Tuesday, June 28, 2016

La Sal Mountains, North Block: La Sal Peak to Manns Peak from Beaver Basin

Essence: The La Sal Mountain range is relatively small but it is the second highest in Utah. (The Uinta Mountains rank first.) The La Sals soar 8,000 feet above Moab. The tallest prominence, Mount Peale, elevation 12,721 feet, is in the middle cluster of three summit blocks separated by Geyser and La Sal passes. This hike features five of six ranked peaks above 12,000 feet in the North Block. It tags two other named prominences. Approach the unobstructed, above timberline ridge from the east side of the range. Superb alpine flowers are embedded in the tundra. Social trails assist through many of the talus fields. Optimal in summer, enjoy a refreshingly cool hike while Moab sizzles. 
Travel From South of Moab: In a 4WD vehicle with high clearance, zero-out your trip meter while turning east from US 191 onto Old Airport Road, posted Ken's Lake. In 0.5 mile, turn right/south on Spanish Valley Road. It becomes La Sal Mountain Loop Road in 3.1 miles. Enter Manti-La Sal National Forest at 7.7 miles. Geyser Pass road leaves on the right at 12.2 miles and the Warner Lake road goes right at 14.9. After the  viewpoint at Mason Draw, 20.0 miles, the paved road switches steeply downhill. At the Castleton Gateway Road at 25.9 miles, turn right on FSR 207.
Travel From North of Moab: In a 4WD vehicle with high clearance, zero-out your trip meter at US 191 and Utah 128. Go east on the scenic byway for 15.7 miles. Turn right on La Sal Mountain Loop Road. At 26.4 miles bear left onto the Castleton Gateway Road, FSR 207. 
Travel from Castleton Gateway Road: Measure again from here. Pass the Fisher Mesa Trailhead at 5.2 miles. Bear left as the pavement ends at 5.7 miles. At the sign for Gateway at 7.9 miles, bear right, staying on FSR 207. At 10.4 miles, go right onto Beaver Basin Trail, FSR 669. This is a serious 4WD track. Cross a potentially big creek at 11.3 miles. Pass backcountry camps with porta-potties and biting deer flies. At 11.8 miles, take a right fork while passing a sign for Don's Lake on the left. Go right on road 20. The challenging road is steep and narrow with sharp rocks as it plows through an encroaching aspen and fir forest. There is a roomy primitive camp with a fire ring at 14.5 miles, elevation 10,140 feet. Beaver Creek is directly below. We camped and walked up the road from here the next day but you could drive another mile, shaving two miles from the hike. Wild water, no facilities at the trailhead.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 10.1 miles; 4,950 feet of climbing
Time: 7:30 to 9:00
Difficulty: 4WD track, trail, primarily off-trail; navigation moderate; Class 2; no exposure
Map: Mount Waas, Utah 7.5 Quad
Date Hiked: June 28, 2016
Quote: People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I think that what we’re really seeking is an experience of being alive so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. Joseph Campbell

Deep emerald green woods in Beaver Basin contrast with talus fields above timberline and ruddy cliff and canyon country far below. Traverse from La Sal Peak, the northernmost summit in the North Block, to Manns Peak.
(THW, photo)

Route: Begin in Beaver Basin and gain the ridge at Saddle 11,740' between Green Mountain and Mount Waas. Turn north and climb Mount Waas, Castle Mountain and then La Sal Peak. Head back south, skirting Castle Mtn. Climb back over Mount Waas and continue south, climbing Green Mountain and Pilot Mountain. Go over or contour around Dry Fork Peak and then summit Manns Peak. Return to Beaver Basin via the trail from Jackass Pass. Ranked peaks: La Sal, Castle, Waas, Pilot, and Manns. Named peaks without 300 feet of prominence: Green and Dry Fork.

From the camp at 10,140 feet located in Manti-La Sal National Forest, walk or drive up the pleasant two-track. Blooming on the floor of the fir and aspen forest in late June are elderberry, mountain parsley, golden banner, larkspur, and white peavine. Large meadows slip down into Beaver Creek while a Western tanager sings. At 0.7 mile, Manns Peak, Jackass Pass, and Dry Fork Peak beckon from the south end of the hike. This image looks back at camp.

