Peak(s):  West Elk Pk - 13,035 feet
Point 12,809
Date Posted:  04/12/2021
Date Climbed:   09/18/2020
Author:  supranihilest
Additional Members:   whileyh, Vadim34
 Livin' the Va-Dream with Vadim: His 584th and Final Thirteener   

Vadim and I met on a climb this spring thanks to our friend Whiley, who coordinated the whole shebang. Vadim and I had kept in touch and I'd kept track of his progress as he raced to the thirteener finish line, and naturally the question of which peak he wanted to climb as his finisher came up. Did he want to do an easier peak so that friends could join? An epic scramble to really finish with a big hurrah? Something closer to home or farther away? As his list narrowed the choice became more clear: West Elk Peak, a very isolated thirteener near Gunnison and between the main bulk of the Elk Mountains and the San Juan Range. It's a very long peak, at 20 miles round trip, but is also nice and easy and has some truly breathtaking scenery to top it off. It would make for a casual yet gratifying finisher. Vadim coordinated with Whiley and I and we met the morning of our climb at the Mill Castle Trailhead north of Gunnison, ready for Vadim's big day. Whiley and I had also purchased some treats that we would carry up and share with Vadim on the summit. It was a gorgeous day when we departed, and would be many hours before we saw another person out on the trail.

The trail begins as an old road and almost immediately the views are incredible. We were lucky enough to be out in very early leaf peeping season, but the trees changing was only part of the beauty. We knew there were some massive castle-like rock formations on West Elk's east ridge, but little did we know there were also castles in the valley that rose to great heights above the surrounding terrain. Unimaginable serpentine twists, knife-thin wedges, soaring pinnacles, and all manner of impossible shapes festooned both of the ridges that made up Mill Creek drainage.

20733_01
Sneaky peeky. Photo: Whiley H.
20733_02
Only a few minutes from trailhead to glory. Photo: Whiley H.
20733_03
A wall of towers.
20733_04
The other side of the valley.

It had only taken us a few minutes to reach such grandeur, and we'd be passing under it for several miles up the drainage.

20733_05
Set in stone. Photo: Whiley H.
20733_06
West Elk at its finest. Photo: Whiley H.
20733_07
More real than reality. Photo: Whiley H.
20733_08
Bountiful.

The first couple of miles on the trail are mostly flat and cross the creek a time or two. The trail is well maintained which made for quick progress. A set of switchbacks led up past a short rock wall and to a small, rocky plateau. Despite looking brittle and crumbly the rock was surprisingly solid, especially for volcanic rock, which it clearly was. Pulling on stones that looked loose proved fruitless, not even a jiggle. The larger, more cohesive conglomerate was much harder than it looked and would likely have made for good climbing, though protection would be sparse to totally unavailable.

20733_09
Greens and reds.
20733_10
Communing with nature. Photo: Whiley H.
20733_11
The Hunchback. Photo: Whiley H.
20733_12
Towers with towering towers.

Eventually the trail ran into a small gorge with water flowing out of it. Here it turned sharply and rose above Mill Creek in a series of switchbacks. In spots the trail was steep and loose, but only very briefly.

20733_13
Where the trail jumps back on itself.
20733_14
Looking up Mill Creek.

Several hundred feet of switchbacking later and the trail again made a straight shot to the west, now far above the creek.

20733_15
Reaching the upper bowl. Photo: Whiley H.
20733_16
Gentler terrain just east of the peak.

As we hiked Vadim regaled us with tales of his journey. Peaks and people we were both familiar with and had little or no knowledge of. We laughed and carried on and shared our own stories, glad to be in a beautiful place among friends.

20733_17
Reaching the upper part of the hike. Photo: Whiley H.
20733_19
"So there I was, hanging from this paper-thin flake of rock with just a single fingernail above the abyss..." Photo: Whiley H.
20733_18
The vast upper reaches of Mill Creek drainage.

After a break at treeline we continued up the trail until it began to switchback up and over Storm Pass, gaining only gradually.

