Sunday, April 29, 2018

Animas Overlook, 8,960', from Turtle Lake Bouldering Garden

Essence: The trail utilizes a thin swath of BLM property to link La Plata CR 205 with the National Forest. This is the only public access from the Turtle Lake and Falls Creek valleys through the cliffs and onto to the gentle southern slopes of Barnes Mountain. Walk along the eastern escarpment of the miles-long cuesta to the Animas Overlook. The hike is consistently gentle with the exception of two short steep pitches. It utilizes old roads within the Log Chutes trail system, managed by Trails 2000. There are periodic sweeping vistas overlooking Hidden Valley, the Animas River Valley, Missionary Ridge, and the San Juan Mountains. Immerse yourself in ponderosa pines.
Travel: From Main Avenue in Durango, go west on 25th Street. It transitions to Junction Street and then La Plata CR 204/Junction Creek Road. At the first stop sign, 2.8 miles from Main Ave., turn right onto CR 205. Pass Turtle Lake and watch for a long parking pull-out on the right as you are mid-way up a hill. A large undercut boulder on the northwest side of the road marks the spot, 1.1 miles from the stop sign.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 9.2 miles; 2,240 feet of climbing for the Scenic Route, ascending, and Cut-Off, descending. Returning on the Log Chutes Loop adds half a mile and 100 feet of vertical.
Time: 4:00 to 6:00
Difficulty: Trail; navigation moderate; no exposure
Maps: Durango West; Durango East, Colorado 7.5 USGS Quads or Apogee Mapping
Turtle Lake Bouldering Garden: There are over 50 climbs identified in the popular bouldering park. Mountain Project describes the classic climbing routes.
Latest Date Hiked: April 29, 2018
Poem:  
I have pine wind for sale
have you ever tried it
three tons of gold
gets you a gourdful.
Tung-Pin Lu, Secret of the Golden Flower

Looking west from the Haflin Creek Trail, the Animas Overlook is on the horizon, image-center. Barnes Mountain is at the north end of the cuesta. This image was shot in January, 2018, during a warm and dry winter.

Route: Begin at the Turtle Lake Bouldering Garden and walk north through BLM property to the Log Chutes trail system in the National Forest. While there are many options in the maze of old logging roads, now mountain bike trails, this hike follows the cuesta rim as closely as possible. Hike east above the Turtle Lake valley and swing north tracking Hidden Valley to the Animas Overlook. Return on the Cut-Off or Log Chutes Loop.

The image below was taken from the parking pullout at elevation 6,940 feet. Head to the right of the roadside boulder these women are climbing and start weaving through fallen giants. Bouldering trails spin off every which way. The trickiest segment of navigation is right here at the base of the scarp. The immediate goal is to locate a trail up the first pitch located to the right of the cliff band.

 Follow the main trail to a gigantic toppled block and go to the right of it.

 Then walk between two resting monsters, shown looking back.

The trail is easy to follow at first but it becomes less obvious. I marked the proper track with cairns. If they are absent just continue walking parallel to the road until you come to an open area with a fire ring and log teepee. A mountain bike trail emerges from the forest and exits onto the road. Turn left and follow the bike tracks uphill. They lead onto a stony slope at 0.2 mile. This steep, 150-foot climb is as rugged as this hike gets.

After a brief stretch of clambering the trail heads to the right and transitions onto a constructed, well-engineered footpath that meanders magically around all impediments. It starts at 7,200 feet, between a large squared-off boulder and juniper, shown.

The trail switchbacks up the southeast facing slope. Old growth ponderosa tower above the Gambel oak and piñon-juniper woodland. At 0.5 mile, the singletrack passes a stone foundation. People who frequent this trail conjecture this is an historic still from Durango's bootlegging days in the 1920's.

The route works its way up a broad ravine through the Morrison Formation, a soft greenish gray shale and mudstone mix. There is not a lot of cliff structure in the recess and the trail makes the most of the weakness to penetrate the Dakota Sandstone, shown. There's been a whole lot of tumbling going on. Scattered on the slope, the boulders keep it interesting. Some rolled all the way down to the bouldering garden.

The Turtle Lake community is on the valley floor confined by Animas City Mountain on the southeast.

