Current Snow Levels in the San Juans
A few of us have been out and about in the San Juan Mountains during the last week – including Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness. Recently the area has experienced a few significant storms that had a decidedly winter component to them. Below average temperatures and above average precipitation has been the general weather pattern for the past few weeks and the mountains are really starting to show it.
Based on the current forecast and amount of snow already on the ground, I would suspect that the majority of the snow of shaded aspects will remain there for the rest of the season – eventually being buried by subsequent snow storms that are sure to effect the area in the month of October. This can be good on a number of levels, including the potential for an excellent early season ice cycle. The ice climbs around Silverton and Ouray above 10,000 feet are dependent on ground water and robust melt/freeze cycles. With all the recent snow above those altitudes it’s setting up to be a banner November/December for early season backcountry ice climbs.
The recent new snow however can become “old snow” – but at this point in the season likely only on aspects and areas where the snow has blown in deep enough to eventually be buried by subsequent storms. This old snow, especially from the first few larger storms in October and November, can become problematic later in the winter as the faceting process starts to take over, helping to hasten the creation of the all-to-familiar depth hoar we commonly see at the base of our snowpack – the cause of many early season avalanche cycles here in the San Juans.
Below are a few photos taken of the Chicago Basin area, Engineer Mountain, and views of the Sneffels Range and Ice Lakes Basin from a distance. All photos were taken between 9/24/13 and 9/27/13. As always, watch the forecast, plan accordingly, and travel safe in the mountains. Late fall/early winter storms are nothing to be trifled with in the San Juan Mountains.
AMGA Certified Rock & Alpine Guide
The last couple weeks have flown by! Here are some of the highlights…
Shawn, Nick and I climbed Sunlight(14,059′) and Windom(14,082′) in Chicago Basin.
I met Ken, Daniel and Aaron in Telluride to climb Wilson Peak(14,017′). While waiting in the gas staion parking lot at 4:30am I got to see who was making a mess by knocking over all the trash cans, and going through the contents. We were surprised to find a 1/2″ of fresh snow on Wilson Peak. It quickly melted as the sun came up and started heating up the rock.
Lastly Bob and I hiked up Noname Basin to climb Jagged Peak. We ended up climbing the rarely attempted Peak 6(13,705′) instead.
It was great climbing with all of you! Its hard not to have fun in the San Juans this time of year. Hell any time of year is great!
Andy and Scott recently joined me on an 8 day Alpine Leadership course.
Day 1: We started out at X-rock where we rock climbed in addition to learning climbing technique, belaying, rappeling, basic anchors and traditional gear placement.
Day 2: We climbed Snowdon via the West Buttress and descended the Northeast Ridge to the Northwest Couloir. All in all a great day where we learned about the basics of short roping and the kiwi coil. That afternoon we drove up to Silverton and hiked into Ice Lake Basin.
Day 3: We woke early and learned about self arresting, and cramponing technique, before climbing Fuller and Vermillion.
Day 4: We started out the day by climbing Golden Horn. We then descended and learned about snow anchors, before heading back to camp and hiking out to the van. Lunch in Silverton, then driving up the pass to camp at the trail head for Vestal Basin.
Day 5: We hiked in to Vestal Basin and set up camp. Then learned about/practiced knot tying, and cravasse rescue techniques.
Day 6: We climbed Vestal Peak via the Wham Ridge. Then learned about navigation in the mountains.
Day 7: We hiked out to the van, and headed back to town to switch out some gear and take a shower.
Day 8: We drove up to Ouray and climbed an apline ridge just south of town called Lightline. Andy and Scott got to practice the skills they had learned throughout the week, anchors, short roping, belaying, rappeling to name a few.
Great trip guys! I hope to climb with you both again in the future!
Robert just came out and joined me in some Fast and Light climbing. I had planned a standard solid itinerary but in quickly became apparent that standard was not what Robert came to Colorado for.
Day 1: We drove up to Andrews Lake and hiked into Snowdon planning to climb it on day 2. We got to our campspot ahead of schedule and decided to go for the summit. On the way down we went over snow school(self arresting, snow anchors, etc.). A full day ahead of scedule we decided to nix the day 3 plan of climbing North Twilight and go rock climbing at X-Rock and East Animas instead. So we packed up and headed down to Andrews Lake to camp for the night.
Day 2: We got up early to drive to Durango and get gear. We were climbing a 2 pitch route at X-rock by 7:30am. A few more laps and it was time to drive across the valley and head up to East Animas. A few more laps and a few trad leads for Robert, and it was time to head to Ouray and get ready for the Snake Couloir on the north side of Sneffles.
Day 3: We were walking away from the car at 5am. The Snake Couloir was in great condition we were on top at 11:15am. Much welcomed glissading down the East Slopes route got us back down to Blaine Basin. From there a short hike and we were back at the car.
All in all it was a great trip that goes to show the more you put in, the more you get out.
Thanks for working hard Robert!
Keith had climbed Snowdon multipule times but had never been up the West Buttress or down the Northwest Ridge. We decided to make a day of it. Keith left Farmington early in the morning and picked me up in Durango on the way North to the mountains. The route was in great condition and the weather was perfect, it’s hard to not have fun with a combo like that. Below are a couple pics from the day. Enjoy!
