Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Durango's Silver Mountain, 12,496'; Deadwood Mountain,12,285'; and Baker Peak, 11,949'

Essence: The La Platas are, "The Silver Mountains." A straightforward but somewhat arduous route topped by a peaceful, tundra/talus ridge, culminating at the La Plata's namesake mountain with a view of Durango. 
Travel: From the US 160/550 intersection in Durango, travel 11.0 miles west on US 160 to Hesperus. Turn right/north on La Plata Canyon Road, CR 124. Zero-out your trip meter. There is a brown, US Forest Service sign with mileages right after the turn. Just after passing the hamlet of Mayday, the road turns to smooth dirt at 4.6 miles. There are several established campgrounds in this area. The TH is at 7.8 miles. Park on the right at placard displays for historic La Plata City. 2WD vehicles should be able to reach the TH.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 10.1 miles and 4,446 feet of climbing for Deadwood and Silver, out-and-back; roughly the same mileage and 4,000 feet of gain to loop down Tirbircio Creek; 11 miles and 4,309 feet of gain if Baker is included in the Tirbircio Creek loop.
Time: 6 to 7.5 hours
Difficulty: 4WD road, off-trail, trace of social trail, mining track; moderate navigation; Class 2; some exposure on Baker Peak, Class 2+
Map: La Plata, Colorado 7.5 Quad
Dates Hiked: Seven times between 8/8/03 and 6/18/14.
Quote: To see the greatness of a mountain, one must keep one's distance; to understand its form, one must move around it; to experience its moods, one must see it at sunrise and sunset, at noon and at midnight, in sun and in rain, in snow and in storm, in summer and in winter and in all the other seasons. He who can see the mountain like this comes near to the life of the mountain, a life that is as intense and varied as that of a human being. Such is the greatness of a mighty mountain. Lama Govinda

Silver Mountain, left, as seen from Durango's Rim on February 20, 2014.

Route: I believe in climbing all the peaks I see from Durango, assembling a landscape puzzle that solidifies a sense of belonging to Place. What follows is a loop route that affords a full and rich experience of Silver Mountain. The simplest way up Silver is to traipse over Deadwood Mountain, a bonus. Climbing Baker Peak is an optional addition on the return. The map below shows only the out-and-back route to Silver Mountain because of private property issues, explained below. It is downloadable for higher resolution.

From the parking area, 9,040', wade across the La Plata River to the south of Neptune Creek. To find the proper place, walk down the road a few paces, bear right, pass a primitive campground, and make for the river. Ford directly across from the 4WD road that punches up the other side. Note: You will be crossing the river boots-off; either barefoot or in sandals so don't attempt this in the spring run-off or after a monsoon.

In June, 2014, 20 yards downstream from the ford was a substantial, stable log. If present, cross it.

Walk up the steep 4WD road. Occasionally it is clear; often trees are strewn across. Frankly, this segment is rather tedious and you will welcome the company of a friend. Or, enjoy the rhapsody of  woodland flowers such as these sunny and sprightly heart leaf arnicas.

Stay on the forested road for 1.5 to 2 hours, taking a right fork at 3.0 miles. (This is a shortcut; no worries if you miss it.) When a clear view of Ohwiler Ridge is revealed at 3.3 miles, turn left at 11,400' and walk up this northeast spur that leads to the west ridge of Deadwood Mountain.

Upon reaching the west ridge at 3.4 miles, 11,550', leave the spur and walk up an obvious social trail. It soon peters out but just stay on the rounded, wooded ridge. It is somewhat steep but easy, green walking.

Ascend 200 feet, rising through the krumholtz before busting out into the alpine. The route to Deadwood's summit is now obvious on broken talus. Net elevation gain is 3,245 feet so a big chunk of the day's climbing is accomplished.

From Deadwood is a view to the southwest of Ohwiler Ridge and directly south to lowly Baldy Peak, 10,868'. It is the shortest summit in the La Platas but one of the most difficult to achieve because of private property issues. Silver is commanding and the next 1.2 miles are pure pleasure, taking 45 minutes to an hour. Stay on the ridge and clamber over a roller to the low point between the peaks at 12,000'. There is 715 feet of climbing between the two mountains, 496 feet remaining from the saddle. Alpine flowers delight along the way. Mid-summer, the magenta paintbrush are profuse as well as mouse ear chickweed, old man of the mountain, moss campion, deep rooted spring beauty, sky pilot, purple fringe, alpine sage, and even a tiny patch of forget-me-nots. In this early-season image, phlox is having a very good year. Get down and sniff this plant for an explosive whiff of euphoria.

Scrutinize Silver Basin on the east side of the ridge for the local elk herd grazing in the tundra.