At 1.2 miles, 7,620 feet, there is a T junction marked by a cairn. Turn right. (The left spur rises to a nice overview off-route.)

The track crosses a spring. Watch carefully for the winding treadway in this area. At 1.4 miles, 7,720 feet, the soft dirt path ends at an old logging two-track. For those familiar with the Log Chutes mountain bike trails, the roadbed is shared by Loops #2 and #3. This junction is not marked so take careful note of your location. I look for the fallen tree laying across the road a few paces away but who knows how long it will linger. The remainder of the hike is on US Forest Service property.

Turn right/east. Our route stays fairly close to the rim of the cuesta all the way to the Animas Overlook. In half a mile (1.9 miles from the start), the Scenic Route and the Cut-Off split at a Y, shown below, and on the map above. I typically take the rim route going uphill and the Cut-Off, saving half a mile, on the return. Bear right on the more primitive track.

The ponderosa were logged 120 years ago to build Durango. Some of the most venerable trees were spared but most of the forest is youthful. At the slightest breeze, pine wind is a winsome companion.

At 2.3 miles, reach the lofty southeast corner of the cuesta. Here we transition from overlooking the valley of Turtle Lake to Hidden Valley as the road swings due north. The track narrows to a rocky treadway and shoots up a rather steep hill.

At the  top of the rise you will see a lineup of high peaks in the Weminuche Wilderness. A low ridge separates Hidden Valley from the Animas River Valley, shown. It is composed of Entrada Sandstone. Missionary Ridge rises 3,000 feet above the valley floor.

At 2.7 miles, 7,840 feet, the Cut-Off joins from the left. Memorize this junction for the return. Climb a small roller and then step aside into a little opening revealing the cliffs below. The prominent rock formation is Entrada Sandstone. Basketmaker archaeological sites are located within protected alcoves. Junction Creek Sandstone is the thin band above the Entrada. US 550 rolls pleasantly through Hermosa and then rakes up into the San Juan Mountains.
(THW, photo)

A map of the Log Chutes trail system is located at a junction at 3.2 miles. This is where the Log Chutes Loop option initiates on the return trip. For now, continue straight. Irresistible viewpoints are frequent.

Animas Valley Vista
There is an astounding overlook at 4.0 miles, 8,600 feet. This is by far the best view of Hidden Valley, the Animas River Valley, and Missionary Ridge. Meandering oxbows span the width of the floodplain. In January, 2018, a golden eagle circled below. If you have but half a day to hike, this is a satisfying turn-around.

The abandoned logging road dwindles to a singletrack. It transitions onto the Animas Overlook Interpretive Trail, a paved wheelchair accessible path. Picnic tables take advantage of panoramic views.

Animas Overlook
Reach the overlook at 4.8 miles, 8,960 feet. It is located just off Junction Creek Road, 7.5 miles up FSR 171. The access road is closed in winter (until May 1st) but if you hike in the summer you may see vehicles in the parking lot. (THW, photo)

The vantage point features the San Juan Mountains: Rolling Mountain, Twin Sisters, Engineer Mountain, the Twilights, Pigeon Peak, Mount Eolus, and Mountain View Crest. Retrace your steps down the pleasant backslope.

Log Chutes Loop
At 6.5 miles, you will be back at the Log Chutes map. You may extend your hike by bearing right/west. This route is the same distance as the upcoming trek. There are two gentle, short climbs. Study the map before launching because there are some essential junctures. The link trail from the boulder garden is not shown on the map.

The westward road passes through an aspen grove. In the interior, the broad back of the cuesta is open, trees well spaced.

At 7.3 miles, keep going straight where Loop #2 takes off and a few steps further, Loop #1 bears off to the right. The track switchbacks at the bottom of a shallow ravine. Go through a gate and hang a sharp left at 8.0 miles. Stay straight at the next junction. Climb a mellow hill. At 8.4 miles, close the loop at the trail linking Log Chutes with CR 205. It will be on your right.

Cut-Off.
The fastest return route is the Cut-Off, 0.5 mile south of the Log Chutes trail map. Turn west and walk straight toward Perins Peak and North Perins Peak, shown. You will transition back onto the upcoming route, possibly without realizing it. Keep a sharp eye out for the link trail on your left.

