Pine Needle Mountaineering’s very own, Drew Gunn is running his 7th Hardrock 100 this year (July 20-22, 2018). We are thrilled to have sat down with Drew prior to the race. He offered his very inspirational perspective and how he got to his seventh Hardrock.
The Watch Crystal
A Brief History of rock climbing on Durango's classic cliff.
by Timmy Kuss
DISCLAIMER: As recent poly-socio events clearly demonstrate, it is important that history be remembered and documented accurately. One man’s fun is another man’s horror show. This author has relied on anecdotes from aging climbers who likely didn’t see their accomplishments as notable or different from whatever they did the next day. This author’s memory for names, dates and events has proven unreliable, generally. Events represented here should be considered lore- that is- part history, part legend.
Select Routes from left to right:
Evolution, 5.11b, 90'. FA: Tim Kuss, Dan Foster, 1992.
Crime & Punishment, 5.11a, 150'. FA: Tim Kuss, John Duran, 1984.
Durangutan, 5.10c, 190'. FA: Ken Trout, 1980.
Jailhouse Monkeys (On Dope), 5.12a, 165'. Tim Kuss, Peter Day, 1992.
Apes of Wrath, 5.10, 100'. FA: Jim Kossin, Mark Katz, 1993.
Watch Crystal Crack, 5.10d, 190'. FA: John Byrd, et al. Early 1970's.
Simians to the Sun, 5.9+, 120'. FA: Bruce Lella, 1981.
Primate Highway, 5.11a, 65'. FA: Bruce Lella, 1987.
The Kong Route, 5.11c, 140'. FA: Tim Kuss, 1993.
The Black Arete, 5.8r/x, 40'. FA: David Kozak, 1985.
Chronology of Events:
Watch Crystal Crack: First climbed via aid in 1974. Not long after, Steve Wunsch, one of the top climbers in the country at the time, was in town repping a line at Pine Needle Mountaineering. Peter Jamieson lead Wunsch to believe the route had already been completed without the use of aid. After reportedly “hiking” the crux pitch (5.10+) with ease, Wunsch repeatedly queried Jamieson, suspicious of the scary upper pitch (5.8), which was relatively easy and had been free-climbed many times over.
Durangutan: Bolted mostly on rappel in 1980 by Ken Trout. John Duran and Tim Kuss added a bolt to the direct finish in 1983. At first a heady endeavor, the route has been through several rounds of retro-bolting by the first ascent party and others.
Simians to the Sun: The moderate classic route on the Watch Crystal. Bolted on lead in 1981 by Bruce Lella.
Crime and Punishment: Originally bolted on rappel by Tim Kuss and John Duran in 1984 with five split-shank, 1/4” x 1-1/2” bolts branching off pitch 1 of Durangutan. It was a terrifying route to lead. Three more bolts were added to the start soon after. The climb has since been modernized with more and better hardware.
Primate Highway: In the mid-late 1980’s Bruce Lella returned to Durango after moving to Mammoth, CA and added this stout first pitch to the wall.
The Black Arete: In the mid ‘80’s Dave Kozak was a poor college student and a bold climber. From the ground-up, Kozak established the route on-sight, with no bolts! 30 years later, the overall attitude regarding the use of drilled hardware to protect climbs has become liberal. Being virtually unprotected, Kozak (now a professor at the college) liked the idea of seeing his route get bolts so that more climbers could enjoy it. He encouraged a well-intended student to finish the job. As the lad started drilling, horrified voices from below shouted him down. Many climbers who have done the route in its original state were very proud of the boldness required to lead it, and they weren’t going to let their experience become devalued by the addition bolts.
Apes of Wrath: Bolted on rappel in the early 1990’s by Jim Kossin and Mark Katz with a power drill. Kossin recalls, “Mark and I hiked back to the car and found a note on the windshield. Some guy had already threatened to chop the newly installed bolts from the route! We were really pissed off about this anonymous note and that’s where the name Apes of Wrath came from.”
Jailhouse Monkeys (On Dope): Bolted on lead by Tim Kuss and Peter Day after getting arrested in Utah on their way to Yosemite in the early 90’s. The route intersects the original finish to Durangutan at the shared last bolt. (full story at durangorockclimbing.com)
The Kong Route: Bolted on rappel in the early 90’s by Tim Kuss. The route intersects The Black Arete for a short distance where the bolts refrain, in deference to the previously established route.
