A Real "Grande" Time
(A Room by the Window)

30 Jun - 4 Jul 2006 - by T Colorado

We wanted to climb Rio Grande Pyramid as we've only got a few centennials left and this was one of them. Though we, in Colorado, are in the "afternoon showers" pattern in the mountains, we also knew that we wanted to camp above treeline for both the views and quick accessiblity to the peaks (i.e. not having to climb up from Weminuche Pass everyday). Camping below The Window (a well known feature on a connecting ridge of Rio Grande Pyramid) was ideal and we already knew there was water from a previous trip to the area.

Let's go back in time for a minute. About 17 years ago, Michael and I completed a 93-mile section of the continental divide trail where we started at Silverton and ended up on Wolf Creek Pass (with a food cache buried at the halfway point). We had approached this area from the Ute lakes and then through Gunsight Pass and descended to a beautiful high camp below The Window. There was a great stream and the camp was fantastic; however, at the time, it was hard enough to get our 8+ miles/day backpacking in before the "daily deluge" so climbing was not an option (plus, we were still working on completing our 14'ers, so 13'ers weren't a reality for us yet). But, I digress.

On Thursday, June 29th after work, we drove from Denver to Lake City, up and over Slumgullion Pass, down the other side and to the Rio Grande Reservoir/30 Mile Campground turnoff (Forest Service Road 520). We arrived late and ended up tossing down the sleeping bags about 3 miles before the campground along the side of the road. On Friday, we were up early, drove the rest of the way to the parking area inside the campground (there is no fee for people just parking), and had a quick breakfast.

We were on the trail early (take a right at the early fork in the trail where you sign in the register) and made fairly quick time to the turnoff for the Skyline Trail near the top of Weminuche Pass. The Trails Illustrated map labels this trail "Opal Lake Trail". What the heck!?!?!??!?! It's called the Skyline Trail and has always been called the Skyline Trail and will be referred to throughout this trip report as the Skyline Trail. The beginning of the Skyline Trail is indistinct (to say the least) and is marked by a post with Skyline Trail carved in it. Whether this post is standing or laying on the ground (which it was on our way up), immediately take a right (heading west) and walk approximately 25 yards and you will see the trail which becomes much more defined as you continue up it. If you come to the Weminuche Pass-carved post, you have gone too far. The mosquitoes and biting flies (due to heavy horse usage on the Weminuche Pass trail) made our break very short. Be sure your water bottles are filled before you start up the Skyline Trail. There is no water at all until you get above treeline (at least 4 miles). We made pretty good time as the mosquitoes were chasing us up the trail (hehehe) and this trail makes pretty steady process going up. Soon, you will cross over a minor ridge on the trail and The Window and Rio Grande Pyramid come into view. What a beautiful sight! This a huge high basin, however, and it takes a long time to wind your way around the head of it, passing under Unnamed 13,278, passing under Rio Grande Pyramid, and continuing past the east ridge of the pyramid to a stellar campsite below The Window. The most dependable and high flowing creek is at the drainage just before you reach Opal Lake. We were able to camp before that, and closer to Rio Grande Pyramid, as there was a smaller creek nearby. There are literally hundreds of places to camp up there on nice grassy patches with willows providing some privacy and wind break. We found a great spot at about 12,300'. Michael went to fill up the large collapsable water container and I scurried about setting up the tent -- and just in time. The "daily deluge" (isn't wonderful how some patterns never change) began just as we were both finished with our initial tasks and we dove into the tent along with both of our backpacks. We commenced the interesting challenge of unpacking both backpacks, inflating the thermarests, pulling out bags, clothes, food, etc. all in the confines of a 2-man tent. About the time we fininshed, the rain stopped (hahahaha). We were both tired (having not slept so well the night before) so we ate, and turned in early, looking forward to the productive tomorrow to come. The sun left us to the west (setting to the north of the window and the south of the pyramid) about 7:30 p.m.

