Winfield Peak (13,077′) | CO Rank: Unranked
Virginia Peak (13,088′) | CO Rank: 579/637
Sawatch Range | San Isabel National Forest | Granite, CO
09/21/19 | 7.78 miles | 2,894′ gain | Class 2
What can I say about this trip that Allie didn’t already say in her wonderful report? Oh yeah, it sucked. Well let’s back up a bit.
We’d read reports of others doing long ridge runs along the Virginia group of peaks, and while we knew we couldn’t do a 7+ peak, 15+ mile, 7000+’ day, we figured we could break it up and do half of it in a semi-easy day. 4 peaks, 7-8 miles, 3000′ of gain, easy peasy ridge run. We parked and started down the unmarked road, which we’d soon turn off.
We left the road near the creek crossing. The old “bridge” we’d heard of (really just a board) must have been washed out so we hopped across, trying to keep our feet dry. The road turned south and we turned north, hiking through tall grass and low shrubs. Not expecting a trail, we were surprised when we came upon the Colorado Trail. We walked along it for a few minutes, and then cut left through the forest. We were aiming for the basin to the east of Winfield Peak, but to get there we’d have to ascend steep, forested slopes.
We made an ascending traverse as direct as possible towards the basin. Sometimes on talus, sometimes on loose dirt, sometimes through sharp junipers. But always steep.
This section seemed to drag on forever, always going up, always stopping to catch my breath. Dreading the juniper patches that scratched my bare ankles and made them burn. But as always, as we climbed higher, the views opened up and we caught our first good view of the day.
Views always make you forget about the task at hand, but turning around is a quick reminder.
But every step brought us closer and closer to the basin, and we knew once we reached that, we’d be above treeline and things would get easier.
We followed a dry creek for a while which led us straight to the basin. The dry creek was close enough to a trail that I was happy for a little while. At least I wasn’t getting stabbed by junipers.
We soon found our way into the basin, and the trees finally withered away and let the tundra welcome us. The basin was truly gorgeous, and we allowed ourselves a moment to enjoy it.
But the task at hand was closer than ever. Next step, find an old road fragment and get to the ridge.
“Okay, let’s make it there and then take a break.”
Winfield’s summit is deceiving. The pointy peak in the right of the above picture looks like the summit, but the actual high point is a minuscule bump along the flat section to the left of the point. Weird, weird Winfield.
After putting pad wax on Harper’s feet (it’ll be rockier now), we set out to tackle Winfield’s ridge. It looked pretty steep (and it was), but we made decent time. The looseness of the rock was surprising, so we were extra careful with each hold. It wasn’t terrible, but probably not something I’d enjoy repeating.
Once we were up on the ridge, we could finally see the true task at hand. We’d thought that our hike so far was difficult, but this ridge looked way worse in person than it did in the pictures we’d seen. Wait, I thought this was supposed to be easy? We summited Winfield and the next unnamed bump on the ridge that we called “East Virginia”.
“I don’t think we have enough daylight to finish all 4 peaks.”
“Let’s get to Virginia and see what time it is.
The ridge looks almost inviting in my pictures, but it was truly an endless sea of talus that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I really hate talus. Finally we made it to Virginia. 3:30 pm. Where has the day gone!? Granted we got a bit of a later start than normal (9:30 am) but has this really been taking that long?
We’d planned on tagging both Sheep Rock and West Virginia as well today, but there was no way we could get them in time. It’s fall now and dark comes earlier, we would barely have enough time to get back to the car as it is!
The views made the suffering worth it, and we were okay with our decision to stop now instead of continuing. The south slopes of Virginia looked manageable and we descended the grass and boulders with near expert precision. We’re so good at this. Almost down now!
Into the basin and then head down to an old road that we knew would lead us out. We just had to find it. Was there a trail leading to the road? Our research before the trip didn’t indicate one, so we were on our own. You’d really think there’d be a trail…
Down, down. Through forests and meadows. Gradual through the basin. But we knew steep slopes were coming. Our topo map showed the close contour lines so clearly. But steep is okay if the ground is stable. What will we find?
My camera is packed away now because it’s too steep. No more pictures. Only focus. It’s getting dark. It’s really steep and really loose. I hate today. I hate this hike. I hate steep. I’m scared. It’s really steep. I’m slipping. I don’t want to fall. There’s nothing to catch me, nothing to grab on to. Only loose dirt and loose rocks. I grab a juniper bush with my bare hand. The spines bite into my skin but I don’t care, I’m not falling. I’m scared. Allie sends Harper back to help me. She leans against me and accidentally pushes me. There’s nothing to catch me. I’m falling, sliding down the dirt, I can’t stop. I’m crying. “You’re okay! Just keep leaning back!” I stop in a cloud of dust. It’s in my mouth. I wipe my running rose with the back of my hand. Mud streaks. Snot mud. Snot, dirt, mud. “Look!” It’s over. We’re on the road.
Giddy to be able to walk normally, we traveled down the overgrown road into the oncoming darkness. We still had about 2.5 miles back to the car, but the steep 200′ loose dirt section is behind us now. Trauma over. I’m okay. I can walk. But it’s getting dark so walk faster.
We didn’t bring headlamps. We weren’t expecting to be finishing so late. I only had my sunglasses (prescription) so I relied on Allie to guide me. I couldn’t see anything. Today sucks. I hate this mountain. Down the road, as fast as possible. I really like roads. So easy to walk on. So much better than steep. We finally came to the creek! We don’t care if our feet get wet now, we just run across. We scream. It’s cold. We’re excited. Almost back to the car! We startled some campers by running into their camp. Two neurotic women just ran up from the creek screaming and laughing, out of the blackness. “Are you ok!? Do you want some food?” Hmm food. Food sounds good. But the car is so close and we need to keep going. Almost there. Now it’s completely dark. I take off my sunglasses. Is this better? Nope, still can’t see. But slightly less dark. I can see white rocks on the road. I can feel the difference between gravel road and grass as I walk. Keep going. We reach a clearing. This is where the car is. There’s the car. The sound of the doors unlocking. The light turns on. Thank God it’s over.