| San Juan Centennials - Williams Creek
Who: Shawn (Rainier_Wolfcastle), Kathy (Mrs. Wolfcastle) and Jolie (our black lab)
When: 4/21/2012 - Start at 2:30am - Summits at 9:45 & 11:00 - Finished at 2pm
TH: Williams Creek TH (Elevation 9,160)
Peaks: Point 13,832 (Ranked # 90), Point 13,811 (Ranked #99)
Stats(estimates): 14.0 miles, 5,900 feet of elevation gain
Route: Ascent: Williams Creek Trail, Point 13,832 SE Slopes, Point 13,832 East Ridge to Point 13,811 West Ridge
Descent: Point 13,811 South Slopes, Williams Creek Trail
Colorado Thirteeners: From Hikes to Climbs, Gerry Roach & Jennifer Roach, First Edition
I thought of these peaks because it was a fantastic forecast for Lake City, it was to be my last fully free weekend for a month, Snotel showed very little snow in the area, and being class 1&2 it could be a family outing. As for why this trailhead, I knew the road was open to Williams Creek TH, I had no info regarding Silver-Grizzly Gulch TH 13 miles further down the road. And this would be a fresh route for me and it had great trail.
So now I had made the choice, time to sell it to my wife....phone call on friday at noon:
Me: "Hey honey, so I think we should drive 5 hours down to Lake City tonight, sleep in the car for a few hours, then climb a couple of centennials. The weather is supposed to be fantastic and we can then crash at the Quality Inn in Gunnison Saturday Night!"
Wife: "What peaks? How long? What class?"
Me: (very nervous)"Well, ummmm these peaks don't really have names. It's like 13 miles and over five thousand feet elevation gain and 90% class 1 with a little snow and talus at the end."
Wife: "Why don't we just take turns driving/napping and start hiking when we get there"
Me: "You're the best!"
From Downtown Lake City, go South on Colorado 149 for a couple of miles, turn right onto Lake San Cristobal Road and continue for about 7 miles. The Williams Creek TH is a small clearly marked parking area on the right side of the road. For those that are familiar with the standard Handies/Redcoud/Sunshine TH, you pass Williams Creek TH on your way to that 14er TH...well before the road starts getting interesting.
There is no snow anywhere near the sections of road we drove...you would think it was August. My guess is that you could drive at least another 5-10 miles before seeing any snow...maybe further.
We carried snoeshoes, microspikes, and ice axes. We never even considered using the snoeshoes (I sank to my knees on maybe 20 steps the entire hike). The microspikes and axe were necessary for angled snowfield crossings above 13,200 feet (you could go without the microspikes if you brought just the axe and chopped maybe 20 steps for yourself).
So on about an hour and a half of restless passenger seat sleep, we geared up and set off under clear stary skies just after 2 am. There is a trail register maybe 300 yards into the trail. The trail is super obvious and easy to follow. There are a few easy creek crossing on log foot bridges early on and then a small beaver pond maybe a mile in (my first 4 pics in this report were actually taken on the way down).
The first 2.5 miles or so of the trail are kind of frustrating in that its a constant pattern of go up 100 feet, go down 25 feet, flat meadow, repeat....so you know there will be a lot of that 5,900 feet gain in the last section and you will have a little uphill waiting for you at the end of the day. We stepped on our first snow maybe 1.5 miles in...but more the exception than then the rule, and nothing requiring traction or flotation. There are a few signs on the trail...they say, oddly enough: "TRAIL" with an arrow...they are not needed! The trail soon becomes side by side tire rutts.
Looking South (your view on the descent):
We moved pretty slow, you could easily knock off the first 2.5 miles of this hike in an hour...it took us two.
Finally, after yet another clearing the road enters an aspen grove and starts giving us our first consistent elevation gain of the day (yet still very mild).
After a mile or so of clear road with some switchbacks up to around 11k the trees get a little thicker and ground became about 50% snow covered. Over the next three-quarters of a mile the road became harder to follow as it disappeared under the snow. We pieced together the drier stretches and maintained a North to NW heading. The real key here is that you should just keep gaining elevation until the trees thin and you can spot Point 12,195...because that is your target and the slope evens or drops in every other direction. You then skirt Point 12,195 to the West on what is again very clear trail. You will now be able to clearrly see Sunshine and then Redcloud to your West. One eeiry thing about this past section was we came upon an old sleeping bag laid out on some leaves in a clearing with some garbage around it. In my 5 am stuper I was half expecting a body in it a-la "Into the Wild", it was empty.