Evolution: Bolted on lead by Dan Foster and Tim Kuss in the early 1990’s. Later re-bolted to be conveniently climbed from the ground.
In the mid 1970’s, there were just a handful of climbers in Durango; those who climbed at X- Rock and sometimes at the almost forgotten cliffs at Lightner Creek. No one seems to remember who the first climbers were to explore the comparatively grand crags of East Animas. More than likely, it was exactly those who can’t remember, climbers like Peter Jamieson, then a student at Fort Lewis, who recalls “The interesting thing about East A [Animas] in the ‘70s was that nobody really knew what had been done or when. At least a couple of times we thought we were doing a first ascent only to find a rusty piton half way up. Did they rappel off? Did they complete the route and leave the pin? Who were “they”?”
Such is the history, where Durango climbers complied with an ethos of climbing in the moment, without thought for posterity. They climbed well without sticky rubber or cams; humility and understatement were common. There was no internet, Mountain Project or other digital venues for which to spray about the radness of your most recent ascent. It was the climbing shops where folks shared information, found partners, and partook in all manner of climbing geekery.
In the early 1970’s, John Byrd ran the Fall Line shop, which was on College Drive near 8th Avenue. Bringing experience from the California scene, Byrd, with partners Tom Norton, John Ritchey and the late Rob Blair (all profs at Fort Lewis) were surely among the first climbers to visit East Animas, completing early aid ascents of the now classic Watch Crystal Crack.
During that period, Mel Matis opened Pine Needle Mountaineering and hired Peter Jamieson, who with partners like Bub Smith, Mike Borga and Mark Dalen, plucked several classic first ascents at East Animas, including the fabled sandbagging of Steve Wunsch for the first ascent of The Watch Crystal Crack without the use of aid.
Later in the ‘70’s, Bruce Lella was working at Gardenswartz and Ken Trout was a student at the college. With these two ultra-talented climbers, Durango climbing standards jumped at least a notch, if not five. With Trout’s addition of Durangutan in 1980 and Lella’s Simians to the Sun in 1981, the Watch Crystal face was validated as classic territory.
The establishment of these routes also introduced the first climbs in Durango to be protected entirely by drilled hardware. Durangutan and Simians to the Sun could be viewed as early forays by visionary climbers into what later became the sub-genre of “sport climbing” and, of course, the associated never ending “to bolt or not to bolt” debate.
If local climbing standards were elevated with the addition of Durangatan and Simians, they were soon blown away by John Duran’s stunning un-roped solo ascents of both routes on the same day in 1983. The Ignacio native represented local climbing by matching or elevating standards without fanfare wherever he climbed.
The decade from the early 1980’s to early ‘90’s saw steady and sometimes controversial route development on the Watch Crystal face. From the well-protected classic, Apes of Wrath, power drilled on rappel by Jim Kossin and Mark Katz, to the notorious Black Arete, climbed on-sight by David Kozak with no bolts, the Watch Crystal face not only mirrors the do’s and don’ts of the climbing world, but represents Durango’s world class.
More of Tim's stories and beta can be found at:
The high country is officially accessible on foot! Stop by & check out our peak- bagging essentials at Pine Needle Mountaineering. We've got a great selection of apparel, backpacks, maps, water-filtration, trekking poles, headlamps, and lightweight climbing gear. Pictured below are a few of our favorite items.
Vestal Peak, 13,864'
This beautiful peak is located in the heart of the San Juan Mountain's Grenadier Range.
A lofty mass of billion-year-old quartzite, Vestal is a classic example of the heavily glaciated terrain that defines this area of the Weminuche Wilderness.
Vestal Peak's signature feature is known as the Wham Ridge, a dramatic sweep of polished stone comprising the entire NE face of the mountain. Clearly labeled on most maps, Wham Ridge is a gorgeous climb and a perfect objective for those looking to hone in basic alpine rock climbing skills.
