particulate from the coal made breathing difficult for Doug C., and he moved from our open-air gondola to an enclosed car). After three hours we arrived at the Needleton jump-off for hikers and climbers. About 40 people exited and disappeared on the trails, nearly everyone heading East up Needle Creek to the Chicago Basin.

We headed North along the Animas River, passed the turnoff for the Ruby Creek trail, and eventually turned East on the trail along No Name Creek. As per Garrett and Martin, the turn-off along No Name is at an old telephone pole. (Don't be fooled by an old pole laying on the ground or a 10-foot tall broken off pole.) The trail North along the Animas disappears shortly after the telephone pole and turnoff. It rained hard for about 30 minutes, which ended up (other than a few light sprinkles a couple of evenings) to be the only rain we were caught in for the entire week. After about seven miles and 2500 feet we camped at 10,740 feet near a Y-branch in No Name Creek, near the cutoff for the trail to Jagged Peak.

Monday, July 31 With an early start at dawn around 5:15 AM, Bill, Neil, Bob R., and Doug C. followed Garrett and Martin's route description about two miles and 2500 vertical to top out on the summit of Jagged Peak around 11:00 AM. We found the route description to be true: "Jagged is one of the most difficult summits to climb in Colorado's highest hundred. Only experienced climbers skilled in route finding should attempt it." Indeed the route finding was harder than any Fourteener, although there were faint climbing trails and an occasional cairn. We climbed a few feet to the right of the route that parallels the couloir (we were off-route) and ended up on some difficult 4th/5th class short sections of rock. Doug C. took a surprising 4-5 foot fall backwards off a rock flake he was trying to scramble over, hit hard on his butt, and luckily grabbed a rock and stopped himself from sliding and falling about 15 feet down to the next rock ledge. (Yes, we were wearing helmets. Other than this incident, the trip was accident-free with everyone sporting heroic scrapes and bruises on arms and legs at the end of the seven days.) After ascending alongside the couloir, we worked our way around the summit block and Bob lead climbed a 45-foot mid-5th class pitch to just below the summit. Another 20 feet and we were on the summit. We celebrated finding a direct route to the true summit. The route description warns that you cannot traverse between summit blocks if you ascend the wrong one, which could easily be done with the extremely jagged rock formation. We rappelled down the 45-foot summit pitch and later down an 80-foot pitch that would have been difficult to downclimb.

Tuesday, August 1 We left camp at 8:10 AM to try and beat any thunderstorms to the 13,000 foot Twin Thumbs Pass. The climb with a full pack up the steep, loose slopes about two miles and 2300 feet over Twin Thumbs must meet the definition of arduous. Everyone eventually slogged up to the pass and looked down into the beautiful, green Chicago Basin area. We descended the more gentle slopes on the South side of the pass and camped at 11,700 in existing campsites. There were probably 30 other tents in the Basin. This was the first time since leaving the train at Needleton that we saw any other climbers or hikers. North of Twin Thumbs Pass we were entirely alone. A few mountain goats wandered among our tents, grazing and checking us out. The were like tame farm animals and appeared to be used to people being in their territory.

Wednesday, August 2 We left camp around 6:15 AM and set a comfortable pace for Jupiter Mountain. (Bob Comyn hiked out to Needleton due to knee problems.) Jupiter was essentially a walkup with no technical climbing, although the route finding required some deliberation. We spent an hour on the summit with crystal clear blue skies and barely a breath of wind. Bill and Neil continued down and across the basin above Hazel Lake to also summit Grizzley Peak. The rest of us enjoyed a casual stroll back to camp.

Thursday, August 3 We broke camp and backpacked six miles and 3,400 feet down the Chicago Basin "highway" back to Needleton. We were fortunate, and the first train coming from Silverton stopped at 2:30 PM and picked up the 15-20 people that had gathered hoping to catch a train prior to the 4:30 pickup for which we had reservations. Arriving back in Durango around 5:30, we called several motels in Ouray and were lucky to reserve a condo, one of the few accommodations we could find in the area. A hot shower was a welcome luxury!

Friday, August 4 We drove up to Yankee Boy Basin, parked across from the faint climbers trail to Teakettle, and headed up the steep, grassy slopes. Teakettle is one of the most fun peaks we've climbed with moderate routefinding challenges and some 4th and 5th class climbing. The route takes you to the saddle across from Coffeepot (only a little imagination is required) where the distinctive Teakettle shape finally comes into view. After traversing the rocky slopes below Teakettle and climbing what appeared from a distance to be an extremely loose and steep couloir, we arrived just below the summit block. We took turns standing in the distinctive round "handle" for pictures. Doug H. and Bill free climbed the last pitch to the summit. Bob R. lead climbed the final mid-5th class 40 foot pitch and then belayed Neil and Doug C. to the top. We celebrated our good fortune and a 100% successful week long trip, rappelled down from the summit block, wandered back to the SUV, and arrived back in Denver around 9 PM that evening.

This was a wonderful circular trek of the San Juans with some of the most breathtaking scenery in Colorado. It's highly recommended for a 5-6 day trip. Bring a Sherpa, porter, or a llama for the high altitude backpack over 13,000 foot Twin Thumbs Pass!


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