Hot Routes

Our current featured routes. Provides a close look at three alpine routes (easy, moderate, and technical) on Colorado mountains or mountain ranges, including photos, information, directions, guide description, and more.
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Easy- Devil's Causeway (Flat Tops)
Difficulty: class 2+ (exposed)
Elevation gain: 1,600'
Trailhead: Stillwater lake

INTRODUCTION

The Devil's Causeway in Colorado's Flat Tops Wilderness Area is an excellent alpine route that takes you past several pristine lakes, a deep basin, and an exposed and exciting ridge. It is one of the more popular hiking routes in this portion of the state, certainly one of the most popular areas in the Flat Tops Wilderness.

GETTING THERE
The Devil's Causeway is accessed from the small hamlet of Yampa. Exit Highway131 in Yampa and head west following signs toward Stillwater Reservoir and the Flat Tops. Follow the dirt road (CR 7) past several developed camping areas, over the dam and past Yamcolo Lake at mile 10.75 and finally to a small parking lot at the end of the road just before Stillwater Dam at mile 17. This is the trailhead for the Causeway.

 THE ROUTE

From the trailhead at Stillwater Lake, follow the well established trail west, crossing a small creek and coursing along the banks of the reservoir for .75 miles until you reach a major trail leaving the main trail on the right. Take this right through a beautiful forest as it winds its way north passes the small but beautiful Little Causeway Lake at mile 1.6 (10,800') and starts to climb more steeply towards a large bowl above you.

Climb up into the basin to where the terrain gets steeper and starts to switchback at mile 2.25 (11,250'). Climb steeply up the switchbacks for another half mile to the saddle at 11,600' on the Devil's Causeway Ridge. From here you are very close, but the exposure gets steadily more intense as you approach the Causeway. Though you shouldn't be up here for long, as it is a short out and back to the Causeway climax, this is no place to be caught in a storm.


Climb up steep terrain to a knob at 11,800'. Proceed along the narrowing fin until you reach the crux, which is only class 2-2+. It is rocky, however, and quite exhilarating. Most people cross the causeway, stop somewhere just on the other side and return back by retracing their steps to the car. For the more adventurous, however, there is a longer route.

After crossing the Causeway, the loop route continues along the rim on the basin to Mosquito Pass at 11,300' on the southwest end of the basin. From here you can descend a trail past Mosquito Lake, back down to Stillwater Lake and finally back to you car. This excellent journey has an adventurous feel and takes a full day, as it is a little more than 10 miles in length. Take a map, perhaps a Garmin, and be prepared for all sorts of alpine hazards. The payoff, however, is well worth it.

SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS

The biggest hazard of the Devil's Causeway is alpine exposure and weather. Many people have difficulty with the exposure at the crux of the causeway, and some have been known to crawl through the most exposed section. Remember that the Flat Tops are known for protracted, apocalyptic thunderstorms. While this route is a quick out and back and therefore doesnt't keep you exposed for too much time, it is still important to consider the weather before committing to the most serious portion of this route.

EXTERNAL LINKS

The Colorado Hiker- a webpage with beta on hikes in Colorado. This link takes you to the page for the Devil's Causeway.



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Moderate
The Sawtooth (Mt. Bierstadt/Mt. Evans)
Length: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,964'
Difficulty: class 3

The Sawtooth is a classic class 3 line in Colorado's Front Range that connects Mt. Bierstadt and Mt Evans. It allows you to do both mountains together. It is a moderately long and challenging climb with fun exposure and generally good rock, and it is very popular and busy in the summertime.

The Sawtooth
The Sawtooth Ridge in the early morning light
The Sawtooth could be done either way, but by far people do this traverse more often going from Bierstadt to Evans. This way most of the difficult climbing is ascending, and at the end of the day you can drop down a loose gully to the north to get back to Guanella Pass.

From Guanella Pass you climb the "West Slopes" route up Mt. Bierstadt to its summit (3.4 miles, 2,400' elevation gain). This trek is short and mostly class 1 with a little class 2 when you get close to the summit. From the summit of Mt. Bierstadt you get an amazing look at the Sawtooth Ridge. Don't fear, it is much easier than it looks. Still, the next portion of the route requires a considerable amount of time, class 3-4 climbing depending on your exact route, and some route-finding skills to avoid wasted time and harder climbing off-route, so if you aren't feeling up to it or the weather looks like it could build, turn around here.
The Sawtooth up close
Looking across the Sawtooth from Mt. Bierstadt
From Mt. Bierstadt's summit, descend down a steep, loose slope to the saddle. Tread carefully and expect to encounter some class 3. As you start to ascend toward the cliffs on the other side, you will encounter the crux section: a long class 3 section with some tricky route finding. Most people will follow the cairns at the crux and traverse slightly east and downhill to bypass a tricky  gendarme, but some people opt to take a more direct approach and tackle the gendarme head-on. This is class 4 to 5.easy depending on what line you take (options abound).
The crux of the Sawtooth Ridge in Colorado
Approaching the crux section of the Sawtooth
After circumnavigating the crux, you cross over the ridgeline and discover (using cairns to guide you) a dirt ramp that is the key to avoiding the large cliffs in front of you. This crucial ramp is fairly narrow and perched on an astounding cliffside. The exposure is tremendous. To make matters worse, the ledge is gravelly and loose. However, if you are steady on your feet and calm in your mind, you shouldn't have too much trouble. It is no harder than class 2 to 2+.

