Fadgen's Adventures

Fadgen's Adventures
Green Creek Lake

Monday, August 8, 2022

Wham Ridge - Vestal Peak 13,867 feet

Wham Ridge as we were leaving Monday morning

When we first visited Montrose and hiked in the San Juan mountains last September, Dylan pointed to Vestal Peak in the distance and told me we needed to climb it via the Wham Ridge route.  I did a little research, saw the online photos and was instantly intrigued.  Easy 5th class climbing on solid rock in an alpine setting. Right up my alley!

After a quick 1.5 hour drive to Molas Pass, Dylan, Nicole and I were cheerfully hiking down the trail at 10:30. Yes, we were hiking down.  The initial ~4 miles drops from the parking area at 10,600' down to the Animas River at about 8900'.  Since we were on the Colorado trail, the grade was easy, lulling us into complacency.

My view of the two of them for most of the hike 

Heading down 

The Animas River

We reached the Animas River after a bit and took our first break.  The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway travels alongside the river as a tourist attraction.  We had an option to utilize the train to lessen the distance and elevation gain, but their schedule wouldn't work for us on this short over-night trip.

After following the river for a short distance, the Colorado trail takes a left and follows Elk Creek.
Heading up Elk Creek

There were ample opportunities to forage along the trail.  Raspberries, Whortleberries and even Strawberries were all within easy reach.  We did our best to consume as many as possible.

Nicole caught snacking on said Raspberries.

As we worked our way up the trail along Elk Creek, the clouds that had been building started spitting rain.  This was more of a welcome than an annoyance since we were gradually regaining the altitude we had lost.

Our first view of Vestal, the peak on the left way back there.

At the 8 mile mark, we sadly left the well groomed Colorado Trail and started up the climber's "trail" above Vestal Creek.  This trail brought back some fun memories while hiking with a friend around McCall.  Steep, rocky trail, with ample deadfall and the occasional bushwhack through alder thickets.  Normally this is just routine misery, but with the added weight of a full backpack, it was quickly becoming a sufferfest.
The start of the climber's trail

This trial, which brought us from 10,000' to 11,400', was painful for me.  I'm sure Dylan and Nicole were also loving it, but I couldn't tell as they stayed in front of me.  There are a few beaver ponds at this 11,400' meadow where many people choose to camp while climbing Vestal or the adjacent Arrow Peak. 

Our plan was to continue to Vestal Lake, only an additional 3/4 of a mile and 800' of gain, so we marched onward.

Vestal - oh so close, but still so far. 
We hiked to the right of the wet rock before veering left.

Thankfully this portion of the trail didn't have any dead fall. Instead, it switch-backed it's way almost vertically before terminating in a talus field.  A little boulder hopping through the talus and we were soon exhaustedly setting up our tents near Vestal Lake.
The talus field
Vestal Lake is just up over that green ramp above Dylan's head


Reflection of West Trinity Peak on Vestal Lake (D. Fadgen photo)

We woke up to a beautiful morning and were excited for the climb.  After some breakfast and a few minutes throwing rocks at a marmot trying to invade our camp, we started up the rocky ramp to towards Wham Ridge.
Wham Ridge is along the skyline.
We followed the highest thin green line that looks horizontal to get to the climb

A short 20 minutes later and we were staring at our route while racking gear.  It looked like it was going to be a good day! 
Gearing up

The plan was to simul-climb.  Dylan would lead and place gear where appropriate.  Nicole would then follow, with me another 4 meters behind her cleaning the gear.  When Dylan would run out of gear or find a nice ledge, he'd stop and belay us up.  With this being a 5.4 YDS route, setting a belay at the end of each rope length didn't make sense and would take a lot of time.
Dylan starting off

And Nicole following

Not too steep

Nicole cruising

All smiles at the first belay

The climbing was relatively easy - moderate pitch, quality rock, and there was always a foot or hand hold when you needed one.  Top that with beautiful weather and being with my son and his partner and you have the mix for a great day.

John Platt took me on my first alpine climb, 2011 Slick Rock

Looking back down to camp

We popped over the top of Wham Ridge a couple of hours after we'd left camp.  After stashing the rope in the pack, we dropped down a short notch and walked up to the summit.

John at the top (D. Fadgen photo)

Summit Splattski

The views from the top were spectacular.  There were mountains 360 degrees around us, and we took it all in for a few minutes.  But not too long, as we had to drop down the back side, slide down a scree slope, and boulder hop our way back to camp.  After a re-pack of camp, we then had an 11 mile hike back to the car.  We still had a long day ahead of us.

