Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Peak of the Week: Arrow Peak (13,803 feet or 4207 m)

There are those in the Colorado mountaineering community who are convinced that the best mountains to climb in our great state are not the ultra-popular 14ers but the lesser-known but just as mighty 13ers. Arrow Peak, in the heart of the San Juan Mountains, is a testament to this.

At 13,803 feet, Arrow Peak falls just shy of hitting the "Centennial" List (Colorado's 100 highest peaks). In terms of rock quality, route aesthetics, and general fun potential, there is hardly a peak anywhere in the state that is more dramatic and fun to climb than Arrow.

When seen from the Colorado Trail alongside its more-famous companion, Vestal Peak, Arrow looks like a peak removed perhaps from the Tetons or one of the rugged ranges of Europe. Arrow Peak is a mountain Colorado can be proud of.

What makes Arrow even more enticing is that its foreboding slopes are not easy to climb. The easiest route, the Northeast Face, is a class 3-4 scramble with many thoughtful and complicated vertical feet. Luckily, the climb is on surprisingly solid quartzite which is unique to the San Juans. Though this route does not require a rope, it is exposed and intricate and not for the beginner.

Not surprisingly, Arrow's rugged escarpments are also home to several technical climbs, especially the North Ridge, a high-quality class 5.6 alpine route.

Arrow Peak in the Grenadier Range
The Northeast Face of Arrow Peak
The trailhead at Elk Park at the edge of the Weminuche Wilderness Area is accessible either by taking the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad from Durango or by hiking in from the Molas Pass Trailhead. The Molas Pass trailhead is two miles north of Molas Pass on Highway 550 in-between the turnoffs for Molas and Little Molas Lake campgrounds. This large dirt lot and trailhead is five miles south of Silverton.

Northeast Face (class 3)
This is the standard and easiest route on Arrow Peak. It is an amazing scramble up remarkably solid rock with amazing positions and views. Most people establish a base camp near 11,500 feet in Vestal Basin right at the foot of this route. From basecamp, follow the spiraling ramp up the northeast face of Arrow peak through some sustained and excellent scrambling to the summit.

North Ridge (class 5.6)
Though not as famous and not as aesthetic as its neighbor Wham Ridge, many argue that the North Ridge of Arrow is quite possibly the better climb of the two. It is longer and more sustained and a bit more difficult than its Vestal Peak sibling. The quartzite is as good as any in the San Juans, and the pitches and high quality and generally fairly well protected.

Arrow and Vestal Peak
Arrow and Vestal Peak from the Colorado Trail
Arrow Spire (class 5.8)
An incredible route that climbs a buttress on the peak's west side. This incredible spire to a sub-summit can be see from the Beaver Ponds at 10,000 feet on the Colorado Trail. This is perhaps the most rugged and spectacular of all the Grenadier routes.

Arrow Peak is in the Weminuche Wilderness. As with all wilderness areas, special regulations apply. Arrow Peak has some unique features worth noting. Taking the train from Durango to the Elk Park station will cut off over 6 miles and 1,800 feet of additional gain and loss of elevation. This is helpful but costs $85 one way. Visit durangotrain.com for more information.

Dirty (Wet) 30: An Attempt at Arrow and Vestal Peaks to celebrate turning 30.

Arrow Peak on summitpost.org

North Ridge on mountainproject.com

Northeast Face on summitpost.org

Arrow Spire on mountainproject.com

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