The final push up Silver's west ridge is on talus with occasional respite on a social trail. It will take anywhere from 2:40 to 4 hours to reach the crest from the TH, 3961 feet of gain over 5 miles. Durango can be seen from the high point. Friends are contemplating the western massif of the La Plata Mountains across the canyon. In the center of the horizon is the West Babcock to Spiller ridge, The Knife.

Your gaze is likely to be pulled back to the beautiful S curve you just walked upon, seen below. Across the valley to the west is the Four Peak Traverse. The summit of Silver is as broad and welcoming as you imagined it to be when seen from town. If your goal is simply to experience Silver's summit, the easiest way home is to go back the way you came. Be psyched for 455 feet of vertical.

These two hikers are returning to Deadwood. There is a social trail to the right of this knob.

Two friends walk down the road returning to the TH in La Plata City.

Private Land Note: As of June, 2014, there is a small piece of road on private land at the base of the Tirbircio Creek trail, just east of the La Plata River. It is posted "No Trespassing". I will describe the loop hike as we have always done it in case this access once again opens. But for now, it is off-limits. Therefore, if you want to climb Baker, lovely, but not ranked, you will have to do it as an out-and-back from Silver Mountain, returning to the TH via Deadwood as described above.

It is a somewhat abrupt pitch down Silver's 806 foot north ridge to the treed Silver-Baker saddle at 11,690'. This image shows the ridge, saddle, and Baker sitting well below Silver at 11,949'.

Baker Peak, 11,949' Option: From the saddle, it is less than half a mile and 259' net, but 309' total gain to Baker. The image below, taken from Deadwood, shows Baker in the foreground with Lewis Mountain behind. From the saddle, things slow down to accommodate careful climbing up to scrabbly Pt 11,813', dropping about 50 feet, and then testing holds to the crest as the ridge thins. Once I stayed on Baker's mostly westerly ridge all the way down to the base of the Tirbircio Creek trail near the Gold King Mill, lost to fire in 2003. The ridge has its undulations (adding 100' or so to the total), before plunging into the forest where I found myself grabbing trees to stay on my feet. Most will choose to do an out-and-back, returning to the saddle.

The Tirbircio Creek basin is steep at the top but secured with vegetation. Mid-summer flowers are wildly abundant. Pass through a swath of columbine, delphinium, lupine, Grey's angelica, orange sneezeweed, candytuft, and Whipple's penstemon.

Stay on the north side of the creek, dropping over 1,000 feet in 0.5 mile. It is a bit of a talus slog with no hint of a trail. That is, until you are opposite a mine located on the south side of the creek. Once at that level, look carefully for a faint track that goes off to the right into a grove of aspen. The trail transforms into an old mining road fallen into disuse so there are an annoying number of trees to climb over. This is an infinitely better choice than getting sucked into the creek drainage. There are some unusual riparian plants, especially when the side streams are running.

Use the old roadbed to descend another 1,000 feet over 1.5 miles. For years, upon reaching the La Plata River, I simply waded across and busted my way up to the road at The Chimney. However, there is a cabin on the site now so locate a road paralleling the river on the east side and walk 0.3 mile north to Lewis Creek. Ford the creek to reach the Eagle Pass Road and cross the La Plata River on a bridge. (Again, there is a small piece of private land on this road as of June, 2014.)

Back on La Plata Canyon Road, it is 1.6 miles from Lewis Creek to the TH. It feels like part of the experience because there are occasional glimpses of the mountain. In the fall, the corridor is a riot of color.

Walkers pass by humble homesteads in La Plata City just before completing the full circle. The town was founded in the early 1880's. As the residential and commercial hub of the La Plata mining frontier, it had a peak population of 1,000. Ore deposits were low grade and limited so mining operations were not profitable. By the 1930's, the post office, school, and grocery were boarded up or destroyed and the people moved on. (Courtesy, John Sanders)

Flowering plants were plentiful in mid-June, 2014: iris missouriensis, white violet, purple violet, red columbine, white peavine, purple vetch, nine bark, Jacob's ladder, senecio (pakera), heart leaf arnica, false Solomon's seal, valeriana occidentalis, ball-head waterleaf, baneberry, Richardson's geranium, elderberry, thimbleberry, native honeysuckle (twinberry), strawberry, whiplash daisy (fleabane daisy), Brandegee's clover, mountain parsley, kittentails, candytuft, draba, king's crown, bluebells, alpine avens, sky pilot, wall flower, alpine sage, tansy aster, mouse ear chickweed, deep rooted spring beauty, snowball saxifrage, alp lily, American bistort, geyer onion, old man of the mountain, rosy paintbrush, moss campion, and alpine clover.

1 comment:

  1. Yep, saw an elk herd in that same area in July 2015.