The Grenadier’s Finest – Vestal, Arrow & the Trinities

Vestal Peak - Wham Ridge, West Trinity
Peaks: Vestal Peak (13,864′), Arrow Peak (13,803′), West Trinity (13,765′), Trinity Peak (13,805′), East Trinity (13,745′)
Dates: August 27-30, 2015
Group: David Yarian, Jason Blyth, Rick Thompson, Dillon Sarnelli
Vestal Basin – Google Map

Me: “Hey boys, let’s hit up Vestal Basin in 2015!”. Rick: “Hell yeah!”. David: “The Wham!”. Jason: “Yer gonna die!”.

Me: “I think we should do it from Molas Pass”. Silence…

And so in that short conversation last fall we at least got the ball rolling. Fast forward through the laziest winter of all time on my part to a spring and summer that has been nothing but the opposite. August was finally here. Wham Bam Wemi Weekend ’15 was upon us. With Jason exploring Saskatchewan, Zambo away at summer camp, and Rick… (we actually don’t know what Rick’s been up to other than it involves Tinder, his basement, handcuffs, skis and maybe one of his neighbors pets), the 4 of us hadn’t had an opportunity to all get out in the hills at the same time this year. An extended weekend in the San Juans was about to fix all that.

Molas Pass – Thursday, August 27, 2015, 11:55 AM.

Fresh off what I’m calling the best breakfast burrito I’ve ever eaten, courtesy of Mattie & Maud’s Cafe in Silverton, I was more than ready to hit the trail – solo :). Starting from Molas Pass adds 4.4 miles each way and about 1,700 vertical feet of gain on the way out. The alternative is a 20 minute train ride from/to Silverton. Each will get you to the same spot – the Elk Creek Trailhead along the CO Trail, elevation 8,883′. To each his own!

FYI – Those clouds pictured above are the remnants of a monster thunderstorm that rolled through the Four Corners the night before which thankfully booted the California haze right out of the SJ’s. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were about to go car to car without even a single drop of rain for the next 96 hours.

Elk Park along the Animas – 2:15 PM. Jason, David, & Rick right on time from Silverton. “Gentlemen, you’ve got to put down those beers before you get off the train”.
This is trouble… Rick, David, Jason, and Dillon (L to R).

The approach from Elk Park to high camp was about 5.5 miles and 3,000′ vert. A little more than half is along the Colorado Trail at a reasonable grade, while the remainder from the Beaver Ponds is steep and makes you earn it. On a side note, if you ever hike or climb with Jason, he really enjoys carrying the rope.

Arrow (middle center) peering down on us at the Beaver Ponds. Vestal pictured behind.
Heading south along the trail into Vestal Basin. The willows have their moments, but for the most part are very cooperative.
Our 1st good look at tomorrow’s mission, Wham Ridge, from just below camp. Pictures do it some justice. Actually they really don’t. This one’s in a class all it’s own.
Rick taking it all in. A full moon and the 3 Trinities. Sounds like a winning poker hand if I knew how to play poker.

Time for bed.

Day 2: Friday, August 28, 2015

Peaks: Vestal Peak via Wham Ridge and Arrow Peak – Northeast Face
Distance: ~ 4 miles
Elevation Gain: Vestal ~ 2,100′, Arrow ~ 1,400′

Morning light over on Arrow as we begin our ascent up Vestal’s Wham Ridge to the grassy ramp.
Zambo making quick work of the low angle slabs (class 3/4) below the ridge on the lower Wham.

All in all, as stated in numerous excellent trip reports easily found on the interweb by those who have come before us, we found there to be 3 Class 5 pitches that can be kept to around 5.4 with some easy route finding.  Rick graciously led the route.

I believe this was taken at the top of the 1st pitch. Myself giving Jason and David the thumbs up down below. (Photo by Rick)
Jason and David at the start of the 1st pitch.
Wham Bam! JB, like a champ.
All smiles. This place is pretty amazing.

After the 2nd pitch we were treated to some American Ninja Warrior, the Mountain Goat Edition.  I’d explain, but that might require another TR. Lets just say Air Goat would take LeBron to school. Thankful to be alive, we continued upward.

All that remain are a few hundred feet of Class 4+ scrambling to the summit. (Photo by Rick)
Richard, well done on the lead. Why are you wearing your bike helmet?
Looking south over yonder at the peaks of Ruby Basin, including one bad @ss Pigeon (R) from the summit of Vestal Peak – Elevation 13,864′ – August 28, 2015.
Summit Pano – Vestal Peak – August 28, 2015. (Photo by Jason)
Summit of Vestal Peak – Elevation 13,864′ – August 28, 2015.
This is livin’.

Next up Arrow.