Retrace your steps on the downward switchbacking trail to the rubbly pitch. At the base, spur trails splay out in a confusing maze. Just keep heading down and to the right and eventually you will pass between the two colossal boulders and out onto the road.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Mount Ellsworth, 8,235', Little Rockies, Henry Mountains

Essence: Mount Ellsworth is the tallest peak in the Little Rockies sector of the Henry Mountains. Don't underestimate this short climb--it is steep and rugged, the navigation complicated. Scale a series of inclined porphyry slabs. Summit views of the surrounding region are exceptional. The concept of a laccolith was developed in the Henry Mountains by G.K. Gilbert in 1877. A summary of regional geology is included at the end of this post.
Travel: From the intersection of UT 95 and UT 276, drive 19.4 miles south. Turn left onto a dirt track that crosses the highway (signed BLM 13940 on the west side of UT 276). In a high clearance vehicle with 4WD low and a locking differential, drive up the steep and rocky road until it ends in 1.7 miles. (See photos and description below.)
Camping: Starr Springs Campground is five miles up a good dirt road. From the junction with UT 95, drive 16.7 miles south on UT 276 and turn right. Water (2018), cottonwood shade, stellar views of the Little Rockies, fire pits, tables, pit toilets, fee, carry out your trash.  
Distance and Elevation Gain: 3.5 miles; 2,250 feet of climbing
Total Time: 3:30 to 4:30
Difficulty: Off-trail; navigation difficult; Class 2+; mild exposure on pitched slabs; carry all the water you will need. Thank you, John Bregar, for scouting this route.
Maps: Mount Holmes; Ticaboo Mesa, UT 7.5' USGS Quads
Date Hiked: April 27, 2018
Quote: You don’t climb mountains without a team, you don’t climb mountains without being fit, you don’t climb mountains without being prepared and you don’t climb mountains without balancing the risks and rewards. And you never climb a mountain on accident – it has to be intentional. Mark Udall, U.S Senator, Colorado, 2009 - 2015

Mount Holmes and Mount Ellsworth are the two primary peaks in the Little Rockies. This image was taken from the Starr Springs Campground in afternoon light. (THW, photo)

Route: In general, ascend the northwest-running ridge to Point 8,045'. The route does not hold true to the ridge but wavers due to significant obstacles. Pivot onto the northeast ridge of Mt. Ellsworth.

This Google Earth capture shows the route from the end of the road to the summit. Broken terrain and gendarme dodging makes navigation difficult. Note the confusing nature of ridge transitions.    

The drive to the end of the access road is a journey in itself. This image was shot where the track leaves the highway. To begin, the road runs parallel to the blacktop heading north.

It hooks east, gets considerably steeper and cluttered with large rocks. One of our vehicles couldn't make the climb, backed down to the corner, shown, and parked. Walking up the road adds about 1,000 feet of vertical and 3.4 miles roundtrip. (THW, photo)

These hikers are standing at the end of the road, elevation 6,338'. The initial climbing ridge is left of image-center. The route transitions from the gendarme crested spine to a north-northwest face before regaining the principle ridge. Mt. Ellsworth is the softly rounded and treed summit, image-center-right.

A wildcat trail leaves from the east side of the road and descends a red slope. On the ascent we flanked the initial gray knob just a tad too low. Footing was precarious on exposed scree. We dialed it on the return. Stay on the ridge and contour just below the knoll.

This image was shot south of the knob on our return. It looks back at the proper contour location. Once back on the ridge, climb over the red outcrop, shown.

Climb the west side of an inclined porphyry sill. This is the first of many slabs. I found the bare rock climbing to be a pleasure but it is steep. The rock has plenty of features and small ledges to wedge feet. This photo was taken on the descent and shows the initial slab relative to the red outcrop.

This photo was taken at the top of that first stone pitch. This is where we began to transition east on the north-northwest-facing slope. The obstacle-covered ridge at skyline was too imposing. Notice the rock outcrop image-center.  

Hug the wall of the outcrop on the west side, shown here shooting back.

Continue ascending on a pitched slab. If it feels too exposed, walk up the east side of it on dirt. This image looks down the solid rock. To thread things together, notice the outcrop we just hugged at the base of the stone slant.

At 7,360 feet you will have completed the transfer from the face to the principle ridge. This is a compelling location. Lake Powell is visible to the east. Mount Hillers stands stately across open desert in the northwest. (THW, photo)

From here, angle slightly right/west on the rock and then work back to the ridge.

