Peak(s):  McCauley Pk  -  13,554 feet
Grizzly Pk C  -  13,700 feet
Aztec Mtn  -  13,310 feet
Valois, Mt  -  13,185 feet
Greylock Mtn  -  13,575 feet
PT 13,121  -  13,121 feet
Amherst Mtn  -  13,165 feet
Organ Mtn B  -  13,032 feet
"Pk Twenty Two"  -  13,105 feet
Sheep Mtn D  -  13,070 feet
Date Posted:  09/13/2018
Modified:  05/01/2019
Date Climbed:   08/31/2018
Author:  SnowAlien
Additional Members:   Grizzly Adams
 Johnson Creek Extravaganza - Southern Weminuche  

5 days (August 27 - 31, 2018)

13ers climbed: 16 (10 ranked, 6 unranked)

5 Day Totals: ~64 Miles, ~25,100 Gain

Trailhead: Vallecito campground

Peaks in the order climbed:

Echo (unranked)
McCauley

Grizzly C
Hope (unranked)
Aztec
Bullion (unranked)
Silver Mesa (unranked)
Florida (unranked)
Valois
UN 13,121
Greylock
Amherst
Organ B
Peak 22
Sheep D
Peak 21 (unranked)

Day 1 - backpack into Johnson Creek

~12 miles, ~3,500 ft vertical, 6 hours 45 minutes (6.45 am to 2.30 pm with an hour lunch break)

After 10-day backpack last summer, this summer's goal was more modest - Southern Weminuche 13ers. Work schedules only allowed 5 days off anyway. After almost unbearably heavy backpacks last summer, this year packing goal was clear - cut out all the extras. Not sure if that was the reason, or better training, but the approach day felt much easier than last year, although it was 3 miles longer and almost 1,000 feet higher. After crossing 3 Vallecito bridges and wading the river, we finally crossed into the Johnson Creek drainage. We took the lunch break and prepared for the steep uphill grunt. Thankfully, Johnson creek trail is not as steep as Sunlight Creek with many switchbacks in place, so even with a fair amount of deadfall, especially lower, we arrived at our campsite near 11k feet at 2.30 pm and spent the remainder of the day resting.

Welcome to Johnson creek

Campsite for next 2 nights

Day 2 - Echo-McCauley-Grizzly C traverse, Hazel lake and Hope mountain

~6 miles, ~4,200 ft vertical, 9.5 hours

Shawn spotted the shark's fin of unranked Echo from Irving last year, and was adamant we added Echo to the Grizzly C-McCauley ridge. Since we knew Grizzly may require some class 5 moves (according to Furthermore), which we didn't want to downclimb, it only made sense to start with Echo. The previous afternoon we spent some time staring at potential routes from camp, and in the morning we crossed the trail and the creek, and started hiking up a steep grassy gully. After the gully ended, we took the ramp under the cliffs and exited to our right on the rib, and stayed on the rib for approximately 1,500 ft of enjoyable, sustained class 3 climbing.

Shawn attacks the rib early in the morning

Enjoying Class 4 dihedral (likely optional)

Echo's shark-fin summit

Shawn enjoys our first summit of the trip

The ridge to McCauley didn't present any serious difficulties (class 2-3) and we were enjoying our 2nd summit @ 10.30 am

After a brief summit break, we started on the ridge traverse to Grizzly. After reaching the low point of the ridge with McCauley, the fun scrambling begins.

Hazel lake

Ridge to Grizzly

We tried to stay on the ridge proper as much as possible, but on occasion had to traverse right on goat ledges in search of easier terrain. Specifically, we ended up bypassing the first pinnacle on the right, and crossing the loose gully, but went up and over the 2nd pinnacle, which took us to the base of the summit pyramid.

Shawn tries to stay high on the ridge

Nice footwork on the traverse

Crossing the gully on rapidly deteriorating rock - the only unpleasant part of the traverse

Shawn charges towards the final headwall on Grizzly

Approaching the base of the climb. For the most part, we followed the Furthermore's route, described here and here.

First part was an enjoyable class 3-4 scramble on solid rock, although Shawn nixed my route choice as "too easy"

Finally, after a short zig-zag, we got to the bottom of what looked like low class 5 option in Derek's report. As a token rock climber in our group, I went first, but Shawn, being tall, made it look much easier than I did. But he also admitted it wasn't trivial. For less confident scramblers, I recommend bringing a 30 m rope to protect the moves. We didn't think Jagged was any harder.

