Peak(s):  Rio Grande Pyramid  -  13,821 feet
"Fools Pyramid"  -  13,278 feet
PT 13,261  -  13,261 feet
Date Posted:  08/12/2019
Date Climbed:   07/06/2019
Author:  supranihilest
 Welcoming a Friend to the Weminchue  

Table of Contents

Friday, July 6th, 2019
Saturday, July 7th, 2019
---Point 13,261
--- "Fools Pyramid"
--- Rio Grande Pyramid
Sunday, July 8th, 2019


It's not often I get to climb in the San Juan, at least these days. Maybe in the future when I have more time and mobility, but for now the times I do get to enjoy the San Juan are to be thoroughly enjoyed simply due to their rarity. I'd been on the hunt for couloir climbing this year with the heavy snow this winter and came across the Rio Nieve couloir on Rio Grande Pyramid in the eastern Weminuche. Unfortunately I wasn't able to find a single bit of information about it outside of the guidebook, so I decided to forgo climbing it, probably solo, without having more information about the area and what to expect. Reading numerous trip reports on 14ers.com for Rio Grande Pyramid and surrounding 13ers didn't provide any additional information on the Rio Nieve yet made it clear that this was a worthy trip to make on the long July 4th weekend just to hike, regardless of getting on the couloir. I recruited my friend Laura, who I had met only a few weeks prior sport climbing in Clear Creek, and we began making plans.

I had the unfortunate business of a funeral to attend Friday morning, which shortened our weekend from four days to two and a half; still acceptable given the relative closeness of the eastern Weminuche compared to the far western San Juan, such as the San Miguel Mountains. The route was quite lengthy but didn't seem overly difficult, and regardless of what we accomplished with the time we were both stoked to get out, her especially - as a newbie to Colorado this was her first trip to the San Juan.

To start the weekend off right we climbed Seal Rock in the Flatirons of Boulder, which turned out to be one of the best climbs I've done in the Flatirons to date, and one of only three total she's done.

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Friday, July 5th, 2019

With our Thursday fun done, and the Friday funeral attended, we packed up our backpacking gear and began the long drive to the Rio Grande Reservoir near Creede. Along the way I pointed out various landmarks and peaks of the Sawatch, Sangre de Cristo, and San Luis Valley while we rocked out to everything from Pink Floyd to Opeth to Tom Stoppard (as much as one can rock out to a radio play, anyway!) Passing through South Fork at the edge of the Valley we noted a barbecue restaurant that we wanted to return to on our way home, then entered the eastern San Juan. Desert gave way to rolling hills which gave way to deep river valleys as we crisscrossed over the Rio Grande River, and finally through areas scattered with improbable volcanic pinnacles, sheer, multi-colored walls, and the soaring peaks that all mark the incredible San Jan. We made a brief stop at a historic site to drink it in before arriving at Thirty Mile Campground and beginning our hike. It was already getting dark so we put on our headlamps and began ascending the trail above the reservoir as the sun set and the water went from a deep shade of blue to black, night settling in around us.

A little over an hour and 2.5 miles into our uphill hike the trail cut hard left and entered a flatish spot, the first since we left the trailhead. Everything else was steep sided hills or cliffs we couldn't pitch our tent on. We setup camp while my freeze dried dinner cooked, opting to leave the fly off the tent to see the stars. There was absolutely no light pollution and we made sure to take advantage of that fact, the sky full of tiny pinpricks of light as we drifted to sleep.

Saturday, July 6th, 2019

We awoke the next morning late, about 7am. We lazed in the tent for a bit before packing up but were on the trail around 7:45. We had another 2.5 miles to get to camp in the upper basin, then at least five miles and several thousand vertical to attain even one of the peaks in the area. The weather was perfect, crisp, clear, sunny, not too hot nor cold. We ran into a lost mule along the way and found ourselves in an amazing, gorgeous basin.

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Welcome to the Weminuche.

We traveled the trail for a ways through open areas broken up by clumps of trees, eventually just wandering off the trail east towards the Weminuche Creek. We selected an area with views of the creek and above a marshy area, far enough from the trail that any other visitors wouldn't be visible. Setting up the tent instead of just dumping our camping gear proved to be a fortuitous decision, as it would rain for several hours in the evening before our return to camp.

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Laura learning the bowline and bowline on a bight.

