Friday, 22 July 2011 00:00

A Mad Scramble in the Sangres - Mount Adams and UN 13,580

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Mount Adams is one of the last mountains in the top 100 in the Sangre de Cristo Range that I've yet to climb. It has always drawn my attention on other hikes in the area, and I had hopes of climbing it this spring. Instead, I opted to climb California Peak with Ethan, which was a great hike. Originally, I had planned to climb Pyramid Peak this weekend; however, none of my climbing partners had crampons, so we decided to hit Mount Adams instead. I had always read great things about climbing Mount Adams, and Gerry Roach has the west ridge route marked as a classic climb. Since I have more or less always agreed with Roach's ratings for "classic climbs," I figured that it would be the best way to climb it. So, Ethan and I agreed to take the west ridge route instead of the standard route. Feel free to read more about Roach's 13'er guidebook HERE.

This was particularly exciting since I have wanted to go back to Willow Lake for awhile now. Willow Lake is truly a magical place, and should be designated as a wilderness area, in all honesty. The lake is pristine, with a giant waterfall at its head. Additionally, it is surrounded by some of the most rugged and aesthetically remarkable mountains in Colorado, including Kit Carson Peak, Challenger Point, Columbia Point, Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle, not to mention Mount Adams!

Mount Adams is the 66th highest ranked summit in Colorado, sitting at 13,931 ft. 69 more feet and it would be climbed much more frequently, not that Ethan and I are complaining that we didn't see another soul on the summit...

Looking at the maps while driving over, Ethan and I also thought it might be fun to tack on another peak or two while we were out, so we decided that once we reached the summit of Adams, we would evaluate the conditions and how we felt and then decide on the next steps.

The drive over to the town of Crestone was remarkably unremarkable except for two incredible details. First, the pizza at Amicas in Salida was incredible, as usual. Second, the sunset as we were leaving Salida was insane. We drove out of town, heading west into Poncha Springs, and decided we HAD to pull over and take photos of this rediculous sunset. For my photos, I opted to do a minor HDR treatment since the foreground was quite interesting -we had stopped just in front of a huge grassy area used for cattle to pasture on. The results were stunning, with the sunsetting directly behind Mount Shavano.

Sunset over Mount Shavano HDR

Here's a zoomed-out version of the same scene, which I personally prefer.

Sunset over Mount Shavano HDR

We arrived at the Willow Lake trailhead around 10 PM, set-up Ethan's tent, and hit the sack, with our alarm set for 2 AM. We wanted to ensure that we had enough time to reach the summit of Adams before the weather hit. As soon as the alarm went off, we packed up quickly and hit the trail. The hike was an interesting one since there was a full moon and because we did not get a ton of sleep. Nevertheless, we hiked quickly and reached the base of Willow Lake within 2.5 hours.

Full moon in the Sangres

The full moon made for some pretty fun photography opportunities, although photographing the moon is always a big challenge unless you have a really nice zoom lens. Most photos you will see of the moon and of a scene are two images layered as one, since it is literally impossible to photograph the moon and your foreground without either overexposing the moon (like above) or underexposing your foreground. Anyways, seeing Willow Lake again was great. We rested there for a good 30 minutes and took some photos. The waterfall was just as awesome as I had remembered it to be.

Willow Lake at morning

We saw lots of tents on the way up, probably 15 total. Lots of people were up here to climb the 14ers. We were the only group doing Mount Adams though. We gained the trail to the left of the lake and began to ascend above the lake in quick order, stopping every once in awhile to get some photos.

Willow Lake

Before we knew it, we had gone too far and were nearly at the head of the lake near the waterfall. While we knew we were somewhat off-route, we decided to get into a good position to get photos of the sunrise and the full moon over Willow Lake.

Full Moon Over the San Luis Valley

We then turned sharply south to gain elevation into the small basin beneath Mount Adams. Since there is no trail up there, we just followed beneath the termination of a large cliff wall that led into the area, looking back from time to time to catch the sunlight on Kit Carson Peak.

Kit Carson Peak at sunrise

I've always like the geology of this area, which is comprised of clastic sedimentary rocks, which appear as large pebbles that are cemented together. These rocks sometimes erode, to leave behind some really interesting features. For more information on Crestone Conglomerate, check out this interesting website.

Matt Holding Up Mount Adams

As we gained the basin, we could not help but notice the amazing hues cast onto Willow Lake by the sun hitting the southern aspects of Challenger Point.

Willow Lake - Challenger Point Reflection

Indeed, the alpenglow on KIt Carson Peak and Challenger Point were quite impressive, and coupled with the moon and the lake it made for a perfect scene to hone my HDR skills. If you've ever wondered how to do HDR, you can do like I did, and read about it a ton, or watch this perfectly succinct tutorial from Trey Ratcliff.

Willow Lake and Kit Carson Peak HDR Sunrise

We kept on hiking up into the basin towards Mount Adams and stumbled upon a pair of really nice looking ponds. The ponds were surrounding by wildflowers and separated by a huge jutting rock feature, which made for quite a lovely subject for an HDR panoramic. Additionally, the clouds were insane, and continued to be all day long.

