LoJ: #320 (Pre-LiDAR #317) / 13,404' Peak Nine

Range › San Juan Range
Quadrangle › Storm King Peak
Summit Location › Peak Route Icon N 37° 40' 11.28", W 107° 33' 36.32" (Not Field Checked)
Neighboring Peaks › Peak Icon Storm King Peak Peak Icon Peak Seven

Peak Summary

Peak Nine is a minimum Class 4, difficult and exposed ascent in the heart of the Weminuche Wilderness. A wrong turn and you could easily find yourself on 5th class terrain so it's best to be safe and pack in some minimum climbing gear. There is no close vehicle access to Peak Nine. The closest such access is the Beartown/Kite Lake trailhead north of Hunchback Pass. 4WD with good clearance is required. Most climbers will take a multi-day backpack trip into this area because there are any number of worthy 13ers to climb. Pre-Lidar elevation was 13,402. If climbing Peak Nine, one should consider adding Peak Eight as well, which was added, per Lidar, in 2022 as a ranked 13er.

Peak Nine South Face Route Route

Class 4
backpacker icon + Peak Icon
Backpack + Medium Day
Climbed with Peak Eight
RT From Bear Creek/Hunchback Pass/Kite Lake: 14.7 mi / 6,200'
RT From Storm King Pass : 1.2 mi / 1,000'
From Storm King Pass: 0.60 mi / 800' (One-Way)
  • Trailhead
    • Bear Creek/Hunchback Pass/Kite Lake TH

      WARNING: This trail head approach REQUIRES 4WD with good ground clearance. The drive as described below from Silverton may take up to 2.5 hours.

      From the Town of Silverton, and where the main road splits at the NE end of town, drive 4.2 miles NE up along the Animas River on blue-signed County Road 2 to Howardsville. Turn right onto FR589 up Cunningham Gulch and stay right at the turn for the "Old Mine Tour" (4.4 miles) but do take the left fork toward Stony Pass (FR737) at 5.9miles. Once on the Stony Pass Road, expect 4W conditions. The road climbs steeply to the pass. Abundant wildflowers as you approach the pass may delay you. Once across the pass, the road becomes FR520 and eventually leads to Rio Grande Reservoir, but you will not drive that far. The road eventually descends down the valley to a low water crossing of Pole Creek. There are several primitive campsites on both sides of the Pole Creek crossing. Watch out for the steep embankment climb out on the east side if the road is wet from rains. You could easily slip off the edge. After the crossing, continue south for under a mile to another fork where you'll turn right (west). Another long, low water crossing is found here across the Rio Grande River. This crossing is usually more shallow than the Pole Creek, but the closer you are to runoff season, the more difficult these crossings will be.

      It is also possible to come into this area from either Creede or Lake City over Slumgullion and Spring Pass to Rio Grande Reservoir. From state highway 149 either about 20.5 miles from Creede or 32 miles from Lake City, turn west onto FS520 and drive all the way to the reservoir on the well-signed, graded dirt road. Passenger cars can make it all the way to the "Lost Trail Campground" at the far west end of the reservoir. Beyond that point, FR520 continues west and crosses some rugged sections before connecting with the other section of FR520 coming down from Stony Pass and the low-water crossing of the Rio Grande. We have never driven in all the way on this section and from those we know who have, they have complained about one particularly difficult stretch.

      From the Rio Grande crossing, continue up what is now, the Beartown Road for a slow 4 miles (mainly because of potholes) to the former location of Beartown. (There's really nothing left to see there, but just before the road crosses Bear Creek, beyond the old townsite, there is some good camping. The road goes all the way to Kite Lake at about 12,100 ft., but the Hunchback Pass trailhead is about 1/2 mile below the lake. There's a trail sign there and some very limited parking is available. Road Notes as of 2018: About half the distance toward Beartown, the road crosses an unnamed creek and at that spot, there are some difficult mud/potholes that have really been dug out. Longer bed vehicles may have some difficulty getting through. Take it slow. Closer to Beartown, the road passes through a fence line. At that point, the road conditions will begin to deteriorate and become more rocky as it begins to gain some elevation.

