Peak(s):  Leviathan Pk  -  13,528 feet
Date Posted:  05/12/2007
Date Climbed:   06/27/1976
Author:  Martian Bachelor
 Leviathan Pk from upper Noname   

Quad: Storm King Pk

Leviathan Pk is deep in the heart of Colorado‘s infamously beautiful Needle Range and requires a long and difficult backpacking approach to reach. Its summit affords a bird‘s eye view of Jagged Pk 0.7 mi across the upper reaches of the N Sunlight Crk drainage. Many people are drawn into the region to look at Jagged Pk, which has the reputation of being one of the most difficult summits in the Highest Hundred to get to the top of, and climb Leviathan as a consolation prize. The photo shows the approximate route on Jagged‘s N face as it‘s described in several places (-the real fun beginning after passing through the small saddle to the upper S face...):


I got to Leviathan from Silverton, taking the PM narrow gauge train down to Needleton. After crossing the bridge one takes a left and heads N on the trail that runs along the E side of the spectacular Animas River. The first objective is to get to where Noname Crk comes into the Animas, just 2¼ mi upstream from the bridge. After the first easy ½mi the fun begins. This is difficult backpacking on little or no trail owing to rocky ridges coming right down to the river from the E. There are spots where you get to choose between making an exposed traverse just above the roaring river and one up on a cliff face. Either way feels like rock climbing, so don‘t hesitate to take a rope and use it here, even if it‘s just to ferry your packs along. It sure beats bouncing down rocks and going into the drink before you‘ve hardly gotten started, and then having to hike back up from approximately Lk Powell. Perhaps things have improved a little in the thirty years since I was there, but don‘t count on it.

Once at Noname Crk you go right (E), up and out of the Animas Canyon, on steep trail that doesn‘t really level off any until you‘ve climbed 1600 ft and gotten 1½ mi E of the Animas, to about the 10,000 ft level. The party I was with (which included me and my hardy friend John) was able to get only this far by dark, even though it was just a few days after the solstice and we didn‘t mess around after getting off the train because we knew this might be the first decent place to camp. Take this as a measure of how difficult this first four miles is. Maybe consider taking an AM train up from Durango.

From here you enter the fabulous Noname valley which runs E, turning slowly to the S, for more than 2 mi under incredible peaks, the views getting better at each turn in the trail:


At the time this photo was taken, the knife ridge of Knife Edge had not been climbed. It was the following year.

The difficulties lower down are mostly forgotten in this special realm, which gets its name (or, rather, non-name) of account of its being merely an unnamed drainage on the 1900 Needle Mtns topo. Anyway, at the 10,750 ft level, where the E branch of Noname comes in on the left, you leave the trail in the main valley and head E, then NE, then E again up this E branch, which comes down in waterfalls in places. After crossing a marshy area (we did this on its S side) at the 11,800 ft level you continue E up a final 400 ft to a small tarn just ¼mi N of Gray Needle.

We reached this point fairly early in the afternoon of our second day of backpacking, making camp on the NW corner of the half-frozen tarn. The marmots there have a reputation for being rather onery -- one made off with some of my gear, even though I was standing right there at the time. (Try to picture two guys wielding ice axes chasing a marmot across the rocks and tundra, and you have the general picture...) In spite of the critters, this is one of the more awesomely beautiful places I‘ve ever camped. No number of superlatives can do it justice. You look out across the valley at the Turret Needles and the E face of Monitor, to name but a couple of the highlights. Gray Needle reflects in the tarn at its base:


From camp, Leviathan is only 1 mi ENE. It‘s about 0.4 mi E and 800 ft up the rocky drainage due E of the tarn to a col at 13,020 ft on the ridge circling around from Leviathan to Jagged. It‘s usually at this location, I‘d imagine, that most people conclude Jagged looks impossible, if not downright dangerous, and opt for Leviathan instead. (Remember, at the time I was there the only real guidebook out was the one by Ormes, which is notoriously cryptic.)

So the route on Leviathan goes like this: From the col you first traverse about 1/5 mi NE before dropping a little to the 12,940 ft low point on the ridge WSW of Leviathan‘s summit. From here the climbing is easy Third Class on boulders of all different sizes, with some mild exposure in a couple of places. I remember the rocks as being firm and the climbing rather sporty. Get an early start so you can spend plenty of time on top contemplating Jagged (to the S) and the Grenadier Range (to the N and W):


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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