Peak(s):  Peak Fifteen  -  13,700 feet
Peak Eleven  -  13,540 feet
Glacier Point  -  13,704 feet
Peak Twelve  -  13,140 feet
Date Posted:  08/08/2012
Modified:  03/30/2013
Date Climbed:   08/03/2012
Author:  d_baker
 This One Goes to 11   

Terri & Mark on the summit ridge of Peak 15

August 3-6, 2012

Climbers: Mark Silas, Terri Horvath, & Darin Baker

Day 2
Peak 15 (13,700')

Day 3
Peak 11 (13,460')
Glacier Point (13,704')
Peak 12 (13,140')

San Juan Range
Needle Mountains
Weminuche Wilderness

Views from Glacier Point

Trailhead: Needleton (from Durango train drop-off)
Basecamp: Ruby Basin (upper meadow)
Stats: see below under heading for each climbing day

Gear: 50m/8.6mm rope; 3 shoulder slings & 2 doubles; 9 wire gates; 3 cams (.4, .5, .75); 3 stoppers (#5, #7, #13); ~10' of 1" webbing; rap ring; harnesses; rappel/belay devices; helmets; backpacking gear (1 shared Jetboil Sol; 1 shared water filter); Essentials; etc.

Resources Used For Trip Planning: Trip reports by both Derek Wolfe (Furthermore) and by Brian Schultz proved to be very useful; Roachs' Colorado's Thirteeners guidebook (for approach to Ruby Basin - take the high route once in and above Ruby Creek); NOAA weather forecast; TOPO! mapping software


On July 6, I hauled ass out of Texas (from a month long work assignment) for Colorado, with excited anticipation for getting to the mountains as much as I could while on my 2 week vacation. Little did I know that my 2 weeks would turn into 5 weeks off! I'm not making money, but I'm creating memories. I'll take it.

With my time off, I was hoping to go into the Weminuche Wilderness. Time & opportunity revealed itself last week.

Terri and Mark had gone into Ruby Basin during the 4th of July break, with goals of the Monitor/Pk 13/Animas Tour and Peak 15. On the former peaks, they were successful but the latter was missed because of early monsoon rains putting a damper on their hopeful plans. Just as soon as they got out of Ruby, they were already making plans for a return.

Lucky for me, I'm still here in CO so I could join them on what turned out to be one of my best trips this season! On a scale from 1-10, this one goes to 11.....

Day 1 (Friday): The Approach to Basecamp

Route: Ruby Creek trail/drainage
Distance: ~4.5mi's
Elevation Gain: ~3900'
Time to Complete: ~5hrs, 20min to basecamp w/steady moderate pace with a few short breaks
Difficulty: class 1 hiking with heavy packs; minor route finding on trail

Personal Observation: I've heard this approach described as hellish steep bushwacking with a poor trail. For the most part, I disagree. Using Roachs' description and Terri & Marks' prior experience on this trail, we stayed on route with a decent trail most of the way. I agree it's steep, but not even close to being a bushwack w/no trail.

Trail Notes & Suggestions: At the N Pigeon creek crossing, which is the first significant stream crossing (located at about 9500' contour), you'll likely notice a trail that does an ascending traverse to the left (W/NW). However, if you look slightly to the right through some vegetation, you'll see another trail that is steep and goes straight up. This is the one you want to take. This trail is more definable and will take you directly to the "columbine tree." (The other trail I've taken before, and it somewhat peters out once on the ridge that it traverses up to.)

The above photo shows the junction for the N Pigeon Creek approach (described by Roach) and the continuation of the Ruby Creek trail. The Ruby trail is to the left of the logs on the ground, and continues towards the aspen trees. The aspen on the right (right of center) is the "columbine" tree and you can see the columbine carving in this photo.

Special Note: The junction shown above for N Pigeon Creek is not the one that Steve Gladbach and I used in winter when we climbed Pigeon & Turret. We continued farther along the Ruby Creek trail to access the E ridge of 13,252' (as seen on the topo). Our winter route turned off from near the 10,200' contour on the topo.

From the "columbine tree," we continued on until we rounded the ridge near the 10,400' contour as it starts to enter the Ruby drainage, and as Roach writes, you can start to hear Ruby Creek. It's also here that Roach describes a high & a low trail once in the Ruby drainage - we took the high route.

