A quest to climb 365 summits in 365 days boils down to bagging the most Roach Points and diffusing “feedback bombs” in the San Juans.
Like most Coloradans, Dave is a bit obsessive about his outdoor sports. A bit. Hobbled by shoulder surgery, he had recently switched from obsessing about rock climbing (a spreadsheet lists the 550 different routes he’s climbed at one favorite crag, Mt. Arapiles in Australia, despite living almost 9,000 miles away) to hiking. If that sounds like a step down, consider that between January and early September, he had climbed Mt. Sanitas, near his north Boulder home, 224 times. But that was just the start, he had also decided to hike the so-called “Centennial 13’ers,” the hundred highest peaks in Colorado. (He’d already done the 14’ers.) And now, I was along for the ride. Armed with Gerry Roach’s Colorado’s Thirteeners, Dave had plotted an arduous and complex route that would allow us to bag four of the necessary high 13’ers in the San Juans in a single long weekend.
But by the time we’d boarded the Durango & Silverton Railroad toward Needleton, the trailhead for our foray, Dave had set a new goal for the year: He now planned to tag 365 summits in 365 days. (Duplicates, including his many Mt. Sanitas ascents, would count toward this total.) This was not unreasonable. He had already reached 245 peaks during the first 244 days of 2009.
Carefully studying the guidebook’s trail descriptions and maps, Dave found a natural ally and enabler in Roach, Colorado’s arch peak-bagger and most closely followed guidebook writer. After all, the Boulder resident was the second person to climb the Seven Summits—the high points of every continent—and he has climbed more than 1,500 named peaks in Colorado. (Roach’s wife and coauthor, Jennifer, was the eighth person to climb all 637 peaks topping 13,000 feet in the state.) Most remarkably, Roach is the only person in history to climb all 13 major peaks over 16,000 feet in North America. Along with familiar giants like Denali in Alaska and Orizaba in Mexico, that list includes obscure and difficult mountains like Bona and Sanford that few Americans have ever heard of, let alone climbed.
Unsurprisingly, Roach is as obsessive about the information in his guidebooks as he is about climbing—his pen is even mightier than his knees. The result is a devil’s brew of vital description and confounding extraneous data. And then there’s the Efferculty scale, a Roach synthesis that collates a climb’s approach, elevation gain, summit height and technical difficulty, runs the numbers through a mysterious formula, and generates a value expressed in R Points (because who would want to collect Roach points?). These range from the simple if strenuous Mt. Sanitas (26 points) to challenging Longs Peak via the Keyhole (376 points), and well beyond. We would earn 450 points for our climbs of Pigeon and Turret from Needleton, but that was just the start of Day Two of our trek. Our total Efferculty for the day would be off the charts.
From the summit of Pigeon Prak, Dave and I could see the spiny ridge of Jagged Mountain, which we hoped to climb the next day, etched against a hazy horizon. It looked a long ways off—ringed by 13’ers bristling with gray and orange granite buttresses, the Ruby Creek drainage is perhaps the wildest spot in Colorado. We descended to our packs and traversed around the south side of Pigeon to a high saddle, from which it was easy to climb 13,835-foot Turret Peak. I passed a lone mountain goat along the way, and the morning train from Durango whistled as I kicked up Turret’s final scree slopes.
Black clouds piled high as we climbed toward Ruby–No Name Pass to leave this magical valley. After an ill-advised detour, I lost Dave—he was far ahead. Fearful of the impending storm, I pushed as hard as I could to catch him, but when I crested the pass I discovered only his pack lying on the ground. I yelled and yelled, and finally I heard a shout from atop a neighboring peak. It was unnamed, unranked, but it would be the third mountain of the day on the P-365 program, and to Dave that meant it had to be climbed, despite lightning cracking over nearby summits.
“It definitely counts,” Dave exulted as he trotted down to the saddle and picked up his pack, the first pellets of sleet slapping into our parkas. “It even had a cairn on top.”
