Saturday, September 12, 2009

San Juans Peakbagging, Day 3 and Out

Still damp from the previous day's storm and with no tent to capture our body heat, neither Dave nor I slept well at 11,000 feet in September in our one-pound down bags. Still, the morning dawned clear, and so we packed up and began the the three-mile hike to Jagged Mountain, leaving most of our gear at the cabin. The ground was still wet in No Name valley, but few other signs of the storm remained, and the walls of Monitor and Animas glowed pink across the valley.

Jagged is one of Colorado's few technical mountains—its summit is a 500-foot-high turreted fin, cresting on one spire at 13,824 feet. To reach Jagged's north face, you hike to a 13,000-foot pass and then traverse steep grassy slopes to the base. The route is rated 5.0 to 5.2, but it's mostly steep scrambling up well-trodden grass hummocks and short boulder problems. Good luck sticking the landing if you blow it, though. We carried a 120-foot length of thin rope and a few pieces of gear, but the only time we actually belayed was when we got off-route in the first few feet and had to traverse a delicate, wet slab to regain the correct line.

On top we looked over to Sunlight, Windom, and Eolus, the 14'ers we'd hoped to climb the next day. We could see Pigeon and Turret, and retrace the rough route we had followed through the Ruby Creek basin to get to No Name. But black clouds already were building over Jagged by 10 a.m., and so we hastily downclimbed and rappeled. (A 120-foot rope is perfect for the three rappels on Jagged, by the way.) By 1 p.m. we were back at the cabin, and we decided to push for the railroad tracks. We walked down No Name Creek, following a good trail until the Animas River, where the route devolved to a game trail through dense patches of blowdown. We spent the night by the tracks, outside an old shed we planned to use for shelter if it rained, and then caught the train back to Silverton in the morning. Once again, the day had dawned clear, and of course we kicked ourselves for not pushing over the pass into Chicago Basin the day before—tent or no tent. But we'd already done plenty—12,000 vertical feet and three peaks in two and a half days. And later in the day, as I was driving home, Dave called me from Telluride. I could hear the rain slapping his car. "You should see the sky—it's completely black," he said. "I can't see a single peak." So I guess we made the right call.

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