Saturday, March 18, 2017

Pautsky Point and Crader Ridge to Point 8,175' Via Horse Gulch

Essence: Begin on familiar in-town trails and discover two treasures in Durango's undomesticated backyard. Pautsky Point, a sweet prize for a relatively small effort, is suitable for families and recreational hikers. Crader Ridge is more demanding. Segue from the trail onto a wild wedge of uplifted sandstone that extends for two miles. Both hikes have multiple, spectacular vantage points overlooking town and the La Plata Mountains.
Travel: The Horse Gulch Trailhead is located on East 3rd Street, one block east of East 8th Avenue. Park in the paved lot on the right. 
Distance Roundtrip and Elevation Gain: Pautsky Point, 5.8 miles, 1,100 feet of climbing. Crader Ridge to Point 8,175', 8.2 miles, 2,320 feet of climbing.
Time: Pautsky 2:00 - 3:30, Crader 4:00 to 6:00
Difficulty for Pautsky: Trail, navigation easy, shear cliff edge
Difficulty for Crader: Trail, off-trail; navigation moderate; while the exposed edge is avoidable, this hike is not recommended for people with a fear of heights or for those who prefer trails; brushy, wear long pants; bring all the water you will need; foot travel only, please.
Map: Durango East, Colorado 7.5 USGS Quad
Latest Date Hiked: March 18, 2017
Quote: We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.
Wallace Stegner

A hiker walks up The Blade on Crader Ridge. The snow-covered San Juan Mountains are in the north.

Route: To climb Pautsky Point, walk east up Horse Gulch Road to The Corral. Continue east on the Meadow Loop to access Telegraph Trail, the blue-line route. From the top of Telegraph Hill, go south to the prominence. Crader Ridge is accessed from the Anasazi Descent, the black-line route. Walk north on the rib of stone for two miles to the local prominence, Point 8,175'. Return as you came.

Both hikes leave from the Horse Gulch Trailhead, elevation 6,600 feet. Walk east up Horse Gulch Road, a broad, mixed-use dirt track. Trails radiate from The Corral at 0.7 mile, shown, where you will find a detailed map of the region. Turn right/east and drop onto the Meadow Loop. The beautiful valley, covered in sagebrush and rabbitbrush, was once the city dump which explains the glass remnants on the initial portion of the trail. Crader Ridge is image-left and Pautsky Point is on the right.

The Meadow Loop is virtually flat as it swings around the southern end of the valley. Bull snakes, rattlesnakes, and cougar track sightings are occasional. Flowering plants include phlox, lupine, Indian paintbrush, flax, larkspur, Oregon grape, yellow stonecrop, serviceberry, filaree, and the uncommon standout, scarlet beeblossom. On weekends especially, Horse Gulch is Durango's favorite scene. Trails come alive with mountain bikers, hikers, runners and dog walkers.

Pautsky Point
Reach the Telegraph Trail junction at 1.5 miles and turn right. The track punches through oak and piƱon on the north side of the east tributary of Horse Gulch. The trail cuts across the draw and swings abruptly south under the western scarp of Pautsky Point, shown above. The smooth dirt path has a gentle grade suitable for casual hikers. Views of the home country grow increasingly expansive as the treadway gains elevation above the valley floor. Smelter Mountain, Twin Buttes, Durango, Carbon Mountain, and Ewing Mesa are picturesque juxtaposed with the eastern front of the La Plata Range.

After two and a half miles, the trail makes a sharp swing back north and passes under everyone's favorite over-hanging boulder. Pass historic telegraph poles and then climb a rocky trackway that tops out on Telegraph Hill at 2.7 miles, 7,460 feet. Multiple trails radiate from this prominent intersection. Go right/south on a dirt path. In a few feet it leads onto a long sandstone slide, one of the best elements of the hike. If you haven't climbed a friction pitch, this is a great one for starters. There are plenty of features in the rock to give you grip; the pitch is manageable. The slide breaks up as the ridge rounds off.

Crest Pautsky Point at 2.9 miles, elevation 7,683 feet. The clifftop promontory affords a sweeping vista of Durango, Perins Peak, the La Plata Mountains and the Four Corners region. Sitting rocks create an ideal picnic venue. After signing the peak register, retrace your steps to town. As you approach the bottom of the slide, don't overshoot the little dirt trail going off to the right.

For those going on to Crader Ridge: on Telegraph Hill, turn left at the tribute stone to Bill Manning, past director of Trails 2000. Two tenths of a mile from the top intersect the upcoming route at the first switchback. The image below shows the Anasazi Descent cutting through oakbrush and the south end of Crader Ridge.

