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Dallas Peak

August 13, 2016


Dallas Peak (13,809'): 10.4 miles, 4,590 feet elevation gain

Note: Click on picture to see high resolution photograph in separate window:

This year I am tackling a bucket list of sorts when it comes to climbs on Colorado's "centennial" list. I've made it a point to start climbing some of the harder and more interesting routes that remain, including snow climbs on Thunder Pyramid, Grizzly Peak and Cathedral Peak earlier this year. Now most of the snow is gone, and it's time to get to the fun stuff--dry rock and ropes. When I posted a feeler on to see if anyone would be interested in climbing Dallas Peak and Teakettle Mountain, I did not expect such overwhelming and immediate positive response. And the experience level of the guys that signed up: Tom Pierce, Jon Frohlich and Jonathan Deffenbaugh, made me realize it would be a mistake not to go for it.

We all had experience on technical rock, though I was admittedly rusty on my rope skills. Tom was by far the most experienced of us, and turned out to be an awesome leader for the climb. Not to mention he had already been on Dallas Peak twice before, having to turn back at the summit pitch due to snow and ice conditions on both prior occasions.

Jon approaches the "more interesting" part of Dallas Peak.

Logistically speaking, the hardest part of the trip was everyone meeting up at the trailhead. Tom arrived first from Denver, I started the morning in Pennsylvania and ended up at the trailhead around 8pm, and Jon showed up just behind me. The road was much rougher than we anticipated, so Jon threw his stuff in my rental and we made it up to the trailhead just before dark to meet Tom. As Jonathan was driving in later from Albuquerque, he witnessed an accident with a drunk driver. Everyone was okay, but this set him back quite a bit, and he rolled in in the middle of the night while the rest of us were sleeping.

Start of Summit Pitch Short Video:

We all finally met up at 4a.m. to start the long day. While the place had been quiet overnight, other vehicles now showed up as we were getting our gear together, and two teams set off in the darkness just ahead of us. A five-person team and a pair of two, making us eleven people on the mountain! This, combined with clouds moving in with the sunrise, led Tom to silently figure we had a less than 50/50 probability of making the summit. He kept his sense of humor though, and was quick to bash any optimism we tried to express. A couple miles in I expressed how nice the trail had been to this point, and he quickly pointed out that we were in for a slog ahead, to which he added: "It's not too bad, it's only miserable."

Part of the slog.

At last we left the trail, with Dallas Peak looming right above us. What followed was loose and, yes, a slog, but I was mentally psyched for today and we all seemed to fall into a good groove climbing together.

We walked steep grass and flower-laden slopes, followed by... an easy class 3 cliff band, followed by... loose contouring trail, leading around the mountain and onto steadily steepening terrain, followed by... a quick, easy class 4 buttress, followed by... more trail leading up between weird rock formations and our first great views of the summit tower and giant chockstone.

Here things started to get interesting. Passing beyond the gully with the chockstone, we came to a second steep chimney, where we all stopped and put on our harnesses. This chimney looked tough, and I wondered if there was an easy way around it. In fact, in retrospect the one awkward move in the chimney seemed like the hardest move of the day to me. I wanted to make sure we were on the right track, and Tom helped me out with his usual mountain wisdom:

Me: "Is this right? Doesn't seem right."
Tom: "I think we're gonna die."

I kept going, and the others followed. Nobody died.

Tom. Enjoying a "meh" view.

My mind was on the climb, but I couldn't ignore the San Juan scenery surrounding us all day. After topping out of the awkward chimney, the view opened up spectacularly toward Mount Sneffels and down into Blue Lakes Basin. I could think of worse places to have to stop for a rest.

The groups ahead of us were finally on rappel, and we had a good perch to wait and watch as the last of them descended into the hole behind the chock stone. By the time we made it down the final ramp to the base of the summit pitch, the others were all exiting the summit. Since the early morning cloudiness, the skies had turned blue and the clouds were dissipating. Everything was a go for the final summit push!

Jonathan rounding the final ledge before climbing begins.

The four of us gathered at the base of the climb and Tom led the way with the rope work. Jonathan belayed Tom as he led, then Jon and I followed on a separate rope.

In spite of some rope and communication issues, I found the climbing to be straight-forward and fun. The belay ledge was shielded from the sun, which had me chilled by the time it was my turn to climb, so I was happy to get moving again. It did not take long to finish the pitch and meet up with the others on the summit, just after noon!

We spent maybe 20 minutes on top. That's about what it took to snap some pictures and get the ropes organized for the descent. Tom checked the rap anchor and got everything ready, then he headed down first.

Approaching the belay ledge.

I was the last of the group to rappel. I don't think we took the most direct path down to the hole behind the chockstone, but we made it work. There was hardly any ledge to stand on below the anchor, so the start was awkward. The rest was pretty uneventful until I plopped ungracefully into the snow pile right behind Tom. The snow and ice was sloped, so I just kind of floundered along the rope to the angled ball-bearing ground below, which wasn't much better. Finally I gained my footing, got off the rope, and joined the others around the corner, where everyone regrouped. Since we used the single 60m rope for the rappel, Tom fortunately had no issues pulling it down, and he joined us a moment later.

I wanted to build a house and settle here. Or just move this view to my back yard--whichever is easier.

It was a quick walk down to the class 4 wall, where we all agreed a quick rappel would make things easier. After that we put the ropes and harnesses away, then retraced our steps down the loose choss and steep grass slopes below.

Finally we were on the trail, but not all in great shape. Jonathan and Jon both had some slips on the steep gravel, and Tom's prior back injury was flaring up badly. I felt pretty good getting back on the trail, but by the time we got back to the trailhead and drove to Telluride, I was so tired I could barely think straight. But we had survived and had a great day together on Dallas Peak.

A lot can go wrong when four people who never met before travel from all over the country to climb a mountain on a tight schedule and with the added unknowns of weather and other climbing groups. Thankfully, every once in a while it all comes together perfectly, and this was one of those days. We meshed well together, the weather was superb, and the climb was awesome.

Summit Photo by Jon