…continued from Part I…
As related in Part the First, we drove from Denver and hiked into Leviathan basin on day one, losing the way to the lake in the dark, but then managing a textbook traverse to Jagged pass in the predawn hours of day two, leading to the reward of the thrill and majesty of Jagged, subsequently fun slab scrambling on neighboring Leviathan, and concluding with the expansive views afforded from Vallecito.
After returning to camp from these three peaks early in the afternoon, we decided to move from the surprisingly flat spot on the hillside to a premier creekside location 150 feet lower and closer to the Peak Nine ridge line. This creek is shown on the topo map and it falls steeply into the northern part of Leviathan basin from the unnamed lake by peak Nine.
Day 3: Peak Seven, Peak Nine, Storm King Peak, and Peak Six
Friday morning, we awoke in the dark and began making our way west-northwest, under the unseen ramparts of Peak Nine as we followed the stream into the upper basin between peaks Nine, Eight, and Seven. We began south of the stream, climbing steep grass and weaving among scattered trees and willows, but found a relative flat spot to cross over to the north and enjoy easier grassy and talus slopes.
We’d planned to Peak Nine first, as it’s the most difficult, but opted for Peak Seven, since it was not yet dawn. We made our way up the talus guarding Seven’s upper slopes, and the red rays of the rising sun met us as we engaged the middle section.
We summited between 6:35 and 6:40 am and took a few minutes to snack and enjoy the views. The dawn cast all the peaks in silhouette to our east, while the Needles sprawled before us to the south, and the capital “G”s of the Grenadiers – Vestal, Arrow, and the Trinities – were crowned by the newly-risen sun.
Retracing our ascent route carefully but efficiently, we arrived at the pond between peaks Seven and Eight at 7:30. Eight is a craggy beast and would be troublesome for peakbaggers, were it ranked.
Making our way around the pond, we descended toward the significant but unnamed lake west of Peak Nine. Hugging the talus slope beneath Eight, we soon began slogging up the jumble of rocks in the gully between peaks Eight and Nine. A rib splits the lower part of this gully. Once above the rib, we then bee-lined across the junk on a convenient use-path to the entrance to the lower ledge that transverses Peak Nine.
This ramp begins a romp adorned with wildflowers, and it continues about three-quarters across Nine’s southern face. It seems that the route has been well-cairned in recent years, as we simply followed this ramp until we found easy access upward that was marked by a cairn. If you look for the cairns and go by the mantra that anything harder than class 3 is off-route, then you’ll stick to the route. With two sets of eyes, we stuck to the route fairly easily, making it to the summit at 9:35, about 1 hour and 25 minutes from gaining the lower ramp.
One thing about the route: once it begins climbing, don’t try to gain the ridge too quickly. The route does an ascending traverse up various ledges, and after the ridge is gained, there are two intervals — one fairly lengthy — where you deviate to the north side. Most of this north-side terrain is class two, although there is one steep awkward step.
We spent very little time on the summit, as we didn’t want our memory of the route to fade, and that tactic paid off, as we reversed the route fluidly. As we made our way down the upper part of the lower ramp, we ran into 14er member D’Arcy, and his companion, Marianne
After leaving Nine, we slogged the upper half of the Eight-Nine gully, which led to a small talus-choked basin. Ben walked straight across to the saddle facing us to the northwest, while I contoured right to avoid losing ground. From this saddle, we then descended a short, grungy talus-and-scree gully before wrapping around to walk on grass (grass!) between Storm King and the Eight.
I wished I’d researched Storm King better. I only had the one report from Derek and it had been ruined by a Camelback leakage. On our exit from the Weminuche, we ran into Roger Linfield, who described a class 3-4 route on Storm King’s west ridge. So we could have gone directly north from our Eight bypass to hit this ridge. As it was, we aimed eastward to Storm King’s south ridge. After steep annoying scree, we came to a notch and had to downclimb left, so we then ascended the descent gully. Between one-third and one-half of the way up, we made the poor choice to venture up ledges to the left. These ledges and ribs would present delightful scrambling to the summit, if they were not covered in kitty litter. We persevered, reached the top to enjoy the views, and visited with two Outward Bound guides who had climbed the technical route on the north face, summiting just a few minutes after us.
As we descended the gully, we still had not decided whether to continue to Silex and then Guardian, or Peak Six. The latter was farthest away, but we’d missed it the day prior. The former two made the most sense, but if weather moved in, they’d be harder to vacate. Reaching the Storm King-Nine saddle and looking over to the Silex-Nine saddle decided the matter: neither of us liked the prospect of crossing the steeply-sloped terrain above the cliff.