It was at least 10 before we even left our second camp for the hills. Too late? By the rulebook, yes, but not today. The weather continued to stay stable as we hiked, sniffing out the trail that would take us up the east ridge of "Fools Pyramid". Despite having a GPS track the trail split was not at all obvious and we went a little too far south before returning to the ridge, shrugging our shoulders, and just bushwhacking up through the forest instead. What the hell, we were already super late anyway so if weather did come in we'd just retreat back to the east and to the trail.

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The amazing
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teleporting Laura.
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Pink cones on a spruce tree. (Thanks Laura for the plant ID.)

While we did eventually run into a trail, it was just that - a trail, not the trail.

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A very strong trail that neither lined up with the GPS track I downloaded nor with the
trail that would become obvious soon, far below us.
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Weminuche to the Welcome.
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Point 12724 (the true summit is to the right and is 227 feet higher, the one in center is just a sub-summit... I spent way too long trying to figure out what this was).

By the time we realized that we weren't on the trail up through the drainage it was too late, we were already several hundred feet above it on a massive ball bearing scree slope. There were braided trail segments up and down and across the slope which at least gave us some confidence that others had been where we were, but this thing was pure Slog, with a capital S.

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Scree heaven.
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A faint trail but still obviously in the wrong spot.

Now, this stuff was pure suck. It was tiny, loose, and buried atop an unknown depth of more tiny, loose suck, all the way down for all I know. I recalled one of my favorite (*grins toothy, idiotic grin*) Roach quotes, found in both Colorado's Thirteeners and Fourteeners:

One unpleasant San Juan reality is rotten rock.
If you climb a dozen San Juan peaks, you are bound to find a chip-rock slope to curse.
If you climb in the San Juans long enough, you will eventually find yourself on a hard-packed dirt slope covered with ball-bearing debris at the angle of repose.
If you are unlucky, there will be a cliff below you.

- Gerry Roach

We weren't unlucky enough to have a cliff below us but rather above us, and the photos hardly do justice to how miserable this slope really was. Just take a look at this closeup and Gerry's words will appear as a vision out of a nightmare.

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Chip rock. Ball-bearing debris. Angle of repose. *begins trembling, sweating profusely*

We had only but ascend several hundred feet of pure, unadulterated garbage to reach the ridge crest, which we hoped wouldn't also be topped with this stuff, and navigate around the prominent cliff at the top.

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Nearing the ridge crest. Is that grass I see? Score!

The wildflowers on this slope helped to break up the tedium of trying to "climb" up this junk, and Laura, being a veritable walking encyclopedia of fauna and flora, kept pointing out the numerous types of flowers we passed.

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Kings Crown. (Thanks Laura for the plant ID.)
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Alpine Phlox. (Thanks Laura for the plant ID.)

The ridge crest did in fact relent in crappiness, turning into a broad, grassy boulevard for us to cruise along on. We skirted a fun looking bump on the ridge, making our way towards but not up "Fools Pyramid".

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Rio Grande Pyramid on the left, an unnamed bump on the ridge with "Fools Pyramid" poking out to it's right, and Point 13261 on the right.
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Point 13261.

Contouring along the ridge with Point 13261 as our first summit of the day we encountered a snowfield that was, predictably, quite soft by the ungodly hour we arrived at it, something like 1pm. We put on our snowshoes to cross, but not before stopping to enjoy more wildflowers.

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Moss campion. (Thanks Laura for the plant ID.)
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Unnamed bump and "Fools Pyramid".Yes, I am indeed an unnamed bump. Photo: Laura B.

Laura had never worn snowshoes or used an ice axe before and was rightly a little worried about slipping down a gully to our right. I gave her a brief lesson in self arresting before we set off across the snow, which was suncupped like crazy and made walking in snowshoes rather awkward. It took us a few minutes to cross to a jumble of boulders where we took off our snowshoes, scrambled down a little bit, and meandered across an open meadow towards 13261.

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*sizzles*

There were another two short snow crossings but we opted to just walk across these despite getting a little wet. The snowshoes would have taken far longer to put on and take off than was worth it. Scoping out the east slopes and the northeast ridge as two possible ascent routes we decided to go slightly farther and meet the ridge on a grassy slope instead of go up the mess of broken rock that made up the east slopes. The northeast ridge still proved to be a janky heap but it was overall less of a janky heap, and even had some fun, "optional" Class 2+ moves on it! When I say "optional" I mean obviously we had to do them even if we didn't have to do them, because scrambling is just more fun than walking up loose rock.

