Vestal Peak – The Wham Ridge
A Colorado Alpine Classic
One of our most popular trips in the summer is our 3 Day Vestal Peak via Wham Ridge. Vestal Peak (13,864 ft.) is one of Colorado’s most sought after Centennial 13’er climbs, and the Wham Ridge (III, 5.4) is quite possibly the best route in the entire Grenadier Range. The rock is of a much higher quality than the rest of the San Juans, and offers wonderful climbing at altitude.
The trip takes us into the beautiful Vestal Basin, where ideal campsites and amazing scenery typify the area. The Trinity Peaks and Arrow Peak also dominate the scenery of this high alpine basin, though nothing quite compares to the aesthetic Wham Ridge on Vestal Peak. This is a great trip to get out in the San Juan backcountry for a classic climb in a short period of time.
An added bonus is the opportunity to climb neighboring Arrow Peak (13,805′) on the 3rd day of the itinerary if weather and participants would like to nab the summit of another sought after Grenadier Range peak.
Wilderness Access via the D&SNGRR
By virtue of the Durango – Silverton Narrow Guage Railroad (D&SNGRR), we can limit the length of our approach to Vestal Basin to a mere 6 miles. A relic of the mining trade of the 1880’s – 1930’s, the train is world famous as it is one of the few narrow gauge railroads left in existence. This unique experience adds an interesting start and finish to this trip. We take care of all the details, so that you can focus on admiring the beauty of Vestal Basin, and the climbs to the top of the Wham Ridge.
Have been to Chicago Basin with SJMG twice. Could not have been happier with both guides. You run a great program and your guides really do represent SJMG well! – Bob A. Chicago Basin 14’ers 2010
Vestal Peak Trip Itinerary
Itinerary Note: This trip may originate out of Durango or Ouray. From Durango we use the DSNGRR to access the trailhead. From Ouray we access via Molas Pass.
Arrive to Durango or Ouray mid-afternoon. We will meet in the evening to do a gear check and ensure that you’re packed and ready for the trip. Stay in a hotel.
In the morning we’ll board the D&SNGRR train in Durango for the ride to Elk Park and the start of the hike/approach into Vestal Basin. After approximately 6 miles and 2800′ of elevation gain over 5 hourse we reach our camp at treeline in upper Vestal Basin. Or coming from Ouray we will hike to Elk Park from Molas Pass, about 3 miles and 1,500 ft. down to the Animas River. Then hike up to Vestal Basin. Camp out.
Rising early to avoid afternoon thunderstorms, we’ll approach Vestal Peak and the Wham Ridge (III, 5.4). One of the most aesthetic climbs in the range finishes at a spectacular summit and great views of the entire San Juan range and the nearby Needle Mountains. Descent is accomplished via passage through the Vestal/Arrow col. We’ll be back at camp around 1 pm, where some relaxation and even a nap can ensue! Camp out.
We have a few options on this day. First, a leisurely morning allows us to pack our camp and head back to the train pick up at a reasonable pace. The train will pick us up at 2:00 and we’ll arrive back to Durango around 4:30 with plenty of time to catch a shower and enjoy a celebratory dinner! This is also an alternate summit day in case of poor weather. Second, ambitious participants may also choose to climb/summit Arrow Peak (13,803′) on this day. Third, the group can also pack up camp early and catch the early train into Silverton where you can enjoy lunch at a local restaurant, then take the bus back to Durango. If returning to Ouray the team will hike back to Molas Pass. Stay in a hotel or depart.
The majority of the time spent on the Vestal Peak – Wham Ridge trip takes place at or above 10,000′ in elevation. If you live at sea level, it may be best to arrive in Durango or Ouray a day early to allow for an easier adjustment to the altitude and thus a greater chance for success on the climbs.
Vestal Peak/Wham Ridge Equipment List
- Backpack: Internal frame, 40 – 60 liters. Guides’ pick: Osprey Variant 52
- Sleeping bag: Down or synthetic bag rated between 15-30 degrees with compression stuff sack. Guides’ pick: Neutrino Endurance 400
- Sleeping pad: Guides’ pick: Thermarest NeoAir
- Bowl, spoon, cup: Plastic/lexan
- Pocket knife: 2-3 inch blade, simple, light
- Small thermos: Optional, but nice to have
- Water bottles: 2 liters combined capacity; bottles or bladder. Guides’ pick: Nalgene or Osprey
- Water purification system: We recommend simple iodine tablets, but pumps are acceptable. Guides’ pick: Potable Aqua
Clothing and Personal Equipment
- Hiking/Alpine boots: Sturdy, waterproof, comfortable boots. Please contact us with questions or further recommendations.
- Socks: 2-3 pair of medium weight wool or synthetic blend socks.