At 1.1 miles, the deteriorating road points northwest, winding into upper Beaver Basin at 10,600 feet. Park here. The trail joining from Jackass Pass to the southwest, our return route, is not obvious, perhaps because of snow sheets. Head northwest, staying north of Beaver Creek, cutting off lengthy switchbacks. Keep your eye out for the uncommon sugarbowl, a large nodding purple flower as you clamber up a slope strewn with avalanche debris. (THW, photo)

Find a pleasant, off-trail route through an uncluttered Engelmann spruce forest, staying on the south side of a talus field. The first objective is Green Mountain-Mount Waas Saddle 11,740', pictured.

Launch into the talus at about 11,200 feet. The La Sal Range is a laccolith. Intrusive igneous rock was forced upward by magma under pressure creating a mountain dome. Sedimentary rock has largely been eroded away leaving the core mound, primarily diorite. Patches of insistent tundra are matted by an untold abundance of purple-pink moss campion. Lingering snow fields made the climb to the ridge more challenging than normal. Underfoot, scree slid downhill at the angle of repose. Once on the ridge at 2.0 miles, this difficulty is over.

From Saddle 11,740', turn north and find the perfectly wonderful social trail winding almost 600 feet up Mount Waas. The highest of the six northern 12'ers is essentially a colossal pile of scree and talus. Summit at 12,331 feet in 2.4 miles. If this is your home turf, visually locate familiar landmarks including Moab, Arches National Park, and Castle Valley. Navajo Mountain and the Henry Mountains are in the southwest; Lone Cone over in the east. Get a comprehensive look at the southern portion of the day's journey, pictured. (THW, photo)

The sojourn north from Mount Waas to La Sal Peak is pure delight. On a fragmentary trail drop 670 feet to the Waas-Castle saddle (11,660') and shoot up the scree-covered south side of Castle Mountain on an accommodating use trail. (THW, photo)

Crest Castle Mountain, 12,044 feet, at 3.3 miles. The prominence is a smooth laccolith dome so surely it was named for the free-standing monoliths under its purview. The Book Cliffs are off in the north.

While there is no trail up La Sal's rounded southwest ridge, there are plenty of foot platforms in the tundra. Alpine flowers are especially diverse and plentiful on the steep slope. Here is a partial list of alpine flowers blooming on the ridge in June: alp lily, minuartia, wall flower, ivesia, phlox, dotted and snowball saxifrage, purple fringe, alpine rock jasmine, mouse ear chickweed, fairy candelabra, alpine sage, pygmy bitterroot, sibbaldia, alpine avens, candytuft, alpine clover, old man of the mountain, deep rooted spring beauty, smelowskia, sulfur paintbrush and sky pilot.

Reach the northernmost crest in the chain at 3.7 miles. La Sal Peak just makes the 12'er cut at 12,001 feet. Walking in freedom on the ridge, without rushing we were three hours into the hike, had climbed 3,000 feet, and were taking a break on our third peak. The baked sandstone covering the broad crest is cap rock on top of laccolith that hasn't eroded off. The mountain falls away softly for 3,000 feet on three sides so there is a strong sense that one is standing at the conclusion of the range. (THW, photo)

Back on the La Sal-Castle saddle (11,660') it is reasonable to contour on the east slope of Castle Mountain to return to the Castle-Waas saddle. It is off-trail but the slope is shallow and rocks are stable. However, you must contemplate whether to climb back up and over Mount Waas or do the wrap-around on its west side. I am unnerved by steep side-hill traverses so this was an easy decision for me. I happily and readily climbed 670 feet to the summit and took the trail back down the other side, losing 590 feet to the saddle. The majority of my experienced mountaineering companions opted for the west-side traverse. Half way across the faint game trail disappeared and they were stranded on a steep slope. At the angle of repose, rock was sliding above and below them as they proceeded. Opinions varied. It was deemed either annoying, exposed, or simply tolerable. Most wish they had reclimbed the peak.

In the image below, our group is gathering on Saddle 11,740' at the end of their Waas wrap. They are fewer than 15 minutes ahead of us. We are back on the saddle at 5.1 miles. There is some very minor cliff structure on the northeast ridge of Green Mountain. Stay right on the ridge and top Green at 5.5 miles, elevation 12,163 feet. While the relief is 423 feet, there is not 300 feet of prominence between Green and Pilot Mountain. Since Pilot is the higher of the two, it is the legal summit.