Shawn working his way though the sequence of moves.

Shawn on the final section just below the summit

Summit views were sweet for my 13er #299

Looking back at Echo and McCauley

After a lengthy stay, we descended the well-cairned standard class 3 route.

Hazel lake with our next objective, Mt Hope

Shawn decided to stay a bit longer at the lake, but soon caught up to me on Mt. Hope. We descended to Columbine lake and the camp together, arriving after 4pm.

Our route up Echo from camp

Day 3 - Aztec to Valois ridge and backpack up to Sunlight Creek

~6 miles, ~3,900 ft vertical, 8 hours 15 minutes for the ridge, plus ~7 mile, ~1,000 ft vertical, 4 hour backpack (with late lunch break)

This day, I will be flying solo, as Shawn had already hiked this group of peaks from Endlich Mesa. I left the camp by 6.15 am in the direction of Columbine pass. Extra motivation today came from excitement to stand on the summit of my 300th ranked Colorado 13er. After negotiating looser-than-preferred ridge, I got to the summit of Aztec, but without company or register to celebrate this momentous occasion, I just took a few photos, turned around and reversed my steps in the direction of unranked Bullion. Shawn was supposed to go for Jupiter, but overslept, and then ended up (successfully) defending the camp from marmots.

Chicago Basin

Pretty loose ridge

13er #300

Much easier ridge to Bullion (r) and Florida (l)

Otherwise class 2 ridge surprised with a class 4 downclimb to the notch (there was likely a class 3 option)

Remaining ridge to Valois with Organ and Amherst in the background

Organ-Amherst-Pk 21-22- Emerson-Sheep D group from Valois

I got to Valois around noon. My next objective was to find a reasonable downclimb to the camp in Johnson Creek without backtracking all the way back to Trimble pass. On our Johnson Creek backpack I saw the gully that would "go" in the lower half, but just couldn't see the start of it. Time to check it out. I retraced my steps back on the ridge, and tried to find the start of the gully. Gaia is double checked and triple checked, here we go! I dropped in.

Retracing the steps down the ridge to the start of the descent.

The gully was extremely loose and steep, but thankfully, not for long. The start in steepness and looseness was reminiscent of the descent of Lightning Pyramid. I regretted not bringing the helmet today.

The gully was very loose with some serious rockfall potential, so I took my time, and mostly stayed on the right side. After approximately 600-800 feet, it mellowed, and I could even see the grass down below. And I was pretty happy to have picked the correct gully today - thanks Gaia!

Pretty straighforward descend from here, but maybe not....

Johnson Creek below

Again, Gaia layers were key in navigating over/around/in-between cliff bands, and around 2.30pm I finally made it back to camp, 30 minutes behind schedule. Shawn was packed and ready to roll (having defended my big pack from marmots earlier in the day). After 30 min of finishing the packing, filtering water, I was ready to go. We still had 7 miles to go with 2k descent and 1k ascent. On the hike out I kept checking out the approach to the Organ-Amherst group. What if?

Shawn on the hikeout from Johnson creek - Organ (l) and Amherst (r)

Somewhere after 5pm on Vallecito trail, I ran out of steam. My pace reduced to a crawl, I decided to stop, boil some water and have some ramen noodles. Shawn was kind enough to wait for me. Right before sunset, we crossed Vallecito and arrived to the bottom of the drainage, familiar to us since last summer - the Sunlight Creek.

Day 4 - UN 13,121 - Greylock, and backpack to Johnson creek

~8 miles, ~4,700 ft vertical, 10 hours 20 minutes for the loop, plus ~3.5 mile, ~500 ft vertical, 2 hour backpack with 2 Vallecito river crossings

We were in Sunlight creek basin last year for Jagged, Peak 10 and Knife Point, but didn't have time or beta for other peaks. We did determine though that UN13,121 and Greylock would not require a pack in. So this year we came more prepared, and even more excited to see the basin from the west side. After an early wake-up call, we started from the bottom of the drainage (~9,600 ft) by 6.30 am. Not even a 30 minute into the hike, I whacked my head against the horizontal log (I was stepping over the log on the ground and missed the one at my head level). Clearly, this was too easy of a trip so far and added difficulty (and headache) was necessary. We kept moving at a slower pace and I kept assessing my condition, looking for any signs of concussion. Aside from feeling a bit light-headed and a slight headache, I didn't notice any lasting consequences.

