Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Jura Knob, 12,614': Durango's Four-Season Mountain

Essence: All but 3.5 miles are on gentle-grade trails. Short scramble at summit block turns knob into a real mountain. Popular four-season trek for locals. Route features incomparable views of Engineer Mountain, Jura's southern neighbor.
Travel: From Durango, drive north on US 550 for 35 miles to Coal Bank Pass. Continue for one mile to mile marker 58. Park on the right side of the highway at a generous turn-out. Allow :45 from Durango.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 9.7 miles to Pass Creek TH; 11.0 miles if you walk  back to your vehicle on US 550; 2,700 feet of climbing
Time: 5:00 to 6:00
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation moderate; One Class 3 pitch with mild exposure
Map: Engineer Mountain, Colorado 7.5 Quad
Latest Date Hiked: January 7, 2015
Quote: The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them. Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Jura Knob, left of center, appears after a mellow approach, inspiring the thought, "Oh! I'm climbing a mountain after all."

Route: There are many paths to Jura Knob. Our loop starts up the Coal Creek Trail and returns on the Pass Creek Trail but the hike works equally well in the opposite direction. Engineer Mountain is an optional side trip.

From mile marker 58, walk downhill on US 550 for 0.1 mile. Cross the road and find the lopsided sign for the Coal Creek TH at 10,200 feet. The thin track, scraped into a steep slope suspended above the two-lane, rises steadily. Soon the path is swallowed by a subalpine fir forest and the road is forgotten. Loopy switchbacks are lined with limestone. Heavy timber gives way to sporadic trees at 11,200 feet, 2.0 miles. It is as smooth and easy as any 1,000 foot gain can be.

Engineer Mountain rises suddenly and remains a dominate presence for the duration. Columnar shafts snatch light. Luminescence shifts continuously, captivating the observer.

At 2.2 miles, the once substantial Coal Creek Trail, multi-threads and disappears, overtaken by boisterous corn husk lily. Turn right and go due north. Climb a mere 0.15 mile and you will find the trail once again on an easterly ridge at the saddle west of Point 11,662'. These images were taken in autumn after flowers went to seed.

Upon locating the trail, turn left/west. Reach the junction with the Deer Creek Trail at 2.6 miles. This charming spot marks the end of the Coal Creek Trail.

An alternative route to Jura combines the Coal Creek and Deer Creek trails into a loop.

Proceed west on the Deer Creek Trail for only a few paces. Leave the trail (N37 43.179 W107 47.566), and climb right/north up a short, grassy pitch to meet the south ridge of Jura Knob at 12,000 feet. The ridge is a broad, wide-open expanse. Follow it to the false summit, shown. Walking is pleasant through a grassy landscape with almost no rock underfoot.

 Cross a band of whimsical white sandstone.

Once past the false summit, Jura Knob is seen for the first time. The summit structure presents as a cliff intruding through a red band. The crest is a relatively thin layer of grey rock.

Geological Note: John Bregar, geologist, comments on Jura's rock formation. "The cliff band that is the crux of climbing Jura Knob is within the Cutler Formation.  Though most of the Cutler consists of red alluvial sediment washed down from the Uncompahgre Mountains, there is much variability in that sediment--some layers relatively find-grained and soft, other layers coarse sand and gravel.  Often, the coarser sediments are more resistant to erosion and form cliffs while the softer sediments erode more easily to form the overlying and underlying slopes. But it is all Cutler. There can even be an occasional limey bed within the Cutler, probably representing a temporary lake deposit.  The very summit of Jura Knob is made up of some of those limey deposits."

The ridge narrows just before the crux. Snow lingers late and accumulates early.

Upon reaching the red layer, stay on the ridgetop until you are forced to leave. Climb the remaining crumbly section on the right as shown. There is mild exposure here.

The crux is a single, seven foot hoist up the "Corner Wall." It is located on the right/east side of the prominence. This is the easiest attack point. Some people may need a boost because, while handholds are good, footholds are stingy. The pitch is too much for dogs.

Next is a short and delightful block scramble and then a soft ridge walk to the summit at 4.2 miles.

The crest is roomy and even though Jura is not the tallest mountain around, its singular location affords a sweeping vista of loftier peaks. Looking north, Vermilion Peak, 13,894', is just left of center in this image with Fuller Peak to its right. The terrain drops surprisingly softly from Jura's summit on the north side. One could easily climb the knob from the Colorado Trail which skirts the lake below. To the east lies the Weminuche Wilderness cluttered with its quirky and preposterous peaks.

Returning, scramble down Corner Wall facing the rock. Shorter people may need a spot.

Descend the south ridge as you came. Approaching the southern end, avoid any temptation to drop off to the right. Instead, as shown on the track above, make for the 12,000 foot knoll. There you will see the Deer Creek Trail 100 feet below at 5.8 miles. Go right/west and at 6.2 miles, come to a junction with the Engineer Mountain Trail. Turn left/south. Cross more green loveliness and enter a rich stand of conifers. The trail climbs lazily until it meets the Pass Creek Trail at a 4-way junction at 7.2 miles, 11,720 feet.

Here, our route turns left/east. However, if you are tempted to climb Engineer Mountain, 12,968', this is a fine opportunity. Simply turn right/west, shortly reach Social Rock, and carry on from there. This option will add 1.5 miles roundtrip and 1,250 feet of climbing.

The Bus Stop is a few paces down the Pass Creek Trail and a favorite place for a break. From here, the TH is 2.4 miles down a well-engineered ultra popular trail for hikers and mountain bikers.

As you descend the trail, watch to your left for a final view of Jura Knob. The groomed, dirt path is guarded by old old fir and spruce trees. At 8.3 miles, find a spur that hooks right and goes to a brook where queen's crown thrives. Pass a perfectly round pond at 8.6 miles. The pleasant grade is accomplished by sinuous switchbacks. Just before reaching the highway, in mid-summer the trail is engulfed by some of the best wildflowers in Colorado.

Reach the Pass Creek TH at 9.7 miles. If you must walk down the highway to the Coal Creek TH at 11.0 miles, this will be the most dangerous segment of your hike so take care. 

Jura is commonly climbed in winter when it is indisputably more challenging. Approach the peak via either the Coal Creek Trail or Pass Creek Trail. I prefer the latter because there is usually a beaten track up to Engineer Meadow. It is 11 miles out-and-back. We generally stash snowshoes at the crux. Corner Wall is dicier in the winter; it holds ice and snow. The exposure is amplified. The potential for avalanche exists at several places along the way. Figure 6 to 7 hours.

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