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All Jacked Up on the Wemi: 7 days in the San Juans
All Jacked Up on the Wemi: 7 days in the San Juans
Coxcomb & Redcliff
Leviathan & Vallecito
Peak 6 & Peak 7
Silex & The Guardian
Ian - zootloopz (ig @ianatkinsond)
Twinkle - shattuck311 (ig @shattuck311)
8/31/2021 - 9/6/2021
Day 1: 8/31
Coxcomb (13,656’ / #171)
Redcliff (13,642’ / #175)
10 miles / 3,500’ gain
After spending June in New England climbing 4000 footers that don’t understand the concept of switchbacks, and July & August consistently plugging away at the centennial list in CO, I was stoked to turn up the heat on some class 5 terrain during prime peak season. My mountain mentor Twinkle, aka shattuck311, had a full week off of work and wanted to make the most of it deep in the San Juans. “As long as we include Jagged” I told him, “I was down for anything else you’re excited for.” I hear something in response about Coxcomb & Redcliff. There’s mention of a near 200 foot rappel. Ooowee. We missed out on Dallas earlier in the month due to smoke so I was all about it. “We’ll figure out the rest of the week later”, Twinkle says. Word. Despite having done Wilson & Gladstone, Ice, Quandary’s West Ridge, and Lindsey’s NW Ridge so far this summer, I was feeling a little nervous. Cue a quick romp out to Capitol Peak for round 2 there for a little exposure training and a dip in Capitol Lake. What a fun route. Perfect with friends. The stoke was high.
With 36 hours of rest I drove out from Leadville towards the Wetterhorn Basin TH in the Cimarrons. Being a bit lazy, I left late enough to arrive at the 4x4 section of the road in complete darkness. Without much knowledge of the road I was driving excruciatingly slow on the way in, but everything ended up being fine with my Tacoma. Once I got to the TH, I said hi to Twinkle, and quickly worked on falling asleep with a movie on my laptop.
At 6am we got started, and made quick work of the approach to the south face of Coxcomb while catching up on recent events in life and reminiscing on past adventures together (namely the TGOC across Scotland in 2018).
Twinkle led the way up the low 5th class chimney system. Steep. Fun. Let’s get it. Couple hundred feet and we’re there. First rappel into the notch. A little practice for the summit rap. 3rd class to the summit. Hang out, play name the peaks, eat a sandwich. Twinkle sets up the anchor with a single rope and tag line combo. He goes first to clean the rope on the way down. Cool. He finds some bones just over the edge. Super cool. After signaling me that he was off rappel, he gave me a fireman’s belay while I hooked into the system and cleaned the anchor. Slow steps, taking my time. Exhilarating. Big long raps off summits are the best. Reach the bottom. Clean the rope. High fives. Drop rap gear at the Redcliff saddle. Tag Redcliffe. Remark how cool the Cimarrons are and how cool Fortress Peak looks. Return to the TH. Eat.
With a poor forecast and early rain predicted for the next 2 days, we were forced to consider shorter days. I pitched Yankee Boy, to which Twinkle agreed. We drove over and set up a car camp near the bathrooms at ~11,350’. Sandwiches and sodas and sleep, thank you.
Day 2: 9/1
Cirque Mountain (13,686’ / #155)
4.5 miles / 2,400’ gain
Cirque ended up being a cute day with amazing views, but quite unremarkable. Storms and rain threatened early on, and we started receiving moisture at the summit. Scree surfed down, where Twinkle is much faster. I think it’s the Mountain Dew. Also, I need to learn how to surf.
After returning to civilization and spending some time fiddling on our phones, we learned that the forecast was remaining poor for the following day so we decided on another short bicent route, Lookout Peak. The drive to Ophir Pass was gorgeous and we car camped in a parking area just before the pass.
Day 3: 9/2
Vallecito Approach to Base of Sunlight Drainage
Unfortunately for us, we woke up to a complete white out on the upper 500’ of Lookout Peak, which didn't clear the entire hour we sat around watching it. This prompted our talk of what to do. Time for the Wemi. Time to pack. Wasting little time, we drove back to town and did a bit of research. With Jagged involved, Twinkle wanted to hit a nice loop up Sunlight and down Leviathan. Having only done the Chicago Basin 14ers the year previous via Purgatory, I had little idea of what to expect. But sure, let’s do it. How do we get there? Beartown? Oh let’s go for Vallecito. I haven’t done either, but Vallecito has less overall elevation change.
With that we formed the plan to hike to the Vallecito junction with the Sunlight drainage that very evening. Cue packing and making sure we have enough food. Convince Twinkle to bring a helmet. No rope or rap gear for Jagged though, “let’s solo it” he says. Sweet. Drive. Park. Get dressed and hydrated. Eat. Ooo time to leave. We were determined to make it to our chosen campsite even if it was raining the entire time, but thankfully the clouds cleared out to the north as we were walking, gracing us with a dry approach. How nice. Find the junction. Set up camp. Eat. Sleep.
