The San Juan Mountains have rugged alpine canyons to explore. Different than the desert sandstone slot canyons of Uath, the canyons in the San Juans are wild with rock diversity, log-jams, high alpine-style mountainous gorges with ferns and raspberries flourishing among the pines. These canyons are rich with adventure and scenic delight. Ouray is home base to several amazing alpine canyons of varying difficulty including: Angel Creek, Portland Creek, Oak Creek, Cascade Creek, Weehawken Creek, Bear Creek, and the Uncompahgre Gorge, just to name a few outstanding descents.
Michael Dallin has written a terrific guide book for the Canyoning in the San Juans Mountains surrounding Ouray titled, Ouray Canyoning, Explorations in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. This book has great photos, route beta, and maps. Ouray has become a destination for canyoning aficionados over the years and is more recently becoming better known for it’s rugged, exciting alpine canyons. This August will be the 6th annual Ouray Canyon Festival in conjunction with the 14th annual Rendezvous International for Canyoneering. We are thrilled that Ouray is hosting this awesome event for people to come together & enjoy the wonderful canyons in our area.
Recently I had the opportunity to descend Middle & Lower Oak Creek Canyon. It was awesome! It is super easy to access directly from town. No cars necessary! This type of adventure really gets me stoked, human powered exploration of very unique places. The only requirements are that you are well practiced at rappelling, you have good rope management skills, and you are up for the adventure.
It is also nice to be properly dressed and rigged for any circumstances that may come your way in the canyon. Myself, I wear polypropylene long underwear type of base layers with a drysuit or dry-top & pants (some people wear wetsuits to insulate) to keep warm while rapping through cold waterfalls.
Essential items are:
- Ropes, proper length & number of ropes, we recommend Bluewater Rope’s 9.2 Canyon Rope
- Harness & Helmet
- Rappel Device
- VT Prussik or short Prussik Loop for Rappel back-up
- Purcell Prussik or other personal anchor system
- Extra cordelette & quicklinks in case you need to make a new anchor or beef one up
- Shoes with super good rubber/traction, highly recommend 5.10 Canyoneers, 5.10 Stealth Rubber is the ultimate best!
- Gloves, leather work gloves or similar
Oak Creek is easy to get to from town. After a steep 2 mile hike up Oak Creek Trail (left at the trail junction about 1.2 miles up for the middle section) you will come to the creek crossing. This is the start for Middle Oak Creek. There are at least 8 rappels in the middle section, the tallest is about 80 feet. Lower Oak Creeks has about 8 rappels, the tallest is 170 feet, quite exciting! Lots of down climbing, rappelling through waterfalls, and super scenic creek hiking highlight the beauty of this extraordinary place. It is a magically unique space that can only be accessed with the right knowledge and know how to explore safely. We feel lucky to have these canyons right out our back door.
Our Alpamayo Expedition Team had a great summit climb 07/14/15. They had a day of rest, post summit, at high camp and then yesterday they journeyed down to Base Camp. Today, 07/16/15, they will enjoy the day at Base Camp relaxing and relishing in the beauty of the Cordillera Blanca. Andrés called this morning, they are all doing fantastic. Tomorrow they will make it back to Hauraz to finish the trip. We are so happy for them and wish them smooth travels home.
Our Alpamayo expedition team is doing great. Yesterday (07/13/15) they made it to High Camp at 18,000 ft (5,485 m.). Their plan was to go for a summit bid starting late last night. Wishing them a fun and safe climb to the summit of Alpamayo 19,512 ft. (5,947 m.) and back down. Stay tuned as we receive updates from them.
Our team is doing strong en route to Alpamayo. They had a great rest day yesterday and are moving to Moraine Camp today (07/12/15) at 16,076 ft or 4,900 m. Everyone is well and the weather is holding good. Best to the team as they continue upwards to advanced basecamp or Col Camp tomorrow at 18,000 ft.