Above Ruby Lake....taken on our way out on Monday

(Photo by Terri)

At the 11,600' large meadow, we found a suitable camp and set up our tents. Above our camp was a rocky rise with trees that provided good food bag hanging locations. Not only did we hang food before heading out on climbs, but we also hung everything in our tents (bags, pads, etc.) due to aggressive marmots that had given Terri & Mark trouble on their previous trip back in July.

This was my first time in Ruby, and what a gem it is! It was also my first time that I've experienced the goat invasions that the local basins are noted for. I didn't mind though; they're a fascinating species to watch!

Don't feed the wildlife....just give them a drink

The above goat was nicknamed R.C. (short for Radio Collar)

Some thirsty friends....

We (or more like I) decided that I had the most popular urine in Ruby Basin. I could draw a crowd. I'm proud! Or, I'm not proud. Something like that.

Day 2 (Saturday): The Climb of Peak 15

Route: S facing couloir, approached from Little Finger/13,290' saddle
Distance: ~2mi's RT (round-trip)
Elevation Gain: ~2150'
Difficulty: Class 5 w/route finding; one short wet headwall in couloir was climbed w/unprotected lead - to belay seconds up from an anchor; one ~50 meter protected lead on steep slabs of low 5th class terrain; five total rappels on descent (3 raps off of summit ridge; 1 rap at wet headwall; 1 rap near bottom of couloir to avoid steep class 4 down-climb to get back into couloir proper)

Little Finger, Peak 16, & Peak 15 (l. to r., highpoints along skyline)

In the above photo, we hiked up the N facing gully (with the snow in it, which is currently avoidable) to the saddle seen on the far left. From the saddle, we did a descending S facing traverse, dropping about 2-300' in the process to enter the S facing couloir that is between Pk 16 & Pk 15.

Mark coming up the N facing gully to the saddle

The terrain and descent from the saddle, en route to the entrance to the S couloir

In Furthermore's report, he mentioned that they stayed a little high on the descending traverse from the saddle, which put them into a position where a rappel into the couloir was necessary. On our descending traverse, we descended far enough to avoid that. After consulting with the map to identify our couloir, we started up into it. The couloir is the first major couloir on the S face - the upper portion of it angling right and out of sight.

Looking up the couloir from the base

(Photo by Terri)

We built a couple of cairns to mark our turn-off point. In fact, to aid our route finding for later, we built several during the day. The ones we built I think complement the ones we found in place already.

I'm not always a proponent for building cairns or following them, but on this mountain I think they serve a good purpose since the terrain is somewhat complicated and they helped with the climb. In particular on the descent when weather could become an issue of getting down quick and safely.

Wet sections of rock were found in several places in the couloir. Careful moves are necessary.

We left the couloir proper I think a total of three times during the climb. Shortly after entering the couloir, we opted to exit left onto ledges to gain ground, but only to reenter the couloir beyond. From below, we did see a headwall that looked wet. It looked short though, so we continued upward to it only to find it to be a taller section than anticipated.

I took a few steps up onto the headwall (which is not vertical, but steep), but was not sure I wanted to make a couple more moves to reach a bomber hand to continue the rest of the section. We opted to descend a short way to get on ledges to the left to search for an easier way. We didn't find an easier way! We reentered the couloir and climbed back up to the wet headwall, determined to make it "go."

The search for an easier work around cost us about 40 minutes or so but it also helped us in a couple of ways. First, we saw a sling on climber's right, above the couloir that was probably left by Furthermore when they had to rappel into the couloir. That sight made us feel good that we were in the correct couloir. Above the wet headwall we also noticed another sling that is used to rap the headwall. Seeing that sling, we knew we had an anchor to belay up seconds on the headwall.

The headwall had running water on it, so wide stems to tiny ledges helped. I didn't see options for protection, so I made continuous fluid moves without stopping to get through it.

(Photo by Terri)

For this lead I took my pack off, put on my harness, and tied into the middle of the rope, and went up. It went better than I originally thought and once I got to the first bomber hand (on climber's left) I knew the rest would go easier. But it was wet and dicey!

