Not the easiest peak in the Needle Mountains to reach, but one of the easiest to climb at Class 2. Many will choose to approach Turret from the Ruby Creek drainage. Our route brings you in from the basin on the NW side of Pigeon Peak and traverses around the south side of Pigeon to reach the Pigeon/Turret saddle from where Turret is a very quick and easy ascent. No vehicle access. Most will choose to utilize the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to access from the Needleton Drop point. Backpack trip is likely for most.
To begin with, there is no vehicle access to Needle Creek, Ruby Creek, Noname Creek, Tenmile Creek or Elk Creek. The only means of getting to any of these drainages is an excessively long backpack from the nearest pavement, or a ride on the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. There's plenty of information available on the internet regarding use of the train. This "trailhead" description will therefore deal with a few useful hints for utilizing the railroad to get to Needleton and from there, to Noname Creek, Ruby Creek, NW Pigeon Creek and Needle Creek/Chicago Basin. In regards to 13ers, the Needle Creek trail will provide the easiest access to Jupiter Mtn., Peak Eleven, Glacier Point and possibly Grizzly and McCauley if you're willing to hike over Columbine Pass. The Ruby Creek trail will provide the easiest access to Pigeon, Turret, Peak Fifteen, Peak Twelve, Monitor, Peak Thirteen and Animas Mtn. The Noname Creek trail will provide the easiest access to The Heisspitz, Peaks Four, Five and Six. Additionally, some people use Noname to approach Jagged and Knife Point, Peak Ten and Peak Eleven and even others.
Ahh. The famous narrow gauge railroad ride. How many times we've paid for that trip. Twice we've reserved tickets months in advance, laboring under the impression that was the only way we could get a ticket, only to have our trip rained out by relentless monsoon. At todays train prices, that's no small loss. So here's a few hints. First of all, you don't always have to catch the train in Durango. At least in some years, they will allow boarding from Silverton, but always check ahead on this because they've changed their policy more than once. We finally discovered in 2009, that not only could we board the train there, but we could show up the day of our departure and purchase tickets without any advance reservation. We just walked over to the train station and made the purchase and in doing so, also saved about $10 per ticket. But be prepared to still pay mostly full, round-trip price because they no longer prorate tickets based on where you may get dropped off. (That was a long time ago.) The reason you can purchase same-day tickets is because they can almost always squeeze you on somewhere, likely in one of the open cars where you may have to stand the entire ride. But hey - it beats packing in all those miles and it only takes an hour to go from Silverton to Needleton. By purchasing same-day tickets, you can be more flexible and schedule a backpack trip when the long term forecast appears more promising. The times we've done this, the train departed Silverton about 2:45 PM and dropped us of by 3:45 PM.
Now here's the next hint that specifically relates to the Noname Creek drainage. We found in 2012 that it was possible to persuade the engineer to allow us to get off the train when it stops at the "Needleton Watertank," to re-supply with water, a little over a mile north of the Needleton drop. He had us stash our packs under a seat on one of the cars instead of throwing them into the baggage car and had us make a quick departure when the train stopped so as not to delay it any. From that drop point, we were able to a walk north, off, but along the tracks, until we came to a spot across from Noname Creek where we could ford the Animas. Doing this saved the over two mile long and difficult hike from Needleton on the east side of the Animas that goes up and over "Watertank Hill." It also saves the difficult task of following the sometimes obscure trail that can be easy to lose in a place or two, and it saves a considerable amount of time. But there is one caveat - in many years, it will not be possible to ford the Animas River until August some time, if even then. To discern if it's possible to do so, we used stream flow data to determine the CFS river volume. Our advice is that the streamflow must be under 150 cfs. Use the following link to make your determination: waterdata.usgs.gov.
Keep in mind this measuring station is upstream from Noname Creek. If you ford the Animas below where Noname comes in, the flow will be even greater. Heavy, monsoon rains can increase flow dramatically. If you do choose to ford here, we are not responsible for your being swept away. If you have an ice axe with you, use it along with another sturdy stick in the other hand. Unlatch all straps on your pack so if you fall in, you can free yourself of the pack and avoid being pulled under. Bringing some sandals for the crossing is helpful. Wear shorts, zip-off pants, or strip down. If you cross below where Noname comes in, leave boots off when you get across because you'll need to wade Noname Creek as well. We crossed a little downstream from Noname at a spot where the Animas widened out a little. Approximate coordinates are: N 37° 39' 37.41" W 107° 40' 44.59" Good Luck!
