Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mount Kennedy, 13,125', and Aztec Mountain, 13,310'

Essence: A full day of easy walking on the east side of Mountain View Crest across an expanse of tundra and sheets of granite along the rim of an escarpment; Needle Creek and Chicago Basin, 3,000 feet below. Across the rift, the earthline is cluttered with fantastical, sky-scraping peaks. Mount Kennedy is a Class 1 walk; Aztec Mountain, for Class 3 scramblers only. Driving to the trailhead is notoriously challenging. 
Travel: From Durango, drive north on US 550 to Trimble Lane. Zero-out your trip meter as you turn right/east. Turn left on East Animas Road, CR 250, at 0.8 mile. At 4.0 miles, make a shallow right onto Missionary Ridge Road, La Plata CR 253. The road is good for many miles, though the washboard degrades as summer proceeds. Passage is on a mild shelf for miles. At 16.0 miles go straight towards Henderson Lake on FSR 682. Pass through an aspen forest. At 22.7 miles go right on FSR 081. Immediately, pass Henderson Lake and drive on FSR 081 for 5 miles to the end at the Lime Mesa Trailhead. The last 2 miles are demanding 4WD, high clearance, almost impassible when wet. It takes 1.5 hours from the bottom of Missionary Ridge Road to reach the trailhead. For an alternate approach that cuts off the last 2 miles of road, see the end of this post.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 16 miles, 3,518 feet of vertical
Time: 7:00 to 8:30
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation considerable; no exposure to Kennedy, Aztec has a short knife ridge on good rock.
Maps: Mountain View Crest; Columbine Pass, Colo. 7.5 Quads; Weminuche Wilderness, Trails Illustrated #140
Dates Hiked: September 11, 2004; August 12, 2012
Come live with me and be my Love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dale and field,
And all the craggy mountains yield.
Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)

A compelling force all through the day, the grandeur on The Other Side. Mount Eolus, 14,083', presides.
(Chris Blackshear, photo)

Map: The route from the Lime Mesa Trailhead is depicted in red. The alternate trailhead, beginning at Hairpin 11,040', is good clearance, 2WD accessible. That option is shown in dotted blue. The route splits after Pass 12,500'. Take the northern course on your way to the mountains and the southern on your way home if weather is agreeable.

Route: Starting from the Lime Mesa Trailhead, 11,500', head NNE on City Reservoir Trail #542 for 0.4 mile to a large meadow where our track, Lime Mesa Trail #676, branches to the north as #542 heads east. Looking back to the trailhead. (THW, photo)

The path stays in the timber on Lime Mesa, hovering near the border of the Weminuche Wilderness, bearing north for the first 2 miles to Dollar Lake, 11,880'. This pretty little orb is a popular destination for casual hikers. (THW, photo)

After skirting the lake on the right/east, it is common to see domestic flocks protected by sheep dogs, the shepherd keenly interested nearby. Enter the wilderness a mile north of Dollar Lake.
There will we sit upon the rocks
And see the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals. Christopher Marlowe 
(Chris Blackshear, photo)

The well-worn track climbs gradually, trees but a memory for the remainder of this far-flung hike. After 3.5 miles, our route leaves the Lime Mesa Trail on a social treadway branching to the right. It curves toward the east to approach a NNW ridge defined on the 7.5 topo by Pt 12,448'. Our next objective is the shallow, 12,500' pass on that ridge just south of Hill 12,600'. Climb 100 feet over 0.5 mile to claim the pass.

Hiking Alternatives: From our juncture with the Lime Mesa Trail, it continues 0.2 mile, and tops out at 12,500', about 4 miles from the trailhead. The trail plunges down to Ruby Lake, 11,910', a favorite fishing hole. Another sterling option from this point is to walk northwest on Mountain View Crest proper. In a mile, crest ranked Overlook Point, 12,998', for a commanding view of the Needle Mountains. Another 3.6 miles leaves you breathless on the West End of Mountain View Crest looking down at the Animas River 4,300 feet below.

Route to Kennedy and Aztec: From the pass the entire journey to Kennedy and Aztec may be scoped. They are the two pointed peaks at the far end of our long ridge laying in front of Eolus and company, the highest peaks on the horizon. Note where you are standing for you must return to this slight pass for the most efficient way home. However, from here, the route to Kennedy is free-form. Simply move ENE, darting over to the rim as you please. For now, I suggest walking east 0.5 mile and curving north 0.4 mile to Pt 12,603'.  This optional prominence may be skirted to its southeast. (THW, photo from pass)

Drop off Pt 12,603' and in 0.2 mile arrive at a premier lookout. Pigeon Peak, Turret Peak, Peak 15, and Mount Eolus tower over Needle Creek and Chicago Basin down in the trench. Hanging Lake 12,150' (partially visible below) locates this vantage point on the map. (THW, photo)

Continuing east, stay south of a prominent, symmetrical 12,700' grey, talus mound and set your sights on the false summit of Mount Kennedy. Once past the mound, turn north and gain the ridge. Kennedy is a mile away. The easiest approach is to remain on or near the ridge. Below, hikers admire pink-blushed granite, the edge of the escarpment a few yards away. Climb the false summit (to the right of this photo), and lose 100 feet before gaining another 200 feet to the crest.