I got to the slings, inspected them and decided they were still in good shape so I anchored and pulled my pack up. Then I put Mark and Terri on belay and brought them up. This section is ~25' from the base to the anchor.

Above this first crux, the terrain laid back a little and it becomes a mix of walking on kitty litter ledges and some fun solid class 4 scrambling in the center of the couloir itself.

Ledge scrambling/walking

Eventually, we're forced out of the couloir again because of a steeper headwall. Cairns mark an exit on the left. Ledge traversing on climber's left bring us to the approach to the saddle between Pks 15 & 16.

Approaching the saddle

In Garratt & Martins' book, they suggest climbing a vertical wall out of the saddle. We looked at it. No thanks! Instead, we dropped off from the saddle to regain the S face of Pk 15 and started traversing, much like others before us have done.

Leaving the saddle, en route to the next crux with Pk 16 towering behind

(Photo by Terri)

From the saddle, we looked ahead and identified a small notch along the face that we wanted to get to. Once near that notch, Terri reviewed the descriptions from both Furthermore & Schultz' reports and we figured we were probably at the base of the next crux.

We had steep slabs above us, with some narrow rampy ledges to traverse back and forth on, punctuated by a couple of near vertical steps. We could also see areas that would probably take pro. At the top of the pitch was a big flake that flared out to climber's right with a horn on top. Looks like a belay ledge! The section after that was still a mystery, because our vantage point did not warrant a good view of the terrain above.

The ever determined Terri made the decision that this is it, and she's tying in and leading it! Ok then! ;) She had brought along climbing shoes, so she put those on while I tried to find a suitable belay anchor. I handed over the gear I was carrying, talked about what we were going to do, and then she set off with me giving the belay.

Edges and smears, mantles and pulls, and ~45m later, she was at the belay ledge. She slung the horn, anchored herself in, and put us on belay. Mark tied in first, about 15' from my end. We simul-climbed the pitch, with Mark unclipping from the pro and me cleaning it. The distance between us worked out well because he had comfortable stances while I stopped at the pro to remove it.

At the flake, with Terri above at her belay station

Above the belay, we entered onto a wide grassy ledge that went to climber's right. To our left and around a corner, we had an option of a wider gully that is likely what Furthermore and his partner used. To the right and across the grassy ramp (that angles back towards Pk 16), we found a left angling narrow gully, marked by a cairn at the bottom. Hmm....just like it says in Schultz' report!!

The left angling gully that we used, accessed from the grassy ramp

(Photo by Terri)

Me and Mark coming up the grassy ramp

(Photo by Terri)

This picture (by Bill Middlebrook, found on shows the grassy ramp quite well.

This is the same photo as linked to above, but with our approximate 5th class line (in red), the green line is the grassy ramp and route above and beyond that. The arrow points out the tiny saddle that can be seen when traversing the S face from the saddle of Pk 16 & 15.

Photo Credit: Bill Middlebrook

Climbing up the narrow gully

At the top of this gully are slings in place for raps. We used them on our descent. Furthermore mentions a rap is probably not really necessary (and I agree with him) but because the climbing is awkward in places a rap seemed logical to do.

Back to the ascent portion, above this gully the terrain is a series of class 3 ledges and walking to gain the summit ridge. Once on the ridge, it's a quick scamper to the summit!

Peaking above Ruby Basin

With a successful summit of Peak 15, Terri has one bicentennial left (Clark Pk), and Mark has two left! Interestingly, Mark's two remaining summits revolves around the bear (Oso & Grizzly Peak B)!

Weather was holding, but not to the point that it instilled a lot of confidence to stay longer. We depart after ~20min, retracing our steps to the first rap station we saw (the narrow gully as mentioned earlier).

From the base of that rap, a glance to the ridgeline shows a stacked rock on top of a boulder, which to me indicated the descent route. While Terri and Mark rapped the gully, I scouted ahead to locate our next station. Found it, without much trouble.

Me, throwing in a munter hitch with an auto-block for good measure at the next rap

(Photo by Terri)

The second rap drops you onto a wide ledge with an easy walk to the next and last rap on the ridge. The last rap from the ridge drops straight into the saddle between Pk 15 & 16.

