American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Colorado, Ascents in the San Juan Needles

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1962

Ascents in the San Juan Needles. On July 5 David Michael, John Marshall and I climbed what we named "Sunlight Spire,” the summit of which is an impressive obelisk, which, at 14,000 feet, is the culminating point of the group of pinnacles on the ridge between Sunlight and Windom peaks. We approached it on the west slope to about 120 feet below the top. The key to the climb is a large vertical crack on the north side. Its base was about 45 feet above us. The first pitch took us easily up 30 feet to some cracks just west of the main crack. With pitons for protection, I climbed to the base of the latter and placed in it a large chrome-moly angle piton (called "cowbell” from its sound). We climbed an easy, sloping crack along the north base of the obelisk to reach a ridge on its north side about 40 feet below the summit. To regain the main vertical crack, we placed two expansion bolts in the obelisk above us, and standing in stirrups from the second, David placed a solid cowbell in the main crack. By using four or five more cowbells, we reached the top, which showed no signs of previous occupancy save by birds.

Immediately above our camp near the beaver ponds in No Name Creek rose an impressive pinnacle at about 13,000 feet. It is on the northeast side of Animas Mountain on a ridge which rises from No Name Creek to a point midway between Animas and "Peak 13.” We called it "Ominous Pinnacle” and worked out a route nearly to the summit on a series of rainy days. The first effort was by John Marshall and me on July 4. We started up a large couloir and turned up a small couloir, which we followed with deviations on ledges and a chimney to a ridge south of the pinnacle. About 100 feet below the summit, our approach to the pinnacle was blocked by a large and steep fin on the ridge, whose defenses we probed before retreating in the rain. The skies looked ominous when Graham Matthews and I returned on July 7. We soon confronted the sloping ledges of the fin’s east face. From a good belay spot atop a large boulder we could see that the problem was to traverse 60 difficult feet to Ominous Pinnacle proper, whence a series of cracks led toward the top. On delicate holds I reached the pinnacle and continued 50 feet up cracks to a fine belay spot. In the rain, Graham crossed the ledges to join me, leaving a climbing rope through pitons which I had placed for protection for a fixed rope on the return. As the rain stopped Graham led up the cracks to a large ledge 60 feet below the top. I found a crack with a small overhang at its bottom, which led left to the south ridge and poking my head over the ridge, I saw an inspiring line of thunderstorms just west of the Animas River moving towards us. I followed the steep, exposed and exceedingly rotten ridge upwards; handfuls of it could be torn off and flung into the abyss. Shortly below the summit I was delighted to find a huge block of sound rock, a fine belay and rappel point. I belayed Graham up to this point, which we defined as our summit and used the rappel point to descend, though still eight feet lower and twenty feet away from the summit.

George I. Bell

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