Dallas, Gladstone and Weminuche Wilderness for Masochists
(21 Colorado Thirteeners in 12 Days)

7-18 Aug 2004 - by Gary Swing

Here are some notes from my biggest peakbagging trip yet. Over a 12 day period, I reached the summits of 21 new thirteeners with about 49,050 feet of elevation gain in 107 miles, slightly more than the elevation gain equivalent of going from sea level to the summits of both Mount Everest and Kilimanjaro. My trip included free solo climbs of Dallas Peak and Jagged Mountain. I climbed 19 of these mountains during a 9 day backpacking trip.

WWFM -- Part One

August 7. Drove from Denver to the Mill Creek Trailhead near Telluride. Backpacked 3.1 miles on the Deep Creek and Sneffels Highline trails to camp at 11,200'.

August 8. Woke up around sunrise. My head was pounding. I felt nauseous and disoriented. Must be altitude sickness. Oh well, I was off to solo climb the most difficult of Colorado's 100 highest peaks. I was confused by the Roaches' detailed description of the route on Dallas, So I mostly used Garratt and Martin's vague route description. I climbed up a nasty rock gully with ball-bearing scree followed by a scary traverse across steep loose scree above cliff bands. The fourth class rock pitch on the east face was fun to climb up, but scary to downclimb. I found the gully with the chockstone in it and climbed over the chockstone through a small hole to the north face. Then I descended down the ramp on the exposed north face. For some reason, I thought I was supposed to traverse further across the north face, which looked extremely dangerous. I figured that one slip there would mean a fall to my death. I decided to give up on soloing Dallas. But, before I left, I figured that I would at least try to climb up to the ridge top to see if I could get a view of the summit. There was a nice solid rock climbing route above me, so I climbed 90 feet up a rock wall, up cracks, ramps, and an alcove. When I reached the ridgetop, I stumbled a few feet over to the summit cairn to see if I could determine where the summit was. About twenty feet away, there were a lot of 15 foot rappel slings anchored around a large block. Another point just to the west seemed to be at about the same height. Then there was another point much lower, and half a mile west was yet another summit that I thought might be Dallas. (It was West Dallas.) I got out my topo map and followed the contours back from Mt. Sneffels. Then I re-read both sets of directions. I was really standing on the summit of Dallas and had climbed up the standard summit pitch without realizing that I was going the right way. I took a black rappel sling off the summit as a trophy and climbed back down my 97th of Colorado's 100 highest summits. The lower 5th class downclimb didn't bother me as much as the technically easier parts of the descent with loose rock and exposure. I took two other partially gnawed slings off the top of the chockstone and passed by a third rappel station at the top of the fourth class downclimb. That afternoon, I backpacked out and drove to the Cross Creek Trailhead south of Lizard Head Pass for my next climb.

Dallas Peak was a 9.3 mile round trip with 4,589 feet of elevation gain.

August 9: Since I was car camping in full view of Colorado Route 145, I packed up my frost-covered tent before starting the long hike to Gladstone Peak. It would be 14.6 miles round trip with 5,023 feet of elevation gain. Most of the distance was on the excellent Cross Creek and Lizard Head trails. I crossed over the 11,980' saddle 0.4 miles west of 13,113' Lizard Head Peak, the Holy Grail of Colorado peakbagging. Wow! That's one summit I won't try to solo climb. I made it to the 13,140' saddle on Gladstone's north ridge, but my nerves were completely shot after soloing Dallas, and I was frightened by the loose rock on the traverse. On the way up, I partly scrambled up the ridge crest and partly followed a lightly cairned route on loose rock traversing below the ridge on the east side. On the way back, I mostly stayed on top of the technically harder ridge top because the angle and exposure of the cairned route were giving me vertigo. That evening, I drove through Silverton and Howardsville to a camping area near an outhouse along Cunningham Creek. I got lost trying to follow Garratt and Martin's directions to the trailhead. Road numbers in the area have been changed and Route 110 DOES NOT go to Howardsville. I didn't write down corrections. I car camped in preparation for my Weminuche Wilderness peakbagging expedition.

August 10. I did a high backpacking traverse from the Cunningham Creek Trailhead south along the Continental Divide, with the original intention of going to Eldorado Lake. I disregarded the trail that I should have taken because it was marked with a sign that said "Horses." Not being of the equine persuasion, I opted instead for the footpath that indicated it was designed for the use of bipedal pedestrians. It might have been more helpful to have signs posted saying "Continental Divide" and "Highland Mary Lakes," rather than "Horses" and "Hikers." I trotted off resolutely in the wrong direction. When I realized that I was headed toward Highland Mary Lakes, I did a high, rugged off-trail backpack up a ridge, passing northeast of a 12,905' summit to a pond on the side of the Continental Divide Trail. Back on route, I followed the excellent divide trail south to a trail junction near several small ponds at 12,500 feet, where I decided to descend southwest to the Beartown four-wheel drive road. I camped where the road met the start of the trail to Hunchback Pass at 11,700 feet.

