Monday, June 2, 2014

Peak 12,101' and Olga Little Mountain, 11,426', From Kennebec Pass

Essence: A glorious, easy walk on a rising causeway to Peak 12,101'. This most northerly prominence in the La Platas is informally named Kennebec Peak. Look across voluminous, yawning space to the San Juan Mountains. Olga Little Mountain, rising only 146 feet from its saddle and a snarly experience, is noteworthy for its historical significance.
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. After passing the hamlet of Mayday, the road turns to smooth dirt at 4.6 miles. There are several established campgrounds in this area. In 8.5 miles the roadbed deteriorates with sharp, sizable rocks. At 12.1 miles the road splits. Continue on the left fork another 2.1 miles on FS 571 to the Kennebec Pass TH (14.2 miles from US160) in a high clearance, 4WD vehicle. Allow 1:00 to 1:30 from Durango. If you do not have 4WD, you can still climb this peak by approaching from the east, starting at the Junction Creek Road/Colorado Trail TH. See Cumberland Mountain for driving and hiking instructions. 
Distance and Elevation Gain: 2.8 miles, 525 feet of climbing for Peak 12,101'; 5 miles, 1,300 feet of gain, including Olga Little
Time: 1:30 to 2:30 for Peak 12,101'; 3:30 to 4:30 for both
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation moderate; no scrambling or exposure
Maps: La Plata, Monument Hill, Colorado 7.5 Quads
Date Hiked: June 2, 2014
Historical Note: Olga Little, a German immigrant, lived on a ranch in Mayday with her husband. From 1909 to 1949 she was a packer, using her string of burros to carry in supplies to men working at all of the La Plata mines. While Olga regularly hauled out ore, she once saved 18 starving men by having them hang onto her burros' tails while walking through a blizzard to safety.

Peak 12,101' and Olga Little Mountain (right) from the east slope of Cumberland Mountain.

Route: To reach Peak 12,101', from Trailhead 11,600', walk east 0.8 mile to Kennebec Pass, 11,750 feet. Climb north-northeast to the crest of the ridge. For Olga Little Mountain, descend southeast to intersect the southwest ridge. Return to the pass. The broken blue lines on the map below indicate optional hikes to Cumberland Mountain and The Notch.

Most people will reasonably choose to visit only Peak 12,101', described first. From the trailhead, walk east 0.7 mile on the Colorado Trail to Kennebec Pass, 11,750 feet, the low point between Cumberland Mountain and Peak 12,101'. The terrain is a mix of willows and an astonishing array of wildflowers mid-summer, including a neon mix of Indian paintbrush and alluring queen's crown. This image, taken near the trailhead, is an early-season view of the Peak 12,101' ridge.

Upon reaching the pass, shown below, turn left/north and begin the 15 to 30 minute, 0.7 mile climb to the peak. This image was captured from Cumberland Mountain.

The initial 200 feet is rather steep, off-trail, requiring a little effort.

Follow a social trail west of the ridge through a brief, rocky section. Alternatively, scramble directly on the ridgetop.

Back on the curve-top, experience the euphoria of a simple walk up the broad ridge to the high point.

Be sure to continue a few paces past the summit to a stone bivouac. Look north across folds of green velvet. Engineer Mountain is just right of center. The San Juan Arc extends from Lone Cone to Mountain View Crest.
(Chris Blackshear, photo)

Swing around for an expansive display of La Plata's west massif peaks. Starting on the left in this image are three of the Babcock Brothers, Diorite, Moss, Lavender, Hesperus, Centennial, and Sharkstooth jutting above Indian Trail Ridge.

Return to the trailhead as you came unless you are continuing on to Olga Little Mountain. This diminutive bump is not ranked and rises only 146 feet from its saddle. Ironically, it is more troublesome to visit than many higher peaks. I climbed it from curiosity and in honor of its brave and hearty namesake, savior of miners. Olga Little resides due east of Peak 12,101'.

From the summit of Peak 12,101', walk a few paces back to the south before beginning your grassy plunge to 11,600 feet.

Walk east to intersect Olga's SW ridge at 11,520 feet. The crest is shown on the left.

The ridge is snarled with bothersome, scraggly trees. Look for game trails on the west side about 50 feet off the rib. As you approach Saddle 11,280', defer to the east for a short distance. From the saddle, stay on the west side to the top. 

For the return, once past the ridge, roughly hold your SW bearing across a relatively flat area, attempting to minimize willow thrashing. It was easy to tiptoe through the corn husk lilies in the spring, but good luck deeper into summer!

Upon reaching the base of the eastern slope of Peak 12,101', simply follow it around, eventually dropping down to the Colorado Trail just east of Kennebec Pass. Walk west 0.8 mile to the trailhead.

If you are excited for more, two wonderful add-on options follow. Climb Cumberland Mountain, 12,388', shown. Intersect the northwest ridge at 11,680 feet and climb for 0.6 mile and 708 feet to the top. A sporadic social trail will assist.

Alternatively, walk southeast on the 4WD road from the trailhead to The Notch. It is 0.8 mile each way and adds 400 feet of climbing. The Notch was blown out by miners; it is located between Cumberland Mountain and Snowstorm Peak.

Note: We tried to climb Cumberland's southwest ridge from The Notch. The first section is an ultra fun knife. Obstacles became increasingly difficult with an impassible one 150 feet below the summit. (EJB, photo)

If you are gnarly enough to drive to Kennebec Pass TH, muster the moxie to walk to Peak 12,101'. It is the easiest of all the peaks in the La Plata Mountains and the view is unparalleled.

The La Platas enjoyed copious snow in the spring of 2014, so waterfalls were prolific along the road and the ground spongy. Early flowers noted: senecio, marsh marigold, alpine parsley, purple fringe, candy tuft, dwarf phlox, king's crown, kitten tails, snowball saxifrage, glacier lily, Fendler's sandwort, spring beauty, Brandegee's clover, fairy candelabra, sky pilot, larkspur, and pussytoes. As a friend said, "Snow buttercups have been out of the snow for no more than 15 minutes."

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