Enjoy a momentary reprieve on a small dirt platform and then climb another pitch, shown heading down.

Climb a beautiful grassy slope interspersed with with sage, ephedra, buffaloberry, piñon, and an elder juniper, shown. We found bighorn scat on this hillside. A member of our group startled a ram on Mt. Holmes so they are out there. (THW, photo)

Four ridges join at Point 8,045', image-left.We skirted this pleasant knob on the ascent but walked right over it coming downhill. Walk southwest toward the summit, image-right.

Flank Point 8,095' on the right.

The summit slope is open with good footing.

Crest the highpoint of the Little Rockies at 1.7 miles. There is a solar powered weather station and a peak register on the roomy summit. (THW, photo)

The views are gorgeous. Looking east, the La Sal Mountains and Abajo Mountains are on the horizon. Image-center, White Canyon flows into the Colorado River arm of Lake Powell from the east. Fourmile Canyon is a slash from the west cutting into a massive meander that's barely holding onto its land bridge. (THW, photo)

Looking south, from the left is Navajo Mountain, Point 8,100', the Straight Cliffs and the village of Ticaboo.

In the west, Waterpocket Fold and Boulder Mountain halt the march of the desert. (THW, photo)

Mount Ellsworth Geology
The geologic discovery of a laccolith occurred in the Henry Mountains. Here's what I learned about laccoliths from John Bregar, geologist. Magma works its way up a vertical conduit into a relatively undisturbed sedimentary section and injects itself between layers that are weakly bonded, initially forming sills, but eventually building up into a giant blister. (A sill is created when magma injects itself parallel to bedding planes and spreads out.) Sedimentary rocks below the blister can remain relatively undisturbed, but sediments above the blister bow up into a dome. Subsequent erosion can remove the sedimentary cover from the dome, exposing the igneous core.

That's the simple textbook description.

Apparent on Mt. Holmes and Mt. Ellsworth (and elsewhere in the Henry Mountains) is a more complex story. Magma intruded in between several weak rock layers, creating multiple sills that can sometimes extend a mile or more away from the main intrusion. We also observe places where the magma between two sedimentary layers suddenly cuts across bedding to higher or lower strata. Adjacent to the main magma blister as it continues to build, these sills, along with the sediments enclosing them, get tilted up, sometimes to almost vertical. Erosion has exposed this complexity on the flanks of the Henry Mountains, and since the sills are generally more resistant to erosion than the adjacent sediments, they often form the tops of mesas, cuestas, hogbacks, and flatirons surrounding the main igneous intrusions. This is readily apparent on the lower part of the Mt. Ellsworth climbing route, where several igneous hogbacks (held up by sills) and intervening soft sedimentary saddles must be negotiated. Sediments involved in this deformation are at least as old as the Chinle or Moenkopi Formations in the Little Rockies.

Of note, nearby Navajo Mountain may look like a volcano but it is also a laccolith. It is exceptional because the sedimentary layers draping the igneous core have not yet been eroded off.

This image shot from roughly 7,900 feet, looks upon the southern slopes of Mt. Holmes. Beneath the laccolith core is the Morrison Formation (a fertile source for dinosaur fossils); arch forming Entrada Sandstone; Carmel Formation deposited in a shallow-sea environment; Navajo Sandstone, the predominant formation on the Colorado Plateau; and ledge-forming Kayenta Formation. Quartzite, baked metamorphic sandstone, is exposed on the slopes of Mt. Ellsworth.

As you ascend into the igneous rock you will notice the gray stone is peppered with white feldspar crystals. These large crystals began to solidify while most of the magma remained liquid, slowly growing in size until the magma was emplaced at a shallow enough depth that the remaining liquid crystallized more quickly, forming the finer-grained ground mass.  Large crystals formed within a fine-grained igneous matrix are called phenocrysts. Igneous rock containing phenocrysts is called porphyry. This water-smoothed boulder tumbled off Mt. Holmes and rolled into Swett Creek.