Julie is training to climb Nun and Kun in Kashmir this summer. Julie came up to Durango and climbed with me in January during an Intro to Mountaineering course. She just returned last week for some more. We started out with two days of ice climbing. Day one in Cascade Canyon going over the basics, and day two in Ouray at the Skylight area and a little in the Ice Park. We then headed up to Snowdon to learn some crevasse rescue, how to ascend a fixed line, team rope travel, make a summit bid, and do some winter camping. On the fifth day we made a summit bid, but turned around part way up because of the avalanche conditions. We hiked back to camp, packed up, and were back in Durango by noon so we switched out gear and went rock climbing at X-Rock for a few hours. The last day we headed back to Cascade Cayon for some more ice climbing, before Julie started the drive back to Flagstaff.
Great climbing with you Julie!
Tim has wanted to climb Pigeon and Turret since he first saw them years ago, but Pigeon and Turret are big peaks deep in the Weminuche. Just getting into Ruby Creek at the base of the peaks is a big day. The weather didn’t look great but looked like it would offer us a window to climb the peaks. Sure enough we got rained on hiking in and out of Ruby Creek but were blessed with only sun on the climbing day. Hiking out we figured we ascended around 9,800′ in the three days.
Great trip Tim!
Below are some photos of our trip.
Gary had been into Chicago Basin back in the 70′s, and had left with unfinished business. He had climbed Jupiter and Windom but bad weather denied them Eolus and Sunlight. Since the 70′s Gary has climbed peaks all over the North Cascades. When he decided to return to the Weminuche to finish the peaks in Chicago Basin, he wanted to make it a combo trip and visit Vestal Basin as well.
We started out the 7 day trip with a day of rock climbing at East Animas in Durango, finishing day one with a two pitch climb called Angel Dust. Day two we took the train into Elk Park and hiked into Vestal Basin where we were greeted with a great show from two moose. The next morning we woke early and climbed the amazing Wham Ridge on Vestal Peak. On the way down from Vestal we decided it was early enough in the day to climb Arrow Peak as well. The next two days were spent hiking over to Chicago Basin for the second part of the trip. We decided that it was most efficent to climb all the 14,000′ Chicago basin peaks in one day so again we woke early and climbed Eolus then Sunlight and were at 13,800′ on Windom when the weather started coming in and forced us down. Not bad for one day! The final day of this great trip was spent hiking out of Chicago Basin and catching the train to Durango.
Check out some photos below!
- Climbing ‘Yellow Pages’ at East Animas.
- On the hike in. Vestal and Arrow in the background.
- The two moose.
- Climbing Wham Ridge!
- Climbing Arrow Peak with Wham Ridge in the background.
- Hiking on the train tracks through the mud slide.
- Sunrise on Eolus.
Day 1: We started out the trip climbing at X-Rock, where we learned Belaying, Rapelling, Climbing Technique, and Anchor Systems. In the afternoon we made a meal plan for the rest of the trip and went food shopping.
Day 2: We got up early and drove North to Andrews Lake which was our launching point for Snowdon Peak. Perfect weather and a fun group of guys made for a great summit! After descending we hiked back to the car and drove to the Purgatory Flats Trail head and hiked down to the Animas river to camp.
Day 3: The goal was to hike into Noname Basin but while crossing Noname Creek Jason slipped and whacked his ankle on a rock. Between that and the pouring rain we decided to sleep for the night at the mouth of Noname near the Animas.
Day 4: Finished hiking into Noname basin and camped next to the old Miners cabin. Amazingly we got a fire going despite all the rain we had had.
Day 5: Jasons heel was still not 100% so Vincent and I climbed a peak North of the cabin called Heisspitz. Which apparently means something like “Hot Peak” in German. Vincent worked on his short roping skills and his kiwi coil on the way to the top.
Day 6: Jason and I got up early again and climbed Knife point, returned to camp and hiked with Jason into the beautiful Ruby creek.
Day 7: All of us got up early and climbed up to the Saddle between Turret and Pigeon. Jason was not feeling very good so he headed back to camp while Vincent and I climbed the two peaks. We then returned to camp packed up and hiked back down to the Animas to get a jump on the next day.
Day 8: We finished the hike out to the Purgatory Flats Trail Head and drove back to Durango. Finishing off a great tour of the Weminuche and a great trip!
Durango locals, Alice and her son Paul S. along with Sean E. linked up with myself and fellow guide Ryan to hike into Vestal Basin for some peak climbing and relaxation. Paul and I climbed Vestal Peak, 13,864, via its North Face dubbed ‘The Wham Ridge.” The route maxes out its difficulty at 5.4 and is mostly 4th class to 5.0 climbing with breath-taking exposure. All on great quality rock! We made excellent time from camp to summit in 4 hours. The weather was absolutely magnificent and we spent almost an hour on the summit. Following our descent we met up with Alice and Sean at Vestal Lake for a refreshing dip in the lake. We decided it was the long lost “fountain of youth” as Sean and I felt like young boys again. We spent an hour or two here eating lunch and enjoying the amazing views.
The next day Paul and I again left camp early and cruised up Arrow Peak’s, 13,803, Northeast ramp. Again, the weather cooperated well and we had a leisurely descent enjoying the fact that we were first on the summit that day. After snacking and taking a nap, we packed up camp and moved it to the Animas River at 8,800 feet. Here were made a great camp along the railroad tracks and again swam in the refreshing Animas River. The next day we loaded up our gear on the train and took it to Silverton. Ryan had been talking about the BBQ beef sandwich at The Handlebar restaurant for the previous 3 days, and it worked, all 5 of us ordered it; it was AWESOME!
With such amazing weather and sociable people, this trip couldn’t have gone better. Successful peak climbs, lots of laughs, too many brain melting riddles and cold, cold water swimming. Thanks for a great time and hope to climb Sunlight Spire with you soon Paul!