We stowed the rope, knowing we would use again at the wet headwall crux down below. We retraced our ascent route, and the cairns that we built in addition to pre-existing ones aided our descent.

Back at the base of the couloir, we took harnesses off, stowed the rope for good and made our way back to the Little Finger saddle with smiles on our faces for pulling this climb off.

(Photo by Terri)

Day 3 (Sunday): Climbs of Pk 11, Glacier Pt, & Pk 12

Routes: (peaks listed in order they were climbed - approached from our basecamp)
Pk 11: from Twin Thumbs pass we accessed S side saddle between S Thumb and 13,460', wrapped around N side of 13,460', gained W ridge of Pk 11
Glacier Pt: E slopes to gain SE ridge
Pk 12: from saddle between N Eolus and Pk 12, climbed SW side of mountain to summit
Distance: ~5mi's RT
Elevation Gain: ~3950'
Difficulty: class 3 scrambling w/good rock on N side of 13,460' en route to Pk 11; some exposure on SW side of Pk 12 on traversing ledges

En route to Pk 12/N Eolus saddle, we were treated with this
Little Finger, Pk 16, Pk 15, Turret, and Pigeon (l. to r.)

And a beautiful lake reflection view

(Photo by Terri)

Cool rock

Ascending to first pass to the S of Pk 12

Twin Thumbs and Twin Thumbs Pass (pass is right of center, low point along skyline)

A happy guy

The photo above shows Mark at the start of the tundra hike up to the saddle between S Thumb and 13,460'. Once at the top, hang a right and look for ledges to traverse around the backside. No brainer to a point. Some route finding is necessary.

"Shroom Lake" ("named" by us;)

(Photo by Terri)

W ridge of Pk 11 is all that stands in front of us and the summit

(Photo by Terri)

Beautiful San Juan summit

Views to our W

Twin Lakes

The Trinities (W Trinity, Trinity, E Trinity; l. to r.) in distance; Pk 5 & Pk 6 (w/twin summits) in foreground

Starting our descent

Re-climbing part of the N side wrap-around

Now over to Glacier Point...

A look to the E

And to the NE

Peak 11

We retrace our steps back down Glacier Pt, over to Twin Thumbs Pass, and descend.

Re-ascending to Pk 12 saddle

(Photo by Terri)

From the saddle, we wrap around some ledges on the SW side of Pk 12

And pretty soon we're on the summit and Monitor's E face shows itself

(Photo by Terri)

Terri on a sub-summit of Pk 12

Will we get missed by weather today?

No, we're certainly not going to escape weather today!

That's about 2" of hail and graupel!! (Photo by Terri's camera)

Day 4 (Monday): The Hike Out

Time to Complete: ~3hrs, 45min

We packed up by 7am so we could start our hike out of Ruby in time to get on our 11:45 train that took us to Silverton. We purchased the package that comes with the bus ride back to Durango, which will got us back at a reasonable time to make the long drive back to the Front Range that night.

The hike out was wet, but beautiful. Oh yeah, this is the Weminuche! Of course it's beautiful.

(Photo by Terri)

Thanks for reading,

Hindsight & Personal Notes

As I mentioned, this was my first time in Ruby Basin. I've gazed down on it twice before from two different trips in the region, but both times it had a coat of snow on it. Therefore this summertime trip was a treat! Since I have a goal of climbing the bicentennials too, I'll return for the Monitor, Pk 13, Animas tour. But I doubt that will mark my only return to this gorgeous basin. Repeats of Pigeon & Turret would also be fun.

To date, I think Peak 15 is the hardest peak I've climbed in Colorado. The route finding, retracing steps, scrambling with ledges with the kitty litter like rock strewn about, and the exposure up high....all equals to a challenging yet rewarding peak. I think only small experienced groups should attempt this peak. Up high on Pk 15 with bad weather would also equal a stressful and shitty time, and quite possibly dangerous. We were lucky to get two great climbing days up there!

In hindsight, I don't think I would change much if anything from this trip. Everything went smooth! The teamwork of our group was very complimentary of each other's skills and comfort level. Better yet was the dynamic nature of the three of us and the wonderful camaraderie.