At the Needleton drop, cross over on the footbridge and if you head south toward Needle Creek, there are numerous camping opportunities past the last cabin. You can also hike north, past the cabins and find several other camp locations beyond the private property of the cabins in meadows after crossing Pigeon Creek.
The trail route to what we call NW Pigeon Basin starts out on the Ruby Creek Trail, so some of the following is copied from that description. Ahh. The Ruby Creek Trail. If you succeed in hiking the so-called trail to Ruby Creek from Needleton, the memory will remain with you forever. Both finding the correct start and staying on this trail are challenges. At times, the trail is so steep, you may find yourself using aspen trees for an assist to pull yourself up. In the vicinity of Ruby Lake, the willows become a major obstacle. This trail will make a real peakbagger out of you. But if you make it to the upper basin at 11,600 ft., you'll be rewarded with one of the most amazing camp locations you will ever experience. The rugged peaks surround a flat, flower-laden meadow with the meandering Ruby Creek passing through. A grass-covered bench (with a 20 ft. rock wall to the rear) overlooking the pristine meadow offers the perfect campsite. The peaks soar above you as much as 2,500 feet offering the feeling of being in a vast, outdoor cathedral. If you're not a religious person, you may find religion here. The difficulty of reaching this remote place keeps the rif-raf out. Visitors are few. Those who come are serious peakbaggers for the most part.
'Our only visit here was in 1991. At that time, little had been written about this area. Gerry & Jennifer Roach's book, "Colorado's Thirteeners" had probably not even been thought of yet. The 1974 version of "Guide to the Colorado Mountains" by Ormes and the CMC made no mention of this trail. Later editions did but with little detail. Mike Garratt and Bob Martins "Colorado's High Thirteeners" offered a little more information. What kind of surprises us is that it's been 25 years or more since we packed up this trail, so you would think that with another 25 years of use, it would be easier to follow now, but the more recent reports still offer complaints about the difficulties. Thus, the summary below is a compilation of guidance from our own trip, Roach's book, G&M's book, Rosenbrough's book and an individual source that does volunteer work for the San Juan National Forest. We've also consulted trip reports on Lists of John, SummitPost and 14ers.com. Even with all that, we can't guarantee your success, so do some of your own homework. The Roach's book provides the most thorough directions. Coordinates provided are not field checked and are taken from Google Earth. Don't take them too literally. Good Luck.
Be sure and read the trailhead information for the Needleton Bridge drop. This approach begins from where the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge railroad drops backpackers off at Needleton. Cross over to the east side of the Animas River on the sturdy footbridge. Almost immediately after crossing turn left and head north on a trail that will take you past the cabins and along the riverbank to a crossing of Pigeon Creek - usually not a problem to get across. Continue following the trail NNE into an open, grassy meadow, called "Campers Meadow" by Roach. At the northern end of the meadow, locate the old fallen tree mentioned by Roach in his 13ers guidebook. The only fallen tree visible on Google Earth are at these coordinates: N 37° 38' 17.67" W 107° 41' 20.94". Roach reports that the Ruby Creek trail takes off about 20 feet past the fallen tree to the right and in about 20 more feet, a faint trail heads diagonally off to the left for Noname Creek. Locate the faint Ruby Creek trail in the trees on the east side of the meadow. Once on the trail, it will lead to the "Upper Camper's Meadow" identified by Roach. The trail then takes a surprising south turn then east to the base of the mountain. The trail then begins climbing to the north steeply.