Once we were on the North side of Point 12,195 (and like 4.5 miles into your hike) you can finally see your objectives for the day, and low and behold the Sun had risen.
Looking West/South West, Half Peak is towards the center of the pic:
Looking North to Point 13,832. The center of the pic is actually unranked point 13,632. You head towards that point and then skirt it to the climber's left on clear trail, and then head West/NW to Point 13,832 which is actually the bump peeking out to the left of unranked point 13,632. From where this pic was taken, we did a loop of PT 13,632, PT 13,832, back to PT 13,632, then PT13,811, and back down easy trail back to this spot.
We stashed our snowshoes here and headed towards the base of the diagonal ridge ascending right to left in the photo above. You lose a few hundered feet and cross a drainage...the further right you go approaching the drainage, the steeper your drainage crossing would be. We then headed up that diagonal ridge staying just to the climber's left of the snowfield....this upcoming section looked like it would take an hour....it was longer than that
But before starting that section out...I took a few more pics...here is PT 13,811 (our descent route zig-zags on clear trail throught the middle of this pic):
Looking back at Point 12,195:
Recloud (right) and Sunshine (left)...now I am strickly an intermediate resort skier at this point...but out of everything I saw this day, the longest continuous line I saw was coming off Sunshine's East face and then following the drainage SE back towards the road...it looked to continue below 11K. But it got warm, over 60 degrees on this day...so probably melting fast:
And sometimes even a blind squirrel finds an acorn:
After maybe 5 minutes of hiking after our break, I saw something moving around 12,300 on the base of 13,811...so I zoomed in as far as a I could and took these pics:
Not until loading the pics was I able to determine that is was a coyote...I see them in my backyard, but never this high up.
The slog up to PT 13,632...it was a little steeper than the pic...but no much...
A look over to PT 13,811 from 12,200
Looking back at the rest of my team...hey Kathy, Jolie is not a sled-dog!
BTW, the only reason she is on leash at this point is because we could hear coyotes fighting (or maybe warning us) above us, but we never saw them (we were easily a mile from the one spotted in the earlier photo). Also, I should point out that I saw a lot of deer and elk bones during this day...including like a dozen elk backbone segments on this section.
Finally a good view of Point 13,832:
And and even better view from about 13,500 (Redcloud is behind it to the left):
Kathy was discouraged by the look of it and needed an extended break, so she sent me out on my own to tackle this one (Note: we both donned microspikes and ice axes from this point until leaving Pt 13,811). She would take a pic of me on top, then start over to Point 13,811, and I would then catch up. It looks farther than it is...it took me maybe 10 minutes. You can see the trail over to it and then wrapping around to the backside maybe 50 feet below the summit. I chose to go right to the ridge and staying on it, to avoid traversing the bulletproof snow fields crossing the summer trail. It was a little airy, but wide, stable, and fun! Ever since my 4th 14er did not have a register, I stopped signing in...except on rare special ocassions...but seeing as the last sign-in was Mr. Gladbach on 3/10...I had to sign in! Had I mentioned that there was not a single cloud or other hiker all day, and only a breath of wind...what a glorious day!
In my excitement I had forgot to actually take a breath and look around...oh, my what a view..Redcloud's switchbacks looked like they were only like 20 minutes away. Hey, there is Wetterhorn, Matterhorn, Uncompaghre....this is mountain climber porn at its finest! I love the San Juans!
Okay, time for some catch up. I practically floated back over to Point 13,632. Kathy had left the camera for me with my pack. As I crested the East side of the peak I see that I have some ground to make up, she and Joile are black dots 2/3rds up and a little right of the ridge to Point 13,811:
BTW, that big snowfield goes a long way down and ends in some cliffs....here is another pic looking down:
Looking back at Point 13,632, Pt 13,832, and Pt 13,561 from the saddle to Pt 13,811:
Summit photo with Redcloud and Sunshine in the background:
No names necessary:
Unfortunately my USAKeller style arm out group photos did not come out....
The first 300 feet coming off the summit to the South are pretty loose and moderately steep. Then we took the grassy slopes around to the right of the photo below (no snow crossing necessary) back to the easy to spot trail. And it was a simple, long, and fairly warm 6 mile walk back to the car.
I am very sad to say that our post hike meal had to wait until Gunnison, since Lake City was a freakin ghost town at 3 pm on a 70 degree and sunny Saturday!!!! By the time I got to Gunnison, I was a starving zombie (are there any other kind?) and settled for $10 of Taco Hell, "Worst post-hike meal ever!"
Here is a rough drawing of our route on a Google Map:
Thanks for reading!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):