Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Burro Mountain, 11,575': The Northern Summit

Essence: The drive is longer than the hike. Most northerly summit in the La Plata Mountains, and perhaps the most humble. A keen lookout from the survey benchmark. One of the very few easy La Plata crests to reach.
Travel: From the US 550/160 intersection in Durango, drive west on US 160 for 27.4 miles to the signal in Mancos. Zero out your trip meter. Turn right/north on CO 184 towards Dolores. In 0.3 mile, at the sign for Mancos State Park, turn right on Montezuma CR 42. In 1.5 miles, the road turns to an excellent dirt surface suitable for 2WD. See the west side of the La Platas from a fresh perspective as you pass by scattered ranches. At 5.5 miles, the road becomes FS 561, West Mancos Road. Pass the Transfer Campground at 10 miles and the Aspen Guard Station at 11.3 miles. Roll through a mature aspen and ponderosa forest, and turn right at mile 12.3 on FS 350, Spruce Mill Road. Avoid all spurs, staying on FS 350. At 18.8 miles the troublesome road leading to the Twin Lakes and Sharkstooth trailhead turns off to the right. Stay straight on FS 350 for another 0.8 mile and park at Windy Gap. This is 19.6 miles from the US 160 turnoff. Allow 1:15 from Durango. 2WD vehicles should be able to reach Windy Gap.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 3.7 miles, 837 feet of climbing for the loop; 3 miles and 610 feet of gain for the out-and-back
Time: 2:00 to 3:00
Difficulty: Off-trail; navigation easy; no exposure
Map: La Plata, Colorado 7.5 Quad; Trails Illustrated #144: Durango and Cortez
Date Hiked: October 29, 2014
Quote: I would like to do whatever it is that presses the essence from the hour. Mary Oliver

Seen from the actual highpoint at 11,575 feet, the formal summit is located at the northwest end of the Burro Mountain ridge.

Route: Burro Mountain is a northwest running ridge with three highpoints, all within 1.5 miles of Windy Gap. The hike can be done as a loop or, even simpler, an out-and-back.

Looming over the parking area, Hesperus Mountain is three miles south as the crow flies.

From Windy Gap, 11,026 feet, walk northwest up the Burro Mountain ridge. The conifers on the lower reaches are so uniform and plentiful it looks like a Christmas tree farm.

Stay on the ridge, close to the north drop for the best views. The substantial amount of deadfall on the lower mountain quickly becomes a non-issue. From Pt 11,454' at 0.7 mile, there is a big-swing view from the La Sals to Pigeon and Turret with Lizard Head stationed mid-way. Mountaintops skim the horizon with Indian Trail Ridge cutting off their bases. Below, Lone Cone is on the left and the Bear Creek drainage, in the foreground.

Simply and pleasantly, walk along the northern edge of the comfortable ridge.

At 1.3 miles, stand on the highpoint at 11,575' feet.

At 1.5 miles, come to Burro Mountain proper at 11,553 feet. Over a year had lapsed between signatures in the register. (EJB, photo)

The survey benchmark was placed by the Department of Agriculture in 1958.

From the summit, Hesperus Mountain is commanding. Burro has a sizable rock glacier on its north slope.

Undoubtedly, the easiest way to return is to retrace your steps. For the loop, walk down the northwest ridge for 0.1 mile.

Drop 400 feet west down a steep slope taking aim off Sleeping Ute.

The pitch levels out at 11,160'. From there, walk along the base of mountain, shown, reaching the road at 3.1 miles, 10,800 feet. Go left/east. One could join the road earlier or later. The road ascends gradually back to Windy Gap at 3.7 miles.

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