Supplementing that description is this provided by Will Rietveld, an ultralight, backpacking enthusiast who does volunteer work for San Juan National Forest:
"Go L (North) on an upcanyon trail (from the Needleton bridge) for approximately 10 minutes. Near the middle of the campers meadow there is a smaller log across the trail with a section cut out for the trail, (probably the same as Roach's fallen tree). At that point look to the Right and spot a weak trail going up a dirt bank. Once up the bank the trail goes into a meadow and fades (Upper Camper's Meadow). The trail exits the meadow to the S (downcanyon, which doesn't make sense). Stay on that trail as it winds through the trees, and then winds to the E until it reaches an old mine at the base of the mountain. At that location a constructed trail angles up the mountainside on a fairly steep grade. (This is the Ruby Creek Trail now.) The (constructed) trail ends at Pigeon Creek and then its a very steep user-made trail to the Ruby Ck south ridge."
Key points about this trail then are as follows once you have located the correct start: 1. The crossing of North Pigeon Creek at appx. 9,500 ft. after rounding a minor ridge 2. The trail fork after that crossing where the steeper, less used trail heading NE above the creek is the correct choice 3. Another trail junction after about .15 mile at 9,800 ft. and a brutally steep climb. The right fork goes up the N. Pigeon drainage. The left fork continues to Ruby Creek.
The access to the basin NW of the Pigeon summit comes at a trail intersection on the Ruby Creek trail at 9,800 ft. In the Roach book, the trail to the basin is described as following a "tiny ridge." The trail quickly fades to a cairned route that turns to a Class 2 bushwhack according to Roach. Their route has you continue heading SE above the creek to 11,000 feet where the bushwhacking relents some and then continuing SE to the meadow at 11,700 feet for camping. One recent internet source says this of the Roach route:
"It starts out well enough with some sparse cairns, but the cairns peter out and you spend a lot of time second guessing your route. You see what looks like a faint trail that lasts for about…50 feet and then totally disappears, only to see a different faint trail 50 feet to the side… which lasts for about…. 50 feet. Repeat ad nauseum."
Our route is not much different. In 1991, we never saw any indication of the trail junction at 9,800 feet. We also had no sources or books that could tell us about a potential route into this basin and suitable campsites. The basin, for all we knew could have been the bottom of a rock glacier. So instead of attempting to bash our way directly up N. Pigeon Creek, we continued on the Ruby Creek trail until we crested the south ridge of the Ruby Creek drainage at a fairly prominent knoll. Approximate elevation at this crossing point was perhaps 11,400 ft. From that ridge, we followed the ridgeline SE, gaining another 800 feet in elevation. A short distance from the knoll, heading up the ridge, we observed a primitive campsite and the actual trail into Ruby Creek. (We had obviously gotten off it.) Continuing up the ridge via bushwhacking, at about 11,000 feet, we began to break out of the trees and had a better view of where we were heading. Following this ridge involved navigating around or over many fallen trees, rock ledges and outcrops, but it at least kept us on the proper course. There was still another 3/4 mile to go and part of that involved hopping over a boulder field, but eventually we made the upper meadow at 11,740 feet and were relieved to find excellent camping. So pick your poison. Either way to this pristine location will be difficult.
This approach is preceded by the Needleton to NW Pigeon Basin approach. It assumes a high camp in the basin WNW of the Pigeon Peak summit and in summary, circles you around the south flanks of Pigeon, then ascends to the Pigeon-Turret saddle and then drops into the headwaters of Ruby Creek. This approach shares the same terminus as the "Needleton to Ruby Creek" approach which is the camp location at 11,625 ft. in what we call "Upper Ruby Creek Meadow."
From your campsite located at the foot of Pigeon Peak in the beautiful meadow at 11,740 ft., head in the direction of a saddle on the SSW flank of Pigeon. The saddle/pass is at 12,780 ft., so it's about a 1,000 foot gain from the campsite over a vast talus and boulder field that lies below the west face of Pigeon and its dramatic cliffs. To our surprise, there was something of a trail through here, probably originally established by the goats that have inhabited this area for decades or longer, but also increasingly used by humans, especially once this route was published by G&M. With still fully loaded packs, this high altitude route can be literally breath-taking.
