Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sheridan Mountain, 12,795', Via Endlich Mesa Trail

Essence: Pleasant, fast trail hike across a gently rolling, expansive, tundra-topped mesa straddling the Florida and Vallecito drainages. Steep, enjoyable climb to peak at north end of the mesa. Superlative, uninterrupted views. Outrageous hike, worth the jarring, slow drive to the trailhead.
Travel: In Durango, zero-out your trip meter at the corner of East Animas Road, CR 250, and Florida Road, CR 240. Go north on CR 240. At 12.0 miles (Helen's Store), continue straight on CR 243, following the sign to Lemon Reservoir. In 13.7 miles reach the Lemon Dam. Drive on a gravel road along the east side of the lake, passing a campground. At 19.1 the road splits. (To the left is Transfer Campground.) Turn right on FS 597, East Florida Road. For the next very slow 10.7 miles, the road is rocky and riddled with large potholes requiring 4WD, high clearance. After rain, the potholes are ponds. The track climbs steadily but is not steep or exposed.  At 25 miles, pass a series of clearings chock full of orange sneezeweed, encircled by heavy conifer and aspen forests. At 27.4 miles go right, avoiding FS 597C. At 29.2 miles bear right again, avoiding FS 597D. At 29.6 miles go left at an unnamed fork. Reach generous TH parking at 29.8 miles. Guaranteed, this jarring road will leave you feeling like a bobble-head doll. Allow 1:30 to 2:00 from Durango.
Distance and Elevation Gain : 12.1 miles, 2,450 feet of climbing
Time: 5:30 to 7:00
Difficulty: Fast trail, off-trail; navigation easy; no exposure; Class 2
Maps: Lemon Reservoir; Vallecito Reservoir; Columbine Pass, Colorado 7.5 Quads; Weminuche Wilderness, Trails Illustrated #140
Dates Hiked: July 4, 2013; July 11, 2014
Quote: There are always flowers for those who want to see them. Henri Matisse

Route: The bulk of the distance is quickly made on the Endlich Mesa Trail (EMT). Only the final 0.5 mile and 700 feet of vertical is off-trail.

Several vehicles will inevitably be in the trailhead parking lot. Here's why. The EMT is popular with backpackers. Wonderful possibilities exist. For instance, walk north all the way to Columbine Pass. From there it is a quick drop into Chicago Basin, the basecamp for access to remote 14'ers and high 13'ers. 

The trail is grossly eroded, braided, and somewhat ambiguous. However, there are gigantic cairns leading due east from TH 11,297'. Spur 534 contacts the EMT coming up from the south in 0.6 mile. If you have some confidence in your navigation abilities, just shy of 0.5 mile, leave the spur and go NE to intersect the trail at 0.9 mile. Both routes are depicted on the map above. Make a mental note of where you intend to leave the main trail on your return to the TH.

The ridge is broad and treed for the first mile. The trail utilizes an old road.  Orange sneezeweed is the predominant flower in July.

The trail traipses through a rich field of dusky, rosy paintbrush and elegant death camas at 1.2 miles. Be careful not to brush against this ultra poisonous plant. And then, oh my goodness! Have a first look at the San Juan's jaggedy horizon, the reason the parking lot folks are backpacking: Pigeon, Turret, Eolus, Windom, Sunlight...

In 1.4 miles, at Point 11,958', the trail drops 100 feet down a limestone outcrop. Lining the limey path are Colorado Tansy Asters, a fairly rare plant that is on the species-of-concern list. Enter the Weminuche Wilderness.

This hike is utterly astonishing with near constant visual overload. Flowers are underfoot, in the ever-nearing distance are monumental peaks, and all the while, walk on what has to be Colorado's biggest swath of uninterrupted tundra. If you have favorable weather, walk over to Crevasse, 12,300'. Like Endlich Mesa in general, its western slopes are softly rising tundra, with a near vertical craggy drop to Vallecito Creek on the east edge.

The trail meanders through scattered, spheroidal granitic boulders. Great slabs mound up from the grass. It is a gradual uphill to Pass 12,307' at 4.0 miles.

This vantage point affords the first view of Sheridan Mountain, the double prominence in the image center. From the pass, the trail drops 300 feet. Once, I contoured along the west slopes of Pt 12,470'. I got cliffed out and dropped down the west ridge back to the trail.

At 4.7 miles there is an unsigned junction, shown below. The formal Endlich Mesa Trail descends left/north to City Reservoir. To reach the peak, continue straight on the "Sheridan Mountain Spur Trail." This elk, sheep, and human multi-thread, contours around Pt 12,442', shown below, center.

The trail goes to an eastern overview before contouring. Looking carefully at the image below, people are taking a shortcut, regaining the trail at the base of Pt 12,442'.

On the north side of Pt 12,442', a secondary trail goes west to the City Reservoir. Leave the trail and climb the rather steep, south ridge of Sheridan. The surface is crushed granite and flora.

There is a false summit after 520 feet of climbing. Either go around it on the west or through the top boulders. Drop 50 feet to a saddle and climb 150 feet to a second inconsequential false summit before seeing the actual peak. Now descend 20 feet to the final saddle. Sheridan is glad for the infrequent visitor. It has a welcoming stone stairway that leads directly to the zenith. (EJB, photo)

The unexpected greets you. Below the mountain to the north are glaciated sheets of granite interspersed with water pockets.

In the northwest, the line-up you've been looking at all day, is close and calling.

I've been caught in the rain on both trips back from Sheridan. Once, the storm was severe, dropping hail and torrents of water, lightning flashing so close I felt like a sitting duck for miles. I hope to return on a good weather day for I'd like to walk along the eastern edge of Endlich Mesa while traveling back to the trailhead.

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