Peak(s):  "V 3"  -  13,528 feet
Date Posted:  05/23/2022
Date Climbed:   05/14/2022
Author:  supranihilest
Additional Members:   hr011242
 A Better Way   

There's nothing nice that can be said about thirteener "V 3" near Ophir. Perhaps the nicest is that it's a pile, because that doesn't include such adjectives as heinous, awful, dangerous, etc. There's currently five other trip reports on the dot com for "V 3", all five detailing trips up the northwest ridge. Four of them were done in dry conditions. All five of them complain about the utter garbage rock, and the four done in dry conditions all make it sound like a horror show of typical high angle San Juan hardpan, dicey scrambling in the Class 3 to Class 4 range, and high consequences for mistakes. My friends Stav and Whiley also took the northwest ridge, and Stav wrote that it "had [him] shaking with fear".

Whiley on the northwest ridge's scree section. Photo: Stav B.
Bear crawling on Class 2 terrain. No thanks. Photo: Stav B.
It just keeps getting worse! Photo: Stav B.
Don't fall. Photo: Stav B.

Am I beating in the fact that the northwest ridge is not fun or safe? I didn't want to climb "V 3" in typical conditions because it sounds like it straight up sucks, and so I sought to climb it on snow to cover up the hardpan, and perhaps by a different route. I found just such a route that's 99% snow, with the final 1% being the 20-foot Class 2+ summit block. How's that for making the best of an otherwise miserable peak?

After much research consisting of Google Earth, high resolution satellite photos, and an alternate (dry) route from the Climbing Cooneys' (used for the approach, not the summit climb), I decided to give the eastern side of "V 3" a shot. My friend Heather also wanted to come, probably because I'd ranted about how allegedly crappy "V 3" was a few too many times and she wanted me to shut the hell up about it already. With the low snowpack this year, especially in the San Juan, we had to get our climb done with a small window of viability. Heat, sun, and continued dry conditions meant we had only a handful of weekends and if we couldn't get up the peak on this route I'd been scheming then we'd have to default to the northwest ridge, which neither of us were stoked about in the least. Slope angle was questionable given it was basically sustained 30-50 degrees for 1,700 or so vertical feet, at least according to Caltopo, but the whole peak is steep, not just our route.

The east couloir on Google Earth.
East couloir and northwest ridge on satellite.

We figured we'd give it a shot and if it turned out to not work, well, at least we tried. We gathered our sharp, stabby thingies for hands and feet, got up at 2am, and drove from Ridgway to Ophir, where we parked on the road to Ophir Pass, which was still gated. We hiked three tenths of a mile up the road and took a right towards the parking area for Swamp Canyon (FS 360.2C). This road is also gated, and permanently, though it continues far past the gate into Swamp Canyon, stopping at the end of the canyon. It crosses Howard Fork, which has a footbridge built across it.

Bridge spanning Howard Fork.

Once across the creek the road switchbacks a couple of times then runs in more or less a straight line to the end of the canyon. There were plenty of snowdrifts on the road, and we were surprised to find that they were frozen solid in the darkness. It was quite warm out and we were worried that we'd be postholing on the approach, the upper mountain would be a sloppy mess, or both. This bode well. Treeline came quickly in the canyon, which was full of smashed up trees and avalanche debris. We'd already gone past the turn-off for the basin serving the northwest ridge, and at the end of the low angle terrain (presumably about where the road ends, had it not been snowed over) we climbed up a steep, icy snow slope next to a waterfall. A couple hundred feet up this slope two massive, cubic blocks of rock came together and presented a single route into the middle basin. We stopped here to put on our crampons, and the low angle snow lead into a large, flat area below a number of snowy cliffs and ramps with numerous frozen waterfalls.

First snow gully into the middle basin.
Section blocking direct access to the upper basin. Route likely changes year to year based on conditions, but we went up far right before zig-zagging up the center.
Rugged point in the basin.
One of the frozen waterfalls, pretty soft and aerated ice.

Each of the waterfalls was running as we twisted and turned our way up the ledges. The snow was perfect, crunchy, frozen solid, and delightful to climb on. Only on one short, narrow constriction did we have a move or two on solid ice, which we could have avoided had we not been lazy about going around it. After topping out on the ledges we were faced with a second low angle snow gully which led into the upper basin.

Coming up the ledges with Swamp Canyon below. Photo: Heather R.
The second, easy snow gully. The Cooneys' route continues all the way to the notch, ours exits left.
South Lookout Peak looking mighty fine.

Timing was pretty much perfect - sunlight was just reaching the summit of "V 3" as we entered the upper basin.

Summit of "V 3" finally in view.

