Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Perins Peak, 8,346'; and Point 8,682' (North Perins Peak)

Essence: Well-established trail adjacent to town. Playful features and wild creatures make this an engaging hike for children. Pleasant grade through gambel oak and ponderosa pine habitat. Grassy ridge tops out at the peak. Scramble down boulders to the cliff edge for jaw-dropping views of Durango and the La Plata Mountains. Perins Peak is oft forgotten because it is closed eight months of the year. The path is drenched in bird song and peaceful solitude. New in 2017: option to walk off-trail to North Perins Peak. Both mountains are ranked summits.
Travel: From Main Avenue and 25th Street in Durango, go west. The road becomes Junction Street. Pass Miller Middle School and in two blocks, turn left on Clovis Drive. Go up the hill and enter the Rockridge subdivision. Drive 0.8 mile and turn right on Tanglewood Drive. Cross a small bridge and take an immediate left. The parking area is on the right.
Distance and Elevation Gain: Perins Peak is 6.0 miles, with 1,600 feet of climbing. Add North Perins Peak (summit only) and it's 10.0 miles with 2,300 feet of vertical. The blue-line route to North Perins and the Stone Boy, exclusive of Perins Peak, is 9.5 miles with 2,200 feet of vertical.
Time: 2:30 to 4:00; add 2:00 for North Perins Peak
Difficulty: Perins Peak: trail; navigation easy. North Perins Peak: off-trail; navigation moderate. Both have precipitous exposure on the cliff platforms.
Map: Durango West, Colorado 7.5 Quad
Latest Date Hiked: November 15, 2017
Closure, December 1 - July 31: Seasonal closure in the Perins Peak State Wildlife Area provides winter shelter for deer and elk. The closure is extended through spring and early summer to safeguard peregrine falcons nesting and raising their young. This brings the Colorado Parks and Wildlife property into compliance with statewide BLM peregrine falcon regulations.
Quote:  I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.  Frank Lloyd Wright, 1966

Perins Peak is a defining natural landmark rising west of Durango. North Perins Peak is to its right.

Route: Perins Peak is the black-line route. From the Rockridge Trailhead, elevation 6,880 feet, walk southwest up a drainage before winding up a northeast-facing slope. Walk east on the rolling ridge to the peak. Continue to the cliff platform. Retrace your steps to the trailhead. To reach North Perins Peak follow the blue-line route north to the summit, described at the end of this entry. Visiting the stone boy (cairn monument), is extra credit.

Perins Peak
The peak trail is within the 13,442 acre Perins Peak State Wildlife Area, managed by CPW to maintain wildlife and habitat conservation.

Pass the placards at Trailhead 6,880', bear left, and immediately cross Dry Gulch. The thin trail skirts the Rockridge subdivision on open grassland framed with piƱon-juniper.

Enter dark and mysterious woods. On north-facing slopes and along the banks of a tributary of Dry Gulch are cottonwood, Douglas fir, and soaring ponderosa pine. Steaming piles of black bear scat will be on the trail in the fall. Watch for deer, elk, and the rare cougar. Squirrels scurry all about. (THW, photo)

Traverse atop and balance along humongous logs.

At 1.3 miles, the track begins climbing in earnest up a hillside crowded with gamble oak, mountain mahogany, and chokecherry. Splendor aflame in autumn, many locals make an annual trek to Perins Peak to experience the brilliance of color. (THW, photo)

Look north and the horizon is spiked with the Needle Mountains, including distinctive Pigeon and Turret. In contrast, in front of these behemoths lies the relatively flat summit plateau of Mountain View Crest.

If kids are going to falter, it'll be on this steep and open hillside. The path soon comes to a welcome patch of pine, aspen and snowberry, a good place for revitalizing snacks and water. The pitch softens as the trail emerges from the woods. Wade through tall grasses watching for the slithering neon, smooth green snake. Listen for the western rattlesnake. (THW, photo)

At 2.2 miles, 8,000 feet, just after a fallen structure on the right, the trail splits twice in rapid succession. The subtle junctures may be marked with cairns. Turn left/southeast. If the La Plata Mountains are in your viewfinder, turn around! Note: in June, 2017, the Lightner Creek Fire burned 412 acres in this area. All that remains of the structure is roofing material. The two-track was widened for fire-fighting equipment.

Go east up the broad ridge.

The treadway climbs another 350 feet to the soft, grassy highpoint. The peak is named for Charles Perins who laid out the Durango townsite for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. A peak register is tucked under the cairn celebrating 8,346 feet. Smelter Mountain and Lake Nighthorse are to the south. The view of Durango only gets better.