At 10,800 ft, we left the so-called Sunlight "trail" (so much better without heavy packs) and started bushwhacking up the gully towards Greylock. There was not much of a bushwhack, and the views started to unfold almost immediately. Overall, it was a very pleasant route.

Really happy to see Jagged again

After the grass ended, we exited onto slabs

Slabbaneering

Once slabs ended, we exited on the blocky, grippy class 3-4 granite

There might have been an easier way, but we didn't look for it, enjoying scrambling on solid rock

More scrambling. Shawn and I picked 2 different ascent lines, both enjoyable.

Once on the UN 13,121-Greylock saddle, we oriented ourselves (I consulted Furthermore's map), dropped down about 100 ft on talus (glad we didn't ascent that) and picked our line through rubble on UN 13,121's west side.

Shawn traverses to the start of the gully that will unlock the summit ridge

Beautiful tundra on the summit plateau

Final scramble to the summit ended up a bit airy and reachy (for short people) in a few spots

Greylock in the background

We reversed our steps to the saddle and headed up Greylock, a class 2 hike from this side

UN 13,121 from Greylock (our ascent route is on the left)

Shawn tops out on Greylock, Grizzly C on the right

Grizzly C and Jupiter from Greylock. Views and weather being pretty spectacular, we stayed on the summit closer to an hour.

Shawn checks in with Oso and the rest of the Rock creek basin

Since we had aspirations to tag unranked East Windom, we started hiking towards it. The ridge got a bit more involved and we enjoyed some extra credit class 3-4 scrambling.

Shawn at the notch

By the time we got to the saddle with East Windom, we were running low on time and energy (me), and we still had a fairly involved descent ahead of us. At this point, I think, we acutely wished we had camped somewhere in Sunlight Creek, but alas. So the decision was made to skip the unranked 13er (Shawn shed a tear) and to start the descent back to the camp.

Upper Sunlight Creek lake

Windom and Sunlight from the lake

Lower Sunlight lake

After figuring out the slab descent, we ran into some curious goats, and soon after picked up a solid trail. After filtering water, we turned on the cruise-control and got back to camp by 5pm.

Sunlight Creek locals

Oso on the hike out

Jagged and Pk 10 in the evening light

Shawn skipped dinner and started the hike back to Johnson creek right away, while I cooked a meal. I caught back up to him in a couple hours in our new camping area at the bottom of Johnson creek. Objectives for Day 5 loomed large.

Day 5 - Amherst - Organ - Pk 22 - Sheep D - Pk 21, and backpack out

~12 miles, ~6,400 ft vertical, 13 hours for the peaks, plus ~9 mile, ~900 ft vertical, backpack out (~21 miles, 7,300 ft, ~20 hours)

Shawn: Thunder Mountain and backpack out (~16 miles and 5,000 ft)

Day 5 was a pipe dream going in and I didn't research it beforehand. I just knew those peaks are typically done from Endlich Mesa and appeared inaccessible from Johnson Creek from the map. Shawn had already done them from Endlich Mesa back in May and the original plan was just to backpack out on our last day. But from looking at the peaks last few days from different vantage points, I wondered if there was a way. Logistics to do them on a separate trip was very complicated. Since I don't have a high clearance 4x4, the approach would be a 2-day pack in and out (possibly from Chicago basin, requiring a train). With the drive to Durango, packing, and the full day for the peaks themselves I was looking at a 5-6 day commitment.

Aside from the approach, at the beginning of the trip, I wasn't sure I could pull it off physically. We already did 17,800 ft and 43 miles of hiking and 11 peaks without rest days at that point and judging by last year trip to Rock Creek, we both needed rest days. But here we were - at 9,100 feet in Johnson Creek and I didn't have to be back at work until the following day at 3pm. Without cell reception, I couldn't map up the vertical very well and was coming up with about 5,500 vertical feet for the peaks. So I decided to go for it, while Shawn decided on a more reasonable goal of unranked Thunder Mountain from camp.

