Peak(s):  Wasatch Mtn - 13,555 feet
La Junta Pk - 13,472 feet
PT 13,145 A - 13,145 feet
Ballard Mtn - 12804
Date Posted:  05/27/2014
Modified:  05/28/2014
Date Climbed:   05/24/2014
Author:  Kevin Baker
Additional Members:   wooderson, Papillon
 Bridal Veil 13ers: A Test of Fortitude and Teamwork   

Wasatch Mtn (13555')
La Junta Pk (13472')
"Jackass Point" (13145')
Ballard Mtn (12804')

12.5 miles RT, 6300' gain (from 9300' switchback on Black Bear Pass Rd.)
(Including unexpected reclimb of Jackass & La Junta)

Participants: Sarah Behnke, Kevin Pustulka, and Kevin Baker

I have neglected my 13er pursuits so far in 2014 (only 1 new) because a lot of what I have left is in the San Juans, where snow limits the options greatly. The last few years I've tried to do a San Juan trip over Memorial Day weekend, so I wanted to keep that streak alive even with a marginal forecast. The San Juans had a below normal winter in spots, but the Telluride area still has a pretty healthy snowpack with 40-50 inches still in the hills even with a dust layer melting things quickly. Bridal Veil Falls is a popular tourist hike in summer above Telluride. There are 3 "easy" 13ers above the falls in Bridal Veil Basin that are traditionally done in summer because they are well guarded by avy terrain on the approach. Easy is a relative word though in the San Juans, where there are many unexpected challenges and unforgiving terrain. Kevin and Sarah were up for adventure in the SJ's, and this group of peaks appeared feasible in the middle of spring on paper. Paper and contour lines sometimes don't play out well in the SJ's. You deal with the cards you are given and hope for the best!

Bridal Veil Falls, taken with a fogged up camera the next morning.

We met at the winter TH just above the Pandora mine. Terri Horvath was going to join us for the first two peaks, but she unfortunately was delayed by locking her keys in her car. She was still able to salvage the day and get up her peaks though! We carpooled in my 4Runner, hoping to get up the road as far as we could, setting out at 7am. A couple of huge boulders in the road and a nasty washout stopped us at the 9300' switchback. That saved 300', so we'll take it! We trekked up the road and marveled at Bridal Veil Falls as we approached it, the highest waterfall in CO. The road had been plowed, as it cuts across major avalanche chutes. The walls of the snowbanks were over 20 feet in spots! A winter trek just to the top of the falls would be a game of Russian roulette indeed. We were hoping to get better lighting for pics at the falls on the return, but that turned out to be a pipe dream.

Magnificent Bridal Veil Falls

Side view of the falls

It may be July before Black Bear Road is open!

From Telluride, it appeared that there was a chance we couldn't even get safely by the top of the falls into Bridal Veil Basin. I was envisioning bullet proof snow above a huge drop, but it was fairly trivial with some old tracks there to boot across without crampons or spikes. As we curved into the basin on the shelf road, the sidehilling got a bit extreme as a slip would send you sailing into a heavily snow bridged Bridal Veil Creek below.

Firm snow sidehilling

Front pointing on a road?

Heck of a shelf!

The sidehilling was sustained enough on firm snow to warrant crampons on a road, a first for me! The drainage constricted as we neared treeline and we were forced to go up a headwall with rotten snow and much wallowing and Nazarene f bombs ensued. We were able to downclimb into the creek bed, wary of staying on firm snow for fear of collapsing a snow bridge. We finally cleared treeline and the snow conditions were great for easy cruising in snowshoes, but we had already wasted a lot of time getting there! The skies were still bluebird, so maybe the Mr. Bluebird hat was coming out of a slump. There was a 100% chance of light snow, but later in the day.

Downclimbing into the creek

Creek bed climb to treeline

Pristine day!

We decided to go for Wasatch first as it was the highest and farthest peak from the car. I must say Bridal Veil Basin is an inspiring place, even more so with lots of snow! I couldn't stop gazing at the scenery as we ascended higher and the views opened up.

Three Needles!

How many weddings will there be on the summit of newly named Bridal Peak? Heck of a cathedral!

Lots of snow!

We decided to attack Wasatch by going to the saddle and up the ridge as it looked like splitting the false summit to the north up the east face would be a brutal climb. It turns out the first 400' of the ridge was pretty annoying scree that zapped our energy, but the ridge finally gave way to nice snow to kick steps to the surprisingly small summit. We didn't even take a break at the summit as clouds were building and today we knew it would be a race with the weather.

Wasatch at last

The last bit on Wasatch

As we descended the ridge, we saw Terri coming up the face! What a trooper to come up solo after the ordeal she went through. I glissaded the east face, while Kevin and Sarah went down the scree and talus suffer fest on the ridge. Next up was La Junta, a 650' grunt with a small cliff band to figure out. We traversed left and up a crappy gully back to the ridge. La Junta had a trail in spots to aid our progress and we made good time as clouds continued to build.