The exposed ledge on the Sawtooth
The beginning of the crucial ledge

  Once across the ledge, you emerge on easier ground in a large boulderfield on the west slopes of Mt. Evans. Thirteener Mt. Spalding (13,842', unranked) is just to your north/northeast. The rest of the route to Mt. Evans is mostly easy (class 2) but deceptively long. At one point you cross the ridgeline to your right and descend onto Evans' south face. If you stay on the ridgeline you can climb some class 2+/3 and climb "West Evans" (14,262') on the way. Unless it is winter, expect a crowd on Mt. Evans summit. It is the only Colorado 14er with a paved road all the way to the summit.

The summit of Mt. Evans
The parking lot near the Mt. Evans summit
The fastest way to descend is to retrace your steps but instead of turning southeast and returning over the Sawtooth, you veer north and follow a steep, loose gully (devious class 2/2+) that deposits you in the basin below the steep cliffs that guard the ridge. There is a beautiful waterfall here and an impressive view of the walls above. The rest of the trek back to the car is a soggy, bushwhack that is deceptively long and remarkably trailess. Add in some unavoidable bogs and a loss/regain of elevation and you are likely to detest this last mile or so. I sure did, especially after what already had been a long, tiring day.

A waterfall
The cliffs and waterfall at the base of the Sawtooth

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Technical- Wham Ridge (Vestal Peak)
A topo Wham Ridge
An approximate topo of Wham Ridge on Vestal Peak
Blue= standard version (5.4); Green="Center Shift" (5.6)
Molas Pass Trailhead          
Length: 19 miles
Difficulty: II 5.4 (III 5.6 for "Center Shift")
Elevation gain: 7,000 feet
Exposure: Moderate/high 
          Elk Park Trailhead
          Length: 12 miles
          Difficulty: II 5.4 (III 5.6 for "Center Shift")
          Elevation gain: 5,200 feet
          Exposure: Moderate/high

OVERVIEW
Vestal peak in the  rain
Vestal Peak towers above Vestal Basin
Wham Ridge is one of Colorado's most unique and best known technical alpine climbs. The rock is moderate, but the position and the surroundings are very rugged and dramatic. This portion of the San Juans is one of the most dramatic mountainous destinations in the entire state. Some of Colorado's most famous/infamous mountaineering peaks like in this ten square mile section of the Weminuche Wilderness, including but not limited to 14ers Eolus, North Eolus, Windom, and Sunlight, as well as thirteeners Pigeon Peak, Turret Peak, Jagged Mountain, Trinity Peak, Arrow Peak, and, of course, Vestal Peak. The Weminuche is the largest wilderness area in Colorado, and is teeming with wildlife, and beautiful flora. From both a backpacking and a mountaineering standpoint this is one of the most rugged and astounding places in the state.

Wham is a popular route for a technical alpine climb. It's moderate difficulty and ultra-aesthetic setting have made it one of the premier destinations for a first technical route for aspiring mountaineers. While it has a reputation of being easy, there are a few hazards that are worth mentioning that make any attempt at Wham become more than you bargained for.

First, Wham consists of quartzite. While it makes for some of the most solid rock in the entire range, it is akin to lubricated glass when it is wet. This stuff is slick. Play around on it even at camp after storm and you will see what I mean. This is no place to be in a storm.

Second, the descent is long and complicated. While it is only rated class 2+, it is long, loose and steep. It is easy to get sucked into class 3 terrain. Many people, too, have tried to descend directly south from the summit, only to find themselves pulled into even steeper and looser class 4.

Third, the San Juans are notorious for violent, long-lived storms. Their position on the western edge of the Rocky Mountains means that they are the first mountains to receive any weather systems blowing in with the trade winds. San Juan ski areas like Wolf Creek and Purgatory (Durango Mountain Resort) get some of the most snow in the state. The San Juans in turn get some of the most rain and some of the most violent weather of all the ranges in Colorado.

