30 August 2019

Cave Basin

San Juan National Forest

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In among many questions, I asked a ranger why Cave Basin was named such. He said there's some limestone up here and it has some caves, but he didn't know where and they are rumored to be hard to find. So probably no caves today. The trail itself is only a little over 5 miles long, but the fellow hefting a big pack makes me question if there might not be a little more to it. The long out of date USGS maps show a trail down Hell Canyon to connect with the Lake Fork Trail. But no, five miles to an overlook is all he knows about. He's just getting set up for archery season for deer and elk which starts tomorrow. I knew I'd seen something was starting Saturday. He seems to think this trail is not well known about. I think it's right there on the map. (The Forest Service topo. USGS shows it on the other side of the peak to the east. OpenStreetMap hasn't got it.)

signs at the start of Cave Basin
Wilderness information sign and trail register at the trailhead for Cave Basin.

I record my plans in the register and start up the hill trying to be leisurely, but seeming to chug along a bit faster than usual. No need, this is a short day compared to most. The trail follows old roads with a junction here and there. They must have been logging. Little signs point the way at the junctions but the trail is well enough used to make it obvious, at least in this part of the season.

Middle Mountain Road
The road up Middle Mountain. Lots of flowers out here.

trail through meadow
Trail on an old road, generally passing through meadow and then trees at the top.

West Mountain
A look over to West Mountain.

There must have been a nice sign for the wilderness once, but there is only a post now. Higher up is a basic wilderness sign and a bright yellow sign to make it very clear that snow mobiles are definitely not allowed either. I sort of want to skip ahead to the bit above tree line. Down the back, there is more forest. Beetles have had their way with it and most of it is dead long enough the bark is flaking away. There are a few trees fallen across the trail, some quite large. It just makes me more eager to skip ahead.

28 August 2019

Dark Canyon and Runlett Park on Middle Mountain

San Juan National Forest

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Dark Canyon seems like a good way up Middle Mountain, although with the late start I'm feeling like maybe I should grab the peak in a spur off Cave Basin, which I plan to do later. Anyway, it pops up to Runlett Park which follows the ridge and should be a nice view. Good thing I already knew where I was going. In spite of the prohibition against camping within 100 feet of a trailhead, someone has chosen to park straddling the trail with the sign tucked almost entirely behind their rear to camp in a still shady little hole not far enough off to be legal. There's lots of legal dispersed camping sites just a mile further. The area has a bunch of ATV trails, but this one is a single track limited to motorcycles. Not that I'll quite notice that until it turns into Runlett Park, which allows ATVs, so I'll be a little grumpy about the motorcycles tracks over the next two miles.

thin trail beside the sign
The trail is surprisingly thin by the sign, but quickly becomes a very well used track and never gives up after.

bit of trail
Nice clump of mushrooms on a log happily removed from the trail.

water in the forest
A rather random pool in the forest.

Besides being a bit direct on the downhill, the trail is in good repair. The only tree down is so fresh, I can still see the tracks from the last motorcycle to try the trail passing underneath. It doesn't look like it'll block the next one for long. The views of the reservoir and town are a little surprising for something named Dark Canyon.

West Mountain
A lot of that over there is West Mountain with maybe some of Endlich Mesa.

24 August 2019

Vallecito to Windom: West Mountain

San Juan National Forest

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5

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(Day 5 of 5. Links to other days are above.) Since I stopped a little short of what I hoped, there are still 15 miles left to the car. My early start gets a little consumed in watching the early light play on the tall peaks to the north. Guess I can't get going at the expense of being where I am? Well, it is important to remember to enjoy the moments.

light on distant peaks
Sunlight on Sunlight Peak and the rest of them.

After some breakfast, light is all over here too. I have one more bald hump to get over before descending properly into the trees, leaving the wilderness somewhere in between. There's no sign to note it. Perhaps because the trail pops back in and out a few more times?

rocky hump of land
One more bald hump.

bump with a view
A bump with a view. Probably the last time to take in that view to the north.

gulch off the side
View to the southeast is of the upper portions of Grimes Creek.

Down the other side and into the trees is a nice change. They aren't too thick. Actually, they were probably clear cut not too long ago. A day hiker standing around fiddling with something off on the side isn't too surprising. There are a bunch of old logging roads nearby and one that gets close to here is still open to the public. The footprints seem to go a few ways just past a junction with another old road, which is a good time to discover I lost the trail a half mile ago. I'm not supposed to be going down through the clear cut stumps. I should still be up by the ridge. I give the ridge a squint and there is a big road cut up there. That'll be it.

23 August 2019

Vallecito to Windom: Silver Mesa and Endlich Mesa

San Juan National Forest

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5

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(Day 4 of 5. Links to other days are above.) Morning and as I cook breakfast, I seem to have a minor mountain goat infestation of one male. These goats are far too comfortable around people. I watch him, and it becomes clear he's looking for a rock I might have peed on for the salt. Ew.

mountain goat with an agenda
One mountain goat sniffing about for a salty patch.

The weather is already threatening, although I get a sense of rain without thunder somehow. The threatening weather is reason number one it might not be a good idea to take Endlich Mesa back as planned since after climbing to 12.6k feet, I stay near that and then over 12.8k feet Thimble Pass. That first bit of staying high is at least under a tall ridge, but the next miles high on Silver Mesa are above tree line in the flat. The next reason to avoid it is that fire warning at the start. The trails I came in on are hardly affected by the fire, but Endlich Mesa will come down through what I could see from below was heavily burned. The third reason is that the trail only goes to a lake just past Thimble Pass on OpenStreetMap although the other trails seem to be there in closer to accurate form, including the one up to Twin Lakes and beyond. I'm worried about what circumstance has left it off and thoughts go back to the fire. I can't even be certain that it goes through. On the other side is long miles of ridge walking with lots and lots of view. That's a pretty strong argument. If it really does only go to the lake, I should still have all the time I need to return via Vallecito Creek instead. So I'm still going to give it a try. First I need to get back to the main trail. This time, I'll take the better trod and built way.

upper valley
Getting started, and not all that early, to get up the pass under a sky promising to rain.

purple flowers
Fire followers along the trail, but they'll come in with any disturbance or just because there are meadows, too.

sign at the trail
This trail not included on the Forest Service map is even signed. Why is it missing?

