After a quick flight 2/3 of the way across of the US, Dave from New York and I, hopped the Durango – Silverton Railroad with our heart set on Vestal’s North facing Wham Ridge. The train offered a great introduction of the views to come of the San Juan Mountains and a time to eat donuts and coffee. Once off the train and immediately out of Elk Park, Dave set a strong pace which brought us to ing us the Beaver Ponds 1 hour and 20 minutes later. At this point Dave saw our objective and decided that concentrating on getting to camp was easier on his mind than thinking of the near vertical face which loomed over Vestal.
The climber’s trail leaving the primitive campsites around the Beaver Pond seemed in much better shape than years past and crossing Elk Creek proved to be an easier task than earlier in the season. We stopped for lunch around 10,500 feet where rain began to fall in normal Colorado fashion. Full bellies and warm rain coats put both of us to sleep under the comfort and shelter of large Pine tree limbs. At 5pm, after a 1 hour 45 minute lunch-nap, we made camp at the West end of the Basin.
The next morning came with excitement and a near full moon with enough light to not warrant headlamps. We left camp at 5:15AM and gained the base of Wham around 6:10. Here we dawned harnesses and a rope and the fun began. At this point Dave’s eyes lit up with excitement as he climbed through the opening 5.4 pitch and cruised up the 5.5 crux section of the climb. At this point Dave admitted his prior nervousness was now replaced with pure delight. We welcomed the summit at 9AM under clear skies and amazing views in all directions. After a snack, rest and congratulations, we began our descent off the back side at 9:30.
During prior conversations, Dave had mentioned he skied some back East, therefore I decided some backcountry boot skiing was in order. Dave opened ’em and I closed ’em for a fun speedy descent down from Vestal and Arrows col. We returned to camp at 11:20 AM under now cloudy, threatening skies; perfect weather for an afternoon nap.
The next morning we woke, packed up and began our descent back to Elk Park at 7:30 AM. Dave excelled in hasty descending techniques and we passed the Beaver Ponds at 8:40 and subsequently reached the railroad tracks at 10AM. All with a 20 minute rest at one of many breath-taking panoramas on the trail. Here we rinsed off in the Animas’s fresh snow melt and ate 3 servings of salami each. YUMM!!!
With our record breaking descent time and recess-like numbers of vacationing children, we decided on taking the train North to Silverton where we knew there would be cold beer. No better way to end a trip-of-a-lifetime than with cold beer and great food follwoed by a senic train rdie home through the rugged San Juan mountains of Colorado.