All of this being said, this one amazing part of the state, and any journey in is bound to be both challenging and rewarding. Wham Ridge of Vestal Peak is certainly worthy of its designation as a classic, and worth any trip for the mountaineer who is experienced and adventurous enough for the challenge.

THE ROUTE
The San Juans from Molas Trailhead
The Grenadiers from the Molas Trailhead
From Molas Trailhead, descend into the Animas River Canyon for five-hundred feet to an overlook at 10,100 feet. You can see the mountains in the distance, looking very far away. Still a long ways down.... Descend down the infamous 37 switchbacks (we counted 35). This arduous section drops over 1,300 feet to a very well-constructed footbridge over the Animas River at 8,800 feet. There is some limited camping in this area but the train tracks for the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad are only a few yards away.

Cross the tracks and find a good trail that starts to gently climb up the slopes on the east side of the river. After about half a mile, you join Elk Creek trail and come to a kiosk and register. It is a good idea, always, to take the moment to fill out the register. if you took the train in and got off at Elk Park, you will have walked an easy half mile to get to this point.

The next portion of the trail climbs a little under 1,000 feet in about two and half miles to a beautiful and obvious Beaver Pond at 9,900 feet. Arrow and Vestal can be seen up the basin from here to the south and there is good camping in the area of the beaver pond. On our last trip, we saw a moose here at the Beaver Pond.

The next section of the route is a bit arduous, especially if you are carrying a heavy backpack....

Ducking under logs heading to Vestal Basin
Ducking under logs on the way to Vestal Basin
At the east end of the beaver pond, leave Elk Creek trail and follow a strong climbers trail around a huge boulder on the east end of the pond. Follow this trail through a short wooded section with some good camping to a steep slope that drops down to Elk Creek. Crossing this creek in runoff seasons can be a bit treacherous depending on the presence/absence of a log bridge that is sometimes built here.

Cross the creek and start up what we dubbed "Hell Hill." The hill itself is only about 2 miles and gains just over 1,500 feet in elevation, but the trail is littered with downed trees and potential wrong turns. Stay high and stick to the main trail. Trying to stay closer to the creek will result only in rougher and steeper terrain you will have to negotiate.

At last you make it to the meadow at 11,500 feet in Vestal Basin. There are a couple of good campsites in the area, the best probably being on the left (east) side of the trail almost directly across from Wham itself. The mountains are beautiful and dramatic from this basin.

Climb up a steepening talus slope to the right of the obvious waterfall at the end of the meadow, and make your way to the bottom left corner of Wham Ridge (actually the peak's entire north face). Scramble up to a grassy ledge and do a rising traverse up and right to the face's west side just over 12,500 feet. So far the terrain shouldn't have exceeded class 3.

Scramble up the steepening face along its right side, roping up when and if you start feeling uncomfortable. There are a couple of decent splitter crack systems you can follow. The angle and difficulty steepen to low class 5 but just when it seems things are going to get really good, the rock becomes fractured and the climbing broken. Most people de-rope here and scramble the last few hundred feet on gunky class 4 to 5.easy to the summit.

Having fun with Wham
The Descent:
The descent is considered class 2+ but many people consider in class 3. It is long, loose and steep and not a great route to be on in a storm. From the summit descend southeast (not directly south, this leads to steep class 4 terrain) into a gully system on loose rock. Traverse when possible, following cairns for guidance, across the peak's south face, ultimately reaching the saddle between Vestal and Arrow Peaks. All that stand between you and the meadow is a gnarly downclimb down the slope Gerry Roach calls "Dues Collector" in his guidebook Colorado's Thirteeners: 13,800 to 13,999 feet. Back at the meadow you can relax (unless you have a train to catch) and be proud: you have just climbed one of Colorado's most aesthetic and classic mountaineering lines.

DIRECTIONS
The trailhead is found two miles north of Molas Pass on Highway 550 and five miles south of the town of Silverton. It is found in-between the turn offs for Molas and Little Molas Lake Campgrounds. The trailhead is a large dirt parking lot just off the highway on the canyon/mountain side.

TRIP REPORTS
Dirty (Wet) 30: or Five Rainy Days in the San Juans
Our attempt at Vestal and Arrow runs afoul of rain storms, bad navigation, and a general lack of time, but the trip was still one to remember.

LINKS
Mountainproject.com- Page on Wham Ridge standard route.

Summitpost.org- An information page on Wham Ridge (standard) route.

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Copyright notice: This website and all its contents are the intellectual property of www.coloradomountaineering.com and its authors. None of the content can be used or reproduced without the approval of www.coloradomountaineering.com.

Climbing and mountaineering are dangerous!! Please see the DISCLAIMER page
For information about how to contact us, visit this link


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