We received word from Andrés and the team this afternoon (07/09/15). They are all doing fantastic. Today they hiked from the Llama Corral Camp to Base Camp (14,107 ft. or 4,300 m.) in the Arhuaycocha Gully, which overlooks the beautiful Lago Arhuaycocha. Their plan is to do a carry to Moraine Camp (16,000 ft. or 4,875 m.) tomorrow and then have a rest day on Saturday at Base Camp. Great to hear they are doing terrific and the weather is looking good. Best of travels!
The Alpamayo Expedition hit the Santa Cruz Valley Trail at Cashapampa today (07/08/15), burros loaded with gear. We received a SPOT check in from them at the Llama Corral Camp. We wish them a safe & wonderful journey!
Our Expedition to Alpamayo has begun. The solid team led by Andrés Marín and co-guided by Josh Miller arrived in Huaraz yesterday. Huaraz is in North-Central Perú and is the capital of the Ancash Region. It sits at just over 10,000 ft (3,050 m).
Today (07/08/15) the team will complete the gear check and final pack to hit the trail tomorrow in Cashapampa (11,237 ft.), the trailhead for the Santa Cruz Trek and the entrance into the Santa Cruz Valley. We wish Andrés, Josh, Jim, Stephen and Jaaron a wonderful journey into the Cordillera Blanca. Stay tuned for trip updates.
A Custom Climb of the Moose’s Tooth in Denali National Park
by Chuck Foster
I have been a rock and ice climber off and on since the mid 1970’s. I have always enjoyed climbing and have been fairly competent (lead 5.9, used to lead 5.10 and climb WI 3) but have never taken climbing too seriously or have been consistent with it to reach some of the harder levels. Last winter some friends of mine were heading down to Ouray to go ice climbing with San Juan Mt Guides. I have always wanted to go there to climb but I had reservations about using guides since I have never “needed” a guide in the past. All I can say is I was completely surprised with how much fun I had. The first day we spent in the ice park playing around on easy routes which after a few laps I must admit I was getting bored. One of the guides ask me if I would mind if he gave me a couple of pointers. He told me a few things and immediately I was climbing much more efficiently. Now I picked the hardest options to climb and do laps and found I wasn’t getting tired. I really wished someone told me these things years ago. The next day we went into the backcountry and the first climb was a WI4/5 route for a full 70 meters. I didn’t say anything but inside I felt a little anxious to say the least. Once on the climb I was in the groove and was comfortable and relaxed the whole time. We spent the next couple of days climbing similar routes and just had a blast.
Later when I was home I received an email from San Juan Mountain Guides asking me if I was interested in climbing Moose’s Tooth in Alaska. I had always wanted to do that climb but never seriously considered it but now I had the opportunity right in front of me and my wife was telling me to go. How could I pass that up? Back in 1989 I attempted the West Rib of Denali with a friend but for a number of reasons we didn’t make the summit. I had some other friends living in Anchorage that allowed us to mail gear to them ahead of time and then when we arrived we spent the day repacking at their place and then they drove us to Talkeetna. Having them support us made the planning so much easier. Since they no longer live in Anchorage, I haven’t considered climbing up in Alaska due to the complexity but using San Juan Mountain Guides all the planning and staging has been done. I arrived at the airport, was picked up at the baggage claim, driven to the grocery store to purchase some additional food items and went straight to Talkeetna. It was so simple. The only hard part was I had to carry my own luggage to the car. The next morning we flew to the base of the climb.
When ever I climb I go as light as possible; fast and simple. The guide service showed me a new concept – bring everything! It was great. Camp was so much more comfortable. I had a three person tent to myself. I had gear spread out all over the tent and no one to complain about it. No one else’s smelly socks or getting snow in the tent or listening to the guy next to you snore. The list goes on. The food was also another great revelation. Our food bag weighed more then all my gear combined! We always had something good to eat. I have always said that food in the backcountry always tastes so much better than when you are home but this time it was that good. We had enough good, quality snacks that we didn’t need to cook any meals: quesadillas, mochas, cheeseburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches. I was becoming concerned that when I returned home I would have gained weight and my wife would be wondering what I had really been doing.