Kennedy's summit is a broad, comfortable affair. Aztec is just a mile off but requires a little more concentration and experience. If you've had enough, return as you came. In this image, Aztec is the perfectly symmetrical peak, as seen from Kennedy.

To reach Aztec, stay near the edge/ridge (see above). A gash stops progress 0.2 mile before the top. After locating an agreeable egress, scramble down into the cleft about 75 feet off the south side of the ridge. Emerge and scale the south flank back to the ridge as this hiker is doing.  Rosy granite provides a relatively cohesive passage atop the 0.1 mile knife to the summit.

To return from Aztec, descend as you came, back through the gash and then on the ridgetop for 0.7 mile to a saddle. The homebound route will depend on the weather. On a clear day, angle southwest to the northern edge of West Silver Mesa. Gleefully glide west over granite sheets pocketing a plenitude of ponds. Parallel the incoming route, and rejoin the social trail at the low pass just south of Hill 12,600'. One day in August, electrified weather whooshed in fast and hard so we could only look longingly at the granite for fear we'd encounter lightning out in the big open. (THW, photo)

We hurried off the lower slopes of Aztec. (THW, photo)

We snatched a glimpse of Eolus before walking west along the protective base of Kennedy's southern slope.
(THW, photo)

Curtains of rain approached as we scouted the quickest way to the low pass, shown.
(Chris Blackshear, photo)

Rain had its way with us as it so often does in the mountains of southern Colorado in mid-summer. The road degenerated to slimy clay. The supreme skill of the drivers and the worthiness of their vehicles escorted us home that night.

The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.  e.e. cummings

Driving Alternative: As you drive to the trailhead, about 2 miles from the end, the road, which has been heading basically northeast, makes a hairpin and turns to the southeast. You may park at Hairpin 11,040'. Walk northeast for 2.4 miles and intersect the Lime Mesa Trail 0.6 mile north of Dollar Lake. This choice is for the navigation savvy. It is quicker than driving to the main TH and walking from there. See Mountain View Crest, West End.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Grizzly Peak, 13,738': The Kaleidoscope Summit

Essence: Easy trail to a hanging glacial valley. Choose between a moderate couloir or Class 3+ ridge route to the peak. Radiating, colorful ridges splay from the summit towards vibrant, variegated neighboring mountains. Only the rugged drive dissuades. 
Travel: This is the tedious factor. From Durango, drive 28 miles north on US 550 to mile marker 49. Turn left at Durango Mountain Resort and zero-out your trip meter. Advance to the upper parking lot. At 0.3 miles, turn right on Hermosa Park Road, #578. There is a small, brown sign marking this dirt road. The road, graced by aspens, makes three big switchbacks. Little spurs head off; the main road is obvious. At 3.2 miles, go right, staying on Hermosa Park Road. At 3.6 miles turn right on Relay Creek Road, #579. At 4.8 miles go right on Cascade Divide Road, staying on #579. 4WD, high clearance is necessary to drive the 8-9 miles to the end of this painfully slow road, riddled with tire-sucking divots. Cross Pando, EZ, and Graysill Creeks; other tributaries of Cascade Creek; and the Graysill Trail. The road switches up a few hundred feet before the end. The land speed record, Durango to the trailhead, is 1:20. Figure on 2 hours.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 7.5 miles, 3,000 feet of vertical
Time: 5:30 to 6:30
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation substantial; no exposure on Couloir Route, considerable exposure on the Southeast Ridge (Class 3+) and South Ridge (Class 3) routes.
Maps: Ophir; Engineer Mountain, Colo. 7.5 Quads
Latest Date Hiked: August 4, 2012
Quote: The summit embraces the entire space of the mountain. Marco Pallis

Grizzly Peak from San Miguel Peak.

Route: From the trailhead at elevation 11,240 feet, walk northerly on-trail to Grizzly Meadows. From here there are two routes to the peak--the Class 2+ couloir route and the exposed Class 3+ southeast ridge route. Upon leaving the summit, return via the couloir or the Class 3 south ridge. Close the loop in Grizzly Meadows.