I woke up at 4.30 am without much difficulty and spent at least 45 minutes stretching. After breakfast and packing the camp, I was finally ready to hike by 6.30 am. The first hour was on the already familiar Johnson Creek trail. At about 10,300 ft, I left the trail near established campsite and crossed the creek on rocks - saving the time from having to take the shoes off. Going in, I wasn't even sure that this drainage had a good passage, so it was time to find out. After the steep initial bushwhack, I quickly realized I had to find some game trails and quickly, were I to make any further uphill progress and actually summit anything. Thankfully, after a few hundred feet, I did. To be fair, local elk still needs to get a tutorial on building sustainable trails and trail stewardship. Their confusion and resulting lack of consistent routes around cliffbands was apparent. Shawn thinks they also need a chainsaw course and to finally start clearing deadfall (the conclusion he came up after his bushwhack up Thunder mountain). But whatever the local elk population was doing, resulted in a few passable trails, and their contribution to the 13er cause was greatly appreciated.

Just took 3.5 hours and ~3,000 feet to merge with the "standard" approach

After spending close to 2 hours and 1,700 ft enjoying the robust network of elk trails (and ~3,000 and 3.5 hours from camp), I finally reached the top of the rim. I spent some time the previous night at camp getting climbing beta from Shawn on today's peaks, so between him, Furthermore maps and Gaia, I had enough data. Shawn recommended going up the red gully up Amherst, and then traversing the ridge behind the pinnacle, but I spotted a more direct gully, that seemed to go.

The gully I took proved to be an efficient approach, only becoming unpleasantly steep and loose near the very top.

I didn't even have to go all the way up to the notch, and exited to my right on the ridge a little earlier.

On the ridge - Pk 22 on the left in the background

Fun easy scramble to Amherst summit.

After topping out, it was possible that the summit further down the ridge was the actual one, so I made sure to walk over there to check for a register (there was none), but didn't stay long, so Delorme, transmitting every 10 minutes, didn't capture it. Time was just after 11 am, and I was hoping to be on Organ by noon. This was the first cloudy day of the trip, and the forecast had changed to 30 % chance of rain in the afternoon on Sheep D. It was time to hurry.

Looking back at the false summit

Valois (l) and Johnson Creek drainage from Amherst

Organ B from Amherst

Thankfully, the descent off Amherst couldn't be any faster or more enjoyable in the summer - the next best thing after skiing is scree skiing, and Amherst's low-grade, sandy scree was perfect for a quick descent. I dropped to the saddle with Organ B in about 20 minutes - wheee!

Scree skiing at its' best

Then it was an enjoyable slog up Organ, culminating in a short scramble (much easier than on UN 13,121). I wished I had time to expore other alternative, more direct lines to the summit, but decided to play it safe and save remaining energy for the last 2(3) peaks.

Amherst and the start of the traverse to Pk 22

Finding 4G reception, I stayed on the summit boulder for about 20 minutes, eating snacks and checking the weather.

While Derek decided to reclimb Amherst, Shawn suggested a genious move - to traverse the east side of the unranked Emerson and exit the gully at the saddle with Pk 22. He did it with snow, but bet it was a good option for summer as well, and it was. So finally around 12.20 pm, I got off my airy perch and started on the traverse. Although I am not a big fan of traverses, this one went fairly well, as it's mostly on grass (with faint game trails).

Looking back at Emerson-Amherst-Organ from the traverse

Finding some good trails

Gully topout was a great option, with good trail, animal or human, I couldn't tell anymore

Pk 22 (l) and Sheep D (r)

The traverse took me about an hour, and soon I was staring at my last 2 objectives - Pk 22 and Sheep D. This is where I was starting to feel the fatigue. I ate my last Honey Stinger gel and hoped for the best.

Approaching the summit with Sheep D in the background

Emerson-Amherst-Organ from the summit.

To my surprise, I noticed 2 hikers on Sheep (and they saw me). I expediently descended Pk 22 and sped up in the direction of Sheep D. Exchanged a few words with another party as they were making their way towards Pk 22 and without complications, reached the summit by 2.30 pm. I checked the GPS - I was 5 miles away from the Vallecito TH as the crow flies, the closest I've been all week. Little did I know it would be another 12 hours before I could actually reach it. Up to this point, everything went as expected and I was feeling good enough to tag the unranked Pk 21 before exiting the basin.

Only 5 miles away!

Summit of Sheep D with a broken glass jar for a register

Aiming for the saddle between Pk 21 (l) and Emerson (r) on the way out

Pk 21 turned out to have some of the best views of the group

Pk 22 and Sheep D from Pk 21

Off the final summit by 3.30 pm, and told myself to hurry up, just as my energy level continued to drop. Well, it's all downhill from here, right?

