Laboring in the Grenadiers: The Trinity Traverse

Route: Ascent of West Trinity’s West Ridge, traverse to Middle Trinity, traverse to East Trinity, descent back to camp via East Trinity’s Northeast Ridge
Stats: 5.1 Miles, 3,315′ from camp at 11,500′
Partners: Kevin Pustulka, Sarah Behnke

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The final section of The Trinity Traverse, looking east.

The Wham Ridge on Vestal was always the prize of this trip, and Arrow was undoubtedly priority number two. Having no idea how smoothly these two peaks would go for us, we made sure to keep our expectations in check regarding the Trinity Traverse. Well as fortune would have it, an unexpected turn in the weather allowed us to get Vestal and Arrow on the first day, leaving us free to go after some day two extra credit on the Trinity Peaks. It’s always nice when things go according to plan on a relatively committing trip like this one. With Vestal and Arrow in the bag, and the Trinities being a much easier day, we finally allowed ourselves some hope of leaving Vestal Basin with all five peaks.

We ended up departing camp around 8am on the morning of the 4th, a few hours later than planned. Kevin and Sarah were able to get decent night of sleep and were good to go around 6am, whereas I had been up most of the night with stomach problems that nearly prevented me from being able to hike at all. Something I had eaten the evening before didn’t agree with me, which made for a rather uncomfortable night in the tent (not to go into too much detail). By 6am I was drinking fluids and eating again and by 8am I was able to muster the energy (or will of mind) to have a go at the Trinities. We set out from camp with low expectations once again, reasoning we could turn back if my stomach wasn’t up to the task. Kevin and Sarah, being the thoughtful and gracious partners they are, told me if I turned back they would as well, and that their motto for the day was “we all summit or none of us summit”. I personally thought this was really cool, and a great example of group camaraderie that we should all strive for when in the mountains.

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Heading east from camp on the morning of the 4th.

From this meadow around 11,700′ the route heads right (south) up a steep slope through some patches of willows. I’m not sure we were ever on the correct trail but the general goal is to gain the large basin in between Vestal and West Trinity. We were all a little beat from the previous two days but we were making decent time and the weather looked like it was going to cooperate. I made sure to take a moment to savor the incredible beauty and remoteness of this area.

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Vestal Peak from the east.

Once in the basin the route weaves through car sized boulders and rock moraines to the base of the Vestal/West Trinity Saddle. From there gaining the saddle is nothing more than a knee bashing, lung burning, two steps forward one step back gruelfest. I’ll skip depicting this section in any further detail as most of my descriptors would be of the four and five letter variety. It took us the better portion of an hour to climb this section. We took a long break on the saddle and admired the views of Sunlight, Eolus, Jagged, Pigeon, and Turret to the south. Such an amazing wilderness area the Weminuche is. Dramatic peaks and deep drainages comprise the landscape, it reminds me of a slightly larger version of the Gores. I think John Fielder got it right.

After downing half a bag of gummy bears and a few cookies (light food to keep the stomach in check), it was time to continue on up. With Kevin and Sarah leading the way we headed up the West Ridge. Thirty minutes of boulder hopping had us to the summit ridge, which looked to be a tad trickier to gain than any of us were expecting. After a few attempts at finding a suitable route up to the ridge crest we decided to take another break and give the weather some attention. Over the course of our ascent a cluster of moisture laden clouds had slowly worked their way up the valley towards our position. We decided to just hunker down and wait things out for awhile, as it was yet to be determined whether we were simply dealing with low flying fog or the alternative; storm clouds.

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Sunlight Peak’s silhouette as seen through the fog. Photo by Sarah.

We waited it out for roughly one hour, expecting the dark clouds to end our day at any moment but they never did. Kevin and I were actually able to get some decent sleep, despite staking it out on the side of a scree field. Eventually two friends of ours, Alyson and John (with whom we had talked with the previous night), hiked past us and sort of lit a fire under our asses to get moving. It seemed that the clouds were burning off and once again, giving us a decent window to complete our goal. I’m glad we made the decision to wait for awhile; had we headed back down to camp we would have been kicking ourselves later in the day.

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Kevin and Sarah high on the West Ridge.

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A narrow, class 3 spine leads to the summit ridge.

Past three false summits along the summit ridge, West Trinity finally yielded. As we crested the summit, the clouds completely cleared out of the area and we had sun on our backs once again.

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A cool shot of Pigeon from West Trinity’s summit. Photo by Sarah.

Getting to West Trinity’s summit is the grueling part of this outing. From there all you have in front of you is nothing less than a classic class 4 ridge run between three spectacular peaks. We didn’t linger on West Trinity for too long…

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The traverse to Middle Trinity in its entirety. Photo by Sarah.

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The route is well cairned.

From the low point between West and Middle Trinity the route traverses to the south of the ridge line across a series of exposed ledges. The one critical moment from a route finding perspective is locating the class 4 crux chimneys described in Roach’s and Cooper’s books. These chimneys are climbed in close succession and are they keys to gaining the summit of Middle Trinity.

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The scrambling through these chimneys is somewhat precarious; large exposure and loose hand holds seemed to be the norm.

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Sarah with Balsam Lake in the background.

Once above the chimneys, the route traverses east across a ledge system and then up the final portion of Middle Trinity’s west side. We topped out roughly an hour and a half after leaving West Trinity.

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Looking ahead at East Trinity and the rest of the traverse, Rio Grande Pyramid can be seen in the distance.

We took a break on Middle Trinity and snacked on energy gel and cookies. I think we were all feeling a tad beat at this point but we knew we only had about 500′ left on the day, so spirits were high. A steep, narrow gully leads down to the 13,340′ notch between Middle and East Trinity. We took this gully one at a time as it is loose and has a tendency to funnel falling rocks directly down the climbing route.

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Heading down the gully.

From the low point between the two peaks, East Trinity is less than 500′ away. A wide, low angled gully makes for a perfect route up the west side of the peak.

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Sarah on her way up East Trinity.

We topped out in the late afternoon, elated to have completed the Trinity Traverse but also excited to get back to camp and eat dinner.

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Off the east side of East Trinity, Storm King, Peak Nine, and Mt. Silex in the background.

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The descent off East takes a north facing ridge down to the East Trinity/Peak Three Saddle, and then down a loose talus field to the valley floor. Photo by Kevin.

Down at the valley floor, we laid in the grass for twenty minutes, reminiscing of the past two days’ accomplishments and cherishing the remote place we were in. I love this area of the Weminuche. I was telling Kevin that when I’m ninety years old I plan on chartering a helicopter to drop me off in upper Vestal basin with a lawn chair and a twelve pack. Mark my words people.

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All three Trinity Peaks as seen from upper Vestal Basin.

Back at camp, celebratory Gordons and peanut butter bagels complimented the view of the sun setting on the Wham quite well. We hit the sack early in preparation for a 7am departure from camp. Sleep hit me like a brick, I remember nothing between my head hitting the pillow (yes, I packed in a pillow) and my alarm going off eight hours later. A quick pack up the next morning and we departed the basin on schedule, arriving in Elk Park at 10am with an hour to spare.

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Our ride out.

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…and a concluding shot of the Durango/Silverton Narrow Guage.

All in all this was an amazing trip. The area, the routes, but most of all the partners. Kevin and Sarah, thanks for making it a special one. Until next time my friends…

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