Thanks Terri & Mark for a fabulous trip! This one definitely goes to 11!! Rock on. ;)

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Comments or Questions
Rock n' roll...
08/09/2012 02:00
Great report, Darin. Congrats to all on safe and successful summits. I wish Terri and Mark the best on their bicentennial quest. Ruby is a special place, regardless of the marmots and their voracious appetites.

This is the TR of the year in my book.

Papi knows...
08/09/2012 05:03
This is the kind of report that will live on for a long time, one of those rare gems that get saved to PDF and filed for future reference. Not sure I'll ever get down there for these particular peaks but if I ever do, the beta in this report will be invaluable. But going beyond just the beta is the respect you give to the mountain and your partners in this report. I've been a bit out-of-sorts of late and a report like this is motivation to get it back together. A real treat to read and beautiful to look at. Thanks.

08/09/2012 05:40
Cool trip, excellent and detailed report, wonderful pictures, and all of that good stuff. Congrats to all on some great peaks. I can see why you opted for this last weekend.

That Mark dude looks familiar - I think he was on the Cielo Vista 13ers trip earlier this year and I mistook him for a Mines professor.

well done
08/09/2012 06:15
Great report Darin. Enjoyed everything about it. Looks like an excellent spot down there. Congrats on the summits!

08/09/2012 13:50
That's a fine set of peaks. Peak 11 is amazing.

08/09/2012 14:02
Ruby looks like a special place, and 15 looks like a real treat. Thanks for writing this up Darin! It will prove useful to Brian and I in the very near future...

sweet report
08/09/2012 14:47
Wow, what a great read. You've sure made the most of your TX furlough, Darin. 5 weeks off definitely beats 2, and creating memories > making $$ any day.

Looks like a fantastic trip. Congrats to all on what is clearly a tough peak! And a big shout out to that badass mountaineering chick, Terri... one more to go!

08/09/2012 14:58
Meets the gold standard.
Thanks especially for the tips on the Ruby approach.

08/09/2012 17:31
Loved the shots, great perspectives!

08/09/2012 17:52
What a bunch of hipsters! ;)

I gotta get down there....

08/09/2012 19:03
What an incredible view from Glacier Point. I think next time I come out the Chicago Basin, I need to bring a better camera!

Very cool trip. Wonder if the climbing conditions you experienced on Peak 15 are similar to climbing Jagged Peak?

08/09/2012 20:29
Thanks for the comments & the thumbs up, everyone!

@ Monster: That was Mark you mistook as a professor. Maybe next time he'll badge you and then you'll know his (former) profession. ;)

@ Furthermore: Thank you for your useful beta in your report!

@ djkest: I haven't climbed Jagged yet, but both of my partners have. They both thought this was the hardest they've done as well. But I guess it could depend on one's experience on Jagged as to how hard it is or could be.

Chicago Transplant
Great few days in Ruby
08/09/2012 22:33
Great report, makes me kind of glad we skipped 15, seems like our time estimates might have been right and I had no desire to get back to camp that late in the day that deep into our trip. Getting to it from Chicago Basin was a chore to say the least, and that doesn't even compare to coming out NY Basin afterwards!

I saw Pigeon covered in Graupel when I was driving back over 550 after our Weminuche Exit. Looks like we left at a good time?

08/10/2012 13:09
Darin, this is a sweet report! There are plenty of us who would love to get into this area and your report will be very helpful. Thanks!!

Tip top TR
08/10/2012 15:06
Thanks for the beta and reassurance on approach to Ruby and Peak 15. Perfect mix of narration and beta.

sue personett
08/11/2012 16:22
Great report Darin. It all looks so familiar. Nice seeing you along with Terri and Mark. I wish we had as much luck as you did. I'll get it next time.

Very impressive
08/12/2012 15:58
Darin way to get after it. You will like Jagged.

Summit Lounger
08/12/2012 21:16
Nice report Darin. What, no pictures of the marmots eating your stuff? Next time, give a marmot a hug for me if you don't have your camera. Beautiful peaks.... Another trip to do.

Awesome Trip Darin
08/13/2012 15:45
This doesn't look like the Gores though? WTF???

Peak 15 wasn't in the cards for us, but at least we can speak to the fact that G&M was on crack for noting its possible from Chicago Basin.

07/29/2013 18:29
Amazing to explore such a pristine area.

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