Friday, July 29, 2016

Beattie Peak, 13,342', and Peak 13,302', from Bandora Mine

Essence: Two somewhat obscure mountains with incomparable views of surrounding peaks. A delightful and constricted, knife-like ridge with varying and distinctive features bridges the two mountains. The unnamed, multiple-bench basin below Fuller and Beattie Peaks is laced with rivulets and lush with wildflowers. This hike is recommended only for the navigation savvy. Note: I had originally posted Peak 13,302' as V8. Please see Comments for a discussion about the revision. 2023 Note: Based on new, more accurate measurement technology LiDAR, Beattie Peak has been elevated to 13,351 feet with a rise of 343 feet. Peak 13,300' was increased to 13,302 feet with a rise of 300 feet from the 13,002-foot saddle.
Travel: From Durango, drive north on US 550 about 47 miles to Silverton. Continue north toward Ouray for two miles. At the sign for the South Mineral Campground, bear left onto a good dirt road. In 4.3 miles, pass the Ice Lake Trailhead. The next two miles require a 4WD, high clearance vehicle. Park in a turn-out on the right at 6.6 miles at the Bandora Mine. Note that the road splits here. The left branch goes down to the South Fork of Mineral Creek and the right branch is closed to vehicles and serves as the Lake Hope Trail. Allow 1:30 from Durango.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 5.0 miles; 2,960 feet of climbing
Time: 5:00 to 6:00
Difficulty: Primarily off-trail; navigation challenging; Class 2+ with some lower Class 3 and serious exposure between the peaks.
Map: Ophir, Colorado 7.5 Quad
Latest Date Hiked: July 29, 2016
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream
The earth, and every common sight
To me did seem
Apparell’d in celestial light
The glory and the freshness of a dream.

Vermilion Peak, 13,894', Fuller Peak, and Beattie Peak from Peak 13,302'. (THW, photo)

Route: Beattie Peak, an off-the-radar mountain, is appropriately difficult to navigate. The black-line route is the best I can offer. From Bandora Mine, climb northwest up a steep pitch for about 800 feet. Head west, curving under Pt. 12,635' and ascend the Beattie/Fuller basin to Saddle 13,020'. Climb south to Beattie Peak. Walk 0.7 mile across a slender ridge to Peak 13,302'. Descend the friendly southeast ridge to the Big Three Mine, intersect the Lake Hope Trail, and hike east to the start. From a navigation perspective it might very well be easier to do this circuit clockwise instead of counterclockwise as I describe.
Route Variations: I have climbed the southwest ridge of Peak 13,302' from Hope Pass, continued to Beattie and returned to bail into the basin below their joint saddle. Loose rock at the angle of repose makes the ascent to Peak 13,302' rather atrocious but the last 100 feet up the skinny southwest summit ridge is stellar. This would be a better descent route. Likewise, dropping into the basin from the Peak 13,302'/Beattie saddle worked nicely but sliding scree would make it a poor ascent option.

The southeast ridge of Beattie Peak looks technical if not impossible. Cliffs complicate achieving the Beattie/Fuller basin starting from the Lake Hope Trail from points west of Bandora Mine, though it has been done.

Finally, a viable social trail connects the Beattie/Fuller saddle with the Vermilion/Fuller Saddle at the head of the Ice Lake Basin. On the map below, Peak 13,300' should read Peak 13,302'.

Park at the Bandora Mine sharing the pullout with the Lake Hope Trail at 10,740 feet.

Walk east up the road directly under the mine. Bandora produced gold and silver from 1890 to 1940. You will walk through some of the 35 gallons per minute of orange discharge high in zinc and manganese. In 2016, the inactive mine was listed as a Superfund site after it was determined there is a significant risk of a blowout. This image looks back on the mine and Rolling Mountain southwest of the South Fork of Mineral Creek.

Bear northwest up a steep, plant-covered slope staying close to the edge of the creek defile. This is the sweet spot. If you wander even a little too far west the gradient is even steeper in the conifers. At 10,900 feet enter a thick aspen stand. You can pull yourself up using their little trunks. The surface is choppy broken rock.

At 0.5 mile, just under 11,600 feet, begin curving left/west through heavy woods below the southeast ridge of Pt. 12,635'. After crossing a creek encounter some willows to timberline. In 2012, we nailed this and walked in the green zone just below the talus runoff. In 2016, we angled west too soon. It worked but it wasn't elegant. This image was taken from the Beattie/Fuller basin looking back on the contact between talus and vegetation below Pt. 12,635'.

The correct basin is characterized by Pt. 12,635's unforgettable craggy ridge on the east. Efforts to climb this went unanswered. On the west is the gendarme-prone, blocky southeast ridge of Beattie Peak. When you first enter the basin, it is Fuller Peak that dominates the scene.