That afternoon, I hiked up Unnamed 13,342 and Unnamed 13,308. For this hike, I walked down the Beartown Road to 11,400', crossed two streams to the east, and hiked up the La Garita Stock Trail to the 12,702' saddle between the two summits. Both peaks had dramatic rock formations, with interesting hoodoos on the 13,308' peak. I climbed Unnamed 13,342 mostly by way of grass and scree slopes on the south side with some rock scrambling near the summit. For Unnamed 13,308, I followed the east ridge up to the rock blocks on the summit. On the descent, I went down a steep scree chute to the north from a 12,820' saddle on the east ridge. This day's backpack had about 2,325 feet of elevation gain in 7 miles. The hike from camp to the two summits was about 6.2 miles with 3,100 feet of elevation gain.

Finding Nebo (WWFM -- Part Two)

August 11: 9.8 miles round trip, 4,834 feet of elevation gain.

I hiked up the trail from the campsite to 12,493' Hunchback Pass, and then southeast along the broad Continental Divide ridge to the rocky talus slopes on the north side of Unnamed 13,110. I climbed over the summit, continued south to a saddle, then resumed climbing southwest and west up rocky ridges to the 13,205' summit of Mount Nebo. I returned east-northeast to a 12,980' ridge point and walked southeast up an easy ridge to the summit of Unnamed 13,230 on the edge of the Rio Grande Pyramid quad map. Next, I retraced the route to Hunchback Pass and walked briskly northwest and west up the ridge to the 13,186' summit of Hunchback Mountain, racing potentially threatening clouds. Then I walked back down the ridge to the pass and followed the trail down to my campsite.

August 12: 14 miles round trip, 7,085 feet of elevation gain, White Dome, Peaks One, Two, and Three.

I walked up the Beartown Road to a cabin by Kite Lake and hiked west up a use trail to the Continental Divide at 12,840'. There, I walked south along the broad divide ridge, then traversed west above Eldorado Lake at perhaps 12,700 to 12,800 feet across grassy and rocky terrain. I lost a bit of elevation near some small ponds and then climbed south up a talus-filled couloir to the 13,180' saddle between White Dome and Peak One. The ridge east-northeast to White Dome's 13,627' summit was a fun, moderate rock scramble. The ridge southwest to Peak One's 13,589' summit was a bit easier. I continued south down a rocky ridge to a 13,220' saddle and descended northwest down a loose rock gully to about 12,050' feet in the basin between Peaks One, Two and Three. Then I walked west up mostly grassy slopes to the broad saddle between Peaks Two and Three. I scrambled south up talus on Peak Three's north ridge and northwest slopes to the 13,478' summit, where I encountered and chatted with the "canister couple," Kathy and Gary, who put registers on so many summits. They were camped in the Vestal Creek basin west of these peaks. I returned north to the saddle and hiked north up a use trail, over a 13,392' ridge point to the 13,475' summit of Peak Two. Once again, I returned to the Peaks Two-Three saddle, and descended east into the One-Two-Three basin. I should have reclimbed Peak One to return to camp the way I had come. Instead, I descended north down the rugged drainage to the Colorado Trail at about 10,700 feet. This drainage was dreadful to hike down. It was filled with loose rock of every conceivable shape and size, cliff bands, some pretty waterfalls, deadfall trees, willows, thick underbrush, and generally rough bushwhacking and rockwhacking. I finally reached the Colorado Trail with badly blistered feet. My new hiking boots were breaking me in. Then I hiked east, north, and east again up the Colorado Trail, with many switchbacks, to the Continental Divide at 12,700', which I hiked east and south to the use trail leading down to Kite Lake. I walked the trail and road back to camp.

August 13: 8.6 miles one way, 2,113 feet of elevation gain, backpacking day.

I backpacked to a new basecamp: over Hunchback Pass, down the Vallecito Creek Trail (Continental Divide Trail), forded the Vallecito Creek, and hiked up the steep, faint Leviathan Creek Trail to about 11,100 feet in the Leviathan Creek basin. I met peakbaggers Craig and Sherry, a group of young guys from a church group who said they had climbed Storm King and a few had climbed Jagged, and a group of Americorps workers doing trail maintenance.

The Jagged Edge (WWFM -- Part Three)

August 14: 7 miles round trip, 4,720 feet of elevation gain, Jagged Mountain, Leviathan Peak, and Vallecito Mountain.

