Monday, July 16, 2012

The Allure of the Weminuche - Adventures on the Rio Grande Pyramid

There are a small number of peaks in Colorado that, for one reason or another, have been especially significant in shaping my appreciation for the mountainous areas that I consider my playground. These are not necessarily the highest peaks or those that have the best climbing routes, or are the most scenic. These are the peaks that come to mind first when someone asks me to relate some of my favorite mountain experiences, or when someone asks me why I enjoy spending so much time in the mountains. Many of these special peaks fall well below the much sought-after 14,000' mark and are not peaks that the general mountain climbing community would put on any "must-do" list. Rio Grande Pyramid is one of these peaks.

As the highest peak in the Weminuche Wilderness outside of the Needles and Grenadiers, and one of the 100 highest peaks in Colorado, Rio Grande Pyramid certainly doesn't lack prominence. The somewhat remote location, removed from proximity to high population areas and lacking access by heavily traveled highways, lends itself to relatively low traffic on the peak. On my most recent climb of the peak I only encountered one other party; a group of backpackers camped near Weminuche Pass.

After leaving the Weminuche Creek trailhead and traversing the hillside above the Rio Grande Reservoir for the first mile, the trail turned south along Weminuche Creek and I was suddenly transported into a world of rushing creeks and thriving vegetation. I should clarify that the thriving vegetation was limited mostly to the low-growing plants and the aspen trees, as most of the spruce, fir, and pine trees in the area have been killed off by the bark beetles.

Once above the initial climb up the creek drainage, the expanses of the wide Weminuche Pass valley opened up. Below is the view back down the valley, with bristol head silhouetted in the background.

I left the Weminuche Creek trail and began ascending to the upper reaches of the mountain via the Skyline trail. One large area of the Skyline trail was obscured by deadfall and I followed a small trail that had been formed below the deadfall area, and ended up descending much further than necessary, then had to climb back up to the trail after traversing a very steep grass and gravel slope. My advice for navigating this area is to stay high and try to avoid descending to get around the fallen trees. After returning to the trail, I was quickly rewarded with the first views of Rio Grande Pyramid and The Window below it. The Window is one of the most unique geologic features I've encounted in the mountains and is well worth the effort required to visit it.

The views around me began to open up more and more as I climbed higher on the slopes of the peak, but the view that drew my attention the most was that of The Window, with "Window Peak" above it to the south.

Once on top of the peak, I took my time admiring the views of the mountains in every direction, but especially those mountains directly to the west comprising the Needle and Grenadier ranges.

I descended the peak by way of the westernmost of two large gulleys that drop off the south side of the peak. Either of these gulleys can be descended, and are both filled with loose rocks, but the western gulley appeared to be filled primarily with smaller scree that would provide less of a beating on the feet. In order to gain the best entrance to the western gulley, I recommend descending the southwest ridge of the peak until the gulley can be easily seen below and easy entrance can be obtained. The top of the gulley has some cliffed portions, and attempting to exit the ridge too soon to descend to the gulley may put the climber on top of these cliffs. Once in the chute, the best scree and dirt for descending is found on the far west side.

After descending the gulley and emptying my shoes of all of the dirt and gravel I had collected on my way down, I began the traverse across the high slopes below the ridgeline toward The Window.

After spending a few short minutes resting within The Window, I descended the slopes east to Opal Lake.

The photo below shows the view from opal lake of my descent route from the peak, the slopes traversed to The Window, and the slopes below The Window used to descend to Opal Lake.

From Opal Lake I wandered around a while trying to find the intersection of the Opal Lake Trail with the Rincon La Vaca trail until realizing that the map showed the Rincon La Vaca trail incorrectly. Once headed in the right direction, the Rincon La Vaca trail made a fun descent back to the lower valley above Weminuche Pass. The waterfall below provided a good relief from the rising temperatures during the descent.

Once back to Weminuche Creek, the remaining descent was made quickly and I was soon back at the trailhead.

Unfortunately in the course of this whole adventure I managed to aggrivate an injury of the 1st metatarsal in my left foot, which made the last several miles of the descent fairly painful and has caused me to remain somewhat sedentary for the last couple of weeks. Although the foot seems to be taking its' sweet time in healing, I'm looking forward to future adventures and expect to be back in the mountains with plenty of time to enjoy the remaining summer season.

One other notable takeaway from this adventure is that I am now even further convinced that the Inov8 Roclite 285s are some seriously tough shoes. The beating that my shoes took descending the gulley from the peak would have trashed any other pair of trail running shoes that I own, but the 285s withstood the beating and are no worse for wear. That's on top of the 300+ rough trail miles I already have on that pair. I can only hope that the Trailroc 255s in the new line that inov8 will be releasing soon will be just as durable.

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