      As the road begins climbing more steeply toward Kite Lake and the Hunchback trailhead, after crossing Bear Creek, it becomes quite a bit more rocky in that stretch as well. For a long section, the road is deeply entrenched in the middle because of runoff and the trench tends to fill with loose rocks. If you have driven in here to do the Ute Ridge group of summits, camp in the vicinity of where the road crosses Bear Creek just past the old Beartown site. See coordinates below. From that creek crossing, it's not quite .3 mile to the trailhead for Ute Ridge, which is a jeep track that turns off to the left and drops down to cross another lesser fork of Bear Creek. Park somewhere along this track if heading for Ute Ridge. On the Caltopo map, this trail is called the "Bear Town Trail" and designated FR869. On trails Illustrated Map #140, it does not appear to have a designation. Coordinates for this road & trailhead are: N 37° 42' 54.53" W 107° 30' 35.00". You can find a good camp spot here as well. You can also find some additional camp spots within a few hundred yards of the Hunchback Pass trailhead. One of those spots goes off to the south to an old mining area.


      You can find some very limited camping spots in the immediate vicinity of the Hunchback trailhead. There's one particularly good spot back down the road a fairly short distance on the south side. There's also some good camping back toward the Beartown site. See coordinates provided.

      Campsite Locations

      Beartown Campsite › N 37° 43' 05.02", W 107° 30' 35.47"
    Approach Map Photos
    • From Bear Creek/Hunchback Pass/Kite Lake TH via Storm King Pass

      • Hunchback Pass to Nebo Creek  Moderate | RT: 5.5 mi / 1,900’

        This "approach" is part of a sequence of approaches that utilize the Vallecito Trail beginning near Kite Lake and above the "Beartown" site. The trailhead is located at: N37° 42' 44.57" W 107° 31' 04.97". Use the "Beartown/Kite Lake/Hunchback trailhead information for instructions on how to drive to the TH.

        The trailhead is actually within the Rio Grande National Forest. The TH number is #813 on both the San Juan and older Rio Grande National Forest maps and is a part of the "Continental Divide Trail" at this location and segment. Once the trail crosses Hunchback Pass, it crosses over into San Juan National Forest and becomes #529, continuing south all the way to Vallecito Reservoir. If using Trails Illustrated #140, they identify this as the Continental Divide Trail and use the #813. Walk south from the TH and follow the easy gradient through open terrain with some willows to Hunchback Pass. The trail first sweeps SE, then makes a gradual turn SW, then west to the open, tundra-covered pass with about 900 feet of gain over just under a mile. Coordinates for the pass are: N 37° 42' 16.62" W 107° 31' 12.37". Hunchback Mountain is west along the divide and can be easily climbed by those interested in bagging all the 13ers. You can drop your pack, stroll to the summit and return in under an hour.

        From Hunchback Pass, continue south heading straight down an unnamed fork of Vallecito Creek (or could perhaps be considered an unnamed fork of Nebo Creek.) The trail cuts trough plenty of willows in this section and stays on the west side of the drainage until a little before the trees. Because of the numerous willows, plan on getting pants & boots drenched if it has rained recently. Also, as a general point, the Vallecito Trail is utilized regularly by pack horse groups so you can expect to see and experience some of the typical trail damage done by horses. The trail then turns to the SE and comes to an intersection. A newer trail (#813) that does not show on the 1964 USGS map heads east up Nebo Creek, crosses the Continental Divide and goes to West Ute Lake. That is the continuation of the Continental Divide Trail. The Vallecito Trail continues south and west from this intersection. Near the trail intersection, there is a very large and good campsite on a prominent knoll above Nebo Creek on the NW side. The campsite makes a good base camp for 13ers off the CD trail including Mt. Nebo, UN13,110, UN13,230, and UN13,169, all of which can be done in a single day from the campsite. See "Camping info" for more details.


        The Nebo Campsite sits near the intersection of the Vallecito Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. This camp site is not to be confused with another located about a mile farther down the trail where Nebo Creek is actually crossed. The elevation is appx. 11,400 ft. Coordinates are below. These coordinates have been field checked. The campsite is right off the main trail. Because of the beetle kill damage to the old growth trees here, the original camp area has seen some ground vegetation moving back in. There is still one, good, main tent site with fire ring as of 2018, a smaller but usable tent site just off to the NW from the fire ring and 50 yards south, there is a potential camp site located on the grassy knoll. Water may be obtained from Nebo Creek which will lie east of and downhill from the campsite.