The climb was absolutely fantastic. The first climb was Ham & Eggs. This was another warm year for the area so we wanted to try to get moving early to be off the summit before the snow began softening. We were on the first pitch right at first light. Some consider the first pitch the crux since it is mostly rock. It went really smooth with no real effort. The next four or five pitches (mostly hard snow/ice) buzzed right by and then the next crux, a water-ice bulge that is a little overhanging with thin ice above. With proper foot work it was fairly simple and it too was behind us. There was another water-ice pitch with another bulge crux and again with a little finesse it was behind us. The higher we went the colder it became, so towards the top we had excellent neve’. When the calves started to burn the slope lessened, perfect conditions for the French technique to relieve the calves.
Toward the col we simul-climbed the last four to five hundred feet to the summit ridge. A quick traverse brought us to the summit. We didn’t linger since the sun was coming down pretty hard and the snow was starting to ball up under foot. Back across the summit ridge, a couple of vthread wraps down to the col and 15 rappels later we were back in camp, 14 hours after we started.
We rested the next day and watched the conditions on Shaken not Stirred. This climb should be called Shake and Bake. It really gets baked by the sun. From all the direct sun there is constant debris exiting the bottom of the climb. The climb is a beautiful line (in good weather) but there is no where to move to avoid getting hit. I really wanted to climb it but we decided to play on just the bottom pitches and retreat in time to be clear of falling debris by noon. Again at first light we were on the bottom pitch. It was almost completely rock since the ice was melted out but there was some quality frozen dirt that would hold a pick; another outstanding pitch. After a snow pitch we were at the base of a couple of ice pitches that were averaging 12 to 14 inches wide. They looked fantastic but we knew we needed to be turning around so we started the wraps down. As soon as we were back at camp we watched debris start to rain down the climb. Too bad it was so warm.
We called Talkeetna Air Taxi to come pick us up since it was just mid-day. Our scheduled pickup was for tomorrow morning so they said they would pick us up in the morning. We asked them about the weather to be sure the conditions were good since today the conditions were perfect. They have the computers and access to the weather information and we don’t so they said don’t worry there was plenty of time and they would see us in the morning. Around midnight the snow started and continued for the next four days. I missed my flight out of Anchorage as the snow continued – welcome to Alaska mountaineering.
Andres, my guide, never showed his frustration. Yes he was disappointed that I missed my flight but what can we do? We sat around telling jokes, eating and making hot drinks. I read my books and started on his, then we would eat again. After a few days we moved our camp closer to the landing area and joined two other guided groups; one group of two and another group of three. Seven of us waiting for a clearing so we could head out.
This is where I must say I was so impressed with Andres and San Juan Mountain Guides. Of the other two groups one guide stayed with his client in a tent and watched DVD movies. The other guide stayed in his tent and didn’t do anything for his two clients, but Andres cooked up more quesadillas, burritos, hot drinks and other snacks for us and the other team’s clients. They were so impressed with Andres and sad to say a bit disappointed with the selection of their guide. I was shocked at the difference in the service between the different groups. I have been stranded waiting for a clearing in weather many times before but this was truly the most enjoyable time I have had in these conditions. Attitude makes all the difference. There were many times we almost had tears in our eyes from laughing so hard. I will always consider this as one of my best trips ever. Thanks Andres and San Juan Mountain Guides.
The better question is why not? Mount Rainier is the highest glaciated peak in the Lower 48 States and is the perfect setting to learn essential snow and ice mountaineering skills. Your learning and experience on our Rainier climb will not only challenge you but it will prepare you for bigger mountains and other alpine objectives. Rainier is a “must do” challenge for all aspiring.