Once at the saddle, continue now east along the south flank of Pigeon, then swing NE to the Pigeon-Turret saddle. Along this section, you'll be gazing down into the isolated New York Basin. The amount of broken rock and talus diminishes and some of this section passes through tundra. You may still find and make use of faint trail. The Roach's make mention of this route around Pigeon in their book. At the Pigeon-Turret saddle, things become rockier again. On the south side of the saddle, it's possible to make a high camp by locating some tundra/grassy spots between rocks and larger boulders. We actually camped here in 1991 at 13,100 feet elevation. It was breezy but you can't beat the view. You most certainly would want to consider hiking up Turret from this saddle. From this location, it is the only true "walk-up" summit of the Ruby Creek group. Additionally, this saddle is the start for a circuitous route to Peak Fifteen and the easiest way up that summit.
From the Pigeon-Turret saddle, walk north, heading downhill toward Ruby Creek, about 1,500 knee-bashing feet below. The descent starts out on loose, small rock and talus, then a mix of tundra, rock and scree to the valley bottom. Expect some low willows towards the bottom which can best be avoided by hiking near the main drainage. Earlier in the season, there may be snow. Ice axe and even something like micro-spikes may be useful. Once in the beautiful-flower-covered basin, use the same campsite as described in the Needleton to Ruby Creek approach. See below.
The large, flat meadow at 11,625 feet sits at the foot of Pigeon, Turrett, Peak Fifteen, Monitor, Peak Thirteen and Animas Mtn., and access can be gained from here to all these summits. Ruby Creek is a meandering stream through here. A multitude of wildflowers cover the meadow. This is simply an idyllic spot with one caveat: Marmots. On the ESE side of the meadow/basin, there is a welcoming campsite that's nice and flat, grassy, a few feet away from the stream and that has a short, rocky cliff behind it with small trees atop. Because this spot has been frequently used, the local marmot population has become rather accustomed to the "hairless ones" that come to visit in the warm months and emboldened in their efforts to acquire the tasty, salty treats these summer invaders bring. It was here that we first observed that marmots can climb vertical rock walls. So here's some very useful advice: Do not keep any food in your tent. Hang it in a drybag from rope or sling, midway in the middle of the most vertical section of the rock wall you can find. Do not leave clothing around, or anything else that may have some salty flavor to it. When gone from camp, keep your sleeping bags rolled up & packed away as well as clothing. We've had marmots chew their way into our tent. They will find a way to chew on anything you leave out. Keep your boots inside the tent while not wearing them. You've been warned.
Pigeon Peak is typically approached from the upper basin of Ruby Creek. For that approach, look under Monitor, Peak Thirteen or Animas Mtn. Read the Needleton Drop to Ruby Creek Approach and then the NW Pigeon Basin to Upper Ruby Creek Approach. Reverse that last approach description to go from upper Ruby Creek to the Pigeon/Turret saddle, then work around the south flanks of Pigeon to arrive at the SW basin to begin the climb of Pigeon.
Alternatively, you can do as we did and begin on the Needleton Drop to Ruby Creek trail, but turn off on the Needleton to NW Pigeon Basin Approach, which is what we have linked to this peak and to Turret. The route description begins from the camp location in that basin at 11,740 ft. From that camp location, a great couloir sweeps down from the summit of Pigeon, first north, then NW, then west, dropping to the large meadow/basin where the suggested campsite is located. Begin by hiking up that great couloir, hiking steeply, mostly on tundra at first. The closer you stay to the center of the couloir, the rockier it will be. But if you swing out to the left of it trying to stay on tundra, you'll also have rock outcrops to work around. In early season, you may have to deal with snow, so ice axe and micro spikes could be very handy. By mid-season and later, you may still have wet rock to contend with. As you near the north ridge of the peak, begin to veer right(south) and you'll be forced more into the center gully.
By the time you reach the higher portion of the peak, you'll be just off the north ridge. The terrain becomes much like Sunlight Peak with great broken or cleft rocks of granite and gravel ledges in between the blocks. There are large cracks to work between and the granite blocks become stacked one upon the other. This is where progress reaches 3rd class scrambling. Like Sunlight, it's quite fun. In our opinion, the scrambling never exceeded 3rd class, even though Roach mentions a crux, 4th class, "steep, chimney-like slot" that goes for 15 feet and says this is the route crux. From there, It continues as Class 3 to the cracked summit block. The northern summit is the true or highest. It took us an hour and a half from the high camp to reach the summit.
