Trip Report: Vestal Peak Climb, Wham Ridge Route, 2006
Click here to see more photos of Vestal Peak.
My son made the great suggestion that we climb the Wham Ridge route
on Vestal Peak in the Weminuche Wilderness in Colorado. I have been looking at this
route for years. It is a classic alpine climb in Colorado. The best description
of the route is given in Gerry and Jennifer Roach's book,
Colorado's Thirteeners, 13,800 To 13,999 Feet, From
Hikes to Climbs.
He drove in from Golden and I drove from Amarillo. We met at
Silverpick near Durango
Resort which has since changed it name back to the original name,
We took the 30-minute train ride on the Durango
& Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad from Silverton to Elk
Catching the train in Silverton instead of Durango saves three hours of train riding.
We leisurely hiked the 2.9 miles from the Elk Park trailhead at 8,875 feet to
the beaver ponds on Elk Creek at 10,000 feet in about two hours on the first
I wanted to do the approach very slowly to allow plenty of time for me to
to the altitude.
The next day we made the steep ascent to the lower meadow 1.8 miles up the
Creek drainage at 11,420 feet in two and one-half hours.
The following day, Tuesday, July 18, we climbed the Wham Ridge route. We started
just before dawn, hoping to be off the peak before the early afternoon monsoon season
thunderstorms. We followed the route well described by Roach. Above the grassy ledge,
we used a rope until just below the summit. He setup belay anchors for only two
pitches including the crux 5.4 pitch along a big crack in the smoother portion of
the face. We saved a lot of time by simul-climbing the rest. I found the class
4+ climbing in the upper blockier sections of the face somewhat gnarly and was glad
to have the protection of a rope. Using this method, we reached the top in five
hours. Many people free-solo the same route in a fraction of that time but I would
not recommend it. We later learned that a young man fell to his death doing just
that only a few days prior to our ascent.
The view down the almost 2000 foot face from the north subsummit is impressive.
From the true summit, we were awed by the incredible sight of the rugged peaks of
the San Juans. This spectacular climb on beautiful solid quartzite from a camp in
the Weminuche Wilderness is an experience of a lifetime.
Once on top, we did not do a good job of route finding on the descent. We tried
to follow the south face route in reverse as suggested by Roach. At one point, we
followed a large cairn on the west side of the south couloir to a dead end and were
met by a rappel anchor. We used this anchor to do a partially free hanging rappel
of about 60 feet to another ledge. To our disappointment, we found no easy way to
down climb from this point and no evidence of another rappel anchor. I do not know
how the previous party whose anchor we used got out of this spot. Perhaps they climbed
back up and found an easier route. We puts slings around a big boulder and continued
downward with another 80 feet of rappelling. We then found relatively easy class
3+ down climbing and regained the faint climbers trail that traverses the southwest
side of Vestal to the Vestal-Arrow ridge. We then followed a seemingly endless slope
of scree and talus to the base between Arrow and Vestal and hiked back down to our
camp in the lower meadow.
The next day we started early and hiked back down to Elk Park in about three and
one-half hours in plenty of time to catch the 11:18 train back to Silverton.