Working off the layers on Gaia, I dropped down to the lake pretty much in a straight line, likely spending a bit more energy than needed on the slabs.

Amherst from the descent gully

Reached the turnoff for the descent gully at 4.30 pm, hoping the descent would be faster than the ascent - only 3,000 feet left to go back to camp. By the time I got the bottom of the gully and merged with the Johnson Creek trail, both knees were complaining loudly. I stopped several times at the creek crossings to ice them, causing delays and finally hobbled down to my camp site by 7.30 pm (Shawn had already left by that point). I cooked a nice big meal, filtered more water and steadied myself for the 9 mile hikeout. The hike up to this point from the trailhead on our first day only took 4 hours, so the hikeout should take about 3 hours? Well, my math was entirely wrong. I was mentally ready for a 11 pm touchdown, not for 2.30 am one! First couple miles went as expected, but after the mandatory wade, my pace really slowed down. I was cold, kept shivering, and just didn't have any energy for the uphill, and it turns out there was quite a bit of it left. The rocky mile between the wade and the 2nd bridge took an hour - and I kept checking my phone, not believing the pace. I made the 1st bridge my midnight, completely depleted of energy. I had to stop and cook my last cup of ramen noodles, and eventually kept going, relying on my poles as much as I could for support. The last 2 miles, most of it uphill, took about 2 hours, and I finally hobbled to my car, just as the first drops of rain started to come down. Southern Weminuche peaks didn't go down without a serious fight!


My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):




 Comments or Questions
RyGuy

Visibility
09/13/2018 22:02
Glad to see what the area around Graylock looks like. We had very low visibility when we did it, so never saw much.

Congrats on #300!


Grizzly Adams

Another one in the books
09/14/2018 23:10
Another great trip with near perfect weather, fun scrambling and great views. You were right about camping in Sunlight Basin though, I had wanted to make it happen from the start but there's always next year. Congrats on 300 and surviving that last day, hopefully you were able to enjoy some of it. I was hoping for your own sake that you might save Sheep and Pk 22 for another time but when 6pm rolled around and you were a no show at camp I knew you had gone big and it was time for me to head out. A great TR, can't wait to begin planning next years Wemi trips (5 days is never enough!) and hopefully I'll see you in the Sangres this fall.


wombat

Awesome
09/15/2018 15:10
This is great, Thanks for the information! Thats a lot of work for five nights. Your depiction of your outhike is almost poetic, I felt hungry and exhausted while reading it.


SnowAlien

Thanks for the comments
09/16/2018 14:13
Ryan - you may want to repeat it just to see the views next time ;) Congrats on #100!

Shawn - what a great trip. I am still stoked we were able to pull it off, although the mileage/vert numbers looked pretty scary going in. Last day I was holding up ok untill about 5pm or so, then the wheels came off. Next year we should shoot for a glamp version of Wham + nearby 13ers. I cannot wait to carry the rope once again! Hope your heels feels better soon, so we can make those Sangres happen this fall.

Wombat- it was a lot of work! Looked scary on paper when we mapped it, and it sure was. Our 10-day trip last year was similar in vert/mileage to this year's 5 day trip!


DaveLanders
Greylock and 13121
11/08/2018 12:17
Greylock and 13121 go very nicely from Grizzly Gulch which branches off Johnson Creek. This would have saved you the work of moving your camp to Sunlight Creek.


SnowAlien

Greylock and 13121
11/08/2018 13:23
Shawn suggested going in from Grizzly gulch, but we weren't sure there was any trail (and it didn't look promising from our JC approach). I was much more in favor of sticking with the gentle Vallecito trail as well as a side trip to possibly the most scenic basin in Weminuche. Our ascent line up 13121 was enjoyable, as well as the descent thru both Sunlight lakes. Pretty much the highlight of the trip. I'd say we made the right choice


Marmot72

Excellent!
02/02/2019 00:49
I am not sure how I haven't seen this report before, but it's great! I'm looking at an Endlich Meas trip, but also love the pictures of Sunlight Basin. Thanks, Natalie!


drotar447
Descending west from Jupiter-Grizzly Saddle?
07/15/2020 10:04
Hi! Nice report. I was wondering if you knew anything about the descent from the Jupiter-Grizzly C Saddle into Grizzly Gulch? I see that you descended to the east to reach Hazel Lake. The satellite imagery looks like it transitions to talus/scree pretty quickly but I'm unsure if there's a crappy technical block right at the pass.
Map here



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