Admire the outstanding view, particularly of the other peaks surrounding Ruby Creek. You can view straight down to the Animas River and watch for the early train. You can also view down into New York Basin and Needle Creek far below, where dozens of backpackers are likely working their way up to Chicago Basin to climb the 14ers. While they will all be competing for campsites, you'll likely be all alone here. For a little variation, when you head down, try going more directly down the north face for a while before dropping back into the great couloir and return to the high camp start.
From the Pigeon-Turret saddle, Turret can be ascended and descended in about a one hour round trip. If camped in the upper reaches of Ruby Creek at 11,625, you will need to ascend to the Pigeon-Turret saddle by way of the broad north to northeast facing slope that comes down from the saddle. This slope is described in the approach section that runs from the "NW Pigeon Basin to Upper Ruby Creek." The fifteen hundred foot ascent to the saddle will the most difficult part of this ascent, but still holds at Class 2+.
If camped at the foot of Pigeon Peak in the NW basin, follow the NW Pigeon Basin to Ruby Creek Approach as far as the Pigeon-Turret saddle. If backpacking from the NW basin campsite, the most difficult aspect will be lugging your pack over the pass at 12,740 ft. at the south ridge of Pigeon. Gain a little over another 300 feet in elevation to reach the Pigeon-Turret saddle. We actually camped at this saddle in 1991, on the south side where there were tundra patches scattered in among the rocks.
From the saddle, ascend east and ESE up the west facing slopes of Turret. Even in 1991, we found a fairly well-used trail here through both broken rock, talus, gravel and tundra. Earlier in the season, you may find snow to deal with. Ice axe and micro spikes may be useful. The Roach book has the only detailed description of this ascent. Rosebrough advises "an ascent on the right (south) side of the NW face on boulders and talus and a descent of the left (north) side of the face on scree works well."
The Turret summit offers some impressive views. If Peak Fifteen is on your agenda, you'll wonder at the ruggedness of that close by summit. You'll enjoy the impressive view of the Pigeon east face and across Ruby Creek, the summits of Monitor, Peak Thirteen and Animas beckon. To the east is the large Eolus massif.
Turret may also be climbed from a couloir that separates it from Peak Fifteen on the south side. This route is technical and rope is advised. We did this route in error, believing ourselves to be in the couloir between Peaks Fifteen and Sixteen with Fifteen as our intended destination. Out of climbing over 850 summits to date, this is the only time we've made an error like this that put us on the wrong summit. If you're looking for a challenge, here's how to do it: From the Pigeon-Turret saddle, descend toward the saddle on the south side of Pigeon Peak at 12,740 ft., but before reaching that saddle, find a way to begin a descent south into New York Basin. A steep tundra and grass-covered slope will lead down to where you may find a faint trail leading SE and east through lush vegetation at times, below the rugged ramparts of Turret looming above. This trail dropped us to about 12,000 feet in elevation to avoid the cliffs and rock outcrops and even took us past a few scraggly trees. There are several ups and downs along the way. You will pass by the base of a huge and precipitous couloir on the SW side of Turret that breaks through the cliffs. Continue contouring east and ENE to the next major couloir that should be the correct one to go up between Turret and Peak Fifteen. Approximate coordinates are: N 37° 37' 28.92" W 107° 38' 15.18". Head north up the couloir on rock and tundra initially, then enter the more narrow couloir proper. You can ascend this couloir all the way to the notch-saddle between Turret and Peak Fifteen. Because it is so narrow, even in later summer it can hold snow so go prepared with ice axe and micro spikes or crampons. Some party members may want rope in sections, but the steep-sided gully offers many handrail opportunities for security.
From the notch-saddle, change direction toward the Turret summit by heading west. Scramble/climb on crumbly granite rock though large blocks with fractures, cracks and sloping ledges covered in gravel. (Mostly 3rd & 4th class but some may want protection.) Try to pick out the most level ledges for better footing. After about 300 feet in elevation gain, intersect the north summit ridge where the going will reduce to Class 2+. In a few more minutes, you'll arrive at the Turret summit - the hard way.