Friday, 01 July 2016 22:07

Babcock Peak - A Fabulous 13er Scramble near Durango, Colorado

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The view from Babcock Peak The view from Babcock Peak

I moved back to Colorado this past November. I liked Oregon but really missed my Colorado mountains. I landed a pretty fantastic job in Durango and have been working hard over the winter to get back into climbing shape and be ready to go for the summer and fall. The La Plata Mountains are very close to Durango, closer than I thought. A quick 45 minute drive and I was at the trailhead to some of the most impressive climbing in the state - and few even knows it is there. My friend Schuyler and I decided to do Babcock Peak (13,180 ft.), Colorado's 499th highest mountain. This choice was mostly due to how close it was to town and how interesting the approach looked on the map. I had heard that the traverse between Babcock and Spiller was impressive and we figured if it looked good we could try it. This was also our first climb together and we kept it pretty open-ended in terms of our goal for the day. My understanding is that Babcock's true summit is the point just West of the one we climbed to. We decided not to go all the way over there. To check out our full route and GPS file, check THIS out.

We arrived at the TH at 7:30 AM - a late start by my standards. We were not too concerned with weather and knew that the high start at 10,300 ft. would save us some time. Our plan was to go straight up Tomahawk Basin and gain the east ridge of Babcock. When we arrived, our plan seemed to look like it would make a lot of sense.

Babcock Peak

Indeed, we just walked up the road until it made sense to turn up the valley. Looking back on Silver Peak from this angle was comforting.

Babcock Peak

The Tomahawk Basin opened up nicely for us - revealing a ledge system comprised of waterfalls and lots of untrailed terrain - welcome to bushwhacking up an obscure 13er!

Babcock Peak

I was constantly impressed by the rock formations and the steep crags that presented themselves as we continued up.

Babcock Peak

The upper basin opened up to reveal an incredible waterfall coming down the basin, all before a series of impressive crags and points at the terminus of the basin. 

Babcock Peak

The huge waterfall coming down out of Tomahawk Basin was impressive - I was already formulating some plans to come back and photograph the falls at night or in the winter. Schuyler had his eye on a route up through the talus field to the right of the waterfall to avoid downclimbing, so that's what we did. It was a rather hideous mess of off-trail climbing on small boulders and rocks mixed with unconsolidated dirt and sand, making for a very frustrating ascent. In retrospect, we would have stayed right up the middle of the valley and up the grassy slopes to the right of the falls. 

Babcock Peak

A view of the nasty rock field we went up and through. Nothing technical, just really frustrating terrain.

Babcock Peak

As we climbed higher the whole mountain came into view and we were able to better guage our route up - we decided on trying to stay on the snow as much as possible, with our actual route seen below in red.

Babcock Peak

The snow was very hard for the most part. In retrospect, I would have stayed on it for longer, gaining the ridge only after the snow totally faded. We ended up going straight up a scree field that was not very pleasant.

Babcock Peak

The moon was a nice feature for this climb, adding some interest to my photos and our view above the gnarly pinnacles on Babcock, which impressed us both.

Babcock Peak

A full on view of Babcock's east face showcased the very nasty terrain we would later find ourselves on. 

Babcock Peak

The upper basin afforded nice views and a small meadow at the terminus of the snow fields.

Babcock Peak

The summit of Gibbs Peak peaked above the meadow. We both thought the ridge between Gibbs and Babcock looked doable, but it was not on our agenda for the day.

Babcock Peak

A look back down and across the valley revealed the summit of another obscure La Plata 13er, Diorite Peak, which appeared to have a road going all the way up to the ridge from Tomahawk Basin. We both looked forward to coming back to go up that one.

Babcock Peak 14

All the way up, we encountered these rocks that were covered in beetle larva, which was pretty interesting.

Babcock Peak

A view up the last part of the snow ascent before the saddle. This section was quite a slog.

Babcock Peak

Upon reaching the saddle, our view back across the valley at Gibbs and the top of Lavender (left) was impressive. Later on we saw two people climbing the snow couloir up Gibbs (middle), which looked like quite the challenge!

Babcock Peak

This is what the terrain near the top of the saddle looked like - nothing too difficult.

Babcock Peak

We both really enjoyed the view above the Gibbs / Diorite saddle towards the Wilsons and Lizard Head Peak. Scyhuler, being a much more avid rock climber than I, was really excited and is already formulating plans to tackle Lizard Head.

Babcock Peak

My gaze was more drawn towards Diorite and beyond to Chicaco Basin, the Grenadiers, and the Needles.

Babcock Peak

The saddle at the base of Babcock presented a nice angle of our final section for the ascent - which was a very nice Class 3+ ridge filled with solid, yet exposed rock.

Babcock Peak

The crown jewel and highest point of the La Platas, Hesperus, appeared left of Lavender and Gibbs.

Babcock Peak

Schuyler captured some shots with his phone too :-)

Babcock Peak

Here is another view of the road going all the way up Diorite. Those old miners were crazy!

Babcock Peak

A shot of me before our final ascent.

Babcock Peak

Here is a nice view of what the rock was like up the summit block of Babcock - solid, jagged, and full of awesome.

Babcock Peak

The exposure was real - here's some perspective looking down the valley to the south.

Babcock Peak exposure

Schuyler and I celebrated briefly upon reaching the summit - nothing too difficult, but it did appear we were the first of the season. I rate this climb fairly highly based on the terrain and ease of access, coupled with total lack of other people. A really rewarding experience for sure.

Babcock Peak

Here's me gazing across at the impressive Grenadiers / Needles.

Babcock Peak

A full 360 degree panorama centered on West Babcock.

Babcock Peak Panorama

Below is a condensed panorama showing Hesperus (left) all the way over to Diorite (right).

Babcock Peak

My favorite view of all - a cropped version showing the Grenadiers (left) and the Needles (right). I've climbed most of them. 

The Grenadiers and Needles

For our route down, we (stupidly) decided to head down another way, down the east face. I'm not sure why either of us thought it was a good idea, but we committed. It was a nasty combination to be sure. Lots of class 5 downclimbing and loose garbage. I would not recommend it.

Babcock Peak

The shot below does not fully show how bad the terrain really was here. I don't know how many times I need to learn the lesson to come back down the way you came, but I'm hoping this was my last time.

IMG 0528

Below is a look back up what we decended. Again, it looks better than it was. We both had on our game faces for this downclimb and were uncomfortable throughout. 

Babcock Peak

That concludes the trip report. Hopefully it was helpful to someone else looking to escape the crowds of the 14ers and enjoy some awesome solitude on a nice class 3+ 13er. A downloadable track and summary of our hike on GPS can be found HERE.

Additional Info

  • Trip Date: 6/26/2016
  • Yosemite Decimal Class: 3
Read 1965 times Last modified on Thursday, 07 July 2016 05:18

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