Day 4: 9/3
Ascend Sunlight Drainage
Leviathan (13,528’ / #237)
Vallecito (13,428’ / #301)
We wake up to some brilliant condensation and pack up our wet tents with numb fingers in the dark. Knowing we’re in for some willow wackin’ we wear our rain jackets early on. This merely helped to keep us from outright freezing – there was no escaping the moisture. Slowly we ascended with full packs working our way through endless steep willows that were head high at times. Thankfully there is the faint trail that guides us for the most part. As lighter phases of twilight approached, we ran into a couple out together just packing up at camp. They were headed down canyon and we chatted about the abundance of rain they had encountered in the previous days. Good decision not heading back here until now.
At one point while crossing a small stream amongst the willows, Twinkle became startled and started rushing. I had no idea what was happening because Twinkle said nothing for a couple of moments and I was caught in the thought of “what is he doing… ow what the HELL.” BEES. God damn bees. I was stung directly on the tip of my nose and immediately took off just jumping straight into the stream to get away. I was already soaking wet so why not. After getting sufficiently far enough away, we both started cracking up about it. What a ridiculous morning. This shit is hard. We still had our work cut out for us, so up and off we went with full packs.
Eventually we reach the base of Jagged and quickly set up our tents. The plan was to drop the camping gear and hit Jagged, but the clouds were looking questionable, so we decided to hit Leviathan and Vallecito while we watched how the weather developed. Up the SW Ridge of Leviathan we go. Fun class 2+ / easy class 3. Feeling light with a simple day pack. Peak attained. Clouds continued to look questionable, but we headed off for Vallecito anyway. Drop off an unnecessary but quick exposed class 4 section directly to the ridge. Slabby. Perhaps even slippery. Snap some photos of Jagged. Eventually hit the saddle. Up the talus we go. This is when the rain and hail begins. Not too bad, but enough to make the talus slippery. Hearing thunder rumbling to the west. Tag the summit. Descend. At some point I placed my foot on a rock that was slightly too angled, where my foot slipped forward 6 inches sending the fleshy part of my shin straight into another piece of jagged talus. This punctured my leg through my sock, which thankfully did not disturb this trip, but it just happens to remain a sizable scar 6 months later. Ouch.
Damn were the views of the Wemi worth it though. Absolutely mind blowing. While not fun to hike in, the clouds and stormy weather really give some character to it all. We took our time crossing under Leviathan directly from the saddle back to our tents for an early afternoon. The lingering threat of rain made Jagged a no go, so tomorrow was going to have to be a longer day. We took our time winding down, eating dinner, cracking jokes, and making friends with ~10 goats who were grateful for our hydrated and electrolyte filled dispositions. I moved my tent so I could view the NE face of Jagged while falling asleep.
Day 5: 9/4
Jagged (13,824’ / #94)
Peak 6 (13,705’ / #144)
Peak 7 (13,682’ / #158)
Storm King (13,752’ / #125) Twinkle Only
Go time. Jagged. One of the biggest challenges of the summer. I’m so psyched! Sleeping directly under this mountain for a morning assault was a great choice. We waited a bit before beginning, as the clouds were moving off with the advancing day and warmth. Head towards the saddle. Turn left. Ramps and ledges. Steeper and steeper. Definitely no fall territory. Reach the 1st crux. Switch to comfy rock shoes. Twinkle leads the way having been here once before on his own centennial journey. Hit the saddle and swing around to the SW face. Traverse the exposed ledges. Enjoy the views of Chicago Basin in the distance. Find the crux chimney with the ‘new’ fun obstacle at the top. Twinkle stems up with his back against one side and feet against the other and works his way. A solid 20-25 feet. A little bit of moxy and some upper body strength to move around the boulder at the top of the chimney. I follow suit. Not too bad. 1st crux felt worse. Summit. Wow. Wow! So nice to be here. One of the pinnacles of the summer. The most difficult centennial peak accomplished. Love it. Damn… a peak worth repeating.
Eventually we head back down, determined to make our way over to Peak 6 to traverse the ridge to Peak 7. Down climb the chimney. All smiles, just as easy as going up. Snap some photos. Back to the saddle and swing back to the NE face. Down to the 1st crux. This was the most difficult part of the day for me, and I opted for wriggling myself face out into a less exposed crack. This pulled up my shirt and looked exceptionally ungraceful, to which Twinkle shot a video and posted it to the socials when we were back to civilization. I’m just glad we got down safely!
Sit down to take off the rock shoes. Accidentally budge one which sends it 1,000 feet down the main Jagged gully. Sweeeeeeet. We tried to find it but that thing was gone. Guess I’ll pack out 1 climbing shoe for the rest of the trip.
Hit the tents. Eat. Pack up. Ran into a gentleman hiking the Kodiak High Route, which we have since learned is just some random person’s caltopo route that was uploaded into Gaia and other mapping software.
