Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Hayden Mountain South, 13,206', Via Richmond Pass, 12,657'

Essence: Steep, historic mining trail to Richmond Pass with remarkable vista of Mount Sneffels Wilderness. Off-trail, playful ridge route to Hayden Mountain South. A balance of forest, tundra, and bare-rock ridges. Extravagant, contrasting color palette.
Travel: From Durango, drive north on US 550 about 47 miles to Silverton. Continue north toward Ouray. Red Mountain Pass is at MM 80. Drive down the switchbacks. Make an unmarked left at MM 84.6. If you reach Ironton, you've gone 0.2 mile too far. At a tailings pile, go left to the Richmond Pass Trailhead parking, signified with a sign facing US 550. Allow 1:30 from Durango.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 6.6 miles and 3,400 feet of climbing to Hayden Mountain South and Pt. 12,710'; 9.0 miles and 4,080 feet of vertical for black-line ridge route indicated on map; add 2.2 miles and 850 feet of gain, roundtrip, for the blue-line route to T8.
Time: 5:00 to 7:00 depending on destination
Difficulty: Steep trail, off-trail; navigation moderate; Class 2+ with mild exposure
Map: Ironton, Colorado 7.5 Quad
Latest Date Hiked: August 5, 2015
Quote: For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver. Martin Luther

Emerge from the forest onto a tundra run-out emanating from the imposing ridge on either side of Richmond Pass. This hike skims the feasible highpoints on the ridge. (THW, photo)

Route: From the Richmond Trailhead off US 550, follow the historic mining trail northwest to Richmond Pass. Climb north on the ridge to Hayden Mountain South. From there, options include: north to Pt. 13,009' overlooking Hayden Mountain North; south to Pt. 13,011'; and a walk out the knife ridge toward T8, Pt. 13,315'. The blue-line route offers a pleasant course to T8.

From the trailhead at 9,900 feet, walk past the sign for Richmond Trail No. 250 and up a recent debris flow, seen below. The trail leaves the flow on the right side, leading directly to a trail register placed by the USFS and Ouray Trail Group. Established in 1986, this volunteer advocacy group restores and maintains historic mining trails. Richmond Pass is midway between Ironton Townsite and Camp Bird Mine, site of a gold and silver bonanza.

The path begins at a steep pitch and holds the grade all the way to the pass with a few short reprieves. The forest floor is adorned with pearly everlasting, kinnikinnick, fireweed, Rocky Mountain penstemon, and lupine. The Red Mountains provide a crimson contrast with lively green, quaking aspen.

The forest opens when the spruce take over at 11,200 feet. The beautifully crafted, thin path crosses sunny glades with spiky green gentian. Treeline wavers and hesitates with stands of spruce remaining even at 11,600 feet. Arrive at the junction with the Full Moon Trail in 2.0 miles.

The trail passes south of Pt. 12,170' and Richmond Pass comes into clear view. The image below shows the pass at center, Pt. 13,011' on the left, and Hayden Mountain South, Pt. 13,206', on the right. The footpath is faint in this final push; it comes and goes as tundra trails so often do. Cairns are crafted from piles of stone augmented with branches askew. 

It is a Class 1 ramble from bottom to top to reach the pass at 2.8 miles, 12,657 feet. The view will leave you gasping. Mount Sneffels, 14,150', is the most elevated of the grey majestics in the west. (THW, photo)

Hayden Mountain South is the unofficial name for Pt. 13,206'. It is but a half mile away, north. Begin with a playful ridge traverse and then climb the gravelly, volcanic summit.

A game and social trail bypasses the ridge on the west, shown. It is better sport to stay on, or very close to the ridgetop.

We keep only the company of elk. Below, a large herd can be seen grazing slopes on the east side of the ridge. We walk in the depressions of fresh elk tracks up the gravel-covered crest.

At 3.3 miles, we top the rounded summit of Hayden South and go wild over the shattering view. It is flabbergasting in every direction. To the north is the turbulent ridge to Hayden North, Pt. 13,139', pictured image-center. Perhaps there is a way across the madness. The trek starts off easily enough and a ptarmigan with four chicks in summer colors is auspicious. Pass a small building on the flat to the north.

Cross a short, friendly rib to stand on Pt. 13,009'. A downclimb to the north may be possible but this obstacle is followed by still more. There is no use trail coming from the bottom of our cliff--a good indication that this is not a common route. We are as close to Hayden North as we will get coming from this direction. It is worth the minimal effort to stand in this imposing place.

In 2012, I climbed Hayden North on an off-trail route. Ascend the steep slope half a mile south of Crystal Lake to Pt. 11,613'. Go through Half Moon Basin, south of volcanic crags. Gain the saddle 0.2 mile northeast of the peak. From the summit go south to the cliff where this photo was taken. It looks over the broken ridge between Hayden North and South. From here, descend the east ridge, then southeast, down through Half Moon Basin to eventually connect with the Full Moon Trail into Full Moon Gulch.

Returning to Hayden South, we consider walking out the tempting west ridge to Pt. 13,052', shown, but give it up in favor of exploration south of Richmond Pass.

In the image below, the convoluted, volcanic south ridge leads back to the pass. Beyond it at skyline, image-center, is Pt. 13,011', the next goal.

Reach Richmond Pass at 4.7 miles. If you are satisfied with your day, simply retrace your steps to the trailhead. However, Pt. 13,011' is spectacular and not difficult to achieve. From the pass, follow a game trail, shown below, west into the upper reaches of Richmond Basin for just 0.15 mile. Then climb south and up a lovely green slope to the ridgetop.

It is a gleeful grassy climb to top Pt. 13,011' at 5.1 miles. (THW, photo)

The zenith is covered with dotted saxifrage. The knob is so distinctive it is easily cyphered from far and wide.

Unless you like to cross knife ridges for the kicks of it, this is a good place to turn around. We hope to reach T8, Pt. 13,315' from here. As indicated on the map, descend west from "Saxifrage Knob" toward Pt. 13,068'. Walk out onto the ridge spine. Rock is volcanic and broken. Pick your way carefully across this sketchy, narrow platform, center-right in the image below.

My climbing partner checks out an obstacle as we close in on Pt. 13,068'. If passage is even possible, it is Class 4, minimum, and exposed. It looks like some people have bypassed the obstruction on the west. We call it a day.

I climbed T8 in 2011. We started from the 550 switchbacks north of Red Mountain Pass and climbed up Commodore Gulch then over to Spirit Gulch. There is loose material on the pitch, shown, to the saddle southwest of the mountain. Take the ridge northeast to the summit. Even better, from Richmond Pass, drop west and follow the blue-line route up pleasant slopes to the peak.

From the knife, contour back under Pt. 13,011' and retrace your steps to Richmond Pass, reaching it for the third time at 6.1 miles. On the descent, detour over to Pt. 12,170', shown. The San Juans are enjoying a record wet season in 2015. Vivid green tundra is iridescent. The Red Mountains contrast with variegated carmine and caramel. In the west, peaks in the Mount Sneffels Wilderness are a dignified grey. Add the mind-altering scent of alpine phlox and the sublime fragrance of lupine in the woods. The Richmond Pass adventure is an extravagant sensory experience.

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