So we went back around Peak Eight, and then, some much-needed refreshment in the lake south of Nine. It was too cold for swimming, but dousing feet and face felt invigorating, and we probably spent a half-hour enjoying the cold water and drying off on sun-drenched rocks. The sky was blue and it was the rare day where this type of indulgence could go unpunished.
Leaving the lake, we headed due south, climbing a modest grassy slope and then staying as high as possible to contour to the southeast around Seven. Initially, the terrain remained flower-filled turf, but as we continued beneath the Six-Seven ridge, it turned to more of my favorite talus and boulder fields.
Turning the corner to climb the east slopes of Six revealed a face full of scree and talus. About one-third of the way up, the ledges of a broken cliff band gave a brief respite, but steep climbing up loose rock was the order of the day. Still, it wasn’t too bad: this slope took me 50 minutes (a few minutes less for Ben). Reaching Six at just before 5 (read that out loud), the westering sun treated us to the glories of the Weminuche, with lakes on three sides of us and rugged, aesthetic peaks all around us.
To descend, we headed down Six’s south ridge a little way before picking our way down an initially scree-filled gully that soon became choss-choked but still passable. Choss for the feet; splendor for the eyes: but a truly wonderful day in the Weminuche.
Day 4: Mt. Silex, The Guardian, and the pack up Vallecito
We awoke the morning of day four and made our way east, essentially paralleling the peekaboo Leviathan trail at a higher elevation beneath Peak Nine. En route, we found a trail (not appearing on the Trails Illustrated map) that leads to the basin east of Nine that gives access to the south faces of Silex and The Guardian. Not knowing where this trail led and thinking perhaps it was the main trail that we lost in the night on our approach, we abandoned it early to scamper up some ledges, only to find the cliff of Nine’s southeastern edge, necessitating a downclimb to talus. Follow the trail!
This talus slope marked the opening of the small basin south of Silex and Guardian, and led to more talus. Used to this by now, we continued up the basin, aiming for a low point on the west ridge of Silex. The slopes did not look too steep but my calves informed me that my eyes were mistaken. At least the the talus gave way to scree and dirt, with some occasional vegetation and broken ledges.
Once on the ridge, the route is straightforward, with one tower to bypass on the right. While mostly class two, some class three scrambling presented itself. None of the summits in this range presents poor views. From Silex, Storm King presented a formidable, fantastic profile. Gazing west granted views of peaks from the prior two days, with the Pigeon/Animas group beyond; while gazing south presented the majesty of Sunlight and Windom.
After enjoying the views and the warmth of the early morning sun, we trekked down the north ridge, quickly deviating west from the ridge line to pick our way down ledges. We remembered from Derek’s (“Furthermore’s”) trip report that he’d dropped significantly below the ridge. We think we did not drop down as far, as we continually had to downclimb from one ledge to another, and it seems that Derek managed a more straightforward, linear traverse.
Derek’s report also mentioned an ascent gully to the east of The Guardian’s summit. There are rows of ledges transversing the Guardian’s upper pitches and I wanted to launch for one of these, but Ben reminded me of my lesson from Nine yesterday: the taming of the POMRanian. There would be no seeking the path of most resistance on this trip. So we contoured well below these upper ledges, until the eastern came into view, and then found a suitable class three scramble to the top ridge, which we strolled to the summit. It was only five minutes of scrambling, followed by twelve minutes of walking to reach the summit at ten of ten.
The Guardian affords expansive views to all directions: besides the always-dramatic figures of the Needles and Grenadiers dominating our western views, the Oso group loomed prominently to the southeast, while we could see the lone giant figure of Rio Grande Pyramid due east, and northeast to White Dome and Hunchback Pass. Nature had smiled on us with another golden day, and we relaxed on the summit for the better part of an hour, as this was our final peak for the day.
We used the gully east of the summit to descend and eventually found slopes of intermingled rock and grass, and made our way for the trail leading from the bottom of this side basin into Leviathan. Ben’s tent having been victimized by a vicious marmot the day prior, we had packed up camp before the climb and now retrieved our packs from the trees that safeguarded them. Saying goodbye to Leviathan basin, our haunt of the past three nights, we packed out. The trail was troublesome even in daylight (not just hard to find with deadfall and high vegetation, but also criss-crossing the upper Leviathan creek where it froths in a ravine), so my advice to others doing a similar trip is to forget about trying to camp near Leviathan lake and simply aim for the northern edge of the basin. We hiked most of the way up the Vallecito, finding camp at a comfortable site just north of the waterfalls along the trail.
The next day, the last of our time in the Weminuche, made the perfect conclusion to our trip, which Ben will present in Part Three.