On Saturday, the sun hit our tent at 6:04 a.m. The joys of camping high! The skies looked good and we decided to take a shot at Unnamed 13,017 ... an easy looking peak to the south of Unnamed 13,157. We followed the continental divide trail to the south, passed Opal Lake and continued to the high pass that separates Unnamed 13,017 and Unnamed 13,157. Great views of the Grenadiers abound! We could see so many of the summits that we sat on top of and looked at Rio Grande Pyramid and The Window. The Guardian, Mt. Silex, Storm King, etc. I cannot even name them all or it will take up too much of my reporting space. The Mt. Oso group was very pretty and looks like a challenge for a future trip. We cut across the tundra, and large talus slope, and aimed for the grassy saddle that is east of the ridge that leads to the top of Unnamed 13,017. It was quite an interesting ridge indeed. Steep scrambling and some exposure brought us to a point of no return. We would need a rope, if nothing but for comfort on the descent, as there were parts that would go okay ascending, but be a bit disconcerting descending. Unfortunately, we had not brought a rope along as the other peaks we were climbing did not require such assistance. I took a great picture end on and it did resemble the end on view of Pilot Knob. Very vertical on both sides and steep on the ridge end. Oh well. We must save it for another day. We took our time getting back to the trail and hiking back to camp. We arrived about 10 minutes before the "daily deluge" overtook us at our camp and hung out in the tent, being forced to RELAX on our vacation. What is up with that?!?!?! Relaxing on vacation ...

On Sunday, we got up early after having thunderstorms during the night rattle and light up our campsite for some time. We got back on the continental divide trail (heading north) and contoured back around Rio Grande Pyramid to the obvious trail turnoff that leads you up to the saddle between Rio Grande Pyramid and Unnamed 13,278. The route from that saddle up Rio Grande Pyramid is obvious. Head toward the peak, hanging left and following a well beaten path to a high ridge saddle. Then, it's a nice scramble (on solid rock) to the summit. The weather was looking dubious so we did not hang around, but quickly signed into the register, shot some video and headed down. By the time we got back down to the saddle, the weather was looking great so we headed on up to Unnamed 13,278 (which is a walk up). There is a summit register on top of this peak too, and the views of Rio Grande Pyramid from this peak are well worth the trip over (it took us about an hour and a half from the summit of Rio Grande to Unnamed 13,278). The views of the Grenadiers including Chicago Basin, Jagged Mountain, the Wilsons, and soooo many other peaks were wonderful from this summit. According to the register (which was placed there in June of 2005), hardly anyone climbs this peak. We headed on down and back to camp just before the "daily deluge". As an informational note for those wanting to camp high, most of your weather is going to come from the south (from behind Unnamed 13,017) and from the west (from behind Rio Grande Pyramid). We were entertained daily with weather to the east of us that would include rain, sleet, lightning, thunder and rainbows!

On Monday, we thought we'd try Unnamed 13,017 (again), but this time from the west ridge (the south face and north face of this peak are composed of vertical, crappy rock, with cliffy deadends). Plus, we wanted to do Unnamed 13,157 which is the high summit above The Window. So, we were off again on the continental divide trail heading south towards that high pass that separates Unnamed 13,017 and Unnamed 13,157. From the pass, we went left and soon came to find what we dreaded ... we definitely needed a rope for 13,017 and, unfortunately, the east ridge would be the way to go. So, down we hiked, back to the saddle and up the easy grass and scree slopes to the top of Unnamed 13,157. There is a summit cairn, but no register. The views of The Window and Rio Grande Pyramid are fantastic ... did I happen to mention the views of the Grenadiers? (heheh) We contoured our way down to the east, staying high and arriving in The Window. That's such a cool place to be! Everyone coming to this area should make the time to hike up to The Window (or down, depending on where you're coming from ... hehehe). But, the weather was quickly deteriorating so we hurried down the trail and made our way down to Opal Lake, back onto the continental divide trail and to our camp ... you got it ... just before the "daily deluge". We'd entertained fantasies of packing up a leaving that day. But, that dream was not to come to fruition. The rain continued on forcing us to RELAX (and consume tequila) and we gave up and slept in that wonderful high camp another night.

Tuesday brought beautiful weather and we were packed up and hiking out of camp by 8:00 a.m. We took our time, meandering along below Rio Grande Pyramid and enjoying the fantastic views that the Skyline Trail have to offer. Personally, I would not recommend taking the lower option of the trail that stays near Weminuche Pass for longer (I believe it is the Rincon La Vaca Trail). You will have no views and the bugs will probably be unbearable.

Well, we headed back to town glowing from our success of being able to squeeze in three peaks with the weather we had. We will be back, however, with our rope to tackle (and succeed) in climbing Unnamed 13,017. Happy Trails!

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