A series of benches and softly rounded stone knolls structure the stunning basin. Rivulets flow in lattices, the ground is saturated, and flowers grow in crazy abundance. We saw four deer foraging.

Transition from tundra onto a gently rising field of stone. It pitches up just below the Beattie/Fuller saddle. (THW, photo)

Saddle 13,020' holds snow until late summer. Hug the base of the cornice while moving left/south. In 2016, we surfaced at the stack of book rocks at 1.8 miles. (THW, photo)

From the saddle, Beattie is just over 300 feet of vertical to the south. The rounded, roll-off ridge is generous and offers no obstacles. The image below looks back on the saddle. Notice the wildcat trail clinging precariously to the west face of Fuller Peak as it does a rising traverse to the Vermilion/Fuller saddle.

Crest Beattie Peak, 13,342', at 2.0 miles. It is an unglamorous round rock pile with a glorious view. In this eastward image, I am drawing our route on my map as East Twin Sister rises above. (THW, photo)

Some argue whether the 0.7 mile span over to Peak 13,302' qualifies as a knife ridge but it is quite slim and demands concentration. The crossing will take 35 minutes to an hour. Most certainly, the taper is as fine a feature as the two peaks. The spine starts out  3-4 feet wide, rolling off on both sides. Footing is good on chopped rounded stone, almost sidewalk-like, except for the one, boot-wide step. These hikers look to be walking straight toward San Miguel Peak with the gendarme of Sheep Mountain jutting on the right.

Rock formation changes and the next segment is on lichen-covered, dependable stone. Walk in a slight depression protected on both sides. Peak 13,302' is image-left.

The ridge narrows but the stone is chunky with reliable holds. Notice effervescent Lake Hope. Personal note of caution: On a two-foot-wide stretch, a rock rolled from underfoot and I crashed hard, gashing my leg and clobbering the right side of my body. I was extremely fortunate to land on stone and not sail off into thin air. With fierce determination I was able to pull myself together and finish the hike (I was leading). Please take care and hold your concentration.

Elation follows naturally on this playful ridge.

This lower Class 3 move can be taken over the top or off to either side. This bruiser of a dog had many freak-out moments and needed reassurance and assists on the ridge. Dogs are not recommended.

Reach the saddle at 2.4 miles, 13,002 feet. (If for any reason you need to escape the ridge, I have descended from here no problem.) Come to a distinctive place where the spine projects like a fin terminating in a 12-foot vertical drop. Backtrack and go around the fin on the right/west. Watch the exposure.

You are now at the base of the summit block which presents in two sections. For the first, either get back on the ridge or climb snug against it on the right.

Then confront the most hazardous part of the entire climb, a very steep dirt chute with about 75 feet of vertical. One featherweight friend successfully climbed the boulders on the left/southeast side (image-right). Use caution and check for stability. If you go up the dirt pitch, use the rock on the right for holds (left of the climbers in this image). Some of the stone flakes are well seated; others will detach in your hands. Foot anchors are few. The remainder of the climb is easygoing.

I am topping out on Peak 13,302' at 2.7 miles. The Wilson group is behind me in the northwest. Trout Lake is only a few miles away. (THW, photo)

This image shows the southwest ridge before it plummets on scree slopes to Hope Pass. Grizzly Peak is image-left with V10 on its right. 

Directly south is the summit of Rolling Mountain with one of its subsidiary peaks further west. We are seeing just the vertically striated northface of this magnificent structure that does go happily on and on.

Our return route stays on the southeast ridge clear to the Big Three Mine. This ridge is incredibly enjoyable with a mix of large talus and massive boulders. It would be an excellent ascent passageway. From quite near the top you can spot the Big Three Mine and take aim. In this image, the orange tailings pile is in the green below the grey ridge.

Arrive at the Big Three Mine at 3.5 miles and turn southwest on the spur road which accesses the mine from below. Go downhill for less than 0.1 mile and intersect the Lake Hope Trail coming from the Bandora Mine; turn left. If you nail this track it is highly efficient and avoids major willow bashing. The path through a wildflower corridor makes one switchback and crosses several streams before terminating at the Bandora Mine. 