Getting to there:
From Molas Pass Trailhead (665), descend to the Animas River, and locate Elk Creek Trail (503) a few hundred yards south of the bridge. 3.5 miles
Follow Elk Creek Trail (503) for 3.5 miles to a few large beaver ponds just upstream of the Vestal Creek drainage. Keep an eye out for moose!
At the eastern end of the main pond, locate a well-worn trail heading south through the woods and down into Elk Creek.
Find a good place to cross the creek, and follow the established trail up Vestal Creek for a steep 2 miles until reaching the large meadow/marsh area directly below Vestal and Arrow Peak.
Locate a nice cascading stream above the south side of the meadow. A faint trail can be found on climber's right of the stream that eventually gains a high bench at the base of Vestal and Arrow peaks.
The most straight-forward route up Wham Ridge can be found on the climber's right side of the face, near the ridge proper. Expect to encounter difficulties up to 5.4, but there are many options to choose your own adventure throughout the face.
To descend, drop directly off of the summit onto the south face. Carefully scramble down loose 3rd-4th class gullies and ledges, aiming for the saddle in between Vestal and Arrow. From the saddle, descend steep scree and onto the moraines that lead back to Vestal Basin. Don't forget to jump in the lake!
Click on the profile below to view map details:
The Bears Ears
Along Highway 95, west of Blanding, Utah, I pull my teal '92 Ford Explorer with Kansas plates onto a rocky side road and head north. Going nowhere in particular, I look for a nice spot to cook dinner and pass out. The road I'm following leads me upwards, and a pair of solitary buttes is perfectly framed by my badly cracked windshield. A whole new zone to explore. Bumping my way up towards these obvious forested landmarks, I'm still processing having just hiked and swam my through the incredible sandstone narrows of the Black Hole- totally consumed by what else might be hiding in this labyrinth of canyons. As a 19-year-old newcomer to the Four Corners region, I was in awe of a landscape I never even knew existed until months before.
Back in my dorm room, I poured over a map of the area. The forested buttes were clearly labeled, "Bears Ears." Over 15 years have passed since then. I pride myself in having spent countless days exploring canyons and ruins, climbing perfect cracks, taking friends to my favorite spots, that I know it, just a little bit. I've always referred to this area as the "the closest awesome desert to Durango". Now, it's known as Bears Ears National Monument. Federally Protected, Bears Ears encompasses 1.9 million acres of incomparable high desert terrain . Along with our current administration, comes a proposal to drastically reduce the Monument in size, exposing sensitive areas to natural resource extraction, among various other damaging activities.
May 26th is the end of the public comment period. If you love Bears Ears, National Monuments, and the Antiquities Act, please voice your opinion here:
An impressive display of pictographs near the San Juan River. This panel, as well as countless others in the area, represent a small fraction of the archeological resources protected in Bears Ears National Monument.
Some of the darkest night skies in the country can be observed from Bears Ears.
Free flowing water is found in many canyons within the Monument, supporting biologically diverse ecosystems that often thrive through the driest months of the year.
The landscape that defines Bears Ears is unique to the world.
Pine Needle Mountaineering
this winter has been awesome! Camaraderie among Pine Needle employees is but one of the many characteristics we take pride in.
Here are a few skiing highlights from this season:
Backcountry Maintenance and Repair Kit Under One Pound
By Steve Eginoire
The ability to fix and maintain your ski equipment in the backcountry will save you time, hassle, and personal anguish. At under one pound, the suggested list above will enable you to improvise in most repair situations and help get you off the mountain in one piece.
Depending on the length and commitment level of your ski tour, you may want to add or subtract from the items listed above.
1. Glide wax: A quick fix for a faster glide, and will help prevent snow from freezing to the base of your skis.
2. Plastic scaper: Scrape sticky snow & ice from the base and top-sheets of your skis.
3. Skin wax: Apply liberally to maintain your climbing skin's hydrophobic properties and prevent them from glopping up with snow.
4. Rubber ski straps: The longer the better. You can secure a rescue sled, a broken boot cuff, or splint an injured extremity. The options are endless.
5. Quick curing glue: If your binding strips off of your ski, a strong, fast-curing glue or epoxy will help to secure binding screws to the ski-- hopefully long enough for a successful retreat.