Up the saddle. Traverse the talus. Up and down and up and down. Start ascending Peak 6. Damn this is slow. A bit of a slog. Summit. Once again the views are tops. The layers out here. Weminucheeeee. I’m gonna have to get out here again.
After our break, we take a peek at the Peak 7 traverse. Looks a bit rough and loose. Ask Twinkle if he has route info. “All I know is that it goes.” Cool. Guess we’re on-sighting it with full packs then. Looks like some class 4 in the middle. Start off on a nice wide sidewalk. Hit the towers. Helmet time. I won’t go into detail, but it goes at class 3/4. There were multiple times that Twinkle and I took different routes and ended up back together. Loose and spicy, but no 5th class. I considered it fun. This was the only time Twinkle was remotely nervous.
Up on Peak 7, we got a much better view of the south side of Vestal and the Trinities, as well as Storm King, Silex, and The Guardian — our next targets. On the descent towards Storm King, we ended up off the gpx track I had. It’s loose here. I figured we were not on the optimal route, but kept following Twinkle who is a bit faster than me on the downhills. A couple steps in the wrong direction and I end up kicking something — “ROCKKKK”
I started a cascade. Shit. A few soccer ball sized rocks were involved. Twinkle was 100’+ below me, thankfully hugging the rock band separating descent routes on this face. He was able to hide and avoid being hit. Phew. I felt terrible. I had never caused any sort of sizable rock slide like that before. Pretty sure he didn’t think it was that big of a deal and shrugged it off.
After finishing the descent to the Peak 7 / Peak 9 saddle, I was feeling a bit shaken up and tired. Not being exceptionally motivated for bicents at the time, I decided to let Twinkle run free on his own to Storm King while I sat down and watched our packs and ate snacks and basked in the glory of the day. It had already felt like such a full trip and I was happy to just be still and enjoy the afternoon for a bit. Twinkle left with just a wind jacket and his phone after eating a snack and drinking some water. It was impressive to watch him fly up and back down in just over an hour.
After his return we decided to set up camp below the Peak 9 / Storm King saddle for a romp by Silex Lake to access Silex and The Guardian the following morning, as we were unsure about going over Peak 9 and didn’t want to take the chance.
The views from this camp of the south side of Arrow, Vestal, and The Trinities, with the golden hour sunset light shining on their faces, are absolutely incredible. I can’t wait to get out into Vestal Basin for these 5 peaks in 2022 (as well as tagging Storm King from there since I’m currently thinking about bicents, of course).
Day 6: 9/5
Silex (13,628’ / #181)
The Guardian (13,617’ / #185)
Return down Leviathan drainage to Vallecito to Columbine Pass junction
The next morning we woke up and got after it. I know now that going near Silex Lake is not a fun activity for humans. It is straight talus and scree. Although we made pretty quick work of it, and managed to find some water along our traverse without having to dip down all the way to the lake, saving a bit of elevation change.
Drop our packs below Silex. Tag Silex. Traverse. Ledges. Some easy class 3 and optional class 4. Hunt for the cairns. Tag The Guardian. My 99th ranked peak of the summer. Beautiful. Almost hot. Such a clear day. Formulate a plan to drop down and get ourselves in position for Jupiter and Grizzly C the next morning. So grateful we received a weather window to get out in the Wemi. Back to the packs.
From here, the drop down the Leviathan drainage was my least favorite part of the trip, other than the descent of Peak 7. I’d rather be suffering uphill any day. I became so frustrated and irrationally angry for about 10 minutes, but it soon passed and I was back to joking around with Twinkle. Some faint use trails, some complete guess work trying not to cliff out, and some shwackin’. Cross the Vallecito and back on trail and all the way down to the junction with the Columbine Pass trail. We were planning on hiking further up near the pass, but decided to set up camp right at the junction since we could no longer see the sun and were feeling the effects of six straight days of hiking.
We ran out of fuel with our shared canister, and I was reluctant to ask another group for fuel, so I went for the cold soak double ramen and jerky.
Day 7: 9/6
Hike out to Vallecito TH
Upon waking up in the morning and inspecting our legs and brains, and calculating how long our day would be if we tried to hit Jupiter and Grizzly C, we decided to bail on that ambitious plan and set course for a stroll back to our vehicles.
Along the way, we ran into fresh raspberries everywhere, and ate to our hearts content (while leaving a few for the bears). What a treat. Crossed the Vallecito without a rope (there was one on the way in).
4 leisurely hours later we were back at our cars for gatorades and snacks and cell reception. We decided to give Lookout Peak one more shot as a possible consolation prize on the way out of the San Juans, but unfortunately smoke was moving in by the time we got there and it felt like it was mid-July. Given the circumstances, Twinkle and I hugged it out and parted ways.
Wemi Totals: ~45.5 miles / ~13,000’ gain
Week Totals: ~ 60 miles / ~ 19,000’ gain
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
This is a fun report, and glad you posted the tracks in case it's helpful for anyone. Great job with everything that week too - it was a fun one!
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