The relaxed walk between Green and Pilot Mountain is so glorious I wish for it to go on and on forever. At 6.0 miles, we are standing on Pilot, elevation 12,220 feet. As seen in the image below, an abandoned pack trail rises up from the west. (THW, photo)

The south side of Pilot has a copper pit with brilliant blue stones scattered around. Further down the mountain is a quartz vein with sizable chunks of the milky crystal. Jackass Pass is in the Pilot-Dry Fork Peak saddle (11,620'). If the weather is poor or you have had enough, this is your bailout into Beaver Basin. For those continuing on to Manns Peak, you may contour on the west side of Dry Fork Peak, 11,849', on a perfectly good trail, pictured. The easy walk over the top for ridge purists will add 229 feet, not enough to qualify it as a legal summit, but still a sweet pleasure.

Reach the Dry Fork-Manns saddle (11,620') at 6.8 miles. A strong social trail leaves from the saddle and remains consistent all the way to the peak. The trail climbs on the west side of the false summit but you may opt to remain on the ridge all the way to the summit at 7.3 miles, 12,272 feet.

The field of vision from Manns is superb. Directly south is Burro Pass, shown, the most direct route up Manns Peak (via  Warner Lake). Looking at the Middle Block, Mt. Peale is on the left/east, Mt. Mellenthin is center and Mt. Tukuhnikivatz is on the right.

It is only noon and I want to climb Mt. Tomasaki, the southernmost mountain in the North Block but the statistics are daunting. The out-and-back from Manns Peak will add approximately three miles and 1,765 feet of climbing for a grand total of over 6,700 feet. (THW, photo)

From the top of Manns all the North Block peaks are visible except for La Sal which is positioned behind Waas.

Return to the Manns-Dry Fork saddle at 7.9 miles and walk around the west side of Dry Fork Peak on a trail holding the 11,600 foot contour, pictured. Sky pilot is the standout alpine flower in June.

Return to Jackass Pass at 8.1 miles and descend northeast toward Beaver Basin on the established trail.

The underutilized trail is crumbly and steep in the upper basin but switchbacks are helpful. Pass beneath cliffs and then wander down through a pleasant and beautiful forest. Snow in the shady woods hid the trail so my GPS track may be slightly off. Where we closed our loop at 8.9 miles and 10,700 feet, there was no sign. Perhaps we missed it. Otherwise, the Jackson Pass Trail would be hard to find going in the opposite direction. The runout on the road back to camp afforded welcome processing time after walking atop a ridge that is both feasible and boundless.

The La Sal Mountains are a landmark of contrast, orientation, and home ground.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Cumberland Mountain, 12,388', and Point 12,101', Via the Colorado Trail

Essence: Wonderful walk for hikers of all abilities through ancient Engelmann spruce and a spectrum of superb wildflowers along the Colorado Trail. An off-trail climb up the east ridge of Cumberland Mountain past the spectacularly perched Muldoon Mine ruins. Optional Point 12,101', informally named Kennebec Peak, is the northernmost point on the east massif, affording a see-forever San Juan Mountain vista. 
Travel: At Main Ave. and 25th Street in Durango, zero-out your trip meter and drive west. Twenty-fifth Street transitions to Junction Creek Road and then to La Plata CR 204. Stay straight at 2.9 miles as CR 205 goes off to the right, following a sign for the Colorado Trail. Pass the CO Trail at 3.5 miles where pavement turns to dirt and the road becomes FSR 171. Pass the Junction Creek Campground at 4.9 miles. Wind up the broad gravel road with some washboard. Pass the Animas Overlook (last outhouse) at 10.6 miles and continue along the western flank of Barnes Mountain. The road narrows and grows increasingly rocky. It is never steep so 2WD vehicles with good clearance and sturdy tires should reach the trailhead. At 14 miles the road gets really rough and becomes a shelf with aspen protecting the huge drop. The view of Silver and Lewis Mountains is superlative. Stay on the main road as tracks branch. At 15.4 miles, go through a little pass to the north side of the ridge. A wild view of a string of San Juan Mountain peaks opens at 19.2 miles. At 21.4 miles the road splits. Go left, following the sign for the Colorado Trail on FSR 171N. The road narrows and gets even rockier. Watch for a small sign for the Colorado Trail at the right side of the road at 22.2 miles. There is plenty of good parking. No facilities. Allow 1:15 from Durango.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 6.4 miles; 2,550 feet of climbing for both peaks; 5.0 miles with 2,200 feet of gain for Cumberland alone.
Time: 4:00 to 5:30
Difficulty: Colorado Trail, social trail, off-trail; easy navigation; no exposure.
Maps: La Plata, Monument Hill, Colorado 7.5 Quads
Latest Date Hiked: June 20, 2016
Quote: How cunningly nature hides every wrinkle of her inconceivable antiquity under roses and violets and morning dew! Ralph Waldo Emerson 

As seen from Durango's Rim in February, 2014, from the right are: Point 12,101', Cumberland Mountain, Snowstorm Peak, and Lewis Mountain.