We still couldn't see the upper east couloir, but the entrance ramp into it was obvious. Since our snowshoes had been dead weight all day, and wouldn't be useful in the couloir, we dug a little hole and left them behind. If the couloir I wanted to climb turned out to be a fake at the very last second, we could still go up the Cooneys' route too.

Short ramp that leads into the still hidden couloir.
Plenty of debris, but this is the Cooneys' route, which then goes left up the north side of the peak out of view.

On both satellite and Google Earth it was difficult to tell what the couloir itself would be like. Steep, certainly, but how steep? How narrow? It looked like there would be at least one rock choke (the large rock about a third of the way down in the Google Earth screenshot), and given that it was east facing we couldn't be sure it wasn't at least partially melted either. The ramp was easy, and it wasn't until we were on top of the ramp and directly below the couloir that it finally revealed itself.

A few feet below the top of the ramp and we still can't see up this thing! Photo: Heather R.

We'd been wondering all day if it was going to go...

That is IN, baby!

We hooped and hollered at the fact that the entire couloir was full to the top. Even the choke seen during our research ended up being nothing! No difficulties on this one at all! How lucky were we that this line not only worked but was in absolutely perfect condition?

"We found dis, we keeps it." - Benguy and Hederguy. Photo: Heather R.

The snow in the couloir was suncupped but solid and made for perfect little steps to walk up. We didn't have to kick a single step of our own the whole way up. The couloir was the steepest part of the day, but shorter than we'd been expecting based on Google Earth - all told it was probably less than 400 feet up the couloir, mostly on Moderate Snow with a Steep Snow finish to a relatively low angle area just below the summit block. This is the final hardpan section in other reports, and once again was totally covered in snow. A single ice axe had been sufficient for the couloir.

Me heading up the couloir. Photo: Heather R.
From about the middle. The top out is steepest.
Looking down the couloir. The top of the ramp is visible, so all told this one's pretty short.

We were ecstatic that this route had actually worked. No sketchy trash rock to climb on, just yummy snow! We still had the summit block to go but knew it was easy. A few feet left of us was a small, slabby cleft in the block that led to the summit. About 15-20 feet of Class 2+ scrambling later and "V 3" was ours!

Summit block from the top of the couloir.
Short Class 2+ scramble to the top.
Ulysses S. Grant Peak.
San Miguel. "V 4" in left foreground, Fuller, Vermilion, and Pilot Knob middle through left.
Wilson massif, Little Cone on the right.
North through the Sneffels Range.
South Lookout Peak, with guest appearances by Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre in the upper left corner.

Given that it was sweltering on the summit we didn't stay long, just long enough to take some pictures and sign the register (which was a glass jar - please stop using glass summit registers!) We quickly scrambled back down to the snow and plunge stepped the couloir.

Beginning down the couloir. Photo: Heather R.
Fun stuff!
Heather making her way down.
Route back to the second snow gully.
Ramp descent. Photo: Heather R.

The snow was getting a little mushy on top, but nothing concerning. Our return to the snowshoe cache was quick, and we made good progress down the snow gully to the cliffy section, across the middle basin, and down the lower snow gully and waterfall back to the lower canyon.

Cliffy section with middle basin and lower canyon (in shadow). Photo: Heather R.
Some steeper bits, but overall just right.
Down the first snow gully. Photo: Heather R.
Back in Swamp Canyon. Just a short walk out from here!

When we reached Swamp Canyon we packed up our crampons. It was all low angle snow or road from here on out. We were worried about the sunny part of the road being posthole hell, but the snow held up nicely - not a single posthole. Our snowshoes had been pointless to carry! We met a group of skiers at treeline who looked a bit annoyed with conditions, which to be fair would have sucked for skiing. For climbing, however, they couldn't have been any better. We made our way back down to Heather's vehicle, then to my place for a nice afternoon nap. Both of us were stoked that we'd found such a good route and good conditions up a notoriously awful peak. Like any route on "V 3" ours would undoubtedly be horrible dry, but we'll take great snow over terrible rock any day. Let's be honest, we'll take great snow over everything! Snow rules!

South Lookout Peak from the road. The nice, fat couloir right of the summit is Magnum.


Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself), Heather R.
Trailhead: Ophir Pass Road

Total distance: 6.7 miles
Total elevation gain: 3,535 feet
Total time: 5:30:55
Peaks: One ranked thirteener

  • "V 3", 13,528'


Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Ophir Pass Road "V 3" 3:16:33 3:16:33 8:24
"V 3" Ophir Pass Road 2:05:58 5:30:55 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

Comments or Questions
05/23/2022 16:37
You always do such cool stuff and write them up so well. Great pics as always!