The maze that was the descent route

Still more down

I'd like to say that the walk out was pleasant, and for the most part it was OK.  We had hoped for cloud cover like the previous day, but the clouds didn't cooperate much.  
So it was warm.

We retraced our steps down the steep face to the beaver ponds and then wound our way through the alder and deadfall back to Elk Creek and the well maintained Colorado trail.

A look back at what we'd just done

Heading down Elk Creek

We were all a bit tired as we arrived at the bridge over the Animas River a couple of hours later.  Remember the ~4 miles of downhill when had on the way in the previous day?  Now it was uphill.  1700' of uphill on tired legs. We were all wishing we'd taken the train!

One last look back while resting during the 1800' pull back to the car

The uphill pull was tough, but it didn't break us and we eventually made it to Ouray in time for burgers and beers at the Ouray Brewery.  

An excellent alpine adventure!

Stats - 
Distance: ~24 miles
Elevation: ~7500 between both days
Time: Who cares!

Thursday, September 24, 2020

North Face of Cobb Peak (11,650 feet)

Dylan and I first saw the North face of Cobb Peak from our climb of Hyndman Peak, a few years back.  At that time we could only dream about climbing it.  

On top of Hyndman in 2010 with Cobb behind us

Fast forward 10 years, and we were going for it!  

Dylan and I had done a couple of Pioneer alpine climbs the previous two years, and I threw out the idea of the NF of Cobb without having any idea if it was even feasible.  Dylan, being Dylan, accepted the idea without hesitation.  The only beta I could find was from Sun Valley Trekking, and it mentioned solid rock with a couple of 5.8 moves. Seemed to be in my wheelhouse...

After a lazy Saturday evening kicking around Ketchum, we woke up to clear (no smoke!) and cold conditions at the Hyndman Creek trail head.  A quick cup of coffee and we were off a little after 7AM.

A cold start!

Cobb Peak (South Face)

In an effort to stay warm, Dylan set a fast pace and we made good time on the 3 miles of flat trail.  The steep pull up to the 8700' basin was followed by another incline into the upper basin at 9400'.  As we headed toward some sunshine in this upper basin, we ran into John and Alyson Kirk of Lists of John fame.  After a quick hello/goodbye we stopped in the sunshine to warm up, eat something, rack gear and look at our objective.

Upper Hyndman Basin

Which way should we go?

Once ready, we headed back down into the shade, crossed the creek, and carefully climbed up the scree field to the base of the wall. I had printed out a picture of the SV Guide's route for reference, but we opted to pick our own line.

Once ready, Dylan took off up the wall as I belayed him and shivered in the shade.  When it was my turn to follow, I was surprised at the difficulty of the first few moves up the steep wall.  Maybe it was the cold (I could barely feel my fingers) or the butterflies, but the first few moves felt like 5.8 right off the bat.  I was hoping things would get easier and said as much as I met Dylan at the anchor.

Close to the end of pitch 1 (D. Fadgen photo)

Contemplating a big move! (D. Fadgen photo)

In his element

Looking up at pitch 3 or 4

Close up

Dylan figuring out his line

The going did get a little easier in the steep, high quality Quartzite.  There was also a considerable amount of moss thrown in with occasional snow on the ledges.  All great fun! 

As we got higher, the temperature stayed about the same, but at least we had feeling in our fingers again.  Though cold, the climbing was very enjoyable with solid holds available for the committing moves.
Hard to keep a smile off his face

Top of pitch 6? getting ready to break out into the sun


We had one last pitch along a knife edge ridge before we reached our exit close to the walk up route.  We'd climbed over 1000 feet and it was now 2:30.  Where had the time gone? 

Since we were only 600-700 feet from the summit, we figured we'd make quick work of getting to the top.  In hindsight, it might have been easier to stay roped up on the knife ridge. The trip to the top was a mixture of loose rock and steep slabs.  It would have definitely been more fun on a different day.

We eventually made it to the summit at 11,650 feet, but didn't linger since it was still a bit chilly and it was getting late. 
All smiles on top!

We carefully picked our way down through the steep, loose rock and then continued down, and down, and down until we found the main trail.  We did our best to move fast on the trail and eventually reached our rigs just as the sun set.

This was truly another great alpine climb with my son.  Limited beta, mixed with route finding and some committing moves several hundred feet above the deck.  What a way to live!

Our route

Google Earth Track

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