Kit Carson Peak and Challenger Point HDR Panoramic

After a few more minutes, Mount Adams finally came into view for the first time.

Mount Adams comes into view

The route seemed quite straight-forward to us, so we opted to just follow a rock gully up towards the ridge, which was strewn with all sorts of wildflowers.

Mount Adams trail of flowers

Challenger Point Black and White

Ethan was a superb photography this day - he captured many many photos of me throughout the journey, all of which I really enjoyed his perspective and composition on.

Matt gazes down at the lakes

We finally gained the ridge!

Matt on Mount Adams Ridge

Climbing Mount Adams

We were able to look down at South Crestone Lake and some 'miniture' Crestone Needle looking mountains.

South Crestone Lake

As we continued up, Crestone Peak came into view, and eventually Crestone Needle as well.

Ponds below Mount Adams

The wildflowers on Mount Adams were amazing.

Wildflowers on Mount Adams

Matt Payne photographing a flower

Wildflower macro

And the route up the west ridge was fabulous. In some sections, it really reminded me of Crestone Needle, just not as steep. The same type of rocks made for some enjoyable route-finding. I shall hereby dub Mount Adams, "Baby Crestone Needle." The similarities in the rock were remarkable.

Matt climbing Mount Adams west ridge

The clouds continued to look awesome, and so I was able to get this photo of Ethan gaining the ridge higher up.

Ethan Ascends Mount Adams

I was also able to get a really nice panoramic photo of Ethan gaining the ridge with the nutty clouds behind him. Click to see a larger version.

Ethan Ascends Mount Adams Panoramic

Check out this cloud - it looks like its going to eat my soul - thanks Ethan!

Matt Payne Silouhette

We stopped frequently to shoot photos. This is an all too familiar scene - me shooting photos of flowers. Thanks for catching me in the act, Ethan!

Matt Payne Photographing Flowers

Wildflowers on Mount Adams

Wildflowers on Mount Adams

Wildflowers on Mount Adams

We kept on truckin' up to the summit block, which proved to have some enjoyable class 3 options if one so chose, so we did.

Mount Adams summit block

Finally, we reached the summit and took a congratulatory summit shot using Ethan's camera on self-timer.

The summit of Mount Adams

Mount Adams was a great climb, for sure. The summit was superb, with excellent views in all directions.

Matt Payne on Mount Adams

We also had some insane smoke appear out of nowhere in the valleys around us, and before we knew it, the smoke was gone. It was truly odd. It was almost as if the valley below was on fire and then put out before we knew it. A look to the north revealed some crazy looking clouds over Rito Alto, Venable and Comanche.

Insane Clouds over the Northern Sangres

We also found an awesome spot with a great vantage point for a celebration pose. We took advantage and marvelled at the sheer depth below us from where we stood.

Matt Payne on Mount Adams

Ethan on Mount Adams

Naturally, my focus was on Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak, two of my favorite mountains in Colorado. They are so distinguishable and quite honestly some of the freakishly looking peaks there are in Colorado. In fact, Crestone Needle ranks just 4th on the "Most Impressive" list (for ranked peaks) that is based on the work of David Metzler and the ORS/RORS scales.

Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak Black and White

A view to the east revealed Fluted Peak (far left), Horn Peak (left, in distance) and the Horn Lakes below.  UN 13,580 (ranked 201) was directly south, with UN 13,541 and Obstruction Peak and Humboldt behind. Additionally, Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak stood out like sore thumbs with Columbia Point, Kit Carson Peak and Challenger Point all towering over the basin below.

Horn Lakes from Mount Adams Panoramic

A closer look at the 14ers of the area. Left to right - Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, Columbia Point (13er, ranked 56th), Kit Carson Peak and Challenger Point.

Crestones from Adams

Ethan was loving the views and the clouds.

Ethan on Adams

And so was I...

Sangre de Cristo Mountains HDR

HDR with Crestones Bokeh

Dark Crestones

Alas - a perfect summit does not last forever, so we decided to head south towards UN 13,580 and beyond to see what we could accomplish. The dramatic nature of the cliffs to our left kept us on our toes and in amazement for quite a long distance.

Matt descending Adams

Ethan descending Adams

Also, the traverse over to 13,580 proved to offer some really fun challenges, including this class 3 manuever above a hugely exposed section.

Matt downclimbing Mount Adams

But it also offered some fun boulder scrambling on very solid rock.

More downclimbing

UN 13,580 was not too far from us, and the views kept us from moving too quickly.

UN 13,580

The rock was all totally solid, but in places it was awkward walking on slanted slopes of what felt like giant fissures in the earth.

Ho Hum

The terrain below


Ethan makes way

A look back at Mount Adams...

Looking back at Mount Adams

We finally reached the summit of UN 13,580 and enjoyed as what Gerry Roach describes on page 155 as "a startling view of Horn Lake." I don't disagree with Roach one bit on this detail, but what I do disagree with him on is that he describes UN 13,580 as a bi-centennial, meaning it is in the top 200 in Colorado ranked by elevation. According to my list, it is ranked 201 and just shy of that mark. When I built my database, I ranked mountains in the following order:

  1. By elevation
  2. By prominence
  3. By isolation
  4. By name

So, if two mountains had the same elevation and prominence, the mountain with more isolation is ranked higher. This seemed like the most fair way to rank mountains that had very similar characteristics. I am not sure how Roach or any others rank them.