Cool stuff
05/23/2022 16:59
Thanks, Jay! The San Juan with snow are about as cool as it gets!

Excellent report
05/23/2022 20:46
This is sure to save people a lot of grief and unnecessary adrenaline. V3 has always looked miserable and this makes it look far more appealing. Seems that snow is just the way to go on a lot of the peaks in the area.

Good Beta
05/23/2022 21:25
Good stuff Ben, glad you got this one done in the non sucky way. I took those cliff ledges down and it was interesting to piece them all together from the top. The Don't Fall and the pic before that gave me nightmares and flashback. Suckiest of the suck. And now common, where else will I get to use all of my empty pasta sauce bottles if not summit registers , although WW had put this one if I remember correctly.

A different way for sure
05/23/2022 21:45
Soren and Yusuf, I really wanted to provide an alternate method (not just route, but a snow climb, too) up this peak because I'd heard so much negative stuff about it. Hopefully future "V 3" climbers read this and take advantage of it. I'm a strong believer that snow climbing should be one of the first things a Colorado peakbagger should learn, at least if going for the higher peaks. It's extremely efficient and tons of fun, plus if done on some peaks like this it reduces danger (avalanches notwithstanding). There's plenty of peaks, especially in the San Juan and Elk, that benefit from a good coat of snow.

As for the register, yeah, I wasn't going to say it but it was WildWanderer. I appreciate that she places new registers but glass is not an appropriate register material. It's too prone to shattering and leaving sharp shards of glass all over the place. Prolific 'bagger Mike Garratt also does glass registers, which annoys me to no end. I get that glass jars are easy to come by in large quantities but anyone who spends that much time in the backcountry should know that glass is a no-no.

Guilty myself
05/23/2022 21:48
Yeah, I am guilty myself of putting the glass registers all over the San Juans. Although I have been becoming more aware of the fact to put a different material jar when I have it available these days, the glass ones simply don't last and create more mess when they eventually break which is not that hard when exposed to the elements, rock stacking, wind. But yeah, a lot of the old ones I have found by the finishers have been glass, PVC is the absolute worst one for maintaining the integrity of the register IMO, there's only a couple of PVC ones I remember in the San Juans that still had non shredded registers.

No good material
05/23/2022 22:08
Yusuf! I haven't seen any of yours, for shame! Just kidding. Agreed, PVC also sucks. The number of PVC tubes I've found with the caps basically welded on is very high and they don't seem to be very weatherproof. The number with broken caps is similarly high, surely because of people beating them on rocks to loosen the cap (which, I suppose, is a vote for glass - nobody in their right mind is going to beat a glass jar against a rock to loosen the cap). I'm not sure what material could be used that's both cheap and durable, since other stuff has issues too - the Roaches like Kraft parmesan bottles which lack durability, ammo boxes are huge and heavy, metal tubes are expensive, heavy, and prone to rusting shut, typical plastic bottles also lack durability and the openings are too narrow, etc. And then you have the folks who just write their names on a rock like you see all over Grays and Torreys... TL;DR I hope someone comes up with a brilliant idea for safe and durable registers, it's clearly needed!

Boggy B
Team glass
05/23/2022 22:10
The oldest registers I find are glass. Marmots love to nom on plastic. And PVC is the worst. Material notwithstanding, registers on 14ers and other popular summits just generate trash as people try to stuff them with more and more paper, plastic bags, and other garbage.

Anyway, good route. Worth nothing the NW ridge is an easy winter grab with snow cover on the choss and minimal avalanche exposure.

Northwest ridge in winter
05/23/2022 22:18
I saw your January ascent on LoJ and was wondering what route you'd taken. I figured it was the northwest ridge, this one would be an avalanche nightmare with usual winter snow. Not many who'd look at this peak and think it'd make for a good winter ascent, props for making a ballsy climb of this one!

I think the oldest register I've seen so far was metal, on a peak in the Sneffels Range. Those who've been up the peak in question will know what I'm talking about. I couldn't believe that a metal tube that old could still be opened.

Boggy B
05/23/2022 22:35
That one was under snow, so unfortunately we didn't see it, but I know of a bunch of glass ones from the 50's and 60's. There's one with signatures from the 30's but I doubt it's the original jar.

On V3 if you take the ridge starting with Pt 12010 there's not much avy terrain to contend with, and you can sneak through the steep bits on mostly NW- and W-facing slopes that are scoured, shallow, or consolidated regardless of avy conditions.

Happy to hear
05/23/2022 23:22
that you had fun climbing V3. I recall muttering a few unprintable comments on my route up V3 and thinking how much better it would be as a snow climb.

