Tour de Pigeon Peak
24-28 Aug 2003 - by T Colorado
What a grand range the San Juan Mountains are! We planned this trip early in the spring to head up the Ruby Creek drainage to Ruby Lake and climb Pigeon Peak. The last time we had been to this particular area was 13 years ago (on that trip, we bagged Monitor, Animas, Peak 13 and Turret). We conned our friend, Don, to go along for the torture of this adventure and rode in on the wonderful and trusty Durango/Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The train dropped us off at the Needleton footbridge at almost 11:00 a.m. and we made it to vivid aqua blue Ruby Lake for camp by 6:30 p.m. We had no problem finding the start of the trail ... after bushwacking most of the way in 13 years ago, I had retained a mental picture of that little meadow. The trail is just as grueling and steep as all describe and we were lucky to get to camp without getting drenched. According to a local barkeep at The Steamworks, "it has been raining everyday for a month". We received rain everyday we were on this trip, but luckily on summit day, it was only for a few hours in the afternoon. There are many options once you cross the shoulder from North Pigeon Creek into Ruby Creek's drainage ... we were lucky to have the same rugged game trail (climber's trail) on the way in and out. On Monday, a rest day after the backpack in, my husband (Michael) and I scouted out the remainder of the trail up to the high meadow and possibly nail Peak 12 in the process. The trail was easy to find (stick with the path next to the waterfall) and we bypassed the huge willow field on the far left (take a left at the "T" intersection) of the valley. Rain was quick to come, but not before we picked the most direct route up to the saddle between Pigeon and Turret. In the downpour, we headed back to camp and decided to arise early in the morning and be out of camp by 5:30 a.m. in order to avoid the worst of the weather. On Tuesday, we awoke in the dark to a starry sky and were out of camp just as we had planned. We wore our rain pants and gaitors as all of the bushes and groundcover were drenched with water from rain and morning dew. Once above the initial climb into the meadow, we found it best to take a right at the "T" in the trail (prior to the willow field); cross the creek and pick up a good game trail that will take you up through the trees, pick your way through the large boulders and eventually connect up with the "trail" that ends up at the saddle. We hit the first saddle at 9:30 a.m. We then descended while traversing to the right heading around the base of Pigeon. At the second saddle, we continued to descend and bank around until we were high in the basin below Pigeon. Ascending grassy ledges in between large wet rock slabs, we made our way to the ridge below Pigeon. Some exciting and somewhat exposed (no rope) scrambling led us to the summit rock. What incredible views all around us! It was 1:30 p.m. This is truly my most favorite range in the state. The three of us had decided on the way up to descend via North Pigeon Creek (though, I do not advise this of most people unless your route finding skills are well-developed). We descended on a faint trail, followed a couple of cairns and then completely lost any evidence of a trail. We maintained our elevation and kept heading to the right (which would be towards the shoulder of Pigeon). All of a sudden we were on a trail, and a very well defined and cairned trail that took us the direction we wished to go (nice how that works out sometimes, huh?). After staying the trail until it reached the shoulder (much higher than where we crossed on the hike in), the trail petered out to nothing. We recognized the rock formation below us (as something we passed on the hike in) and descended by weaving through cliffs and bushwacking and eventually ended up at the Ruby Creek trail crossing. We headed back in to Ruby Lake and were back at camp by 6:30 p.m. We had completely encircled the mountain. After some investigation, I did find the route description for the descent we ended up taking (which used to be an old ascent route). Boy, were we glad we had it. We got back to camp, consumed tequila, ate dinner and slept well. Wednesday was a rest day and we had planned on doing Peak 12 on Thursday. As weather would have it, it started raining on Wednesday night, and continued Thursday morning. After little contemplation (there was beer and a shower waiting below -- haha), we packed up Thursday morning, hiked out and hit that train. We'll be back ... but, next time, we'll go up No Name Creek. Happy Trails!
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