Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mountain View Crest: Overlook Point, 12,998', West Ridge Terminus

Essence: Miles fly by; walking is undemanding on tundrascape to the west end of Mountain View Crest. Spires of the Needle Mountain mesmerize. Heart-stopping view of the audible Animas River, 4,300 feet below.
Travel: From Durango, drive roughly eight miles north on US 550 to the signal at Trimble Lane. Zero-out your trip meter as you turn right/east. Turn left on East Animas Road, CR 250, at 0.8 mile. At 4.0 miles, make a shallow right onto Missionary Ridge Road, La Plata CR 253. The road is good, though prone to washboard. Passage is on a mild shelf for miles. At 16.0 miles go straight towards Henderson Lake on FSR 682. At 22.7 miles go right on FSR 081. Immediately, pass Henderson Lake. The road gets rougher but is plausible with a 2WD with moderate clearance and sturdy tires. Park at 25.9 miles just before the road degenerates substantially as it continues another two arduous miles to the Lime Mesa TH. Allow 1:00 from the bottom of Missionary Ridge Road, 1:15 from Durango. If you wish to start hiking from the Lime Mesa TH (Blue-Line Route below), see the travel and initial route directions for Mount Kennedy and Aztec Mountain.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 14.6 miles the west ridge terminus and back; 3,250 feet of climbing
Time: 6:30 to 8:00
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; easy walking with two slightly more demanding segments; navigation moderate; no exposure
Map: Mountain View Crest, Colorado 7.5 Quad
Date Hiked: September 10, 2014
Quote: Beauty beyond thought everywhere, beneath, above, made and being made forever. John Muir

The author strides happily along the relaxed edge of Mountain View Crest ever mindful of the stark contrast Pigeon Peak and Turret Peak present across cavernous space. (Chris Blackshear, photo)

Route: Mountain View Crest is a landform that rises steadily from the south and tops out at an abrupt escarpment that runs roughly east/west for almost ten miles. It extends from Columbine Pass on the eastern side to a definitive end on the west, hung high above the Animas River. The Needle Creek drainage defines the bottom of the abutment on the north side. This tour covers the western half of the vast sublimity. For the eastern portion, see Mount Kennedy and Aztec Mountain.

The Lime Creek Trail conveniently bisects the crest near the midpoint. The last portion of the road to the Lime Mesa TH is so demanding, only serious 4WD vehicles are capable of arriving. We stumbled on the idea of stopping short a few years ago and made our own route to meet up with the Lime Mesa Trail. Others have followed and the alternate trail is fairly well established. 

Park and walk 0.25 mile up the road until it hooks a sharp right. At the apex of the bend, look for a trail leading off to the left/northeast at 11,040 feet.  If you lose the trail, no worries. Just keep Lime Mesa's west face cliffs on your right. Red cubes fallen out of a low-lying wall rest beside the trail.

The path rises gently through clearings and woods for 1.9 miles. It becomes less distinct in the tundra, as seen below. Hold a northeast bearing until you intersect the Lime Mesa Trail at 2.35 miles, 12,000 feet (N37 33.701 W107 40.439). A large cairn marks this junction at the north end of Lime Mesa. Look south and see Dollar Lake 0.6 mile away.

Turn left/north, staying on the distinct Lime Mesa Trail while climbing through an enchanting amalgamation of tundra and granite.

The escarpment's precipice doesn't reveal itself until you are standing quite near the edge at 3.6 miles, 12,500 feet (N37 34.487 W107 40.044). Pigeon, Turret, and Mount Eolus, 14,083', take a mighty big cut out of the sky. An angler's trail dives off the crest to Ruby Lake nestled in a cirque below.

The next 4 miles to the west end is off-trail. Occasionally there are social and sheep trails but they are rather unnecessary. The land slopes softly on the south and loses itself to thin air on the north. Walk the edge.

From the Ruby Lake overview, turn left/northwest and climb a welcoming slope, passing a gigantic cairn. The shifting view is gripping, often compartmentalized by granite walls enclosing couloirs. Point 12,802' is easily won. This is one of those unusual hikes where 14.6 miles feels like half that. There are only two tricky places and one of them is on the west side of this point. Scamper down a talus field 150 feet. The crack off the nose is the most fun.

From the saddle, it is a quick climb with no interference to Overlook Point, 12,998', a ranked peak, at 4.6 miles. The left side of this panorama highlights the Needle Range. Just right of center are the mountains on the east side of the crest: Kennedy and Aztec. West Silver Mesa's granite sheets gleam in the distance. Ptarmigans reside on this peak so keep a sharp eye out for these elusive, camouflaged birds. (THW, photo)

The west side of Overlook Point delivers up a talus field followed by a steep drop down a grassy slope punctuated by weathered boulders and crushed granite underfoot. The next crest on the ridge is not numbered, call it Knoll 12,760', shown. It is easily scaled and affords a look at Webb Lake residing on a bench below.

The Mountain View Crest 7.5 USGS topographical map identifies the next rise as Needleton, 12,719'. Most people think of Needleton as the train stop for the trek to Chicago Basin on-level with the Animas River. The walk to this upper story Needleton is magical. This image shows the west ridge extending from Needleton, the high point on the right.

Weave between weathered granite blocks embedded in a tundra cushion. Arrive at Needleton in 6.4 miles.

From this lofty perch, look down on the Animas River. Or, look east up Needle Creek and find Chicago Basin, base camp for Eolus, Windom and Sunlight peaks, shown. (THW, photo)

Mountain View Crest makes a bend at Needleton, turning true west. It is one mile further to the definitive end of the crest. Be sure to complete this journey for the walk itself will make your heart skip along with your feet.

Walk over a little hill of talus and onto a peninsula that drops off both sides. Continue 0.2 mile to the tiny terminus at 12,360 feet, 7.4 miles from the trailhead. From the rocky perch, see a large run of the Animas River 4,300 feet below. The river speaks loud enough to hear quite easily. The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad tracks parallel the river. On the other side, the Twilights rise mightily.

There are several ways to approach the return, including going out exactly as you came in. Presumably, most hikers will skirt below the high points. Hold a contour averaging 12,600 feet while returning to the Lime Mesa Trail and accumulated vertical will tally about 500 feet.

Walk on this boundless immensity only on a day when there is no threat of thunderstorms.

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