BTW, I didn't find a summit register but did see a glass jar's worth of broken glass on the summit. I'm not a fan of glass jars.

peak registers
05/23/2022 23:24
The oldest register we have ever found was on Kismet.
We hiked it on August 17, 1987 and found a register in an iron pipe that had been placed in 1934.
The register was in good shape for being quite old.

Supran IS the beta
05/24/2022 08:13
nice work as always man, I may have to keep this route in mind for next spring. Keep kicking ass & taking names!

At least
05/24/2022 13:35
You had a bridge. Phew!

Ive got a bridge to sell ya
05/24/2022 14:11
@Michael: I'll have to find some of these older registers, they're fascinating.

@Eddie: I almost named this report Best. Snow. Ever. after yours, trying to be cheeky, but common punctuation is no longer allowed in TR titles. WW's register came a few years after yours, fortunately all the broken glass from your climb had been cleaned up when we were up there.

@Fishyninetyniner: I wonder if it's still there! I have yet to do "Kismet" but it's on my list, perhaps as a snow climb. Sounds like the Sneffels Range is rife with old registers.

@Snowboardmo: Thanks! It's an awesome route, honestly, and if you can get it in good condition it's worth hauling skis/board up. It was way too suncupped when we did it, Heather was happy she didn't carry her split for it.

@Amy: Good lord you have no idea how terrifying that bridge was. Most harrowing part of the climb! It was probably 15 feet wide and 6 inches deep, I was absolutely gripped outta my mind

05/25/2022 16:53
I have placed a couple tin-can registers in the past couple years. Like coffee or oatmeal containers (both metal and plastic press fit lid variety). I would think they are relatively durable and water tight, but I have not been back to check on any of them to test that theory

NW ridge is not that bad
05/31/2022 11:37
Apparently, I have a higher tolerance/appetite for choss and scree than most. I did the NW ridge with the dog and recall it being a reasonably pleasant outing. My main memory of that outing is encountering next to the trail in Swamp Canyon a tree that was smoldering (lightning strike?); as soon as I got a cell phone signal I reported the incipient forest fire to 911, resulting in a fire crew being dispatched to douse the embers. I had a similar encounter with a smoldering tree on peak 7831 on the Serviceberry Mountain quad in Archuleta county.

I wanted to add my two cents on the subject of registers. I agree suprahilest's basic contention that Colorado registers are lacking except in one regard: I find the Garrat registers are adequate, the only style of register found in Colorado that stands the test of time as far as durability and usability. I've summited hundreds of peaks in Colorado and Utah that had Garrat glass jar registers on the summit, some dating back to at least the 90s. Unlike every other style of register commonly found in Colorado, the vast majority of Garrat registers are still usable; the ones that aren't usable generally can't be opened though the contents seem to be in good shape. (Bob Burd has told me that the problem with the lids would be substantially alleviated if there were painted with Rustoleum.)

My gradings of the types of registers commonly found on Colorado peaks:

CMC PVC tubes: F
Contents are usually waterlogged. Cap is often hard to remove.

Garrat glass jars: C
If the lids were coated with Rustoleum, this would probably get a higher grade. On obscure peaks, these have a very low breakage rate.

Roach plastic food containers: D-.
I encountered many of these where the lid has separated from the containers and the contents are strewn about the summit. The register itself is usually a big wad of loose papers which are difficult to work with in windy conditions and result in a much bigger mess/cleanup when the lid is no longer on the container. These registers usually contain pens which don't stand the test of time as well as pencils.

Linfield (RIP) glass jars: C-.
Roger used larger jars than Garrat which seemed to lead to a higher breakage rate. Also, he used narrow mouth bottles which makes extracting the register scroll difficult. He also wrapped his bottles in duct tape in an attempt to mitigate the consequences of breakage; the tape peels off pretty quickly and becomes another form of litter.


My previous submission was truncated
05/31/2022 17:02
I don't want to recompose everything that was lost but will summarize some points.

Baby food jars are not effective summit register containers.

Lightweight plastic food containers do not work as summit registers.

Registers in California tend to work much better than those in Colorado. Major CA peaks usually have much more elaborate containers than CO peaks. On lesser, more obscure CA peaks, the register often consists of two nested, tin cans coated in Rustoleum, a system that is surprisingly effective. I haven't seen this system deployed in CO but wonder whether it would work.

It doesn't seem worth it to put registers on peaks that get more than around 20 ascents a year.

05/31/2022 17:11
hdpe (high density polyethylene) had readily available threaded caps, those pipes would last forever and the contents secure so long as the cap was threaded correctly. hdpe is far superior to pvc, and they won't break or crack.

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