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East slopes. Gross.
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Northeast ridge. Still kind of gross but the kind of gross that makes you smirk out of amusement instead.
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Laura making her way up the only mildly exciting part of the day so far.

It wasn't long before we were atop Point 13261, getting our first splendid views of the Needles and Grenadiers to the west.

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Look at that smile! All mountains should have a Laura on top to brighten them up.

With two more peaks to go and building cloud cover, plus the aforementioned late hour, we didn't dilly dally, deigning to descend downward.

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On our descent, which by this point was purely the boilerplate Class 2, we noted some great and terrible looking sandcastles on the western side of the ridge. They started near an ugly buttress in the middle of the ridge, which we bypassed on the eastern side, and they continued on to the "Fools"-13261 saddle. From afar the looked like they'd collapse in a mild rainstorm, as some of them were quite literally sand hoodoos with boulders on top. And we thought the choss we encountered thus far was bad! The sandcastles made our choss look like Yosemite-quality granite! Of course I took oodles of pics of the castles. (Apologies for the crappy lighting in several of them.)

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What.
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Look at the layer of boulders sandwiched near the top of this one. Amazing geologic marvels here!
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Just mindblowing how deep this stuff was. It went all the way down to the Ute Creek valley floor at least a thousand feet below.
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Who even knows.
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A bit closer shot. We walked over to the stuff on the left and pulled on it. Despite it's terrifying death choss looks it was actually quite solid. I wouldn't
climb on it, not even pounding big nails into it (think climbing the mudstone of the Fisher Towers in Utah), but it was surprisingly cement-like.

Having completed our death defying science experiment (walk up to/below rocky/sandy house of cards above a cliff and whack the shit out of it, for science) we turned our attention towards "Fools Pyramid," which ended up being the easiest peak of the day by far. It consisted of nothing more than a grassy Class 2 scamper up the north ridge.

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A few hundred feet of terrain like this, a welcome change of pace from the choss we encountered all day prior (and after).
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More moss campion? Perhaps Dame's rocket? Neither Laura nor I are sure what this one is, exactly.

Not altogether a peak worth doing alone, "Fools Pyramid"'s only real redeeming quality was the spectacular view of Rio Grande Pyramid, now dominating the view to the southwest.

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The Notorious RGP.

We only had to descend "Fools"' southwest ridge, which, unlike the north ridge's brief reprieve, was just the type of awful quality we came to expect from the rest of the day.

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She don't look so ba-
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nevermind.

We surfed down and began crossing towards Rio Grande Pyramid proper, finally on our way to the highest peak in the area. I went across a soft snow field while Laura went around and we met below an ugly, steep slope of ever-present looseness. In fact, Laura grabbed a body-sized stone embedded in the slope at one point thinking it was solid only for the entire stone to rip loose and fly down the hill! I don't know how she managed to stop it long enough for me to dodge out of the way, but she probably saved me from several broken bones at best with her quick thinking. I was only a few feet behind her and her split second action slowed the rock from smashing on top of my head. We both watched in silence as the rock tumbled down, entraining a small rock slide with it. Sharing a knowing look and sighs of relief we moved on, staying a little farther apart. The entirety of the Pyramid's east ridge was full of loose, poised blocks that required care. Sustained Class 2+ with a little Class 3 thrown in (depending on exact routing; we essentially chose direct over easy) on some of the steepest terrain of the day led us 800 or so feet to the summit of Rio Grande Pyramid.

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Trail segments in the middle of the ridge. It's steeper than it looks and all of it moves.

Each peak we topped out on had more expansive views of the Weminuche than the last. The Pyramid's views west were unparalleled, stopped short only by a seemingly impenetrable wall of rugged mountains.

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Heart of the Colorado wilderness.
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Looking back from whence we came; Point 13261 dressed in maroon, "Fools Pyramid" scantily clad in snow.

By now clouds were building up thickly in the sky. It was somewhere around 6pm, after all. We'd had a lazy day but it was time to scoot before rain hit us on Rio Grande's nasty descent. We did encounter a few drops on our way down but nothing more. Once below the worst of the Pyramid's ridge we got the only real views of "Window Peak" and Point 13017, for which we had too little time and too much snow. We opted to save them for another trip.