From the east slopes of San Miguel Peak in autumn, periwinkle blue Lake Hope is nestled beneath Peak 13,302' with Hope Pass to its right and Beattie Peak on the left. (THW, photo)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

American Peak, 13,806'; Jones Mountain, 13,860'; Niagara Peak, 13,807', from Burns Gulch

Essence: Three mammoth, proximal peaks share a snaking ridge. The west wedge of Jones Mountain bifurcates Burns Gulch into two compact and intimate high basins with superb wildflowers. The loop portion may be done in either direction but this description visits "American Peak" first, the furthest north and east in the chain. (USGS officially recognized the name in 2005; it is not indicated on the 7.5 topo.)  Ranked #102 in Colorado, hikers traverse above three near vertical, north-facing couloirs while looking over to Handies Peak. Jones Mountain is a centennial 13'er, ranked #78. While common in appearance, Jones is the centerpiece and loftiest of the triad. Niagara Peak, #101, is at the southwest end of the threesome. Typically, the three companions are climbed together.
Travel: In a serious 4WD, high-clearance vehicle, from Durango drive 47 miles to Silverton. Turn northeast and proceed up Greene Street, the main drag, to the north end of town. Zero-out your trip meter as you make a soft right onto San Juan CR 2. The dirt road is good at first but degenerates to a slow, rocky surface. At 10.7 miles, make a hard right and cross the Animas River. Do not attempt this ford in early season or after a hard rain. The southeast-bearing gnarly shelf road has large, sharp rocks on the bed. The abyss is hemmed in by black tipped senecio. Park in Burns Gulch at about 11,680 feet at 12.2 miles. Allow 1:45 from Durango. If you do not have a capable vehicle the walk into Burns Gulch adds 3.0 miles roundtrip. To do so, continue on CR 2 until it crosses the Animas in another 0.1 mile. Park and walk south on a dirt track paralleling the river that soon merges with the Burns Gulch road. 
Distance and Elevation Gain: 6.3 miles; 3,500 feet of climbing
Time: 5:00 - 7:00
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation moderate; Class 2+ with mild exposure
Map: Handies Peak, Colorado 7.5 Quad
Latest Date Hiked: July 27, 2016
Reference: The peak, ridge, and basin system is highly complex so there is an array of climbing options, all equally spectacular. For a description of routes beyond the scope of this post, see Gerry and Jennifer Roach, Colorado's Thirteeners 13,800 to 13,999 Feet: From Hikes to Climbs, 2001. The Roaches refer to the three-peak combination as "American Pie."
Quote: What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. George Leigh Mallory

The south slope of Handies Peak slides toward Sloan Lake. The multiple north-facing couloirs and rippled crest of American Peak's west ridge advances to mighty Jones Mountain and Niagara Peak beyond.

Route: The loop works equally well in either direction. This description begins in Burns Gulch and ascends to the Jones/American saddle. Walk east to American Peak and then backtrack to the saddle. Climb Jones Mountain and finally, Niagara Peak. Return to the Niagara/Jones saddle and follow a good trail down through the basin to the trailhead. The blue-line, Class 3 scramble route may be used for climbing or descending from Niagara Peak.

Find a suitable place to park at about 11,680 feet and continue up the road on foot, keeping the main drainage on the right. At 11,800 feet (about 0.2 mile) divert onto an abandoned mine track that heads left/east. Leave it after a couple of switchbacks and walk cross-country. We lucked out on the perfect route, noted on the map above. Staying north of the drainage and rock glacier, a series of tundra ramps ascend from one hummock to another. This intimate and resplendent basin is pure pleasure, start to finish.

At 0.8 mile, pass north of an evolving lake. The crystal blue of the original lake contrasts with the  transition. This image looks back on the lake and the northwest ridge of Niagara Peak. (THW, photo)

Attain a bench at 12,680 feet and locate Saddle 13,340', right of the sun in this image. A rock ramp feeds onto a game/social trail which makes a rising traverse up the folding face of the rock glacier where tundra succumbs to a mix of talus and scree. Occasional cairns and elk divots mark the track. (THW, photo)

The wildcat trail maintains a gentle grade to the basin wall at 13,200 feet. Dodge a solid rock escarpment on its right and pitch up to gain the ridge. There are two hikers in the center of the image below.

Reach the glorious and satisfying American/Jones Saddle 13,340' at 1.6 miles. Old man of the mountain (alpine sunflower) relishes the company of the uncommon dusty maiden with her grey foliage and lacy pink blossoms. Mid-summer, snowlover with its creamy fan-like blossoms is scattered on this saddle. The rippled and scalloped ridge directs east to American Peak, image-right. Roundtrip is 1.5 miles.

The fastest route to American is via the south slope trail. If you have time and inclination, skim the ridgetop to the crest and take the social trail back. From the spine look down into eponymous American Basin and turquoise Sloan Lake, shown. You will inevitably see people a stone's throw away on Handies Peak.