Locate a trail leaving from the north end of the parking area and walk on a well-defined spur 0.2 mile to intersect the Colorado Trail (note this junction for the return) which shares this section with the Rico-Silverton Trail. Turn right and descend to a creek stained white from aluminum hydroxy-sulfate precipitate. Follow the Colorado Trail until shy of a mile and then go left, uphill, on a well-established social trail, sometimes marked with a cairn. This track bends around Pt. 12,695' on a rising traverse for another mile to "Grizzly Meadows".

The meadows are in a hanging glacial valley with granitic glacial erratics strewn about. The land falls away dramatically to the east with Cascade Creek occupying the trench. White Creek Falls plummet down the opposing wall. The contrast between the peaceful lake and the hovering southwest ridge of dominant Rolling Mountain could not be more startling.

Couloir Route up Grizzly: The classic way up the mountain is also the easiest and fastest, though it does have its hazards. This image was captured west of Grizzly Meadows where the climb starts. Our objective is the crest on the right. The access couloir is the wide declivity in the center of the picture. While it is not obvious in this photo, there is a cliffy area in the middle of this basin. Stay left, on the green ramp, until you pass the cliffs; then move right into the couloir. Saddle 13,400' is one mile from the lake at the top of the couloir. Ascending the mix of green and granite will induce tundra euphoria, guaranteed.

I favor the right/northeast wall of the couloir but the entire gully is accepting, if loose. Groups should be aware of tumbling talus. In this image, one hiker is waiting his turn while two make the descent after visiting the peak.

From the saddle, turn right/north for a relatively easy 0.2 mile, 15 minute, walk to the summit. Before I go on about how captivating this zenith is, let's wait for the ridge climbers to join us.

Southeast Ridge Route up Grizzly: If you are a Grizzly aficionado, this ridge may be for you. It takes a little longer than the couloir route and is considerably more hazardous. From the main lake in Grizzly Meadows, shown, walk north, immediately passing a lakelet on its left/west. Stay to the right of a marshy area nestled at the base of steep terrain. Now you are at the foot of the southeast ridge (around the corner to the left of this photo), about an hour, 2.6 miles, from the trailhead. (THW, photo)

Begin the ridge climb at 11,520'. Holds are excellent and firm on weathered blocks of granite.

In 15 minutes, after about 480 feet of vertical, the way is blocked by a knob. It may be scaled but it is an exposed proposition. Go around on the right, returning to the ridge at first opportunity. It is possible to do most of the climb on the ridgetop; how much depends on your skill and comfort level. Once we did a less-than-fun sidehill venture for 0.3 mile to the north before curving around a ridgelet, and climbing the second ravine (shown below) to regain the ridge.

Further up the spine encounter another impassible mass. Negotiate this one on the left. From here, most the off-ridge maneuvering is to the left/south. Cling to the ridge except when it is absolutely necessary to leave it momentarily. This is primarily a Class 3 scramble with a few airy Class 3+ moves. The ridgeline climb is just over a mile. There is a false summit and then a pleasant topline walk to the peak at 3.7 miles, shown below with climbers gathering. (THW, photo)

Looking back while approaching the peak, Engineer Mountain caps a wall of slabs on Grizzly's false summit.

The Kaleidoscope Summit: In Durango, Grizzly Peak enjoys a considerable mystique. As viewed from US 550 at mile marker 50 near Cascade, it is somewhat dark and daunting. It may be seen for a fleeting moment in the center of a sky wedge, which makes it all the more alluring. Standing on top is altogether different. It is like being inside a spinning kaleidoscope. Twirl yourself to see ridges rippling off in all directions and mountains flying by, each a jazzy splash of color. Vermilion Peak, 13,894', is the highest neighbor, rising to the northeast.

San Miguel Peak, 13,752', is a mere two miles away to the north.

El Diente, Mount Wilson, and Wilson Peak, all 14'ers, are in the northwest.

The most direct and easiest way home is to return via the couloir, as described above. Recalling the cliffs in the basin, angle to the right upon exiting from the couloir until you are past them.

South Ridge Descent Route: The fun factor on the south ridge is extreme, a worthy consideration for scramblers. This image shows Grizzly's southern ridge and Pt. 13,139', image-right. From the summit, return 0.2 mile on the shared couloir route. Instead of going down the gully on the left, proceed south-southwest. Very soon, the ridgeline is barricaded. Drop off to the right/west and then return to the spine.

Notice the high pinnacle in the image below. Go around it on the left/east, and return to the ridge. Of note, there is some debate whether it is possible to summit Pt. 13,139' from the south ridge. Prior to reaching the saddle, at about 13,000 feet abandon the ridge, rapidly descending through the basin to the east. Watch for golden eagles soaring and weasels scampering. Drop almost to the lake in Grizzly Meadows, intersecting the access trail and closing the loop. From here, it is well under an hour to the parking area, assuming you do not mistakenly continue on the Colorado Trail all the way to Durango.

Grizzly Peak from US 550.