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Point 13017 to the left with "Window Peak" and the Window in center.

At the toe of the ridge we had to decide; go northwest towards the trail we saw coming up but couldn't see from our current vantage point, or go west-southwest towards the Rincon la Vaca drainage, which was longer but had a closer, visible trail. Both options required at least one more slope of broken rock so that was an irrelevant and insignificant data point in a day completely full of the stuff, plus at least some snow. By now it was raining steadily and hitting a trail after such a long day seemed best to both of us, so Rincon la Vaca it was. There were quite a few hidden snow crossings in the Rincon drainage but it was absolutely beautiful, with trees exploding with green, the Rincon swollen and straining against its banks, and absolutely nobody except the two of us to keep the mood serene. We mostly hiked in silence backed by the music of the now pouring rain.

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It rained for several hours. Despite the hardshell jackets we were soaked, and I slipped off a single log bridge nearly waist deep into the creek to top things off. Eventually the rain slowed, then stopped. The clouds lay low. Darkness descended on us, deep black without artificial or astronomic light. On we hiked through mud and marsh in the flats of the valley, deciphering black grass and standing water by headlamp and moonlight. What seemed like a short, parallel hike earlier today dragged on for hours and hours, until we arrived at camp at probably 11pm, exhausted, drenched, cold, but happy. We ate a little and Laura built a small camp fire, which we sat close to in the damp dark. I was shivering and her fire helped dry me out and raised both our spirits. We talked quietly around the fire until nearly 1am before finally dousing it and sealing ourselves in the tent for the remainder of the night.

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

For a second day we slept in. We might have had mountains to climb yesterday but we didn't today. All we had to do was pack out and make the long drive home. The tent was still a little wet so we took it down and spread it over a fallen tree to dry as we packed up the rest of our gear. We had run out of water and all the nearby water was marshy and undrinkable. About 10 o'clock we rolled out back towards the car, stopping to fill a bottle each in an unnamed creek. Laura stopped frequently to watch the birds (she's an avid birdwatcher and still getting used to Colorado species) and shared her binoculars with me. Time passed slowly as we plodded down, crossing the Weminuche Creek and passing by the Rio Grande Reservoir, now visible to us in daylight for the first time.

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We arrived at the car around 2pm, stopping in Creede to do some sightseeing and in South Fork for the aforementioned barbecue. We rocked out on the way home just as we had on our way out, this time to a lot of North Mississippi Allstars, a satisfying end to an amazing trip to Colorado's heartland.

Statistics

Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself), Laura B.
Total distance: 26.99 miles
Total elevation gain: 6,359 feet
Total time: Approximately 40 hours including two overnights
Peaks: Three ranked thirteeners

  • Point 13,261, 13,261'
  • "Fools Pyramid", 13,278'
  • Rio Grande Pyramid, 13,821'

Splits:

Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Thirty Mile Campground Camp 1:19:19 1:19:19 Overnight
Camp High Camp 1:25:18 1:25:18¹ ?
High Camp Point 13,261 4:23:55 5:49:13 0:00
Point 13,261 "Fools Pyramid" 1:07:32 6:56:45 0:00
"Fools Pyramid" Rio Grande Pyramid 1:36:48 8:33:32 0:00
Rio Grande Pyramid High Camp 4:13:59 12:47:32 Overnight
High Camp Thirty Mile Campground 2:51:05 2:51:05¹ Trip End

¹Cumulative reset after overnight

PLEASE NOTE:

Users of the GPX track, our second day's (2019-07-06) map is mostly accurate, it just ends prematurely. My GPS watch bugged and continued calculating statistics but did not continue map tracking. As such the numbers are correct, as is the map that does exist, but the map ends prior to our return to camp. Do NOT rely on the map for planning purposes.


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




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 47 48 49


 Comments or Questions
swetnesss
Lost mule
08/12/2019 20:47
Unfortunately that mule was found lodged under the first bridge as you hike the trail from 30 mile campground. Otherwise, nice outing.


supranihilest


Lost mule
08/12/2019 21:14
@swetnesss: Are you serious? That's horrible! We saw it on our day out as well and several people we passed said the owner knew the mule was up there and coming to get it in a day or two. I feel bad that we didn't really make sure it got picked up. That poor thing.



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