American's thin summit ridge is effectively a cliff on the north and rolls off steeply to the south. It is deeply notched on its northface with four principle couloirs. To get the proper feel of this mountain, from a steady perch look down the almost vertical gashes. According to Roach, early-summer snow climbers scale four of the couloirs: Traitor, Independence, Patriot, and Victory. The latter tops out east of the summit. The gullies are separated by rounded knobs. We bypassed Pt. 13,744' and upon reaching the 13,580 foot saddle, took the use trail to the summit. In this image two hikers are downclimbing from a knob back to the trail. (THW, photo)

The summit block rounds off for an easy finish on American Peak at 2.35 miles. American is well positioned on the divide between American Basin, shown, and Snare Basin. To the north Handies Peak rightly predominates. Swing southwest to the the scoop-faced, geometric Grenadiers, and then comes Mount Sneffles, Coxcomb, Wetterhorn Peak, and Uncompahgre Peak, shown left of Handies.

Return on the south side social trail. The reliable platform is but a thin thread. (THW, photo)

Arrive back at American/Jones Saddle 13,340' at 3.1 miles. Looking at the image below, the Jones ridge makes a northwest-aiming arc encompassing our ascent basin.

Since Jones is a centennial the use trail is fairly well established. Upon rising up from the saddle, it diverts onto the southeast slope to avoid cliff structures on the ridge. The grey rock is loose and the pitch steep. Regain the ridge and peer into couloirs on the sculpted-off northwest face. The ragged trail leaves the ridge all too soon and makes a second bypass to the south. Do not overstay your welcome on this slope. Rather, get back on the ridge at your first opportunity--we scaled a tundra slope that worked nicely.

The best segment of ridge comes next. The spine thins but there is plenty of room to play. I prefer staying right on the taper while my friend favors the south side. (THW, photo)

Give up just 50 feet into the depression below the summit block at 13,640 feet. The path vacates the ridge once more on the south. It is functional but not a gimmie, especially after a dry spell on hard pan soil. But once back on ridge, the peak offers an accepting finish at 3.5 miles. Welcome to big daddy #78 at 13,860 feet.

The trail rolls on down a clean scree ball on the south side of Jones to 13,700 feet where tundra resumes. The track skirts the ridge on the northwest but stay on top for a view of Snare Basin and Half Peak, one of my true favorites. Rio Grande Pyramid and its notched window is image-right.

Unlike the other side of the mountain, there is nothing tricky or slow about the descent to Jones/Niagara Saddle 13,240' at 4.2 miles. Roundtrip to Niagara is 0.6 mile with 600 feet of vertical. There is a good use trail to the peak. Looking at the image below, notice the track worn into the right/north side of the ridge. After this diversion, the steep path wonders around on the east ridge to the summit at 4.5 miles.

Niagara Peak just misses the centennial cut at #101. I have scaled Niagara on each of its three ridges and due to familiarity and its fierce and noble countenance, it is my favorite slice of American Pie. If you have the energy, desire, and sunshine, walk just under a mile south to Crown Mountain, bypassing a ridge obstacle on the west. Continue northwest another 0.3 mile to "North Crown," Pt. 13,699', the higher of the two. Below, Crown Mountain is image-center and North Crown is on the right.

Our route scampers back east to the Jones/Niagara saddle at 4.8 miles. Accomplished scramblers may descend the much slower and trickier northwest ridge described at the end of this post.

Back on Saddle 13,240', locate a tall cairn that directs onto the most trodden trail of the day. It pierces the headwall and then holds strong while it descends gently through the talus-filled upper basin.

Flower-infused tundra overwhelms stone. Eventually, it smothers even the trail and cairns take on the job. We lost track of the route altogether at 12,140 feet and gave up on it. By now, the way is obvious. Just head left/west into the center of things and cross the creek. Bump into the road that will take you back to your vehicle in another half mile. 

Niagara Peak's Northwest Ridge, Bottom Up:
This route is 1.8 miles with 2,800 feet of vertical to the peak. Leave the Burns Gulch road at about 11,240 feet and cross the creek. Intersect the northwest ridge near the bottom to avoid garbage rock on over-steep slopes. The image below shows the Animas River, the Burns Gulch road going up the green hillside, and the northwest ridge of Niagara terminating left of center at the summit.

Once on the ridge, stair-step up outrageously delightful ledges.

Gain Pt. 13,419' and then descend on a sweet, skinny ridge before ascending once again to roughly 13,400 feet. Encounter the crux of this climb at about 1.3 miles. You must downclimb a 50-foot, Class 3 slot, shown. My field notes from five years ago state, "This is the funnest part of the day." Since I am not terribly brave, scramblers may trust the holds are good clear to the bottom. Friends tell me there is a bypass on the right/south but never leave a ridge unless you must. Once past the crux it is a simple climb to the peak.