Rio Grande Tour

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Joel, a friend I met through another friend, was visiting his parents in CO from his home in Switzerland, and wanted to chip away at the centennials during his stay. I convinced him to accompany me to get not only Rio Grande Pyramid, but also its less lofty neighbors outside of the top 100 or even 200 or 300, for that matter.

We drove down to Rio Grande Reservoir on June 16 and hiked in. I’ve been fairly inactive this spring, so the overnight pack felt heavy and I definitely begrudged Joel his choice to take the rugged, steep “Skyline” trail in lieu of the longer but more gentle loop to the Rincon La Vaca trail. Plus, Rincon La Vaca sounds legendary – like someone who hung out with Zorro. After a steep, dusty climb, the Skyline trail settles down to contour across a mountainside, but it becomes difficult to follow at one point in the woods, due to some deadfall and a maze of short-lived game trails. Before this point, though, you can find a bubbling spring of clean, sweet water on the grassy slope of a spur from the mountain.

Eventually, the skyline trail descends to a small lake and some willows, and is essentially flat from this point as it heads straight toward Rio Grande Pyramid. We pressed on, then descended 50 or 60 vertical feet south to find a flat spot to camp in sight of the summit, right on the 12,200 contour line of the topo map on my phone.

R2.2GP camp 1

This is not a particularly pretty photo, but shows the vantage to RGP from camp.

We awoke Saturday morning and made the quick trip to the trail, which we took only a couple hundred feet before hiking upward on amicably firm but not too firm snow to the saddle between RGP and “Fool’s Pyramid,” unnamed 13,278.

The climb to Fool’s Pyramid was easy, uneventful class two and we didn’t linger too long, as this was only number one of five. I took a moment to preview RGP from here, but that picture is saved for later. Back eastward we went, toward ‘261.

After the initial descent, we continued along the ridge until we came to a gnarly bump. Upon engaging, we found it to be a nasty mass of loose matter waiting to shatter our gray matter, so we found an expedient descent/backtrack to pass beneath it. After regaining the ridge, the view back to Rio Grande Pyramid commanded my attention. The morning was still young, glazing the rocks in gold and red hues, and casting hoodoos below the ridge in a stark contrast of light and shadow.

RGP, hoodoos, Fools

RGP back-center; the nasty little ridge impediment is at left, with Fool’s back left.

After this point, getting to the summit of unnamed 13,261 was easy, but the look back over Fool’s/’278 seemed dishearteningly far, when I considered that we still had two more peaks afterwards. We made good time skirting under the ridge bump and then initially made good time avoiding a re-summit of Fool’s by side-hilling. In dry conditions, this would be a no-brainer, as a decent game trail goes the distance. But we came to a shallow ravine still filled with snow – very hard snow – and the angle of the descent made us glad to unleash the ice axes for this short traverse.

After getting to the west side of Fool’s summit, we descended to the broad flat expanse between it and RGP. The photo below is from Fool’s summit. We approached beneath (right of) the bulwark on the left side of the peak. Then, we climbed on the snow (ice axes and microspikes sufficient) up toward and then trending beneath and right of the ridge marked by the diagonal snow line from below the summit.

RGP from Fools

Rio Grande Pyramid from the summit of “Fool’s Pyramid,” UN 13,278.

RGP is a true San Juan sovereign; it arrests attention from afar and affords spacious views from its summit. I felt elation to look west into the Grenadiers, back at peaks from which I’d glimpsed RGP.

Grenadiers fr RGP

View west to the Grenadiers and Needles. Right of center (L-R) Trinity, Vestal, Arrow. Far left back (L-R), Windom and Sunlight. I think it’s Storm King dead center.

RGP view N

The full view WNW from RGP summit.

We took a bit of time to relish the grandeur of RGP’s summit. The weather did not appear to be threatening any hour soon, and we also enjoyed conversation with two other climbers who summited soon after us – men we’d seen camped at the pass (where Skyline trail takes off from) – the day before. Eventually, though, we turned our thoughts to the two remaining peaks of the day.

Window, S from RGP.jpg

View south from RGP’s east face. Window and its namesake summit, and the small ridge of dark rock beyond , above a snowy slope, is UN 017.

Down-climbing the drier southeast face rather than the northeast face we’d ascended, we found mostly class 2 terrain, but plenty of 2+ and maybe a 3- bit as we negotiated blocky, big talus. We contoured toward the window, rejoining the Skyline Trail as it traversed the basin, and then meeting – at last – Senor Rincon La Vaca just past a tarn, by a stream.

We then quickly considered our route. We could keep to the Vaca up to the pass, steer right (north) to the Window, then reverse the route and continue south to engage the west ridge of Unnamed 13, 017. However,I’d read that ‘017 was easier from the east ridge than the west, so we followed the well-pronounced Vaca trail for only a third or maybe a half of a mile before striking out south toward Unnamed 13,017.


Taken on the descent and really bad lighting, but a view of UN ‘017.

Just as there is Little Man Syndrome, or Little Dog Syndrome, there is Little Mountain Syndrome. What it lacks in stature, 017 makes up for in ferocity. The initial climb up the east ridge contains prominent large, loose blocks, and steepens precipitously for a few feet. From there, class three scrambling abounds, and the vertical nature of the ridge proper forces one to pick a side, negotiating slanted slabs or narrow ledges. It’s not technical climbing or anything, and it’s mostly solid after the start, but it involves significant exposure in areas with little room. Joel, who is super-fit, had outpaced me all day and it was only here that I caught him, and got to lead. It’s not difficult, but exacting.

Un017 cl 2 to final pitch

East ridge of UN 017.

The down climb was cautious but not complicated, and we soon found ourselves off the peak, and making good time traversing snow fields and talus in a bee-line for Window Peak.

Un017 downclimb

Downclimbing from shortly after the summit.

basin trav to Window

Traverse back across to Window Peak.

We aimed for the pass and then up. The top of the Window presented many crumbly rock walls and formations, recalling to my mind the summits of the West and Middle Cimarron.

Golf tee Window to RGP

The of-photographed “God’s golf ball” with RGP behind.

RGP fr Window notch

A wall with gaps like a Brit’s mouth – looking to “the window” and beyond to RGP.

This area is splendid; it has a remote beauty and the views to the rest of the Weminuche are breathtaking. With our final peak of the day completed, we headed back down to the pass and to the excellent Rincon La Vaca trail, which we followed before a straightforward bushwhack across the basin to our camp, threading our way through uncharacteristically mellow willows.

After a quick dinner, we packed up camp and headed back down the Skyline trail to camp at the pass by Weminuche Creek. The next day, Sunday, we hiked out, enjoyed a breakfast in Creede, and did an afternoon romp up Phoenix.

2 thoughts on “Rio Grande Tour

  1. Ben

    Sweet trip and photos, Steve. Thanks for posting. I’m hoping to get back in there myself this summer and will look forward to 13,017 (aka “Napoleon Complex Peak”, aka “Opus Point”) in particular.


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