Subsequently, according to my database, which is based almost entirely off of data compiled by John Kirk of, Clark Peak, a 13er in the Elk Range, is also sitting at 13,580 ft. Additionally, it has the exact same prominence as UN 13,580, making them tied in most regards. The mountain with more isolation (Clark Peak) gets ranked higher.

Horn Lakes from UN 13,580

Sorry to get on that soap-box... here's a self-timer of Ethan and I on UN 13,580.

Ethan and Matt on UN 13,580

And Ethan with the Crestones in the background...

Ethan on 13,580 with Crestones in background

With me enjoying the "startling views."

Gazing on the Sangres

It was really cool signing the summit register for this rarely climbed peak. At the top of the register was Gerry and Jennifer Roach, followed later by John Kirk (of ListsofJohn fame), Susan Joy Paul (a regular on and a Facebook friend), and Doug Hatfield, another regular contributor who quoted on the summit register, "100/100 in Custer County," meaning, this was the last ranked peak in this county that he needed to finish. Quite an accomplishment!

Naturally, the Crestones just kept my gaze for much of our time resting on UN 13,580, so I decided to get some more HDR shots, as well as a non-HDR shot.

Sangre de Cristo HDR

Crestone Peak, Kit Carson Peak, Challenger Point

We decided to keep going along the ridge to see where it would take us. Much to our surprise, a lone goat crested the ridge to greet us below to the south.

Lone Goat in the Sangres

"We're gonna climb that one now?"

Ethan ponders the next

Unfortunately, the storm clouds starting building to the west, so we opted to bail at the first opportunity. Since there's no trails in this terrain, we had to do some heavy route-finding. This ended up being quite enjoyable and challenging, and afforded us with plenty of class 4 down-climbing opportunities.

Downclimbing to Willow Lake

Ethan downclimbing class 4

We found a crazy gully just below the first set of slabs we had down-climbed, and decided that the terrain on the other side of this mini-ridge below the gully looked much better as an exit. Unfortunately, the gully was loose and chossy, with eroded garbage and hardened mud. It was a real nightmare to downclimb. I went first, and faced-in for many sections. I kicked down tons of loose debris and tested every hold. It was quite a mess. Once I was down, I yelled up to Ethan that I was clear. Ethan had a bit more trouble, mostly because he was schlepping his trekking poles on his pack still (I opted to not bring any), and his camera bag was not of the LowePro Toploader variety that I have grown to love. His bag got into his way and he had to stop and re-pack the whole thing into his main pack. Almost down, Ethan had a few more moves left. He faced in and placed all of his weight on his feet, which were being held by what appeared to be a very solid and large boulder. Ethan shifted his weight to another rock, and as he did, the rock he was just standing on crumbled and disintegrated, causing huge blocks to go down the rest of the gully and down the mountain. Ethan was quite lucky. Here's some views of the nasty gully:

Sangre de Cristo escape gully

Escape gully

After the lame gully, we were greeted by a series of steep ledges that had interesting holds, probably rated at class 3 or 4.

Class 4 downclimb

Heading down the grassy ramps

A look back up the ledges:

Downclimb from 13,580

And over to Kit Carson and Challenger...

Kit Carson Peak

We descended this section pretty quickly, having to shift directions a few times due to the bands of ledges terminating a few times. I rested a few minutes at the base of the boulder field we came down and found a new friend.

Matt and a Butterfly

The columbine flowers were really nice too!

Columbine and Kit Carson Peak

Columbine close-up

Another look back up the insanity we down-climbed...


We re-joined the trail that leads up to Challenger Point and headed towards the waterfalls above Willow Lake.

Kit Carson stream

Creamy stream

Which were quite amazing!


Kit Carson and Willow Lake Waterfall HDR

Finally, we made it back around and to the lake in short order.

Willow Lake

When I was here in 2009, I took a panoramic photo series from the lake, which included the waterfall and a really interesting rock in the lake. I always regretted that photo because it cut the top off of Challenger Point. Not this time!

Willow Lake Panoramic

Also, we stopped below the lake to get some amazing shots of the lower waterfall near the trail.

Willow Lake Trail Lower Waterfall

Waterfall HDR

Waterfall HDR

The hike out was pretty uneventful after the waterfalls, except of course for the insane amount of switchbacks on the lower trail. We made it back to the car at 4 PM on the nose, just 14 hours after we started...

Lower Waterfall

Matt heading out!

Here's a look at the map, showing our route and elevation profile. Feel free to click on each to see larger versions. 

Mount Adams Route Map

Mount Adams Elevation Profile

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Additional Info

  • Trip Date: July 16, 2011
  • Yosemite Decimal Class: Class 4: Simple climbing, with exposure. A rope is often used. Natural protection can be easily found. Falls may well be fatal.
Read 6151 times Last modified on Saturday, 12 March 2016 21:05

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