Victory is so much easier to write about than defeat. But it's from defeat where we learn to appreciate victory. I can only hope my last outing to the Weminuche Wilderness teaches me something. It has nothing to do with Pikes and little to do with Ascent training, but it is a window into what this whole pseudomountaineering thing is all about.
Jagged Mountain is a centennial thirteener located deep in the heart of the San Juans. Its north face presents one the most complicated routefinding challenges of any of Colorado's high peaks. Fifth class moves are required to get to the summit. It looks broken, fragmented...jagged. But maybe the hardest part about Jagged, at least this year, is just getting to it. Despite a heavy monsoonal flow and lousy forecast this past week, I thought I'd get myself into the Weminuche and see if I could catch a window to climb it.
There are three or four ways to get to the north face of Jagged. All of them are hard. I chose this time to come in from the west, via a trail that starts at Durango Mountain Resort. My plan was to dedicate three days to this endeavor.
In a perfect world, my plan would shake out like this
Day 1 - travel up into the No Name Creek basin as far as I can before weather hits.
Day 2 - summit Jagged, pick up camp and move to the Ruby Creek basin.
Day 3 - summit Pigeon and Turret and hike out.
Knowing this was an aggressive plan, I was at least hoping to grab one summit.
Wary of a terrible forecast that called for 70-80% chance of thunderstorms over the next few days, I set out before sunrise on Wednesday and started hammering out the miles. For this trip, I packed light - 28 pounds by the time it was all said and done. This enabled me to click off 20 minute miles all the way to the Durango & Silverton train stop in Needleton, some 11 miles later. Up to this point, the trail had been quite agreeable - smooth, easy to follow, soft, wide, and not too steep. Unfortunately, this was where my quasi-bushwhack began.
For three more miles on the Animas, I dodged, ducked, dove, dug, and...dodged...everything in my way as I followed an on-again, off-again series of paths and trails. After crossing the Pigeon, Ruby, and No Name Creeks as they emptied into Animas, the fun ramped up yet again.
Noon had finally struck, and ominous clouds had begun to lurk behind the protection of the Animas canyon. I knew setting up camp on the banks of the Animas at 9,000' meant there would be no chance of a summit the following day, so I pushed ahead up the steeply climbing No Name basin as the drops began. First in sprinkles, then drizzle, then graupel, hail, and every other form of precipitation imaginable. Finally, after 18 miles and 9 hours, I set up my makeshift shelter while the heavens continued to open upon me. Somehow I kept most of my backpack's contents dry, and was able to crawl into my sleeping bag and squelch the convulsions that had been plaguing me since the raindrops had turned to sheets an hour before.
Once in my cocoon, I began processing my options. I had only made it to about 10,500' in No Name Basin. If the weather broke, I decided I would pack up camp and try to go higher before dark. If not, I would just get an earlier start the next morning. Of course, this all depended on the storm stopping....which...it didn't. Not until just before sunrise.
With so much precipitation overnight, I was concerned. Wet rock isn't exactly good rock to climb, and even with a sunny morning, I still wouldn't know until I saw Jagged's north face. Nonetheless, I put my best rain gear on and got moving again on Friday morning. Yuck. All the vegetation in the basin was soaked, and I got to hike through ALL of it. Furthermore, the sun was playing hide-and-go-seek with me. It would improbably pop out through five layers of clouds, then disappear again. Any minute looked like the skies could open up. Any minute looked like it could become a day on the beach. I can't say my mood was positive at this time, and my pace slowed to a crawl.
Crawl or not, I did eventually gain Jagged Pass. What I saw from the pass confirmed what I already had assumed - Jagged's north face was covered in a fresh, shiny, soaking wet coat of awfulness. It was 11:18AM. No summit was in the cards. Now the fun really began.
The weather, which seemed to be keeping its options open, had finally decided to commit fully to being sucky. I knew I didn't have much time, so I double-timed my descent in hopes I could at least get back to my campsite somewhat dry, let alone not singed to a crisp by lightning. I did manage to beat most of the moisture, but then got to spend the next many hours waiting for my chance to pick up camp. That chance never came, as the rain and thunder kept coming well into the afternoon. By the time it subsided, I was done. Tapped out. Ready to go home.
Go home I did on Saturday morning. The 18 mile approach found a way to feel longer on the way out. I didn't even have the energy to feel relief when I was done.
So what did I get out of this experience? A few things, I suppose. 44 miles in 3 days can't hurt for Pikes training. Maybe a healthier respect for monsoon weather. Maybe more trust in my decision-making abilities, because any decision that keeps you alive is a good decision.