Arrow is pretty straight forward. Get on the huge ramp, go up, get on the upper ramp (right), and then a Class 4 scramble to the summit. It took us about an hour. Like Vestal, the views are unreal.

Decorating our marmot proof Xmas tree at the base of the ramp on Arrow. Jason has We Wish You a Merry Xmas on his iPhone sung by none other than Bob Marley & Tina Turner. All in all it was a very festive tree trimming.
The Wham as seen from Arrow on our ascent.
Making our way up along the ridge once off the ramp.
I think Rick just ate a bug.
Zambo – Summit of Arrow Peak – Elevation 13,803′ – August 28, 2014.  Zambo, why isn’t this your cover photo yet?
Rick – Summit of Arrow Peak – Elevation 13,803′ – August 28, 2014.
Jason – Summit of Arrow Peak – Elevation 13,803′ – August 28, 2014.
Back at basecamp @ 11,500′.
The sufferfest known as “Operation Carry 21 Beers into Vestal Basin” (12 of which were pounders) was easily the best decision any of us have ever made in our lives.

Day 3: Saturday, August 29, 2015 – The Trinity Traverse

Peaks: West Trinity (13,765′), Trinity Peak (13,805′), East Trinity (13,745′)
Distance: ~ 5 miles
Elevation Gain: ~ 3,000′

Some takeaways from this traverse. This was some of the longest sustained scrambling I’ve ever encountered and on some very loose rock. Once safely back in the basin on 2 feet with all my appendages still attached, no broken bones, and no chance of falling 3,000 feet into an abyss never to be seen again, I was extremely happy to report that this traverse was by far one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

Good Morning Grenadier! Alpenglow on Vestal (L) and Arrow (R) – Saturday, August 29, 2015 on the approach to West Trinity.
The crew ascending West Trinity’s southwest ridge. Pigeon hovering in the clouds behind.
The views to the south.
Rick balancing his way along the ridge.
Jason doing his best Taj impersonation.
Trinity Peak (L) and what we are calling “Trinity 4” (R) in the foreground as seen from West Trinity. Storm King, Silex and The Guardian behind (L to R).
Summit of West Trinity – Elevation 13,765′ – August 29, 2015. Hey Zambo, where’s that pen, buddy? 🙂
A little beta: When you reach this rib after the 2nd or 3rd grassy slope, this is where you want to begin ascending. Eventually you will discover the Class 4 chimney. I took this shot from one of the cairns way up on the rib almost to the midpoint of Balsam Lake down below. Zambo is pictured below leaving the grassy slope. Don’t miss this damn turn!
Jason scoping out future Wemi ’16 and ’17 trips from the summit of Trinity Peak. Storm King, Silex, The Guardian, Peak 9, and Peak 7 to name a few (L to R).
Beginning the down climb off Trinity. The ascent gully on East Trinity pictured front and center.
Now in East Trinity’s ascent gully (see previous picture). Our descent gully off Trinity pictured in the background to the right.
Out of East Trinity’s ascent gully.
Another shot just above East Trinity’s gully.
Jagged , the Chicago Basin 14ers, and the Ruby Basin 13ers (L to R) from the summit of East Trinity – August 29, 2015.
Summit of East Trinity – Elevation 13,745 – August 29, 2015. 5 for 5.
Summit Pano – East Trinity – Elevation 13,745 – August 29, 2015. (Photo by David)
Safely back in upper Vestal Basin. I love it when a plan comes together.
Day 3 Parting Shot. East Trinity, Trinity Peak, and West Trinity (L to R).

Day 4: Sunday, August 30, 2015

Pack up camp, say our goodbyes to the camp mascot, make the train by 11 AM, and then bust up Molas Pass. Easy peasy. Rendezvous at Avalanche.

Fellers, this was one of the best trips of all time. Until next time, go easy on the Whiskey, remember that Mountain Houses may explode under pressure, be nice to that random deer that just wants to be your friend, and when Zambo says he’s not sure about those clouds, you most likely have at least 7 hours to get off the mountain.


The End

Thanks for reading and be safe out there.

8 thoughts on “The Grenadier’s Finest – Vestal, Arrow & the Trinities

  1. Dude, this is so phenomenal. Congratulations to all of you rockstars! What a trip! I just so enjoyed every word and picture. Gorgeous. I am very envious. Kristine & I will try and mimic this trip of yours whenever we are able to get down there together. Congrats on 5 stellar peaks that sure as hell ain’t walk-ups. You the man.


    1. Brando, thanks buddy!!, but the only rockstar i know is you! You and Kristine are gonna have a sick time in there next year. Might want to include Sawyer when divvying up the beers though. They get heavy after mile 5. If we plan ’16 well, maybe we could all rendezvous together and then head to each of our own basins. Happy Labor Day weekend. Go PSU! I’ll check in next week!


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