        Campsite Locations

        Nebo Campsite N 37° 41' 10.9", W 107° 31' 14.7"
        11,400 appx. elevation

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      • Nebo Creek to Trinity Creek  Moderate | RT: 2.5 mi / 1,000’

        This "approach" is part of a sequence of approaches that utilize the Vallecito Trail beginning near Kite Lake and above the "Beartown" site. The trailhead is located at: N37° 42' 44.57" W 107° 31' 04.97". Use the "Beartown/Kite Lake/Hunchback trailhead information for instructions on how to drive to the TH.

        From the Nebo Creek campsite and the trail junction of the Continental Divide Trail #813 and the Vallecito Trail #529, head south, then SW down the Vallecito Trail. The trail swings to the west through forest, staying above Nebo Creek and then makes an abrupt turn back to the north to cross the unnamed fork of Vallecito Creek that originates near Hunchback Pass. Watch carefully for this minor crossing. Then, the trail continues down and generally west to SW. Along this next stretch there is one small campsite we've noticed on the south side of the trail that has some slope and could accommodate one tent. This is what we would call a "do-in-a-pinch" type of site. Continue down trail to the WSW to a switchback that will drop you to Nebo Creek (which by this point has been joined by the aforementioned unnamed fork and now carries a lot more water). Just below this switchback, there is a not-too-noticeable trail that heads off to the SW which we believe to be an alternate route into Stormy Gulch. When you arrive at the crossing of Nebo Creek, we have usually found this crossing to be a little difficult and somewhat intimidating. The water is swift and nearby the stream heads over the beginning of a waterfall. Sometimes there are logs you can walk across and other times, there's little help. You may have to wade. You can also explore upstream where you may find a better crossing place with rocks that allow hopping over the stream. In our July, 2018 visit, the water was so low, crossing anywhere was easy. Before crossing, if you follow the stream up, there are some good campsites with as many as four possible tent sites. Beyond the last tent site there is a picturesque waterfall.

        After crossing Nebo Creek, continue downhill, through a series of switchbacks and at 1.25 miles from the Nebo campsite, you should come to an open meadow on the right (west) side of the trail and see a secondary trail heading over to a crossing of Vallecito Creek, below where Trinity Creek comes in. This meadow area is often used as a camp spot by various groups, though it tends to be a little lumpy. From this location climbers can reach The Guardian, Mt. Silex, Storm King, and Peaks Seven, Eight and Nine as day hikes/climbs by heading up Stormy Gulch. But if you're willing to lug your pack back uphill, read about other higher elevation campsites under the "approach" for those peaks. If hiking back up to the Nebo Creek camp or back over Hunchback Pass to the trailhead, this section from Trinity Creek back to Nebo Creek is the steepest part of the return hike gaining about 1,000 feet in elevation. It is also possible to hike all the way up Trinity Creek and cross the ridge that separates the Trinity Basin from the Vestal Basin and access the Vestal Creek summits.


        An easily identifiable trail turns west off the main Vallecito Trail and leads over to where you can cross Vallecito Creek, downstream from where Trinity Creek comes in. This trail leads across an open meadow that is frequently used as a camp location. See approximate coordinates below. The trail that leads west across the meadow can be rather faint. The best campsite will be a few yards north of that trail (see field checked coordinates), and there's another campsite in some younger trees 50 yards south of the trail.

        Campsite Locations

        Trinity Creek N 37° 40' 33.01", W 107° 31' 30.7"
        Elevation 10,560 ft.

        Open This Approach in a New Window
      • Trinity Ck to Storm King Pass  Difficult | RT: 5.5 mi / 2,300’

        The Trinity Creek Trail is generally an easy trail to follow up to treeline. From the campsite just west of the Vallecito Trail and below where Trinity Creek joins Vallecito, the place to wade across is obvious and the trail can be seen on the other side of the Vallecito. Fortunately the Vallecito is not as deep or swift here as it is further down where you cross for Sunlight Creek, nevertheless, it's a frigid wade across, especially in the early morning hours. By the end of a long day of hiking, you may find the wade rather refreshing.

        Once across Vallecito Creek, the trail heads up along Trinity Creek staying on the south side and mostly in conifer forest. This is not a maintained trail and does not show on ANY of five maps we have of this area including the USGS and Trails Illustrated. You can expect typical trail conditions for an unmaintained trail. At about 11,000 ft., the trail crosses to the north side of the creek and continues gaining elevation through open forest and grassy meadows. Above where the creek draining Silex Lake comes in, there are some usable campsite locations if you search around. It's also possible to continue on up to Trinity Lake and set up a base camp there, particularly if interested in climbing Peaks One, Two and Three from here.