Dave and I huddled under a boulder below the far side of the pass as graupel and thunderclaps bounced off the towering east face of Monitor Peak and the Turret Needles. When we emerged, winter had enveloped the mountains. Dave, who had chosen to wear lightweight approach shoes, fell repeatedly as we descended icy tundra and talus and then whipped from tree-hold to tree-hold through a snow-covered forest. At the bottom we pushed through acres of storm-soaked willows to reach the faint No Name Trail. Then, sopping wet and ready to call it a day, we discovered that our tent poles had somehow come unhinged from Dave’s pack.
No rating scale, not even Roach’s comprehensive R Points for Efferculty, can address every subtlety of a wilderness adventure. Going ultra-light on this trip, we had carried only one-pound down sleeping bags and no spare clothes—now we had to find some shelter or we’d be in serious trouble. Roach described an abandoned miner’s cabin down the valley, but when we found it the roof was a patchwork of gaping holes. Inside, we strung up the tent like a tarp and began to dry our clothes, but we didn’t expect much sleep that night in our damp and flimsy bags. We were now a mile farther from Jagged Mountain than we’d planned, and Jagged was one of the toughest peaks in the state. Roach gave it 513 R Points from Needleton, but we’d approached it via two Centennial 13’ers, a pair of rugged passes, and a severe September storm. Were we approaching the mythical 1,000-point Efferculty barrier?
We began the hike to Jagged Mountain just after dawn, leaving most of our gear at the cabin. The walls of Monitor and Animas glowed pink across the valley. The grass and brush underfoot was still wet, but only pockets of snow and graupel lingered on Jagged’s north face. This 500-foot-high rock wall crests in a spire at 13,824 feet. The route, rated about 5.2, ascends well-trodden grass hummocks and short granite boulder problems. We carried a 120-foot length of thin rope and a few pieces of protection, but the only time we belayed was when we got off-route and had to traverse a wet slab to regain the correct line.
On top we looked south to Sunlight, Windom and Eolus, the 14’ers we hoped to climb the next day, and beyond them to Jupiter Mountain, the final 13’er on our planned tour. Threatening clouds already obscured the sun, and so we hastily downclimbed and rappeled. By 1 p.m. we were back at the cabin. The day’s first storm had passed, but continuing along our planned route, over another 13,000-foot pass and into Chicago Basin, seemed out of the question. Before leaving home, I’d checked the National Weather Service’s in-depth report for the weekend, and the forecasters, pondering the aftermath of Hurricane Jimena, had predicted “convective feedback bombs” for southwestern Colorado. I had no idea what these were, but I was sure we didn’t want to be near them without a tent.
Dave wasn’t fazed by skipping Jupiter Peak. “I’ll get it someday,” he said. “Maybe I’ll start climbing all the other 13’ers, and then I’ll have to go back into Chicago Basin anyway.”
We packed up and walked down No Name Creek, following a clear but poorly maintained path. I counted 209 trees lying across the trail between the cabin and the Animas River, and that was before we reached the really bad stretch of blowdown in this wild forest. We pulled into Needleton just before dark and slept outside an old shed where we could take shelter if it rained. We’d catch the train in the morning.
ate that night, I jerked awake to find Dave standing beside my down-covered head. “Hey!” he hissed. “I’m going for Jupiter … It’s 3:37. I’ve got plenty of time.”
Our train would arrive at 11:32 in the morning. Jupiter Mountain was eight miles and more than a vertical mile above us—331 R Points, according to Roach. That’s some serious Efferculty, I thought as I rolled over in my bag. But you don’t get to P-365 by wasting a day. •
Dougald MacDonald lives in Louisville and publishes ColoradoMountainJournal.com.
Ed’s Note: At year-end, Dave had sucessfully averaged more than one peak a day, including 316 ascents of Mt. Sanitas. “It ended up at about 380,” he said. “I stopped counting every worthless little summit.”