Today I would attempt a solo climb of Jagged Mountain. I bushwhacked and rock scrambled west up the Leviathan Creek drainage through very rough terrain to the 12,940' saddle west of Leviathan Peak and then walked on a use trail southwest to 13,020' Jagged Pass. The imposing, awesome north face of Jagged Mountain confronted me with the summit just 0.4 miles away and 844 feet of elevation gain to the top. I left my hiking pole leaning against a boulder at the pass and walked over to the base of the north face. At first, I couldn't find the start of the climbing route. I climbed up and down to the right of the snow-filled couloir a couple of different ways, making tricky moves that were more difficult than they should have been. I was frustrated, but it was still early and the weather was good, so I walked up the dirt ramp to the right, (with many, many footprints) that Rosebraugh's San Juan guidebook warns to avoid at all costs. I climbed from this ramp most of the way up cracks and chimneys towards the false northwest summit of Jagged Mountain. I knew I was going the wrong way, but I did it anyway. From high up on this route, I could see the grassy platforms of the correct route to the right of the snow-filled couloir. I picked out a likely spot to climb to these platforms, and returned down the dirt ramp to the base of the north face.

I sort of made up my own route to climb up the base of the rock wall until I got to easier terrain and found the grassy platforms with other climbers' footprints. I followed these up and found a route marked by cairns. From that point on, it was not difficult to discern the climbing route. I climbed up one of the shorter, more difficult lower fifth class cracks to reach Jagged's southwest face. The ledges across this face were extremely exposed, followed by a moderate third class scramble to the summit. I had reached my 99th summit out of Colorado's 100 highest peaks. (Only Jupiter remains for a completion trip.) With a second free solo climb of a technical thirteener done, I again took one of the rappel slings off the summit and started the route back down. I found it much easier to see where the standard route was going on the way down than on the way up. I passed two other rappel stations on the way down, removing ragged slings that were ready for the trash heap. I downclimbed the westernmost of the fifth class cracks and almost fell off. My feet slipped off, my left hand wasn't on anything solid, and only my right hand jammed into the crack kept me from falling. I frantically struggled for something solid to hold on to and regained a secure position. I was shaken, but the rest of the decent was pretty straightforward. By the time I got back to Jagged Pass, my hands were red and raw. Eight of my fingertips were cracked and bleeding. My feet and knees were in great pain. It hurt to walk or to touch anything with my hands. My legs, thighs, and arms were bruised. I found my hiking pole, which was now on the ground. The nylon strap was gone and there were tooth marks on the rubber handle. I picked it up and walked back to the saddle west of Leviathan Peak.

Clouds were building, and I wasn't sure if I had time to climb another summit before a storm hit. Once again, I left what remained of my hiking pole at this saddle. I did a rapid scramble up the rocky southwest ridge of Leviathan Peak to its 13,528' summit and back. The clouds were still there, but a storm didn't seem to be imminent. I picked up my hiking stick again and traversed east over loose rock past the south face of Leviathan Peak to climb up a ramp northwest of and slightly above the Leviathan-Vallecito saddle. I started up left of the ridge, and returned to the ridge for the upper part of the walk up to Vallecito's 13,428' summit. Then I retraced my traverse back to the saddle west of Leviathan Peak and found another bad way to descend the rough drainage back to basecamp.

August 15: 5.5 miles round trip with 4,215 feet of elevation gain for Peak Seven and Storm King Peak.

I climbed from the Leviathan Basecamp northwest up the drainage past a 12,460' lake to the 12,740' saddle between Peak Seven and the unranked summit of Peak Eight. The rugged climb of Peak Nine rose to the east, but I was firmly committed to not attempting it on this trip. I climbed an easy slope northwest to a minor saddle at 13,020 feet on Peak Seven's northwest ridge. Then I scrambled south and southwest up the ridge on loose, shattered blocks of quartzite. I did what Rosebraugh calls a "tricky downclimb" to the right of an exposed ridge point, and scrambled the rest of the way up the loose, rather unpleasant ridge to Peak Seven's 13,682' summit. I tagged that peak, and then proceeded back down to the saddle between Peaks Seven and Eight. There was a use trail here which I followed east-northeast to the 12,820' saddle between Storm King Peak and Peak Nine. I did a fun scramble northeast up the southwest ridge of Storm King to its 13,752' summit, with some interesting third and fourth class moves. This was my favorite mountain of the trip. On the way back down, I descended the upper part of a loose rock and scree couloir northwest of the ridge until I reached a cairned ledge that rejoined the ridge route. I went back down the ridge, walked the use trail to the saddle between Peaks Seven and Eight, and descended the drainage to the campsite.

