Friday morning, May 28th. To avoid the exorbitant $92/person train fee, our plan was for Sarah to ride the Durango-Silverton Narrow Guage Railroad train from Durango to the Needleton stop with all our three packs and skis/board while Andy and I ran the 9 miles down to the Needleton stop from the Purgatory trailhead. From Needleton we'd hike to a high camp in N. Pigeon Creek where we could spend a few days climbing high 13ers Pigeon and Turret while also skiing in the basin.
The standard fee is $80 per person with an additional $10 pack fee for backpackers such ourselves. Definitely not worth it considering I've been on that train at least three times already and $90 is a lot of dough!
Sending Sarah off at the train station in Durango with the packs and cooler
After dropping Sarah off at the train station, Andy, Nina and I drove to the Purgatory trailhead. From here it was 9 miles of trail running with an initial descent of 3.7 miles and 1,100 vertical feet. From there it's another 5.8 miles and 700 vertical feet of climbing along the Animas River to Needleton. We left the trailhead at 9:20am.
The trail running was really nice despite the dirt spots on the inside of my lens which you will see throughout this photo album. Going light with only a hand bottle each to Needleton was really fun.
Green meadows along the Cascade River heading down towards the Animas River
Our first view of the peaks we planned to climb, Pigeon Peak (left) at 13,972' and Turret Peak (right) at 13,835'. It was here we realized just how melted out the peaks were. We immediately began thinking of alternate plans because it would not be worth it to hike skis and boards up there
Crossing the Animas River at 7,700' at 10:04am. We crossed over to river's east side to run the very nice trail along the river to Needleton
Requisite train tracks photo
The river was ragin' full on
The 8:15 train passes by us on the other side of the river. Sarah was on the 9:00 train
Another view of Pigeon and Turret
We hit the Needle Creek Trail junction at 11:18am. From here we had .7 miles to go to Needleton.
Crossing the Needleton Bridge back across the Animas to meet the train. We got to Needleton at 11:25am
Not five minutes later the train arrived. How's that for timing?
Sarah hiking her load across the Needleton Bridge. At this point we decided to abandon any hope of skiing on our Pigeon and Turret quest and opted to setup camp in the Needleton area.
We picked this idyllic meadow for our camp. After setting up camp we discussed our options. With stable weather and a nearly full moon later, we decided to head up for the peaks that afternoon to come down late in the night aided by the bright moonlight.
Our plan was solid but would be tough. The 9 mile run we had just done to get to camp was Andy's longest single run ever and now we were looking at tacking on a another tough 9 miles and 7,200 feet of gain and 7200 feet of descent if we climbed both Pigeon and Turret
Hanging our food to keep the bears and other hungry critters out. This hang was up about 45 feet
Leaving the skis and heavy packs behind. We still had to carry our plastic boots (me) and AT boots (Andy and Sarah) in our packs in anticipation of needing our crampons up high
We left camp around 1:10pm and quickly crossed Pigeon Creek
An old rail cart along the Animas River trail
Crossing N. Pigeon Creek just before the trail got unrelentingly steep and tough
Unrelenting. This "trail" pretty much sucks
The famed "Columbine Tree" at the junction where the N. Pigeon Creek trail leaves the more standard Ruby Basin trail
At 3:45pm we got our first view of Pigeon and it was a beauty. Seeing the lack of snow (and realizing just how crazy tough the trail below us would have been carrying overnight packs and skis) we were pleased with our decision to leave the skis and camp down low
Looking back west across the Animas River valley
The route up Pigeon heads up into that little basin in the upper left corner of the photo and then stays on the west face below the ridge on the skyline
Pigeon's west face is gorgeous with plenty of potential but the hump up there with technical rock climbing gear would be super tough. I was especially intrigued by the huge left-facing corner capped with a roof on the lower left portion of the face. It looks amazing.
Heading up the grassy, sandy, gravelly slopes
It was a bit tenuous to go up but even more tenuous on the descent
We stayed on the grass and sandy ledges until about 13,400' where we crossed this snowfield to get onto Pigeon's west face
On the west face (a.k.a. Southwest face)
Alright, finally some really amazing views. That's Vestal Peak in the center with Arrow Peak to it's left. The Trinities are to the right of Vestal
Andy, Nina and Sarah crossing a snowfield up high. We had made the decision at 12,400' to leave our boots and crampons so we were sporting trail running shoes here. It worked out because the snow was quite soft this late in the day (6:40pm)
This was the crux of the route we took up Pigeon. A short section of tricky low fifth class climbing. It might be fourth class but I employed a hand jam going both up and down. We didn't climb the "standard route" opting for making our own way up the peak based on what looked good to us
We gained the west ridge at ~13,850' at nearly 7:00pm. From here just a short ridge scramble to the summit
Group photo. I often feel like I'm carrying the weight of Vestal on my shoulder
Andy on the very tippy top of Pigeon
Good light so I made him stand up there longer and pose
Sarah's turn on the tippy top
The view to the east with the appropriately-named 14ers Sunlight Peak (left) and Windom Peak (center-ish)
As is often the case, it was a bit trickier descending but we took our time and enjoyed our kicked-in steps in the snow
Sarah on the descent
Crossing back across the snow field at 13,400' with beautiful late-day light bringing out the color
The makings of a gorgeous, colorful sunset...
Yeah, being up at 12,500' at sunset is awesome even if we were still many miles, hours and vertical feet away from our tent. We discussed our energy levels and desires and because none of us ever wanted to hump back up the brutally steep trail into the basin again, we decided to head over to Turret Peak even though it was already 8:30pm
Moonrise at 10:10pm as we traversed around the south side of Pigeon en route to Turret
I didn't take too many photos as the night went on because of a lack of good light
Self portrait, Turret Peak, 13,835', May 28, 2010 (just barely), 11:09pm
60 seconds time exposure ont he summit of Turret Peak at 11:08pm with Pigeon's badass east face in the background. It was a very windy but relatively warm night
60 second exposure of Turret Peak with Andy walking through the frame with his headlamp on. At this point it was very windy and we couldn't wait to get back over to Pigeon's south side to get some shelter from the wind
We had stashed our packs on Pigeon's south side at about 12,350' earlier. Here, we're back at the packs and happy to be heading only down from here on out. Note the smiles despite the fact that it's now after midnight and we're still hours away from camp. These are the kind of people one wants for mountaineering partners
This shot turned out really cool I think. It's a 60 second exposure with Andy and Sarah's headlamps creating chaos above the sharply focused granite crystals in the foreground. From here it was another 2.5 hours descent of off-trail bushwacking and slippery steep trail to our camp
Back at camp at 4:04am and definitely time for bed. We slept hard for four hours and then I finally got to eat the beef stroganoff I had my mind on all night. For breakfast.
After our four hours of sleep and breakfast we discussed plans for the rest of the weekend since it was only Saturday morning now. No matter what we did, Andy and I would need to run the 9 miles back out while Sarah had to go with our packs on the train. We opted to head back to New Mexico so we packed up so Sarah could catch the 11:30am train to Silverton while Andy and I ran out.
Back in Silverton! It took Andy and I 2 hours, 40 minutes to run back to the Purgatory trailhead and then we drove into Silverton where Sarah had been waiting very patiently with our packs for two hours. Some ice cream was definitely in order and we made it so before heading home to Los Alamos. We got home around 10:30pm. It was a whirlwind adventure trip that won't soon be forgotten even though we didn't get to do any skiing.