20733_20
Storm Pass is broad and easy. Lower switchbacks are visible on the left. Photo: Whiley H.

On top of the pass the Castles on the east ridge spiked up.

20733_21
"West Castle" and "East Castle".
20733_22
To the heavens.

From Storm Pass it was just a short ridge walk to the rounded summit of West Elk Peak. We encountered one short snowfield crossing but otherwise the last bit to the summit was easy.

20733_23
West Elk Peak.
20733_24
No Castles on this gentle summit.
20733_25
The snow field just before the summit.

Vadim was given the honor of summiting first. This was his day, after all.

20733_26
583.999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999. Photo: Whiley H.
20733_27
584!

We lounged on the summit, which was cool and slightly breezy, and celebrated by eating cheesecake and drinking beer.

20733_28
584 peaks / 4 flavors = 146 peaks per flavor.
20733_29
Any day with a summit beer is a good day. Photo: Whiley H.
20733_30
Happy crew on West Elk.

After about half an hour on West Elk's summit we got up and began moving towards our next objective, Point 12,809, which is mid-way across West Elk's long north ridge. Vadim is also working on the highest 1,000 peaks in both Colorado and the Continental United States, and though 12,809 falls just short of the cutoff for CONUS 1,000 it is Colorado's 776th highest summit, and the easiest and shortest way to it is from West Elk's summit. It's approximately two miles of gorgeous hiking to 12,809's lump of a summit.

20733_31
Point 12,809 way over on the right.

Along the way to the ridge's elbow it narrowed and became rocky. As we began hiking north more astounding rock formations appeared. We were tired by this point and mostly hiked in a slow quiet.

20733_32

20733_33

20733_34

20733_35

20733_36
Photo: Whiley H.

20733_37

20733_38

20733_39
Photo: Whiley H.
20733_40
Photo: Whiley H.
20733_41
Photo: Whiley H.
20733_42
Photo: Whiley H.

20733_43

20733_44
Photo: Whiley H.

20733_45

Eventually we reached 12,809's summit, and the halfway point in our journey for the day.

20733_46
Endless weird rocks.
20733_47
Almost all the way to the summit.
20733_48
Heck of a viewpoint. Photo: Whiley H.
20733_49
The Castles from 12,809.

The summit register went back nearly twelve years and had some of Colorado's most well known peakbaggers listed. We added our own names to the list, happy to be in good company.

20733_51
From August, 2008. There were a surprising number of entries on this remote summit.

Since it was past 3pm now and we still had 12ish miles back to the trailhead, we began our long return haul.

20733_50
Our long way back to West Elk. Photo: Whiley H.
20733_52
All Hail Ye Mighty Lump, West Elk Peak. Photo: Whiley H
20733_53
Photo: Whiley H.
20733_54
Storm Pass.
20733_55
Mill Creek's upper basin.

While descending the switchbacks from Storm Pass we passed a hunter. Vadim asked him if he was out hunting West Elk or East Elk. He legitimately didn't know. Spoiler alert: there is no such thing as East Elk and that guy didn't even know the mountain he was on. The look on his face of blank confusion was hilarious. Thanks for the laughs, Vadim.

The remaining hike out was long but uneventful. Mill Creek Basin was no less spectacular on the way down than it was in the morning.

20733_56
Photo: Whiley H.
20733_57
Photo: Whiley H.
20733_58
Photo: Whiley H.

Big day though this was it was truly an honor to be able to hike with Vadim on such a special occasion. Thank you, Vadim, for inviting Whiley and I, and congratulations on an incredible achievement. West Elk was a perfectly chosen finisher, and one that will remain in my memory forever.


Statistics

Climbers: Vadim B., Ben Feinstein (myself), Whiley H.
Trailhead: Mill Castle
Total distance: 23.15 miles
Total elevation gain: 7,064 feet
Total time: 11:02:32
Peaks: One ranked thirteener, one ranked twelver

  • West Elk Peak, 13,035'
  • Point 12,809

Splits:

Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Mill Castle Trailhead West Elk Peak 4:47:05 4:47:05 49:31
West Elk Peak Point 12,809 1:04:02 6:40:38 4:15
Point 12,809 West Elk Peak 1:21:53 8:06:46 0:00
West Elk Peak Mill Castle Trailhead 2:55:46 11:02:32 Trip End

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58


Comments or Questions
9patrickmurphy
User
The man
04/12/2021 16:13
Glad to have met Vadim at least once, what a fine guy to spend a morning hiking with.