6. Bailing wire: Offers endless options for boot & binding repair.
7. Cloth tape: Another go-to repair/first aid item that is multi-functional.
8. 5mm cord: Cord is always useful and can supplement the use of ski straps, bailing wire or rigging scenarios.
9. Lighter: Mold pesky boot plastic or build a fire.
10. Zip-ties: Feather-weight and useful in almost any repair scenario.
11. Binding screws & bits: A few binding screws and bits to will allow you to adjust or re-mount a binding that has stripped off the ski.
12. Break-down screw driver: I prefer this driver over a "binding buddy". Binding screws are easier to access with a with a longer tool and will perform better if you really need some wrenching power.
13. Hose clamps: Use to secure a pole splint to a broken ski pole.
14. Multi-tool with pliers: Useful in almost all repair situations
15. Pole splint: When secured with hose clamps, an old section of ski pole cut lengthwise will splint a broken ski pole.
Quick reference guide to Swix glide wax.
Wax & iron your XC and skate skis like a pro. Check out this quick video to achieve a high-preformance glide.
WONDERING WHICH WAX TO USE? hERE IS PINE NEEDLE'S QUICK REFERENCE GUIDE TO SWIX GLIDE WAX. BASED ON CURRENT LOCAL SNOW CONDITIONS, WE RECOMMEND USING VIOLET WAX (CH7). IF YOU ARE SKIING AT LOWER ELEVATIONS ON A SUNNY DAY, YOU MIGHT EVEN CONSIDER WAXING UP WITH RED (CH8).
Fall is here- Campfires, wood-burning stoves, and cozy clothes are mandatory. We're stocked with our latest Fall arrivals, so whether you're picking apples or tying in at The Creek, stop on by and check us out- We'll have something warm to compliment your next outdoor experience.
Bivy Hooded Down Vest from Patagonia
Fjord Flannel From Patagonia
Mova Straight Pant from Kuhl
Osito Pullover from The North Face
Crossing Cord Pant from Prana
Better Sweater from Patagonia
Venga Pants from Patagonia
Downtown Flannel from Mountain Khakis
Brion Pants from Prana
Mid 250 Hoody from Smartwool
Fall is here- Layering up for action in funky shoulder season conditions can leave you over heated or chilled to the bone. ...And nothing is worse than sweat-soaked garments when the sun ain't shining.
Below are a few ideal Fall layers to consider when planning your next outdoor mission. We've got many more options and brands in stock as well, so stop by and have a look!
Nano Air Hoody from Patagonia
Vertex Pants from Rab
R1 Fleece Hoody from Patagonia
Ventus Jacket from Rab
Narin Vest from Ark'teryx
Oasis leggings from Icebreaker
Adze Hybrid Hoody from Patagonia
Motivation Leggings from The North Face
Fall season is here, and that means great conditions for desert rock climbing. At Pine Needle, you'll find everything from Black Diamond Ultralight cams to EuroTape. Stop on by for sales and supplement your rack before your next mission to The Creek!
NEW! Ultralight Camalots from Black Diamond.
On Sale! Camalot x4 from Black Diamond.
On sale! Metolius TCU.
Black Diamond Neutrino carabiner.
Mammut 8mm contact sling.
Celebrating 40 Years at Pine Needle
Pine Needle Mountaineering is celebrating 40 years serving southwest Colorado this month.
Since 1976, we've been outfitting our local community with the necessary essentials to explore this amazing region.
From first-generation backcountry ski touring bindings, to the first spring-loaded camming device that revolutionized rock climbing, Pine Needle has been there every step of the way.
And my, how the times have changed!
We've worked with brands like Black Diamond, Patagonia, The North Face, and Royal Robbins since they were budding companies founded by core enthusiasts. We've helped contribute to their success as leading vendors in the outdoor industry by selling their quality equipment to our passionate community here in Durango, Colorado.
And here we are 40 years later. The brands we love have matured into successful companies, gear is more lightweight than ever, and there's a ski for every type of snow condition. But one thing remains the same- our passion for the outdoors and love for our community.
Planning a backpacking trip to the Durango area this summer? You've chosen well! The San Juan Mountains are roughly the size of the Swiss Alps, including the spectacular 499,771 acre Weminuche Wilderness- Colorado's largest designated wilderness area.