Here's another angle on Mount Ellsworth, seen from UT 276 and the access road.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Mount Holmes, 7,998', Little Rockies, Henry Mountains

Essence: A mountain arises from the surrounding desert. Walk through two rock worlds as the soft red forms of sedimentary sandstone arc up along the flank of the mountain to meet gray, razor-edged igneous intrusives. The concept of a laccolith was developed in the Henry Mountains by G.K. Gilbert in 1877. A brief summary of the geology is included at the end of this post. Located in the Little Rockies sector of the Henry Mountains, this climb is perhaps the most difficult of the high Henry's. Navigation is challenging and so is the rugged terrain. As a point of emphasis, the Henry Mountains are so isolated it was the last range in the West to be placed on a map.
Travel: From the intersection of UT 95 and UT 276, drive 14.8 miles south to where the highway crosses Milk Creek. Pull off the road onto a slim shoulder on the south side of the wash.
Camping: Starr Springs Campground is five miles up a good dirt road. From the junction with UT 95, drive 16.7 miles south on UT 276 and turn right. Water (2018), cottonwood shade, stellar views of the Little Rockies, fire pits, tables, pit toilets, fee, carry out your trash. 
Distance and Elevation Gain: 7.4 miles; 3,200 feet of climbing
Total Time: 5:30 to 7:00
Difficulty: Off-trail; Class 2+ with mild exposure on the summit block; carry all the water you will need. Navigation is challenging. Thank you, John Bregar, for scouting this in 2017 and guiding me up the mountain.
Map: Mount Holmes, UT 7.5' USGS Quad
Date Hiked: April 25, 2018
Quote: Time, geologic time, looks out at us from the rocks as from no other objects in the landscape. Geologic time! How the striking of the great clock, whose hours are millions of years, reverberates out of the abyss of the past! Mountains fall, and the foundations of the earth shift, as it beats out the moments of terrestrial history.
John Burroughs, American Naturalist, 1837-1921

Mount Holmes in evening light from Starr Springs Campground. (THW, photo)

Route: From UT 276, drop into Milk Creek for a short distance and climb back out onto an abandoned road. Walk east between sandstone forms and gain Saddle 5,180'. Scale the north ridge of the mountain, negotiating obstacles along the way. This is an out-and-back.

From the east side of UT 276, elevation 4,940 feet, drop into Milk Creek and hike upstream. The first goal is to locate the old road seen in this image, center-right.

As indicated on the map above, on the descent we returned overland, going in and out of a shallow ravine. Take your pick.

On the ascent, at 0.15 mile we left Milk Creek and climbed south up a blackbrush slope to intersect the old two-track. Follow the road east into Navajo Sandstone domes.

Still on the road, go between a couple of the salmon-colored structures. Below, Saddle 5,180' is image-right.

The road angles up to the saddle at 1.4 miles.

Leave the road just past the saddle and work south (slightly right). Skirt east of a sandstone knoll on a slowly rising traverse. The terrain is globular and complicated. Back up and try another route if you get cliffed out. Clear the knoll at 1.7 miles and gain the north ridge. Cruising up the initial slab couldn't be more pleasant.

A short list of plants includes snakeweed, ephedra, buffaloberry, and piñon-juniper. It has been a record dry year in the Southwest so not much is blooming. We did see Utah serviceberry and Utah penstemon flowering.

This image gives an overview of the next route segment. Continue up the north ridge and flank the next highpoint, shown behind me, on its left. I spent most of the upclimb aiming for the wrong prominence. It is close to dead center in this image. Of note, there are two tall Douglas fir trees under the north block of the false summit. (THW, photo)

The north ridge is blocked by an igneous sill, shown below. Contour under the gendarme on the east and regain the ridge at 2.6 miles, 6,260 feet.

Upon regaining the north ridge, encounter an outcrop with spiked gendarmes. John Bregar made three alternative passes on a previous trip. He tried going over the top of the ridge, dropping 300 feet into the drainage on the east, and contouring under the obstacle--the best choice. At 2.8 miles begin the sidehill slog.

The transition from sandstone to igneous rock makes the bypass more difficult and somewhat tedious. Watch for teetering boulders and loose material. This is the most challenging segment of the hike. In 0.3 mile, regain the ridge. I found the gravity assist on the return helpful.

The remainder of the climb is intuitive. There is some playful light scrambling. One member of our group hunkered down while we finished the ascent. While sitting silently, a bighorn sheep clattered up the slope. Upon seeing a human, the ram reared up in alarm. Of interest, the Henry Mountains are home to a native herd of bison.