1. A Challenge For All Who Accept It: Not to deter you but to motivate the inner mountaineer within, it’s true that hard work is required for the best things in life – Mt. Rainier is no different. As the Head Climbing Ranger for Mt. Rainier National Park, Mike Gauthier puts it, “As dangerous as Mount Rainier is, it’s not insane to climb it. You’re not hanging out over thin air dangling from a rope. It’s an exciting, adventurous endeavor. It is an attainable goal, if you put in the training.” The highest trailhead requires the climber to gain 9,000 feet of elevation to reach the summit, as much as from Everest ABC to its summit! Around 10,000 people push for the summit each year for the challenge and the reward – the spectacular 360 view of Washington and beyond.
2. Active Volcano with Glaciers for Days: Somewhat ironic that Mt. Rainier is considered an active volcano and is also the highest glaciated peak in the lower 48! No other mountain is as extensively glaciated or has as much prominence. The scale and character of Mt. Rainier resembles that of peaks you would find in the Alaskan range which draws many to this diverse and unique expedition.
3. Experience The Kautz Route: The Kautz Glacier is a great intermediate climb, a bit more demanding and technically challenging than the standard routes. It is a good choice for people in good condition who have done some previous climbing; are looking to hone their alpine skills; and are seeking a greater summit day challenge. The climbing may consist of 2 or 3 pitches of 50 to 60 degree snow and ice. Ice and snow protection is required as well as a second tool for this section. It is a great adventure for those who seek to swing ice tools on this vertical endeavor.
4. Accessibility to a Premiere Expedition: So your saying you can’t take two weeks to do an international expedition? Most people can’t! This makes Mt. Rainier a great option for those who want to experience a technical and challenging expedition but may not have the time to do a longer trip. Our program is a week long and flying into either Portland or Seattle makes it convenient for flight options.
5. The San Juan Mountain Guide Difference: Our Guides are meticulously selected because they are 1) fun to be with in the mountains, 2) incredible teachers and instructors, 3) recognized as the best athletes in their discipline – among the finest climbers and skiers in the industry, and 4) love what they do. Our guides genuinely enjoy working with every ability level from children or rank beginners to high end athletes wanting to learn cutting edge techniques and climb some of the hardest routes in the world. Our Company and each of our guides are AMGA or IFMGA Certified or trained. These trainings and certifications insure that our clients are working with the best mountain practitioners in the industry.
For the next couple of weeks we will introduce to you some of the most legendary peaks of the Mighty San Juan Mountain Range. No two peaks are the same and each provides a unique experience that is catered by San Juan Mountain Guides to ensure you some of the best adventures of your 2015 summer.
Name of Mountain Range: Grenadier Range of the San Juan Mountains
Location: Depending on which approach you use, you can either from Molas Pass is necessary to reach the Animas River or a train ride on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad from either Durango or Silverton to Elk Park is mandated. 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.
Skill Set: The summit of Vestal Peak is sought by those who are interested in exposure and are comfortable with Class III, 5.4 climbing. We have taken a range of people with different sets of skills sets – from the “Father and Son” duo to those who seek the thrill and challenge that Vestal provides.
Peak Name and Description: 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.
History: Vestal Peak was first climbed in 1908 by William Cooper and John Hubbard. It is Colorado’s 77th highest peak and for peak-baggers, those chasing the centennial list (top-100 highest), it is a mountain often looked forward to climbing.
Why Climb it?
Arguably a Peak by Dr. Seuss: Vestal Peak is truly and utterly unlike any other peak in the state of Colorado. The unique shape and curvature of the peak that allows for mellow and gradual climbing is a miracle of nature. It could literally be a peak from a Dr. Seuss book with its summit curving outwards – it is identifiable as soon as you see it.
Ride the DSRR train: 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. It allows you a glimpse into the Weminuche area and the Animas River that is only attainable by train.
A Colorado Classic: It can’t be denied. This is one of the most sought 13ers and climbs in the state of Colorado. For this reason it is a favorite for those chasing the centennial list (100 top highest peaks) as well as anyone truly wanting to experience a slice of the vast Weminuche Wilderness.
What others have to say about it…
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