The first time I saw a picture of Wham Ridge, my jaw dropped: this near-perfect looking wave of rock was right in my backyard in Colorado. And I’d never heard of it.
With no plans for the weekend, I threw the necessary gear into the trunk of my Subie and gunned it to the Molas Lake Trailhead on Saturday night. Adventure time!
Located in the Weminuche Wilderness in the San Juan Mountains, Wham Ridge is the 2,000-foot looker’s-right skyline of Vestal Peak—at 13,870 feet a wanna-be Fourteener. Wham is more of a choose-your-own-adventure-type line than a cut-and-dry route of clearly-defined pitch after clearly-defined pitch. Despite weighing in at 5.4 on Mountain Project, you can keep the grade hovering between 5.0 and 5.2—with ample class 4 toward the top—for the entire length if you choose your line thoughtfully, making it a coveted objective for those looking to dip their toes into the shallow end of the alpine-rock pool.
But! Before you pencil in plans and reach for your approach flip-flips, know that at least half of the adventure of Wham stems from it’s remoteness. From the trailhead at Molas Lake, you’ve got 10 miles and change, with 5,000+ feet of vertical gain, to reach the base of the route.
There are a few different strategies for this climb. One is to do it in a day, trailhead to trailhead, in a single push. The other is to hike in to the basin below Vestal, camp, and then climb it the next day. Both have their advantages.
Another consideration is whether to rope up for the climb or simply solo or simul-solo it with your partner. While the climbing is fairly easy, it is still very much fifth class, with fatal consequences for any mistake. While there are plenty of folks out there capable of “scrambling” Wham, probably best to still tote in the rope and some sort of rack.
Here are some great gear options for Wham in a day (WIAD?). This list is not exhaustive—e.g. we don’t give you the specific pro you need (come on, Mountain Project’s got you covered there!)—but rather some suggestions for bigger, fundamental items that work particularly well for this incredible outing.
These things offer the best of both worlds in terms of climbing and approaching: the TX2s have that killer sticky Sportiva rubber we all know and love, climb delightfully, and are super light.
These were definitely the ticket on Wham: you can trudge along the trail and rock hop nimbly up and down the interminable talus, just as deftly as you can smear up the technical portions of quartzite slab.
If you’re going without a rope or rack, this is overkill—a tiny pack or a running hydration vest is plenty in that case. (If you choose a vest, the Nathan VaporKrar is a good bet.) But if you are toting the gear along, the 30-liter ascentionist is ideal.
Probably no need to climb with the pack—might as well hang any necessary gear off your harness, leave this at the base of the climb, and snag on your way back—this is for the approach.
Enough room for the rack, the rope, a warmer layer, a rain jacket, all the bars and gels and snacks you want, water, and a spot for a piolet on the outside. Speaking of which…
If you go early season—early summer, or even late spring—there might still be a lot of snow, particularly on the final approach slopes and the descent from the summit.
We did a bunch of glissading on the way down and were happy to have an axe with us. The Petzl Evo’ll do everything you need here.
Yea, yea, yea, pants are probably the smarter choice for a big alpine day. But it gets dang hot on a good, sunny day out in the San Juans! If the forecast calls for near-zero chance of thunderstorms like it did, and you’re hoping to jog parts of the approach, these TNF shorts are great. Light, quick-drying, with a few pockets (including a zippered back one), make these simple yet effective.
Then again, glissading in shorts wasn’t all that great. Maybe try the TNF Beyond the Wall Rock Pants, instead?!
On a day as big as this, it pays dividends to know precisely how much progress you’ve made—and, accordingly, how much you’ve still got left to go.
The Suunto 9 Baro provides super accurate data about your distance, vertical gain, speed, current altitude, and other useful metrics.
Plus, it’s always cool to go over your day in graph, chart, and data form afterward—to see your mile-by-mile splits, your heart-rate at different sections, etc.
And one of the cooler features that is not to be underrated in the alpine when a sudden storm on the rock can catch you unawares, is the watch’s storm alarm—-it lets you know when a sudden drop in air pressure occurs and you’re about to be wishing you had….
….a raincoat! Or at least a weather resistant layer of some sort. BD’s Alpine Start Hoody is one of our favorite pieces of kit. It’s light, easy to dangle off your harness, compresses pretty small, and offers just enough protection to get you through those summertime alpine squalls not too much worse for the wear.
Feature Image: Wham Ridge, Vestal Peak, Colorado. Photo: Michael Levy.
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