There are countless multi-day tours to choose from in the Weminuche that range from very popular, to areas that see very little human traffic.
The tour detailed below is a true San Juan wilderness experience. Be ready for a few hours of backcountry driving to access the trailhead.
Rock Lake Loop, via Hunchback Pass
You'll have to find your way to Rio Grande Reservoir Road (FS 520), either by way of Silverton or Creede. From FS 520, locate FS 506, heading south into Bear Creek. Drive FS 506 passing the Beartown site (you may encounter a spot or two of 4WD here) eventually arriving at Kite Lake and the road's end. Walking distance from the car park is the Hunchback Pass trailhead.
From the Hunchback Pass TH, follow the Continental Divide Trail south (813) up and over Hunchback Pass, to Nebo Creek. Make sure to follow the CDT (813) east, up the Nebo Creek drainage.
Once you exit the Nebo Creek drainage, continue on the CDT (813) for approximately 7 miles to Twin Lakes. Upon reaching the lakes, the route departs from the CDT (813). Locate Rock Creek trail (655) bearing south towards a high pass. From the top of the pass descend into the Rock Creek drainage, following Rock Creek trial (655) for approximately 5.7 miles until intersecting with Vallecito trail (529) at the bottom of the valley.
Bear north on the Vallecito trail (529) for appx. 3.1 miles to where the trail intersects the CDT (655) at Nebo Creek, closing the loop. Continue north on the CDT (655) back over Hunchback Pass for 2.5 miles to the cars.
*NOTE* The trail from Hunchback Pass TH to Rock Lake is consistently above 11,500 feet. Take the threat of lighting into careful consideration.
This was the 11th year Village Aid Project (VAP) at Fort Lewis College had designed and implemented water and sanitation projects abroad. To those who have not heard of the organization; here is a quick synopsis of the program.
VAP at Fort Lewis College is a student-centered, humanitarian organization whose mission is to partner with needy communities in the developing world to find sustainable solutions to their critical engineering problems. In addition, we are training a new generation of students who understand the need for sustainable systems and who value the concept of responsible global citizenship. Currently, VAP has worked in 5 different countries and has implemented projects in 24 different communities throughout the world.
This last month VAP traveled to Nicaragua to implement a water project in a village right along the border of Honduras, and build 30 latrines in three villages we had worked in previously. Also, a group traveled to Myanmar to implement a water project in a village that also works closely with the Shanta Foundation of Durango. All trips went smoothly, but had their fare share of adventure along the way.
In Myanmar, the group arrived to a village with a dried up water source. Troubles began with trying to design a system in village that would integrate another more un-known source with the source that had gone dry weeks prior. The group succeeded, and the village of Nong Boat has a nice new water system to call their own. On the other side of the world, the other two Fort Lewis crews were solving their own problems.
In Nicaragua, the water system team worked on the border of Honduras along side locals and armed infantry in the village of La Ceiba. La Ceiba is located in an area with many large hills, which made the system more difficult, however the system was badly needed for this community. The crews dug trench, laid pipe, and hoped they would finish the project before the water well in the village went dry. In the end, the crew and villagers did finish the job, and even had time to play a friendly match of futbol with the neighboring village in Honduras.
About 5 miles away from La Ceiba, in a neighboring valley, was the other VAP group. This other group was separated into three communities that VAP had built water systems for prier. The group was implementing a new latrine design. In total, 30 latrines were built and 60 more are planned for next year. This project, along with building latrines, gave us insight on the previous water systems. It was found that sickness and diarrhea in the villages was dropping noticeably. Also it was apparent that having readily available water in these villages was greatly needed.
Thanks Pine Needle for helping us out this last project, with your generous donation we were also fortunate enough to have convenient water on tap!
Spring skiing in the San Juans isn't all show-boating on big lines in perfect snow. While it IS quite exhilarating when your tracks can clearly be seen from the highway and enjoyed by all, sometimes unflattering conditions like dirty snow, ice runnels, and football fields of frozen avalanche debris can be worth the effort. Throw in a remote mountain most skiers have never heard of, a low probability of reaching the summit, a train, a couple of packrafts, and just like that, you have a top-quality spring skiing adventure like never before.