Route: By the time Colorado Trail thru-hikers traveling from Denver to Durango cross the access road, they have walked 465 miles with 21 remaining. Ascend the Colorado Trail on gentle switchbacks. Just before reaching Kennebec Pass, walk south to the Muldoon Mine. Climb the east ridge of Cumberland Mountain. Walk down the northwest ridge toward the Kennebec Pass Trailhead. Turn east and at Kennebec Pass, go north to Point 12,101', Kennebec Peak. Return to the pass and finish on the incoming trail.

Begin on the north side of the road. On an excellent path rising from the trailhead at 10,400 feet, allow yourself to be wound up and around on gentle switchbacks through deep woodsy glades and luscious wildflowers. In consort with receding snow are a bounty of glacier lilies, goofy little flowers with their heads pointed down. (THW, photo)

Groves of old-growth Engelmann spruce are the finest anywhere in the region. These pot-bellied specimens are easily 250 years old and may be positively ancient at 850 years. The giants rise to 200 feet.

At 1.2 miles, 11,200 feet, emerge from the forest. Here, the Colorado Trail shares the trackway with the Sliderock Trail for 0.6 mile. In years past, this segment was thin, exposed and duly respected by local mountain bikers. It has been tamed by widening the treadway but it is easy to see how it can be overrun by rocks peeling off the carmine columnar cliffs directly above. The east ridge of Cumberland, our climbing route, may be seen image-left.

In early summer this portion of the trail is practically overtaken, not by exfoliating rocks, but by kittentails. (THW, photo)

At 1.8 miles, 11,750 feet, a post marks the junction with the Muldoon Mine trail. This image looks back on the Sliderock Trail.

Turn left/south and travel on the historic mining track beneath the east face of Cumberland Mountain. After big winters, a snow sheet tends to linger in a gully between the junction and the mine. Crossing can be treacherous and the safest option is usually to drop below the snow before regaining the track. The Muldoon Mine is perched on an east-facing terrace dug into the mountain. The porch of the living quarters takes advantage of the drop-away view. The railroad track is interspersed with divinely fragrant phlox while it clings to the precipitous edge. A bright yellow generator sits just inside the door of the workshop. (THW, photo)

This image was captured in 2014. Two years later the two seater outhouse is listing even more precariously over oblivion.

From the mine at 2.1 miles, elevation 11,820 feet, climb the broad and open ridgecrest to the summit. In this image, hikers are descending the welcoming ridge.

The ascent yields startling and revealing views of Lewis Mountain, 12,681'. What appears to be a broad, hulking eminence when seen from Durango, is actually an almost three-mile curved knife edge.

Cumberland Mountain, elevation 12,388 feet, has a talus summit with cavities for wind protection. Gain the peak at 2.4 miles after 2,150 feet of climbing. Dwarf phlox are flung all over the crest. (THW, photo)

The panorama from the top affords an unmatched perspective on the La Plata range. The Sliderock Trail can be seen in this image emerging from the deep forest and running to the southwest of Olga Little Mountain, 11,426'. The San Juans are in the distance.

Snowstorm Peak, 12,511', adjacent to the south, is separated from Cumberland by a blasted out landmark called The Notch, a destination and turn-around for 4WD vehicles. There is a dependable route up the east side of Lewis Mountain and over into Columbus Basin by walking through The Notch (shown), proceeding under crimson Snowstorm Peak, past the Bessie G Mine, and climbing Lewis via a social trail.

 From Cumberland the western massif of the La Platas is showcased.

From the summit of this accessible and friendly mountain descend the northwest ridge on a social trail trampled into scree and dirt. Our route hooks back shy of the Kennebec Pass Trailhead but it would be a simple diversion to walk there. Typically, 4WD vehicles are parked at the terminus of the La Plata Canyon Road. Popular Taylor Lake is 1.2 miles by foot west of the trailhead. Indian Trail Ridge, at skyline in this image, is a distinctive north/south connector that carries the Colorado Trail from the La Platas to the San Juan Mountains.