I need to meet up with you sometime, Ben. I wanna see the rest of those tats.


Ritzn1
User
Congrats!
04/12/2021 16:29
What an accomplishment! Great Job! Beautiful pics!


MaxmimumMills4
Congrats!!!
04/12/2021 17:00
Whenever I see one of these posted I feel 2 things-

1. Shame that I still haven‘t finished the 14ners
2. Immense awe that someone powered through so many 13ners.

Congrats and incredible job! Hope to meet all of you legends on a peak somewhere


supranihilest
User
Beep boob
04/12/2021 17:45
@Patrick: Vadim's a swell guy for sure, and I feel very fortunate to have met him and climbed with him! As for my tats, I'm so inked I'd have to strip down to my underwear to show them all off. I sure pick easy, pain-free hobbies!

@Ritzn1: Thanks, and Vadim says thanks too!

@MM4: There's no shame in not having finished an arbitrary list, every peak is great in its own right! We'll be out there, hope to see you too.


Bombay2Boulder
User
Pretty
04/12/2021 19:47
Very pretty area and awesome finisher and feat. The pics here remind me of the Cimarrons.


Trotter
User
pretty area
04/13/2021 07:38
I'm gonna need to find a less then 7000 foot gain way to get it though hah


Vadim34
User
Beautiful
04/13/2021 08:29
Awesome write up with some great pictures! Thanks for posting and it was so cool to do it with the good friends!


nyker
User
Congrats Vadim!
04/13/2021 10:41
Wow, that's great. Good effort. You join a small club in completing all of those


Sbenfield
User
Those Towers
04/14/2021 11:07
Sure do look epic!


Tornadoman
User
Congrats!
04/14/2021 16:06
Awesome job, Vadim! And nice job documenting the day Ben! West Elk has been on my list for a while, hoping to try it when the aspens are at peak.


PaulVee
User
Wow!!
04/14/2021 20:17
Really cool terrain back in there!! Thanks for posting!!


supranihilest
User
These rocks rock
04/15/2021 07:58
@Yusuf: I don't know much about the various ages of the volcanic events in each respective area of Colorado, but both the West Elk and Cimarron are volcanic hence the similarities.

@Trotter: Get a mini-horse like Allie (13erRetriever) did! They're cute and they'll carry your gear around for you!

@Vadim: Glad to be there bud. Such a spectacular peak to finish on!

@nyker: He does indeed. Even with a time of six years, that's still just shy of 100 peaks per year, which is an absurd pace.

@Steve: I think the two "Castles" are listed on Lists of John, but I don't know if either has an ascent. You should go climb them!

@Andrew: Fiery aspen + West Elk Peak = One Good Time

@Paul: You're welcome, this one's amazing and worth the trip out there!


Mtnman200
User
Nice report & photos
04/16/2021 16:31
"So there I was, hanging from this paper-thin flake of rock with just a single fingernail above the abyss..." Ah, fond memories!

I'm glad I had a chance to meet Vadim a few years ago at Cielo Vista Ranch for some obscure 13ers. In my best year, I didn't hit 100 summits. For Vadim, that's a down year! Thanks for documenting his finisher so well.


supranihilest
User
Documentation
04/21/2021 21:22
Eddie, wish you could have joined us. We'll be ready to go for your finisher.



   Not registered?


Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. 14ers.com and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless 14ers.com and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the 14ers.com Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

Please respect private property: 14ers.com supports the rights of private landowners to determine how and by whom their land will be used. In Colorado, it is your responsibility to determine if land is private and to obtain the appropriate permission before entering the property.

© 2022 14ers.com®, 14ers Inc.