Jagged Mountain 13,824'
(Backpack and climb in the Colorado Rockies; Weminuche Wilderness)

6-10 Aug 2004 - by Gary Grange

Jagged Mountain is 13,824' and is one of the highest 100 peaks in Colorado. It is also one of the hardest to reach, being in the middle of the Needle Mountain Range in the San Juan National Forest, Colorado. The peak is between Durango and Silverton and is only reasonably approachable by taking the narrow gauge steam train from Durango to the Needleton Bridge stop on the Animas River, about 35 miles N. of Durango. And from the river it is then about a 9 mile hike over rough trail, gaining 4,200 ft. of altitude.

August 2, 2004: My friend Jay called me and said he had 7 days off work. This would be the time to try Jagged since few of my buddies can get that much time off on short notice. Besides, it would be #98 of the highest 100 peaks in Colorado for me. Called the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge to book two seats on the 9:00 a.m. train. $60 each! But.. worth it considering the alternative of backpacking another full day in and out to get to Jagged. Plus there are liquid refreshments in the concession car.

Thursday afternoon: drove the 345 miles from Denver to Durango over Wolf Creek Pass. Raining from there, and then more steadily in Durango. After checking in to a cheap motel,we carbo-loaded at Steamworks Brewery where the IPA is especially fresh & delicious.

The earliest train that makes a stop for backpackers leaves at 9:00 a.m. After enduring the chuffing and huffing, cinders and smoke, we detrained at the Needleton Bridge on the Animas River along with about 30 other hikers. Most were headed up Needle Creek to the Chicago Basin area to bag the three 14,000' peaks in that area. No one else headed our direction.

The trail follows the river north for a few miles, at one point climbing 200' over a cliff band and then back down. It was hot, sultry, and black fly-ridden. Jumping across Ruby Creek was no problem at this time of the year. NoName Creek was another matter. Wider and flowing fast, we could have waded it but opted instead to pile a few logs across some rocks and scampered across with no great problem. After NoName Creek, the trail vanishes. We bushwhacked up through the woods in search of the trail's continuance. Finally located it up about 150', running to the east. The trail is fairly good in most parts but tends to vanish in wet meadows and in rock moraines.

About 5:00 pm we arrived at a nice meadow where there is an old hunter's cabin, the Jagged Cabin. Set up camp beside NoName Creek and hit the tent early for a good night's sleep. Next day we had a leisurely breakfast and packed up to a higher camp at 11,800'. The trail climbs brutally steep in a couple sections; so steep that it was like climbing a ladder with a 45 lb. pack on! Eventually we arrived at an upper meadow at treeline with a flowing creek and ideal campsite in the trees. Discussed the option of packing up even higher to 12,200' to a small lake. Decided it wasn't worth it since we could quickly hike that way in the morning without a heavy pack. Good decision since the trail up is a killer. You can save a day by packing ALL THE WAY in to this 11,800' camp, but it's pretty brutal and you'll arrive near darkness.

Summit day. Up at first light to make some coffee and granola. Off on the trail by 6:30 am and up to Jagged Pass at 13,200' in about 1.5 hours. At the Pass we saw two other climbers just starting out on Jagged.

From the Pass one can see the awesome North Face of Jagged and the only view of the complicated route. Contouring around and up to the start of the route involved steep tundra steps and slippery gravel, but soon we were at the start which is a small chimney climb up to a ledge full of ball-bearing type gravel. I led this pitch on rope and was happy to have the rope as the ledge was exposed and slippery. (We used a 50-meter 8.5mm rope and took a small rack with a few chocks, 3 SLCD's (1.0-3.0), a large hex, and some Tri-Cams (0.5 3.0) and many intermediate and long slings. We left a couple slings at rappel points.)

Continuing up grassy ramps and ledges, zig-zagging up an obvious route where other climbers had been. Hitting some rock sections higher up, we once again roped up and took turns leading short pitches up. Not very difficult technically, but the exposure warranted a rope for safety. One slip and that would be the end. We didn't slip.

Finally reaching a high notch in the ridgeline, at about 13,600', we ducked around to the back side of Jagged. Very exposed; about 900 ft. straight down. We roped a 120' traverse on small ledges straight across to a large sandy area. Met up with the other couple, Terry and Steve, who are fellow Colorado Mountain Club members. They were on their way down from the summit and it was her 100th peak out of the highest 100 in Colorado.

The summit climb is straighforward, but also exposed. Jay lead up a 50' foot chimney with a chockstone which then goes up 4th class rock to the summit ridge.

At 11:30 we were standing on the spacious summit of Jagged Mountain! Great weather; visibility over 60 miles. The views were so awesome we stayed on top for almost 1 hour. No sign-in register at the top. Had lunch and gawked at the Needle Mountains, the Grenadier Range, and the Twilight Peaks nearby. Could see as far as Uncompaghre Peak, the Wilsons near Telluride, and to the east, Rio Grande Pyramid and the southern Weminuche range.

Coming down was very picky and cautious. We rappelled from the summit ridge past the chockstone onto the sandy ledge. Then rigged a safety line over the traverse back to the notch. A short downclimb from the notch brought us to a rappel station with many slings for anchors.

Rapped down about 40' and moved a bit further to the next rappel station. Another short rappel bypassing a potentially dangerous and exposed downclimb. Then some careful moves down the grassy ramps and ledges to a final rappel which led to the starting point. Not too bad a descent and glad to have the rope along.

Back in camp by 3:30 pm. Next day left camp at 9:00 am and hiked down to the train stop, arriving by 2:00 pm with 1.5 hours to spare. Soaking ones feet in the cool Animas River is mandatory; and very welcome. So is consuming a cold beer (or two) on the train.

This is a great Colorado Rockies adventure but due to the travel logistics, highly exposed nature of the climb and route finding puzzle, I would only recommend it for experienced alpineers. Have fun!

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