        If heading on up to what we have called "Storm King Pass," you'll need to continue up the trinity trail to about 11,400 ft. elevation, then turn toward the south to begin an ascent into the basin that holds Lake Silex. On our last visit here in 2005, there was an intermittent trail that headed up into the basin that led up through the steep tundra slopes and ramps with rocky outcrops on the NW side of the drainage from Lake Silex. If you can't find this trail, there's still more than one way to get up here. Where the creek that drains Lake Silex comes out near Trinity Creek, there's the tongue of a rock glacier/talus field that you want to make sure you are west of in an open area that sits at the foot of a steep, mixed tundra & rock slope. If you have access to Google earth, there are three photographs that illustrate to some degree the route/trail up through here, or check out our approximation on the Google Earth view provided. If you manage to find the trail, it will first take you to a rocky bench area at about 11,860 ft. On this bench, you may be able to spot the trail passing through a gravel area if you've still not found it.

        The trail then continues up through mostly rubble and scree to a higher tundra/rock bench about 300 feet above the lake and WNW of it. From there, continue contouring around into the valley west of Lake Silex. (If climbing Mount Silex and/or The Guardian, you'll need to veer off here and contour south and east around and above the lake as best you can to access a steeply angled couloir that allows access to the SW ridge of Silex.) Walk west on up the valley to the pass between Storm King Peak and Peaks Eight and Nine. This is what we're calling "Storm King Pass." This last stretch up the valley will be on mostly broken rubble, scree, talus, etc. Before mid-July, you may get lucky and find enough snow patches you can string together to ease the hiking on the rubble. We've also seen some very friendly mountain goats in this area. Keep an eye on your equipment. They'll run off with anything salty. From the pass, you'll be positioned for Storm King, Peaks Eight and/or Nine or Seven. It's also possible to continue hiking WNW from the pass heading down toward a couple of small tarns that provide a good high camp location. See our map.


        Best camping locations are at about the 11,400 ft. level along Trinity Creek and near the base of the tundra/rock slopes that lead up into Silex Basin. There's also above tree line camping near Trinity Lake and a smaller lake below Trinity Lake. We've also seen Outward Bound groups camped about 300 feet above Lake Silex along the faint trail to Storm King Pass and then there's better camping opportunities west of the pass near two small tarns that lie on a shelf above Balsam Lake. That section of basin is much less rocky and lush in places with vegetation and wildflowers.

        Open This Approach in a New Window
    Peak Icon Route Map Photos

    Route Info Peak Nine South Face Route

    Route Description

    Year Climbed: 2005

    The mileage and elevation gain estimates are measured from what we call the "Storm King" pass which is the saddle between Storm King and Peak Nine. If coming from the suggested campsite at the twin, small lakes at 12,200 ft. above Balsam Lake and about a mile west of this saddle, then the one way mileage is about 1.5 and elevation gain is 1400 ft. with an additional 200 feet of gain on the return. In 2005 when we climbed Peak Nine, we camped at the Trinity Creek-Vallecito Creek trail intersection, so that is what we'll use for the primary approach for this summit, however, we're also posting "The High Traverse" as another possible approach for anyone trying to come from the vicinity of Jagged Mountain, and there is also access via Leviathan Creek and an non-maintained trail in that drainage as well. See notes regarding access via Trinity Creek made from a 2022 climb of Peak Eight that summer. Beetle-kill in this area has rendered this approach almost impassable.

    From "Storm King" pass, head west, dropping down close to 200 feet in elevation on whatever trail you can find through the rubble. The immediate goal is to get to the saddle between Peaks Eight and Nine. A contour over from Storm King Pass may seem possible, but you'll likely waste a lot of time navigating all the loose rock. It's best to just go ahead and lose the small amount of elevation and then climb back up to the saddle. In later July, we found a large snowfield that funneled us up into a couloir that went up to the saddle. Early in the morning, the snow was still hard and frozen so ice axes were handy as well as microspikes. The USGS map makes this saddle appear to be a fairly wide and gentle place. What we found was the narrow head of the couloir that opened immediately on the south side to a large basin. At the time we made this climb, the route information in "Guide To the Colorado Mountains" was basically useless. G&M had nothing on it and Rosebrough's book only mentioned a route up from Leviathan Lake utilizing the SE ridge with precious little detail to help. We offer thanks to Dave Goldwater and Jack Dais who shared the following route with us, which is probably the least technical way to reach the summit.