- Base layers: Synthetic t-shirt and synthetic underwear
- Soft shell pants: warm enough for cool mornings and nights, yet light enough for warm days. Guides’ pick: OR Ferrosi
- Soft shell jacket: light weight. Guides’ pick: OR Ferrosi
- Insulated vest: down or synthetic. Guides’ pick: OR Transcendent
- Hard shell jacket: waterproof and breathable, no insulation. Guides’ Pick: OR Helium
- Hats: one with brim, one for warmth
- Sunscreen and lip balm: water/sweat-proof
- Headlamp: with extra batteries. Guides’ pick: Black Diamond Spot
- Toiletries: Toilet paper, baggie for used TP, toothbrush/paste, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, etc.
- Personal first-aid kit: for your personal meds/needs; guide will have a large one as well
- Stuff sacks: for convenient packing
- Lunch food: Everything you eat between breakfast and dinner. May include: bagels, dried meats, cheese, trail mix, candy bars, peanut butter, etc…
- Harness: Adjustable leg loops are essential.
- Locking carabiner: Pear shaped, wide mouth.
- Boots: Hiking boots, or alpine boots – many options. No tennis shoes.
- Crampons: General mountaineering crampons (for May/June trips only – conditions dependent)
- Mountaineering Axe: 60 – 70 cm mountain axe (for May/June trips only – conditions dependent)
Training & Follow Up Climbs
As always, being in excellent physical shape is an important component of our our programs. A good mixture of cardiovascular fitness, muscular fitness, and especially core strength will help you to maximize the potential rewards that are possible on a great climbing trip.
1Before Your Trip
The Vestal Peak/Wham Ridge 13’er climb is a strenuous trip conducted at altitudes above 10,000 feet. Therefore, previous experience hiking in the mountains and/or multi-day backpacking experience will be very helpful to you on this program. Though the actual climbing level required for this trip is not difficult, the best training regimen would include a mixture of cardiovascular fitness training (running, biking, hiking etc.), and muscular/core fitness exercises. The addition of some Yoga/stretching exercises will help to insure that you maintain good muscular flexibility as well.
For the Vestal Peak climb you should be ready for:
- Hiking approximately 6-7 miles per day with up to a 40 lb pack at altitudes between 8,000′ – 11,000 ‘
- 8 – 10 hour summit days with a lighter “day pack”
- Climbing up to 5.4 in difficulty in alpine boots
- Wilderness living
2Follow Up Climbs
I found this to be a great experience and enjoyed all of the personnel and guides associated with San Juan – particularly Matt Pickren! – Steve K. 2011 Private Program
Durango, Colorado: Getting Here
Durango is located in the SW corner of Colorado, at the intersection of the sandstone towers of the desert, and the jagged, San Juan Mountains. A mecca for climbing, hiking, cycling, and foodies; make sure you plan to spend some time in town before and after your SJMG trip. The SJMG Durango office is located at 1111 Camino Del Rio, Durango, CO 81301.
Flights: The best option for flying to the area is to fly into Durango – La Plata County Airport. Multiple airline options exist, and most connections originate from Denver, Phoenix, or Dallas. The airport is a 20 minute drive from our office. Many hotels offer a free shuttle pickup. Buckhorn Limousine offers a shuttle as well.
Driving: Below are some approximate driving times if you’d like to drive to Durango. If you plan on renting a car, please consider the winter weather when selecting your vehicle and at a minimum choose something that offers either front wheel or all-wheel drive.
- Montrose, CO: 2 hours
- Ouray, CO: 1.5 hours
- Denver, CO: 6 hours
- Albuquerque, NM: 3.5 hours
- Salt Lake City, UT: 6 hours
Hotels: Durango has a number of great hotels, suites, and vacation rentals for you to stay in while you’re in the area. Give our office a call at 800-642-5389 if you have any questions about what would suite you best for this trip! Below are just a few options catering to different lodging styles and preferences.
- Cost Includes:
- Guiding and trip leadership
- D&SNGRR Train Tickets
- Breakfasts and dinners on the mountain
- Group camping and cooking equipment (tents, stoves, etc.)
- Group climbing equipment (ropes, etc.)
- Harness, helmet
- Not Included:
- Transportation to Durango, CO
- Hotel costs before or after the courses
- Personal Lunch Food
- 5% land use surcharge
- Trip cancellation insurance – recommended
- Personal backpacking climbing clothing
- Costs associated with early returns, weather delays, or other factors beyond our control
- Guide gratuity
- Registration and Cancellation:
- Advance Registration is required for this program. You have the option to either call our office and register via phone, fill out our pdf Registration Form and send it in via fax or email, or utilize our secure Online Reservation System. All participants must read and sign an Assumption of Risks/Liability Waiver and agree to our Reservations and Cancellations Policies.
The guides were professional, knowledgeable, and friendly. The office staff was also great and very helpful. Thanks for a great trip and I look forward to more trips with San Juan Mountain Guides. – Trevor Y. Chicago Basin 14’ers 2011