The route works the east side of the ridge before moving west. That's when it became apparent that I was looking at the wrong prominence which is 0.15 mile northwest of the summit, shown. (THW, photo)

The approach over, scale a short blockfield. This image was shot on the descent. (THW, photo)

Climb a steep eastside talus pitch, shown, and then scramble onto the summit. Watch your momentum--it is precipitous up there.

Crest Mt. Holmes at 3.7 miles. The minuscule summit has two relatively flat sitting perches; the peak register is on the west block, shown. Three people can fit on each knob but it is tight. (THW, photo)

The east block opens to an astonishing view of Lake Powell. Visibility was hampered by spring dust but you can make out the La Sal Mountains and Abajo Mountains. (THW, photo)

In this westward panorama, left to right is Navajo Mountain, Mt. Ellsworth, Capitol Reef's Waterpocket Fold, the splintered west ridge of Mt. Holmes (so glad that's not the peak), and Mt. Hillers. (THW, photo)

In the peak register we found a note so compelling I copied it so I could share it with Earthline readers. It was hand written on two sheets of yellow notepaper and carefully stashed in a sealed plastic bag. It reads:

"Today I place this marker here on the summit of Mt. Holmes. This mountain is named after William Henry Holmes. The naming was done by Mr. Hayden of the Hayden Geological Survey. Mr. Holmes was a member of many of Hayden's expeditions and served as an illustrator, cartographer, topographer, and a surveyor. His meticulous drawings and accurate topography are now a part of western lore.

I leave this marker today in memory of another William Henry Holmes of less fame but much accomplishment, also a surveyor. The second Holmes was a mineral and townsite surveyor who staked many mining parcels and laid out the towns of Westcliff and Silver Cliff, CO. To my way of thinking the coincidence of the two Holmes should not go unnoticed so today I place this capsule in honor of two surveyors.

Respectfully set here this 26th day of September, 2009. A fellow surveyor Kit Shy, Westcliff, CO, Shy Surveyors."

Mount Holmes Geology
The geologic discovery of a laccolith occurred in the Henry Mountains. Here's what I learned about laccoliths from John Bregar, geologist. Magma works its way up a vertical conduit into a relatively undisturbed sedimentary section and injects itself between layers that are weakly bonded, initially forming sills, but eventually building up into a giant blister. (A sill is created when magma injects itself parallel to bedding planes and spreads out.) Sedimentary rocks below the blister can remain relatively undisturbed, but sediments above the blister bow up into a dome. Subsequent erosion can remove the sedimentary cover from the dome, exposing the igneous core.

That's the simple textbook description.

Apparent on Mt. Holmes and Mt. Ellsworth (and elsewhere in the Henry Mountains) is a more complex story. Magma intruded in between several weak rock layers, creating multiple sills that can sometimes extend a mile or more away from the main intrusion. We also observe places where the magma between two sedimentary layers suddenly cuts across bedding to higher or lower strata. Adjacent to the main magma blister as it continues to build, these sills, along with the sediments enclosing them, get tilted up, sometimes to almost vertical. Erosion has exposed this complexity on the flanks of the Henry Mountains, and since the sills are generally more resistant to erosion than the adjacent sediments, they often form the tops of mesas, cuestas, hogbacks, and flatirons surrounding the main igneous intrusions. This is readily apparent on the lower part of the Mt. Ellsworth climbing route, where several igneous hogbacks (held up by sills) and intervening soft sedimentary saddles must be negotiated. Sediments involved in this deformation are at least as old as the Chinle or Moenkopi Formations in the Little Rockies.

Of note, nearby Navajo Mountain may look like a volcano but it is also a laccolith. It is exceptional because the sedimentary layers draping the igneous core have not yet been eroded off.

As you ascend into the igneous rock you will notice the gray stone is peppered with white feldspar crystals. These large crystals began to solidify while most of the magma remained liquid, slowly growing in size until the magma was emplaced at a shallow enough depth that the remaining liquid crystallized more quickly, forming the finer-grained ground mass.  Large crystals formed within a fine-grained igneous matrix are called phenocrysts. Igneous rock containing phenocrysts is called porphyry.