Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mountain View Crest to West End: Overlook Point, 12,998'; Peak 12,740'

Essence: Miles fly by; walking is undemanding on tundrascape to the west end of Mountain View Crest. Spires of the Needle Mountains mesmerize. Heart-stopping view of the audible Animas River 4,300 feet below. Along the way, climb over two ranked peaks.
Travel: From Durango, drive roughly eight miles north on US 550 to the signal at Trimble Lane. Zero-out your trip meter as you turn right/east. Turn left on East Animas Road, CR 250, at 0.8 mile. At 4.0 miles, make a shallow right onto Missionary Ridge Road, La Plata CR 253. The road is good, though prone to washboard. Passage is on a mild shelf for miles. At 16.0 miles go straight toward Henderson Lake on FSR 682. At 22.7 miles go right on FSR 081. Immediately, pass Henderson Lake. The road gets rougher and steeper but is plausible for 2WD vehicles with moderate clearance and sturdy tires. Park at 25.9 miles (elevation 10,940 feet), just before the road degenerates substantially as it continues another two arduous miles to the Lime Mesa TH. Allow 1:00 from the bottom of Missionary Ridge Road. If you wish to start hiking from the Lime Mesa TH (blue-line route below), see the travel and initial route directions for Mount Kennedy and Aztec Mountain.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 14.0 miles; 3,400 feet of climbing
Time: 6:30 to 8:30
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; easy walking with two slightly more demanding segments; navigation moderate; no exposure
Map: Mountain View Crest, Colorado 7.5' Quad
Latest Date Hiked: September 19, 2020
Quote: Beauty beyond thought everywhere, beneath, above, made and being made forever. John Muir

The author strides happily along the relaxed edge of Mountain View Crest ever mindful of the stark contrast Pigeon Peak and Turret Peak present across cavernous space. (Chris Blackshear, photo)

Route: Mountain View Crest is a landform that rises steadily from the south and tops out at an abrupt escarpment that runs roughly east/west for almost ten miles. It extends from Columbine Pass on the eastern side to a definitive end on the west, hung high above the Animas River. The Needle Creek drainage defines the bottom of the abutment on the north side. This tour covers the western half of the vast sublimity. For the eastern portion, see Mount Kennedy and Aztec Mountain.

The Lime Creek Trail conveniently bisects the crest near the midpoint. The last portion of the road to the Lime Mesa TH is so demanding, only serious 4WD vehicles are capable of arriving. We stumbled on the idea of stopping short a few years ago and made our own route to meet up with the Lime Mesa Trail. Others have followed and the alternate trail is fairly well established. 

Park and walk 0.3 mile up the road until it hooks a sharp right. At the apex of the bend, look for a trail leading off to the left/northeast at 11,040 feet.  If you lose the trail, no worries. Just keep Lime Mesa's west face cliffs on your right. Red cubes fallen out of a low-lying wall rest beside the trail. We made up a new word to describe this phenomenon that carries on for some distance: Cubular. 

The path rises gently through clearings and woods for 1.9 miles. Then, in the tundra, it holds a northeast bearing until it intersects the Lime Mesa Trail at 2.4 miles, just shy of 12,000 feet. A large cairn marks this junction at the north end of Lime Mesa. Look south and see Dollar Lake 0.6 mile away.

Turn north, staying on the distinct Lime Mesa Trail while climbing through an enchanting amalgamation of tundra and granite.

The escarpment's precipice doesn't reveal itself until you are standing quite near the edge at 3.6 miles, 12,520 feet. Pigeon, Turret, and Mount Eolus, 14,083', take a mighty big cut out of the sky. An angler's trail dives off the crest to Ruby Lake nestled in a cirque below.

The next 3.5 miles to the west end is off-trail. Occasionally there are social and sheep trails but they are rather unnecessary. The land slopes softly on the south and loses itself to thin air on the north. Walk the edge.