Crader Ridge to Point 8,175'
From the Meadow Loop, turn right onto the Telegraph Trail. In just a tenth of a mile, jog a few yards to the left and then make a hard right onto the Anasazi Descent. Yield to mountain bikers hucking down this technical ripper. Approaching the western face of Crader Ridge, note that it is riddled with huecos, water-holding depressions. Below, a biker on the Meadow Loop takes aim on Crader Ridge. 

At 2.0 miles, elevation 7,340 feet, the Descent makes a sharp switchback south at a ravine. The off-trail route begins here. A large cairn marks the thin opening left of the trail. Walk up the boulder-filled drainage on a rugged social trail that stays in the gully bottom. 

Pass a system of historic stone walls built by miners at a coal seam. One tenth of a mile from the trail, the ravine opens at a sloping sandstone wall, your landscape marker. Leave the defile at a large cairn. Head northwest up a hillside marked with reassurance cairns. In just 80 feet intersect the sandstone rim of Crader Ridge.

Below, a hiker has just arrived on Crader Ridge. The Telegraph Trail is visible on the northwest flank of Pautsky Point. Ewing Mesa, Carbon Mountain, and Lake Nighthorse are southwest.

The route is clear from here; travel the intersect between stone and sky. Hike north staying as close to the raw edge as you dare. 

For hikers who love the magical sensation of hanging out over space, you don't have to go very far up the reef. Suspended slab slivers are only a third of a mile from the Anasazi Descent.

The Blade slices through open air.

There are three prominences on the ridge. Crest Point 7,973' at 2.5 miles. In this image, Engineer Mountain is visible to the left of Missionary Ridge. Views of the San Juan Mountains are ceaseless.

Crader Ridge is a remarkable moving vantage point. Splayed out in linear quadrants are Horse Gulch, Raider Ridge, Durango, Perins Peak, and the La Plata Mountains on the western horizon.

Local geologist, John Bregar, noted that Raider and Crader ridges are two in a series of hogbacks that are tilted up on the south flank of the San Juan Mountain uplift. Raider Ridge is held up by Mesa Verde Formation while Crader Ridge is Pictured Cliffs Formation. The hard sandstone layers resist erosion. Between the ridges is Horse Gulch, a strike valley comprised of soft Lewis Shale. I often feel both incredulous and grateful that planetary surface shapes are so well suited to living creatures. (THW, photo)

Cross the first of two extraordinary sandstone slabs at 2.9 miles. Walking on seamless and clean stratum is exhilarating, even for the seasoned slickrock traveler. Experience a little bit of Utah right here in Durango.

Point 8,055' at 3.2 miles is so stunning it is a tempting turn-around. If you can, hold on for Durango's premiere sandstone slab and highpoint beyond, shown below.

This enormous, uninterrupted sheet is clearly visible from points east, including Grandview and Highway 160.
(THW, photo)

A hiker stands on the capstone's exposed pinnacle. (THW, photo)

Cross the airy top of the stone plate.

Fossils and sea floor ripples are embedded along the walking corridor; you can't miss them. Tucked in the reef are a variety of plants including claret cup cactus, cholla, prickly pear, bladderpod, and two kinds of yucca.

The terrain is brushy between the slab and crest. The final approach is a playful friction pitch.

Point 8,175' is the highest prominence on the ridge and the feeling is lofty. Summit at  4.1 miles. The homefront panorama is exceptional so consider packing binoculars. Locate the peak register tucked into the ledge.
(THW, photo)

Return as you came. Please do not proceed further out the ridge or bail from it on either side. Private land surrounds. Besides, Crader Ridge is so enthralling, traveling twice doubles delight.

History of Public Access in Horse Gulch
There are legions to thank for the privilege of public access in Horse Gulch and on Pautsky Point and Crader Ridge. 

Trails 2000, Durango's trail advocacy group, has created and maintained a world-class system of trails in Horse Gulch. In the early 1990's, Trails 2000 board president, Daryl Crites, secured public easements in Horse Gulch from community-minded Noel Pautsky. The easements were deeded to La Plata County. Public access was granted in perpetuity to the trail system including the Meadow Loop, Telegraph, Crites Connect, and Anasazi Descent.

In 2015, Marc Katz purchased 1,850 acres encompassing Ewing Mesa and portions of Horse Gulch from the Pautsky family. While old trail easements remained in place, Trails 2000 has been working with the philanthropic and public-spirited Katz to grant public access to new trails.

A decade ago, the City of Durango began aggressively acquiring different properties in Horse Gulch as open space with Great Outdoors Colorado grants and open space funds. Included in this forward-looking endeavor was Crader Ridge (an unofficial name). It was purchased from the Crader family and is designated city open space.

Private land abounds in this region; please stay on-route.

Taken from Smelter Mountain, this image depicts downtown Durango, Raider Ridge, Horse Gulch, and Crader Ridge and Pautsky Point at skyline.

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