Peak Fifteen
South Couloir via Ruby Basin
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Difficulty:
 Class 5 
Trailhead:Needleton
Start:8,212 feet
Summit:1,379 feet
Total Gain:6,000 feet
RT Length:16
Author:Hoot
Updated:10/2017
Weather:NOAA Forecast
Conditions:5 reports
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? (WINTER) HOLD ON! If you don't have much high-elevation, winter climbing experience, be careful in your planning and take a partner. All 14er routes are more difficult and more dangerous in winter.

Trailhead

Drive to Durango and follow signs to the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. It's near McDonald's and has a large parking area nearby. Buy a ticket for the train that stops at Needleton and ride the train 2.5 hours (~30 miles) to the Needleton stop. The train will drop you off next to a suspension bridge that crosses the Animas River. From here, it's a 6 mile hike to reach Chicago Basin. Note: you can also take the train from Silverton and be dropped off at Needleton.

Route

From the east side of the Needleton Bridge (DSNGR train stop), head north on the trail along the east side of the Animas River. After crossing Pigeon Creek, the trail comes to an open meadow about a third of a mile north of the bridge. Look for cairns and a faint trail near the northeast end of this meadow 1. Follow the trail up to the North Pigeon Creek crossing at 9,480 feet. Immediately after crossing North Pigeon Creek, turn right and climb a very steep section of trail about 300 feet to an Aspen tree with a columbine carved on it 2. The North Pigeon Creek trail continues up to the east from here. Stay on the main trail which continues north then east entering the Ruby Creek drainage. At 10,800 feet cross to the north side of Ruby Creek at the outlet of Ruby Lake crossing water twice, first over a marshy area 3 and then across the lake outlet into Ruby Creek 4. The trail can be difficult to follow in this area but becomes easier to follow along the north shore of Ruby Lake. There are two nice camping areas, the first small and the second quite large, along the trail on the north side of Ruby Lake. Follow the trail close to the north shore of Ruby lake and across a boulder field at the east end of the lake. The trail then climbs the steep head wall above the east end of the lake. At about 11,400 feet, the trail leaves the trees and climbs northeast away from the creek into willows. Follow the trail through the willows below Animas Mountain to a beautiful grassy meadow at 11,600 feet. Peak 15 towers over the south side of this high meadow between Turret Peak to its west and Peak Sixteen to its east 5. This high meadow serves as a convenient basecamp for Peak 15 as well as Pigeon, Turret, Monitor, Animas and other peaks.

From the high meadow initially climb south avoiding the willows and then southeast to the steep couloir east of Peak 15 between Little Finger and Point 13,290 6 (Labor Day Weekend photo with lingering snow). This north-facing couloir holds snow well into the summer and may require an ice axe in August. When dry, climb the east side of the couloir on steep loose rock and sand. From the 12,620 foot saddle at the top of the couloir, descend into New York Basin initially to the south on grass and then to the southwest on boulders and sand 7. Traverse under Little Finger and Peak 16 for about a quarter of a mile from the saddle, descending to about 12,500 feet. From this point look for the south-facing couloir leading up to the Peak 15-Peak 16 saddle 8.

Climb this couloir to just below a large chock stone a little above 13,000'. The climbing in the couloir is mostly Class 3 with two steep Class 4 steps with anchors above them. This first Class 4 wall is short 9 and the second is bit longer 10. This couloir should be free of snow and ice by August most years. Exit the couloir on the left (west) side 28 (view from exit) 11 (view toward exit) and continue climbing up on ledges to about 50 feet below the Peak 15-Peak 16 saddle 12. From this point move west, away from the couloir on ledges until the ledges end at slabs 13. Traverse about 50 meters west across the slabs 14. Some parties may want to rope up while traversing the exposed slabs 15 (looking back across the traverse - note that the traverse is not far below the Peak 15-16 saddle). The objective of traversing across the slabs is to get to the easiest pitch up to a grassy wide sloped ledge. Once across the slabs climb a low 5th class pitch (no harder than 5.4) to a good belay ledge about 50 meters up and to the left 16. From the belay station 17, carefully walk up to the grassy wide sloped ledge on loose gravel 18. Near the center of the sloped ledge, just right of center in 18, climb a steep narrow Class 3 gully 19 to the northwest. There are anchors at the top of this gully. From the top of the gully, follow a ramp 20 to the northeast along the easiest route to Peak 15's summit ridge. Then follow the ridge about 80 meters southwest 21 to the summit 22. There are a few exposed positions along the ridge but nothing difficult.

To descend, follow the summit ridge, ramp, and narrow gully back down to the wide sloped ledge. Once back on the ledge, turn left (northeast) and continue along the ledge toward Peak 16 23 (this photo is looking back along the sloped ledge from near the downclimb to the first rappel). At the end of the ledge take an easy down climb to the first rappel station, a large boulder wrapped with slings 24. Rappel down 20-25 meters toward the Peak 15-Peak 16 saddle 25 to a ledge and the second rappel station 26. From another slung boulder, rappel down about 20 meters to the Peak 15-Peak 16 saddle 27. From the saddle, descend on ledges right (west) of the ascent couloir and re-enter the couloir when convenient. Two rappel anchors are available for descending the steeper sections of couloir. From the base of the couloir, reverse the ascent route back to Ruby Basin and then back to Needleton or other to adventures in the area.

Notes

With a low fifth class technical pitch, this is likely the easiest route to Peak 15's summit. Both the approach to the high meadow in Ruby Basin and the climb on Peak 15's south face can be challenging routes to follow.
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