Labor Day weekend in the San Juans has become sort of a tradition over the years. The extra day, usually accompanied with decent weather, combine for a perfect time to bag some peaks. With a full year of long winter slogs, spring descents and summer ridge runs, your legs are finely tuned for long days, and the monsoon season is finally starting to calm down. For some, this is the culmination and final hoorah before hanging up the boots, for others, just another great weekend in the hills.
After much debate and an unfavorable forecast, the group decided on something closer than the original plan of the La Platas in the Southwest corner of the state. The chance of thunderstorms reached the 70 to 80% range and none of us were willing to drive 7 to 8 hours to get turned around, so the negotiations began and a middle ground was found – the Lake City region.
The pre-conceived misconception of the Lake City area 13ers was they were bland and uninteresting. This could not be further from the truth and a new found appreciation was discovered this year.
Steve and I met in Littleton, loaded up his Rav-4, aka the “Honey Badger”, and made way for Lake City to meet Kevin, Sarah and Mike sleeping in their cars at the Cataract Gulch Trailhead down the Cinnamon Pass road south of town. We arrived slightly before midnight, set up the Hubba Hubba and got some shuteye.
Day 1 – Quarter (13,674) and Half Peak (13,841)
We all woke around 5am and started on the trail, dreary eyed, just as the forest was illuminated with morning alpenglow. Our goal for day #1 was Quarter Peak, a Colorado Bi-Centennial (top 200) and Half Peak, a Centennial (top 100). The approach to the basin is surprisingly lush….
We eventually broke treeline and made up the gradual, mellow eastern slopes of Quarter Peak
Unfortunately, this bluebird day wouldn’t last, so we did our best to make good time up Quarter, which ended in a pretty sweet, optional class 4 scramble, on really shitty rock of course.
Steve and I chose the scrambling routes, while Mike, Kevin and Sarah opted for safer ground. We reached the false summit soon enough and then ran the class 2+ ridge to the true summit of Quarter, with great views of Half’s North Face. You get a good idea of it’s name from this vantage point, with an bonus view of the Grenadiers off its NW shoulder.
Kevin and Sarah, having already done Half, called it a day and moseyed on back to the trailhead, while the rest of us made the long traverse to Half, with impending weather. Half’s north face just loomed larger and larger as we got closer, it reminded me a lot of Uncompaghre in a way.
The scramble up the northeast ridge proved slightly more troublesome than expected, I guess the initial perception of this place was any gaper on any given day could stumble up these mole hills drunk with no problems whatsoever. In reality, there are some secrets held in these corners of the San Juans, which was a welcomed surprise treat. I guess its folly to underestimate the Rockies, no matter where you are.
Half offered one fine view of the Weminuche from afar….
Eventually, we somehow lost track of Uncompaghre…..
And figured it was time to get a move on. We jetted down the east ridge and the rain shells went on, but by the time we reached Cataract Lake, most of the weather subsided and we enjoyed a nice cool descent back to treeline and eventually, the cars. We saw a moose high tailing it across the valley at one point, and then admired the lush forest below.
We drove in to town to make last minute supply runs and then went campsite hunting up Hensen Creek road. Everything was taken as to nobody’s surprise, so we decided to check out the road up towards the Wetterhorn trailhead. 4 words – Gaped the f*** out. I’m just glad we weren’t here when those assclowns from Texas – Camp Gladiator – were around. We might’ve had to use our cans of Counter Assault on something other than a bruin. Anyways, Steve’s “honey badger” didn’t give a shit and just kept bouncing up the road till we finally all agreed on a spot in a grove of trees a little ways past the Wetterhorn trailhead. After making our nests for the next 48 hours, it was then time for some O Face.
Buffalo tacos were enjoyed by all, along with enough Horsetooth Hot Sauce to kill a moderately large population of marmots. Kevin spoke of the art of digging AND flagging your cat hole the night before in anticipation of a rough morning. He said if you are really worried, its best to just sleep without your pants on. Sounds silly, but it won’t sound so silly after you have Gonzalj’d all over your campsite cause you lost control of all motor functions. Let me just say that “ghost pepper extract” is nothing to take lightly. All I’ve gotta say about that…
Day 2 – Wildhorse Peak (13,266), Blackwall Mtn (13,073) and Dragon’s Back (12,968)
This would end up being one of the single more enjoyable days I’ve personally experienced in the San Juans, maybe cause it was spontaneous and unexpected. All I remember, as we were making the long trek from the wilderness boundary along the cattle road towards Wildhorse, was the Buddy Holly song “Well All Right” stuck humming in my head, a good reminder this is what livin’ is all about and what better time to ponder such thoughts than on Labor Day.
Anyways – the morning brought some purdy vistas….
The panoramic views in this area were really unique, unlike anything I’ve seen before in Colorado. It kind of felt like we were travelling back in time to the age of wagon trains, mining claims, 6-shooters and fields of buffalo. I can only imagine what the old timers thought when they stumbled upon views like this….
Or who was the first person to scale the Dragon’s Back…..
Or what Henry Buchel and his summit party thought about the first ever view from this summit back in 1929….
Surrounded by the ghost towns of the Alpine Scenic Byway that emcompasses the tri-town region of Lake City/Silverton/Ouray, this is the ideal location to get a sense of what Colorado was built upon.
We reached the summit plateau and the views started getting really interesting….
The summit was a nice spot for a long break. While chowing down on some pringles, we discussed the world of county highpointers. We had heard rumors of highpointers knocking on farmland owner’s doors, asking for permission to cross their land to reach certain points of interest. We joked of owning a piece of land ourselves, housing a highpoint known as “Honey Badger Hill”, that would let out a primal scream coming from a hole as highpointers approached it.
Blackwall proved to be bit of a slog, as we had to descend down to the valley below, then regain around 1000 feet to attain the summit, but the views of Dragon’s Back and the south ridgeline of Blackwall hogged most of our attention. We reached the summit soon enough and were offered a fine view of the Cimarrons to the north.
We made another slog over to Dragon’s Back and decided what to do from a lake on its southern slopes. Kevin and Sarah hung out at the lake as Steve and I tried to catch up with Mike on the climb. Mike ended up taking a different way than we did (he found the standard, class 4 route). Steve and I managed to take the semi-insane, loose, exposed low class 5 route up the west side. Exciting – yes. Repeatable? – No. We hung out on the exposed summit for a couple minutes before rejoining Kevin and Sarah down below at the lake.
The downclimb went something like this….
We reached basecamp and feasted once again and planned out a final day in the area – setting our sights on the Matterhorn Creek area.
Day 3 – Matterhorn Peak
The last day was spent in the 14er den of Matterhorn Creek – nothing new to report here other than the amazing views from the summit of Matterhorn. Enjoy…..
I’ll conclude this report with some shots of the feasts we experienced, as well as a sunset parting shot on the drive home. Thanks for reading….