As the ridge dissipates, simply cut north to rejoin the Colorado Trail at 2.9 miles. Turn right/east and stroll 0.3 mile to Kennebec Pass. At 11,750 feet, the pass is the low point between Cumberland Mountain and Pt. 12,101'. If you are running low on time or weather threatens, simply follow the incoming route back to your vehicle. It is only 0.7 miles and 351 feet of climbing to the top of Kennebec Peak. This image, taken from the east slope of Cumberland, shows the south ridge of Pt. 12,101' with Kennebec Pass at its base. 

I heartily recommend climbing the broad, gently rising ridge to Point 12,101' for an astounding view of the San Juan Mountains. Please click on the link for a description of this out-and-back. (THW, photo)

By mid-summer the wildflowers surrounding Kennebec Pass are stellar. The tundra is covered with hybridized Indian paintbrush of variegated hues and there are big patches of the ultra feminine queen's crown.

Fringed gentian is the harbinger of the annular fading of all things bright and cheerful and the coming of autumn.

Close the stem and loop back at Kennebec Pass at 4.6 miles. It is a fast, not quite two mile trek back to the trailhead. A list follows with some of the blooming wildflowers one may see on this hike. Some are early summer flowers, others late. They are roughly ordered by their elevation preference, low to high.

Mule's ears, penstemon, lupine, wild iris, larkspur, golden banner, yarrow, golden eye, serviceberry, glacier lily, spring beauty, draba, Jacob's ladder, bluebell, mahonia, senecio (pakera), white peavine, purple vetch, elderberry, ninebark, current, native honeysuckle, mountain parsley, Engelmann's aster, meadow rue, Geyer's onion, white violet, purple violet, strawberry, red columbine, ballhead waterleaf, whiplash erigereon, Drummond's rockcress, hairy golden aster (mountain gold), candytuft, kittentail, little sunflower, orange sneezeweed, green gentian, western valerian, edible valerian, blue columbine, bistort, Wyoming paintbush, magenta paintbrush, marsh marigold, pussy willow, Parry's primrose, king's crown, queen's crown, mouse-ear chickweed, dusty maiden, star and fringed gentian, alpine avens, phlox, snowball saxifrage, dotted saxifrage, northern rock jasmine (fairy candelabra), pink and white clover, sky pilot, old man of the mountain (alpine sunflower), purple fringe, deep rooted spring beauty, alpine buttercup and snow buttercup.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Madden Peak, 11,972', and Parrott Peak, 11,857', Western Approach

Essence: Early-season approach to the western La Platas when snow lingers on the peaks. Minimal effort and fast access to two summits in the southwest corner of the range. Walk up the west ridge of Madden Peak with infinite, wide-open space behind as you ascend into the full glory of the mountains. Only the drive is potentially troublesome.
Travel: In a 4WD with high clearance, zero-out your trip meter at the US 160/550 intersection in Durango. Head west on US 160. Pass Target Tree and go up Mancos Hill, staying in the right lane. As you crest, the highway makes a bend to the right at the Montezuma County line. At 21.6 miles, hang a sharp right at the sign: National Forest Access, Madden Peak Road. The gravel road narrows and turns to dirt as it becomes FSR 316 at 22.6 miles where a track goes off to right. Stay straight and gain elevation quickly. Tall scrub oak in scattered ponderosa gives way to a thick aspen forest. The dirt road has a lot of deep ruts and would be impassible when wet. In other stretches, the surface is rocky. At 28.4 miles, see the radio towers on Caviness Mtn. At 28.5 miles, FSR 353 comes in on left. Continue straight, staying on FSR 316, passing through an open gate. Park here if you don't have 4WD with adequate clearance. The track descends with a view of the west flank of La Platas. The road has deep potholes, often filled with water. At 29.7 miles, pass a trail on the right with a faded sign. Park at 29.9 miles in a circular lot off the right side of the road. FSR 316 does keep going but it gets car-scratching narrow. The parking area is a lovely pastoral spot with aspen and bluebells. Allow one hour from Durango.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 5.3 miles; 2,050 feet of climbing
Time: 4:00 to 5:00
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation moderate; no exposure
Maps: Thompson Park; La Plata; Hesperus, Colorado 7.5 Quads, Trails Illustrated No. 144, Durango, Cortez
Date Hiked: June 16, 2016
Quote:  
Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the disheveled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.
W.B. Yeats

From Madden Peak, Lone Cone and Little Cone are on the far horizon. Hesperus Mountain is at the center of this La Plata cluster. 

Route: The stem and loop utilizes abandoned roads for much of the distance. The loop may be done in either direction. This description ascends the west-southwest ridge of Madden, bears south to Parrott, continues down the south ridge and then pivots northwest to close the loop. The blue-dot route is preferable: from Parrott, return to the saddle and descend west to rejoin the track.  