Silex of the Lambs (WWFM Part Four)

August 16: 3.5 miles round trip with 3,200 feet of elevation gain for Mount Silex and The Guardian.

I was tired. My feet hurt. My legs hurt. My knees hurt. My fingers were very sensitive. It hurt to walk or to touch anything. It was painful to put on my socks and boots and to tie my bootlaces. I hiked steeply northeast up the basin above my campsite, traversed east of the southern nose of a ridge above treeline, and climbed up talus on the south face of Mount Silex. I passed to the left of cliff bands high on the south face and followed other climbers' footprints to the 13,628' summit. I dropped back down to about 13,200 feet and did a descending traverse southeast across ledges littered with loose rock. The ledges weren't that difficult, but I was feeling freaked out by the exposure and the junk rock. I passed by the double saddles between Silex and The Guardian. I guess I dropped too low on the traverse because I missed the couloir that I was supposed to climb up to 13,400' on The Guardian's northwest ridge and continued traversing until I reached a major loose rock couloir that led straight up The Guardian's southwest face to it's 13,617' summit. I climbed up this to the top. While I was there, a small plane passed relatively low overhead. I waved and speculated about the possibility that Stevo and Terri might be in the plane taking photographs of the mountains. I had seen their names logged in the Hunchback Pass trailhead register, bound for Jagged. (I had also met Forrest at my first campsite, who had just returned from solo climbing Jagged.) From The Guardian, I headed straight down the loose rock couloir towards my campsite. I knocked off a lot of rock on the way down.

I believe that was the night with a ferocious storm with heavy hail and rain, and frighteningly close, simultaneous flash-boom lightning and thunder. Just about everthing got wet.

August 17. Peaks Six and Five with 3,800 feet of elevation gain in a 5.5 mile round trip hike. Backpack return trip to Beartown campsite with 2,735 feet of elevation gain in 8.6 miles.

I started hiking toward Peak Six and found a faint climbers' trail traversing high across the north side of the Leviathan Creek basin. I followed this until it disappeared above Leviathan Lake. I continued traversing high to the west towards Peak Six, then climbed steeply northwest up talus to its 13,705' summit. This would be my 183rd of Colorado's 202 Bicentennial peaks. I descended the standard route down the southwest ridge of Peak Six to its 12,900 foot saddle with Peak Five. The ridge over to Peak Five appeared to be needlessly rugged, so I disregarded Rosebraugh's ridge route and dropped south from the saddle. I did a traverse across talus, boulderfields, and loose rock around 12,700 to 12,800 feet southwest across the face of Peak Five. Then I climbed steeply up various grassy ramps and talus until I reached the false southwest summit of Peak Five. It was a short walk from there to the true 13,283' northwest summit with an easy friction slab at the top. This was my 290th ranked Colorado summit over 13,000 feet, and the last mountain I would climb on this trip. For the descent I went back down some grassy ramps and part of a loose rock gully to the large lake at 12,552'. I walked south and east past the south side of the lake and headed east up the edge of the hanging basin until I found a cairn marking an easy passage to the couloir that would lead steeply east up boulders and talus to Jagged Pass. Once again, I was racing dark clouds that threatened a storm. I walked back over the pass west of Leviathan Peak and returned to camp via a traverse high on the north side of the Leviathan Creek basin.

When I got back to camp, I was ready to end the trip and go home, but I was tired and worried about the weather. I had lunch and drank some water. I packed up my gear and started hiking out. It rained during the early part of my backpack out, but it wasn't bad. Once again, I forded the Vallecito Creek, and did the long, slow hike up the Contintental Divide/Vallecito Creek trail over Hunchback Pass to return to my first campsite. It rained lightly during the night.

August 18. Backpack to the Cunningham Creek Trailhead with 1,300 feet of elevation gain in 7.4 miles.

I think it only took a little over three hours to walk back to my car. I followed the Continental Divide Trail northwest from my campsite and continued straight on a spur trail when the main trail veered left. This led up to the divide by the small ponds at 12,500 feet. Dark, ominous clouds threatened an apocalyptic storm as I pursued my high Continental Divide traverse. This time I stayed north on the divide trail past the earlier erroneous route and found the correct trail down to Cunningham Creek. This trail headed left (northwest) across a saddle south of a 12,302' ridge point. A bit below treeline, I reached a fork in the trail with both branches going downhill. I chose the trail to the left and followed it down to the trail along Cunningham Creek. My descent route turned out to be the trail marked: "Horses." A brief walk north on the trail down Cunningham Creek led me out to the trailhead.

I had planned to do four more days of climbing, but I had had enough. I scrapped the rest of my climbing plans for this trip and drove home.

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