Monday, June 20, 2016

Cumberland Mountain, 12,388', and Point 12,101', Via the Colorado Trail

Essence: Wonderful walk for hikers of all abilities through ancient Engelmann spruce and a spectrum of superb wildflowers along the Colorado Trail. An off-trail climb up the east ridge of Cumberland Mountain past the spectacularly perched Muldoon Mine ruins. Optional Point 12,101', informally named Kennebec Peak, is the northernmost point on the east massif, affording a see-forever San Juan Mountain vista. 
Travel: At Main Ave. and 25th Street in Durango, zero-out your trip meter and drive west. Twenty-fifth Street transitions to Junction Creek Road and then to La Plata CR 204. Stay straight at 2.9 miles as CR 205 goes off to the right, following a sign for the Colorado Trail. Pass the CO Trail at 3.5 miles where pavement turns to dirt and the road becomes FSR 171. Pass the Junction Creek Campground at 4.9 miles. Wind up the broad gravel road with some washboard. Pass the Animas Overlook (last outhouse) at 10.6 miles and continue along the western flank of Barnes Mountain. The road narrows and grows increasingly rocky. It is never steep so 2WD vehicles with good clearance and sturdy tires should reach the trailhead. At 14 miles the road gets really rough and becomes a shelf with aspen protecting the huge drop. The view of Silver and Lewis Mountains is superlative. Stay on the main road as tracks branch. At 15.4 miles, go through a little pass to the north side of the ridge. A wild view of a string of San Juan Mountain peaks opens at 19.2 miles. At 21.4 miles the road splits. Go left, following the sign for the Colorado Trail on FSR 171N. The road narrows and gets even rockier. Watch for a small sign for the Colorado Trail at the right side of the road at 22.2 miles. There is plenty of good parking. No facilities. Allow 1:15 from Durango.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 6.4 miles; 2,550 feet of climbing for both peaks; 5.0 miles with 2,200 feet of gain for Cumberland alone.
Time: 4:00 to 5:30
Difficulty: Colorado Trail, social trail, off-trail; easy navigation; no exposure.
Maps: La Plata, Monument Hill, Colorado 7.5 Quads
Latest Date Hiked: June 20, 2016
Quote: How cunningly nature hides every wrinkle of her inconceivable antiquity under roses and violets and morning dew! Ralph Waldo Emerson 

As seen from Durango's Rim in February, 2014, from the right are: Point 12,101', Cumberland Mountain, Snowstorm Peak, and Lewis Mountain.

Route: By the time Colorado Trail thru-hikers traveling from Denver to Durango cross the access road, they have walked 465 miles with 21 remaining. Ascend the Colorado Trail on gentle switchbacks. Just before reaching Kennebec Pass, walk south to the Muldoon Mine. Climb the east ridge of Cumberland Mountain. Walk down the northwest ridge toward the Kennebec Pass Trailhead. Turn east and at Kennebec Pass, go north to Point 12,101', Kennebec Peak. Return to the pass and finish on the incoming trail.

Begin on the north side of the road. On an excellent path rising from the trailhead at 10,400 feet, allow yourself to be wound up and around on gentle switchbacks through deep woodsy glades and luscious wildflowers. In consort with receding snow are a bounty of glacier lilies, goofy little flowers with their heads pointed down. (THW, photo)

Groves of old-growth Engelmann spruce are the finest anywhere in the region. These pot-bellied specimens are easily 250 years old and may be positively ancient at 850 years. The giants rise to 200 feet.

At 1.2 miles, 11,200 feet, emerge from the forest. Here, the Colorado Trail shares the trackway with the Sliderock Trail for 0.6 mile. In years past, this segment was thin, exposed and duly respected by local mountain bikers. It has been tamed by widening the treadway but it is easy to see how it can be overrun by rocks peeling off the carmine columnar cliffs directly above. The east ridge of Cumberland, our climbing route, may be seen image-left.

In early summer this portion of the trail is practically overtaken, not by exfoliating rocks, but by kittentails. (THW, photo)

At 1.8 miles, 11,750 feet, a post marks the junction with the Muldoon Mine trail. This image looks back on the Sliderock Trail.