Pass by two drive-in movie screens, actually, a microwave reflecting facility. Turkey vultures like to hang out in droves on these structures. You are sure to see peregrine and possibly prairie falcons circling above. Beefy, short-horned lizards thrive here.

Descend gently as the ridge narrows to constrict the passage. At 3.0 miles the earth suddenly falls away. Those with a fear of heights can take in the panorama, compromising little, from this back-from-the-edge overlook. The brave will find a scrambler's route down through gigantic boulders. Be mindful of the exposure. The east cliff face formation is Point Lookout Sandstone.

Kids love messing around in the boulders. Young ones need constant supervision in this precipitous area.

It is a thrill to approach the abrupt edge. Perins Peak is seen from all over Durango so naturally the vista from this lookout is unbeatable. To my right is the Hogsback. Fort Lewis College is on the plateau across the river valley.
(Chris Blackshear, photo)

Children need a spotter while going both down and back up through the boulders. (THW, photo)

Most enthralling of all is Perins Perch. From here, look down on town or west to Silver Mountain in the La Plata range.

Return as you came, passing the microwave reflectors.

At 3.8 miles, don't miss the two essential right turns. (THW, photo)

This hike is suitable for children aged seven and up. They especially like all the wild things, playing in the boulders, looking down on town, and non-stop trail conversation. Bring jackets, hats, treats, and water.

North Perins Peak, Point 8,682'
The North Perins Peak cuesta is visible from the Rockridge Trailhead. The stone promontory, the goal of this venture for scramblers, is the second platform from the right in the image below.

For those who first climb Perins Peak, pause on the highpoint and plot your course. Informally named North Perins Peak is at the far end of the cuesta. You will be walking up the west side.
 
Return to the junction with the exit trail and continue north-northwest on an old road. In just 0.1 mile the road splits. The left branch, the more obvious track seen below, goes to the Perins City mining camp, now in ruins. Bear right on a two-track. It is pretty clear at first but soon becomes hard to follow. Just stay west of a large ravine.

The backslope of the cuesta is sparsely forested with ponderosa. Weave around patches of Gamble oak. Toward the west side is a cluster of unusual, magnificent pines with multiple trunks.

Travel is easy up the broad grassland, open to excellent views west and east.

In two miles the slope comes to an abrupt fall-away escarpment. The peak register was placed by Mark Ott of Mancos in 2014. Since then, only three parties have signed. Views are absolutely unique. Immediately west, Barnroof Point is slightly higher at 8,723 feet. The La Plata Mountains make a signature statement throughout this hike. Look east to the Southern San Juans and north to Pigeon Peak and Mount Eolus. Town is wide-open. The image below looks northeast to Missionary Ridge, Animas City Mountain, and Turtle Lake.

Most hikers will turn around at the summit. It is possible for scramblers to continue out the north ridge, dropping 200 feet in 0.25 mile. There is a faint social trail slightly off the east side of the precipice. The oak brush is thick and affords some safety. Get right back on the ridge and do a low Class 3 scramble down to an intermediate platform, shown.

To reach the very end of the point, back up a few paces and plunge down a shale slope for 40 feet on the east side of the ridge. Skirt along the base of a small cliffband and then return to the spine. The oak brush is thick and annoying. The image below was shot from the mid-level platform of climbers on the airy and exposed end of the prow.

The platform, which feels like a blade, is severed by a crack so deep the bottom is impossible to see. There are big drops on three sides creating a spectacular vantage point.

After clawing your way out of there, retrace your steps to the junction with the Perins Peak trail. Or, extend your hike by visiting the stone boy. As indicated on the map above, we walked east along the platform to another overlook. It afforded a view back at the suspended peninsula. The ring of stone that flows out to the blade is Point Lookout Sandstone. Overlying it is the Menefee Formation. While the Menefee is primarily shale and coal, there are sandstone beds, the short cliffs we scooted beneath. The cuesta top is upheld by Cliffhouse Sandstone. Look about and you will see yellow rocks on the surface that are characteristic of this formation.

From the eastern viewpoint analyze the landscape. The cuesta is divided by two ravines. To find the stone boy walk down a broad ridge between the drainageways for a little under a mile. You will find him out on a point. The nine-foot-tall cairn was crafted by sheepherders to pass the time while tending flocks. It is a stunning yellow monument built with Cliffhouse Sandstone.

From here we were able to weave our way west without getting too tangled in oak. Even in the thickest thickets the plants are well spaced. So descend west into the ravine and climb back out to rejoin your incoming route.

The North Perins cuesta is big empty country and illustrates the enormity of the West just steps from home. 

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