From the Ruby Lake overview, turn northwest and climb a welcoming slope, passing a gigantic cairn. The shifting view is gripping, often compartmentalized by granite walls enclosing couloirs. This image of Ruby Lake was taken from the initial incline. (THW, photo)

Point 12,802' is easily won. This is one of those unusual hikes where 14 miles feels like half that. There are only two tricky places and one of them is on the west side of this point. Scamper down a talus field 150 feet. The crack off the nose is the most fun.

From the saddle, it is a quick climb with no interference to Overlook Point, 12,998', a ranked peak, at 4.5 miles. The left side of this panorama highlights the Needle Range. Just right of center are the mountains on the east side of the crest: Kennedy and Aztec. West Silver Mesa's granite sheets gleam in the distance. Ptarmigans reside on this peak so keep a sharp eye out for these elusive, camouflaged birds. (THW, photo)

The northwest side of Overlook Point delivers up a talus field followed by a steep drop down a grassy slope punctuated by weathered boulders and crushed granite underfoot. In the saddle, a hiker looks down on Pear Lake.

The next crest on the ridge is Peak 12,740' with 320 feet of rise, shown. It is easily scaled and affords a look at Webb Lake residing on a bench below. (THW, photo)

The Mountain View Crest 7.5' USGS topographical map identifies the next roller as Needleton, 12,719'. Most people think of Needleton as the train stop for the trek to Chicago Basin on-level with the Animas River. The walk to this upper story Needleton is magical. This image shows the west ridge extending from Needleton, the high point on the right. (THW, photo)

Weave between weathered granite blocks embedded in a tundra cushion. Arrive on Point 12,719' at 6.2 miles. We anticipated, but could not locate a benchmark on the crest.

From this lofty perch, look down on the Animas River. Or, look east up Needle Creek and find Chicago Basin, base camp for Eolus, Windom and Sunlight peaks, shown. (THW, photo)

Mountain View Crest makes a bend at Needleton, turning true west. It is one mile further to the definitive end of the peninsula. Be sure to complete this journey for the walk itself will make your heart skip along with your feet.

Walk over a little hill of talus and onto a ridge that drops off both sides. Continue 0.2 mile to the tiny terminus at 12,340 feet, 7.1 miles from the trailhead. 

From the rocky perch, see a large run of the Animas River 4,300 feet below. The river speaks loud enough to hear quite easily. The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad tracks parallel the river. On the other side, the Twilights rise mightily.

There are several ways to approach the return, including going out exactly as you came in. Presumably, most hikers will skirt below the high points. Hold a contour averaging 12,600 feet while returning to the Lime Mesa Trail and accumulated vertical will tally about 500 feet.

Walk on this boundless immensity only on a day when there is no threat of thunderstorms.


  1. My husband and I have hiked to the precipice (first glimpse of Pigeon, Turret, Eolus, et al) twice this season. That view. Our first hike was on a day of forecasted 30-40 mph south winds, and by the time we reached the precipice, boy was it blowing! No chance of heading west to the ridge walk. Since we decided against traversing to at least Observation Point, we decided to make the loop and hike back on the other (east) side of Lime Mesa. A lovely hike, except for the last bit on the road back down to our parking spot.

    Our second attempt was two days ago, another gorgeous hike. My husband didn’t want to attempt the ridge, but was willing to wait as I hiked up the first prominence before Obs. Pt. I got to the beginning of the rock scramble and just wasn’t gutsy enough to go up the trough of rock on the edge by myself. The wind was gusting enough for me to stand and look at it for a bit, and then turn around. Sigh. Thank you for your photos and descriptions. I’ve read a lot of your summits (which I will not attempt) and other hikes and find your writing style so engaging. Thanks, too, for your articles for the Durango Herald. Hike on!

    1. Hi Lynn, We just missed each other by a few days. We hiked out to the West End on the 19th. Darn--you could have hiked up to Pt. 12,802' with us. You would have made it, no problem. Hiking solo can be intimidating. Thank you for reading and appreciating so faithfully. Debra

  2. Hiked again today with a friend. Two questions: Is it EVER not windy up there?? And could we have seen peregrine falcons as we hiked up through the granite boulders .5 miles from the crest?

    1. Hi Lynn, You've just gotten unlucky with the wind. And yes, it is easily possible you saw peregrines. Debra