    Peak Nine is one of those mountains you have to respect just by looking at it. Much of it appears to be a mangled pile of great rocks and slabs. Its rock is reputed to be dangerously unstable. (Same goes for Peak Eight.) Both the north and south faces are near vertical walls of rock stretching up for hundreds of feet. The summit is nothing more than the highest point of an elongated, very narrow ridge. Viewed from the north or south, while dwarfed by neighbors like Storm King or Silex, it deserves certainly no less respect, and frankly, more respect than those neighbors. This is the kind of summit you may "worry" about the night before. Be on the lookout for friendly mountain goats who want to lick your pee and make off with any unguarded, salty items.

    From the saddle, drop directly into the basin below on large, broken rubble. In our mid-July trip, there was still a crescent shaped snowfield that delineated the edge of this basin before it dropped off to the south. Head over to the left walking SE either above or along the snow. Be careful not to drop off the edge, but you'll still need to descend following the bowl down by about 200 feet. The key to this route is a "green ramp" that heads SE along the face of Peak Nine. Do not head up too early, tempted by an area of greenish-colored rock above. Walk to the extreme eastern end of the flat, bowl area and perhaps drop down on snow or rock a little. Suddenly, the green ramp will come into view and it will be quite obvious when it does. Cross over on snow/rock to the beginning of the ramp. Pass by a rock outcrop and begin hiking up the steep ramp. It's easy at first with a little 3rd class scrambling. After following it a few hundred yards, we came to a large cairn. Decision time. You can continue SE along the ramp as Goldwater and Dais did, and intersect the SE ridge. From there, you nearly reverse direction, heading NW up along the ridge to the summit. More about that in a minute. The other choice to head up a large couloir that came just after the large cairn. This couloir shows on the USGS map, but that map provides no real clue as to what you will encounter there. The Google Earth view of this south face is almost useless for actually identifying the couloir.

    If you choose to head up the couloir and you still have ice axes with you, don't necessarily ditch them as we did. Even though it had a southern exposure and it was the 3rd week of July, we still found icy snow in a section of this tight-at-times gully. We scrambled up the first 100 feet on very steep rock with all kinds of broken rock shards, and then encountered the frozen snow which we could not see from below. The snow filled the couloir upwards for the next 50 feet. Without ice axes, we had to wedge ourselves between the rock wall and the edge of the snow that had pulled away from the rock. This technique worked except for one brief slip. At one point, we had to push ourselves out of the gap, onto the snow for a few steps and then drop back into the gap between snow and rock. Above the snow, the couloir widens out some and you will come to a place where the main couloir turns right. Looking straight ahead, it opens up into a steep bowl surrounded in part by the summit cliffs. Going straight up appeared technical so we followed the right branch up, with the angle of ascent steepening more. You'll need to take care here not to knock rocks down on each other. Helmets are highly advisable as well as appropriate climbing protocol. Midway up was a 12 foot wall that proved to be the 4th class crux. Above this wall, we continued for a brief distance and emerged onto the SE ridge through a small opening. The view back down the ridge was intimidating making us wonder how Goldwater, Roach and Dais managed to do it without aid or protection, You be the judge.

    Once on the ridge, continue toward the summit on the ridge as best as you can. We encountered one place where we had to go off to the left for a brief, difficult stretch, then regained the ridge for the strolling finish to the narrow, rocky summit. On this ascent, we had brought a 100 foot piece of not-so-trustworthy rope we had brought for "emergency" use, 40 feet of 1" webbing, some biners and rappel setups and "swami" seats. We never used the rope, did not do any rappelling, but did use the webbing for a handline at the crux move. Again, we do not consider ourselves to be bold rock jocks by any means. The crux move did make us somewhat uncomfortable. There was all kinds of broken, loose rock, so you had to watch every step carefully.

    The view makes you feel a little dwarfed by such towering neighbors like Storm King and Silex. It was mostly a sense of relief we had in making it to the summit in one piece. For the descent, we did notice a rappel station that had been used multiple times that would drop you back down into the couloir we had come up. But we did not have enough rope for the distance so we down-climbed the entire route back to the green ramp and returned across the bowl to the Peak Eight-Nine saddle and then back to our campsite, which on this trip was at the Trinity Creek-Vallecito Creek trail intersection.

    Additional BETA

    Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
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