Turn left/south and travel on the historic mining track beneath the east face of Cumberland Mountain. After big winters, a snow sheet tends to linger in a gully between the junction and the mine. Crossing can be treacherous and the safest option is usually to drop below the snow before regaining the track. The Muldoon Mine is perched on an east-facing terrace dug into the mountain. The porch of the living quarters takes advantage of the drop-away view. The railroad track is interspersed with divinely fragrant phlox while it clings to the precipitous edge. A bright yellow generator sits just inside the door of the workshop. (THW, photo)

This image was captured in 2014. Two years later the two seater outhouse is listing even more precariously over oblivion.

From the mine at 2.1 miles, elevation 11,820 feet, climb the broad and open ridgecrest to the summit. In this image, hikers are descending the welcoming ridge.

The ascent yields startling and revealing views of Lewis Mountain, 12,681'. What appears to be a broad, hulking eminence when seen from Durango, is actually an almost three-mile curved knife edge.

Cumberland Mountain, elevation 12,388 feet, has a talus summit with cavities for wind protection. Gain the peak at 2.4 miles after 2,150 feet of climbing. Dwarf phlox are flung all over the crest. (THW, photo)

The panorama from the top affords an unmatched perspective on the La Plata range. The Sliderock Trail can be seen in this image emerging from the deep forest and running to the southwest of Olga Little Mountain, 11,426'. The San Juans are in the distance.

Snowstorm Peak, 12,511', adjacent to the south, is separated from Cumberland by a blasted out landmark called The Notch, a destination and turn-around for 4WD vehicles. There is a dependable route up the east side of Lewis Mountain and over into Columbus Basin by walking through The Notch (shown), proceeding under crimson Snowstorm Peak, past the Bessie G Mine, and climbing Lewis via a social trail.

 From Cumberland the western massif of the La Platas is showcased.

From the summit of this accessible and friendly mountain descend the northwest ridge on a social trail trampled into scree and dirt. Our route hooks back shy of the Kennebec Pass Trailhead but it would be a simple diversion to walk there. Typically, 4WD vehicles are parked at the terminus of the La Plata Canyon Road. Popular Taylor Lake is 1.2 miles by foot west of the trailhead. Indian Trail Ridge, at skyline in this image, is a distinctive north/south connector that carries the Colorado Trail from the La Platas to the San Juan Mountains.

As the ridge dissipates, simply cut north to rejoin the Colorado Trail at 2.9 miles. Turn right/east and stroll 0.3 mile to Kennebec Pass. At 11,750 feet, the pass is the low point between Cumberland Mountain and Pt. 12,101'. If you are running low on time or weather threatens, simply follow the incoming route back to your vehicle. It is only 0.7 miles and 351 feet of climbing to the top of Kennebec Peak. This image, taken from the east slope of Cumberland, shows the south ridge of Pt. 12,101' with Kennebec Pass at its base. 

I heartily recommend climbing the broad, gently rising ridge to Point 12,101' for an astounding view of the San Juan Mountains. Please click on the link for a description of this out-and-back. (THW, photo)

By mid-summer the wildflowers surrounding Kennebec Pass are stellar. The tundra is covered with hybridized Indian paintbrush of variegated hues and there are big patches of the ultra feminine queen's crown.

Fringed gentian is the harbinger of the annular fading of all things bright and cheerful and the coming of autumn.

Close the stem and loop back at Kennebec Pass at 4.6 miles. It is a fast, not quite two mile trek back to the trailhead. A list follows with some of the blooming wildflowers one may see on this hike. Some are early summer flowers, others late. They are roughly ordered by their elevation preference, low to high.

Mule's ears, penstemon, lupine, wild iris, larkspur, golden banner, yarrow, golden eye, serviceberry, glacier lily, spring beauty, draba, Jacob's ladder, bluebell, mahonia, senecio (pakera), white peavine, purple vetch, elderberry, ninebark, current, native honeysuckle, mountain parsley, Engelmann's aster, meadow rue, Geyer's onion, white violet, purple violet, strawberry, red columbine, ballhead waterleaf, whiplash erigereon, Drummond's rockcress, hairy golden aster (mountain gold), candytuft, kittentail, little sunflower, orange sneezeweed, green gentian, western valerian, edible valerian, blue columbine, bistort, Wyoming paintbush, magenta paintbrush, marsh marigold, pussy willow, Parry's primrose, king's crown, queen's crown, mouse-ear chickweed, dusty maiden, star and fringed gentian, alpine avens, phlox, snowball saxifrage, dotted saxifrage, northern rock jasmine (fairy candelabra), pink and white clover, sky pilot, old man of the mountain (alpine sunflower), purple fringe, deep rooted spring beauty, alpine buttercup and snow buttercup.

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