Walk east from the large parking area, elevation 10,220 feet, on a faint trail (image below) for about 100 feet to an abandoned road and turn left. Make a mental note of this location for your return trip. The track holds to the softly rounded west ridge of Madden to treeline. The path climbs steeply through an aspen forest with a few coniferous companions. Glacier lilies, spring beauties, and buttercups, abundant at the edges of snow patches yield to columbine. Ignore the roads that branch off to the right and go downhill.

At 0.6 mile, 10,760 feet, an equally prominent dirt track branches right at a shallow angle going uphill, image-below.  This initiates the loop. If you want to climb Parrott first, take the right-hand two-track until it is below the Parrott-Madden saddle, the blue-dot route. To climb Madden Peak first as we did, continue straight, steeply up, staying on the ridge.

The road soon leads onto a wide-open grassy hillside. Look back on the small town of Mancos, Mesa Verde, and Sleeping Ute. Helmet Peak is visible to the north. Enter a fir-spruce forest at one mile where snow stubbornly hangs on.

At 11,450 feet, emerge from the trees and get a good look at Madden, image-left, and Parrott. The wide track transitions to a social trail that leads onto the ridgetop.

At 1.4 miles, 11,500 feet, a large cairn on the ridge marks the location of the social trail for those doing the loop counterclockwise. When clear of snow, this trail should be easy to see peeling off the side of the ridgecrest.

Because of late spring storms, in June we walked on top of a cornice with characteristic suncups. It led onto broken talus with well seated rock on a gentle slope. This image looks back on the west ridge. (THW, photo)

The dome of the mountain is alpine tundra. While it was too early for a full-on floral display, early bloomers included mountain parsley, alpine clover, alp lily, alpine willow, minuartia, old man of the mountain, moss campion, and sky pilot, pictured. (THW, photo)

Crest Madden Peak at 2.0 miles after just 1,670 feet of climbing. This is the easiest and fastest route to the summit.

The panorama below is a good indicator of the view sweep from Madden Peak. Moving to the right from Helmet Peak on the left, is Lone Cone and Little Cone in the far distance, Star Peak and Gibbs Peak in the near distance, Hesperus Mountain on the western edge of the La Platas, Spiller Peak, the Knife, the Babcock group, Diorite Peak just poking up, Lewis Mountain, Silver Mountain, and Deadwood Mountain. (All of the above peaks are described in Earthline.) Spin to the southwest and see Mesa Verde, Shiprock, Sleeping Ute Mountain, the Abajo Mountains, and the La Sal Mountains. (THW, photo)

Descend the south ridge of Madden Peak heading directly toward Parrott while walking on thin plates of clinking granitic stone. In half a mile reach Saddle 11,557', the upper end of the blue-dot route. From here, it is 300 feet to the summit of Parrott Peak. While on the saddle, locate a social trail that climbs just to the right/west of some minor cliffs. Once past the obstruction the path gets absorbed into talus.

Parrott is more than it appears. There are two false summit rollers on this little mountain. Crest at 2.75 miles.

Parrott Peak is the southernmost prominence on the western massif of the La Plata range. There is something so sweet about this little peak in its all-important position. A long stretch of the Highway 160 roadcut is below. In the north the San Juan Mountains are the thinnest line. The image below shows the return track traversing on Madden's west ridge, reached easily by returning to Saddle 11,557'.

Ridge purists may descend on Parrott's south ridge to the weather/radio station at 3.0 miles.

Pivot and walk northwest in a descending traverse across a tedious talus field.

Upon crossing Starvation Creek, simply drop to the old track, reaching it at about four miles, roughly 11,100 feet. If you are descending from Saddle 11,557', just go west to Starvation Creek pictured below.

Surely something dreadful occurred here during the La Plata mining days to merit this name. But now marsh marigold, the happiest flower of them all, gathers around the creek. As snow recedes, glacier lilies thrive in this location.
(THW, photo)

Locate the prominent old road for a quick descent and clear route back to the start. Looking back renders a perspective on the loop.

Reach an intersection on the wide-open grassy slope at 4.5 miles, 10,950 feet. While we continue downhill, if you do the loop in the opposite direction, you will need to turn right here on this faint approach track. Close the loop at 4.7 miles.

I'm grateful to my hiking companion for figuring out the access road system and the hiking route for this early-season climb.