La Junta up next

Gully climb on La Junta s.w. ridge

Wasatch from La Junta

It looked like we could beat it over to Jackass and be off the ridge before things blew up, or so we thought! I didn't do a whole lot of research on the traverse to Jackass, but I did read about a step in the ridge that is trivial in summer and can be skirted. When we got to it, it looked like stiff 4th class over steep snow. I decided to skirt it on the left, while Kevin and Sarah carefully downclimbed it. The traverse below the cliff band was on ledges that kicked me out onto snow that was firm enough to warrant getting the axe out and kicking steps. More time wasted. Once we got to the Jackass saddle, the weather hit. There was some rumbles of thunder, but the visibility was still decent. As we topped out on Jackass, it looked like its east ridge would not be a safe descent route as there was steep snow around it, so we opted to continue to unranked Ballard. We had to don crampons again for another section of firm snow with a long runout, which ate up lots of time.

Looking back at La Junta from Jackass

Snowfield below north ridge of Jackass

Ballard up next. Summit cornice = descent stopper

There was a trail descent below its n.e. ridge into Silver Lake Basin, so we were hoping it would go. As we neared Ballard, my heart sunk. There was a menacing cornice on the summit that formed right over the ridge descent. We were fairly certain there was no way around it safely. The first wave of snow had passed, but it looked like there was more on the way. We discussed options and even looked at descending into Bear Creek drainage to the west, but it looked like there was a big chance we would get cliffed out. As tired as we were, our only sure safe option other than dealing with the weather was going back over Jackass and La Junta! We retraced the crampon traverse across the snowfield, and round two of snow hit. This time it dropped the visibility, but we had a good enough view to see the La Junta/Jackass saddle wouldn't go because of cornices.
For the grunt back up La Junta, we decided to avoid the tricky ridge step all together and traversed way below it on good snow, keeping our crampons on through mud and scree. We then did an ascending traverse on snowfields then small talus back up to the s.e. ridge as the lighting was really starting to get flat in the storm. I tried to stay off the crest of the ridge, because when I did my trekking pole on my pack was picking up some electricity!

Traversing around La Junta in the storm

Getting nasty, but we press on!

We had good enough visibility to see without checking the GPS, but I would not want to be in a storm without a GPS! We hit the crappy gully again and it looked a lot different with the new snow. Finally back at the saddle, all we had to do was trudge down gentle terrain back to the basin, or so we thought. The trek back to treeline went smooth even though it took awhile to get back on our exact track. I thought we could get away with keeping snowshoes on for the shelf road descent as the snow had softened, but the new snow with the dust layer made some spots tricky.

Gully descent in the storm

Kevin and Sarah out of the gully on La Junta

I had to get my axe out wearing snowshoes at one spot for the first time! We got back to the top of the falls at dark and were bummed not to get any close ups. Descending back through the huge snow banks on the road was surreal and were relieved to hit the car at 9:30pm. Heck of an adventure, but it's a good thing there aren't too many 14.5 hour hikes with so much adversity to overcome. Terri was kind enough to have a pizza waiting for us when we finished. What a hero! Back at the truck, I discovered that my camera must have fallen off at our starting point. I had to drive back up the switchbacks and found it in the dark, ending a day of seemingly endless cruxes.

Surreal walk out on the road!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Comments or Questions
Papperson sighting!
05/28/2014 14:16
Did you call the Discovery channel? Nice beta and crazy avy cuts. Still plenty of white stuff up there.

05/28/2014 15:38
Kevin you have some amazing adventures. That last pic is awesome! I can't believe how much the gully changed before and after the storm came - it looks like two different mountains

05/28/2014 17:58
Way to NOT be one like the rest of us. Love that contrast between greena and white in Image 21.

Suprised not to see pics of Palmyra/Silver Mtn ridge.

Lesson learned....
05/29/2014 15:01
Nice write up, Kevin! Hopefully others will take away the valuable lesson we learned that day, which is never try to outrun a San Juan storm... it will catch up with you! Of course if we could've swung our planned decent route, we would have just barely snuck out of there without the deluge of wet snow we got having to back-track.

That last photo... very eerie. Seriously looks like it was taken under water.

Ryan - Yeah, keeping a low profile I guess.

Chicago Transplant
05/29/2014 20:10
Quite the adventure, looks a lot different than it did in summer, especially that ”cotton pickin” road! You probably could have gone down to Bear Creek, we met a person on the summit of Ballard that had come up that way when we were there last July, thought I am not sure how straight forward that route would have been and it can be tricky to see cliffs from above! Glad you all made it safely, some character builder, eh?

06/21/2014 21:34
So much snow. Sorry Kevin and Sarah cannot join for the El Valle Creek trip this week. Will wait til snow is down before I head for that area

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