Once back at the main trail, I just have to follow it back the way I came. That's easy. I go up to some view points of the valley, past a mine pouring out water, the mine with the cabin remains, and the large camp sites with a bit too much beetle kill nearby. Up into the upper meadows with the morning light being especially good for picking out the old trails to the big holes in the ground that are more mines.

22 August 2019

Vallecito to Windom: Windom Peak

San Juan National Forest

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5

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(Day 3 of 5. Links to other days are above.) It looks like a stunning day for a mountain climb, but little wisps of cloud form quickly. Decorative or previews of what is to come? I could certainly have started earlier, but suspect this is early enough as I make my way to the trail and up, past the sign banning camping beyond. The mountain goats are on their daily commute down. They are a bigger group, 6 or 8, but still keep the wary but not scared attitude. Do they figure it out when the hunters come or are they just lucky that goat tags are hard to come by?

high meadow going up
Light is still finding its way across the land.

mountain goats in the meadow
The mountain goats on their morning commute down to the lower meadows.

As I looked across from Columbine Pass yesterday, I could see this trail cut into the slopes up to Twin Lakes and wondered at the traffic that could have made such a use trail. Also about the way it seemed to flirt with one steep cascade, getting into the water and leaving again, then cross another. Now that I am on it, I see built up steps and sides of what could be Depression era CCC work or similar. Again, there are mines above that were undoubtedly worked by mule, so it could come from that, too. The trail stays to the dry as it swings to the edge of one cascade, then crosses as a rather safe spot at the other.

Columbine Pass and the rest of the cirque
Columbine Pass, a little left of center, is no low pass.

At the first lake, a use trail, a thin and very distinct dirt track at first, crosses the outflow and makes its way to Mount Eolus. A fellow taking in the lake says he seems to be done climbing these peaks but is waiting for his son to come down. He seems a bit young to claim it is all over for him already. More trail goes around the lake to the right, crossing ice fields and dropping onto some more built trail.

ice shelf reflected in the water
Liking the reflections.

21 August 2019

Vallecito to Windom: Johnson Creek and Columbine Pass

San Juan National Forest

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5

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(Day 2 of 5. Links for other days are above.) Morning comes without any night rain. I totally got away with leaving the rain fly off. I didn't get much star gazing in, though. The camera said it had taken its last picture on the battery it had, so I pop in the charged one for a picture of the sunrise light on the mountains. The camera promptly explains that it has taken its last picture on that battery, too. I tested that battery before I started! I couldn't remember when it had been charged, so I put it on the charger. The light went red, then a couple minutes later it was green. I start to think that big camera plus 14er doesn't mix, but it went up Quandary just fine. It got up Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn just fine. It was only Williamson where I had a different problem. I seem to be rather emotionally attached to taking photos with the big camera because I feel a swirl of depression coming over me.

mountains around Johnson Creek
The sentinels of Johnson Creek. This is not the sunrise photo because that one was overexposed but didn't get checked. Admittedly, the camera is having problems and making everything rather soft.

same with the phone
The pocket computer, AKA "phone", can serve as backup even if the photos seem overmanipulated and false and the detail turns into blobs if one looks too close. Vivid color is quite popular over reality.

So I pack it up and find my way back along the animal path to the trail. It does not plunge into the willows like I thought it was about to, but follows along the side and then up the hill as the valley gets narrow again. There was no stream over there after all and I had been about to lose all chance at a camp site. I get to wondering if the area was a vast lake after the glacier melted, a lake that finally topped off and started carving the valley below. It must have taken an incredible length of time.

lots of flat space
Lots of space in the valley behind.

avalanche chute
Another avalanche chute. There are trees on this side pushed upward, again, and the trail crew has been through, again.

The trail drops and a carved post marks the junction with the Needle Creek Trail. It says Johnson Creek on one edge and Vallecito Creek on another. My time to hang a left and cross the creek for the last time. There is a bridge for that, but within a quarter of a mile I know that is the last one and the last of the recent trail maintenance.

20 August 2019

Vallecito to Windom: Vallecito Creek

San Juan National Forest

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5

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(Day 1 of 5) It's probably the last time, at least for a while, that I can leave Timmy with the lovely woman who has been looking after him when I backpack, but we have decided we can trust him a little longer so I can go out for five days. Five days is what I think it will take me to find my way up a new 14er fabled as one of Colorado's "most remote". Typically, people will just ride the Durango Silverton Scenic Railroad out to Needleton, then 6 miles on trail to a camp site to be ready to climb the peak the next day. So it isn't all that remote. Except for being constrained by the train schedule, people would day hike it like Mount Whitney. Oh, and there are the two harder 14k peaks nearby, so if you "gotta catch them all", you might as well hang out an extra day or two. Since I have no business on class 3 on my own, I'll leave the other two peaks to people who own climbing helmets. Windom can be kept to class 2.

I'm not planning to take the train or starting at Purgatory Trailhead, the other suggestion on SummitPost. They say that is 15-16 miles or so. I'm aiming at going up Vallecito Creek to the other end of the Needle Creek Trail as it follows Johnson Creek to Columbine Pass, then drop into the usual camping area for the peaks. To return, I am set on taking Endlich Mesa Trail from Columbine Pass down to Vallecito Reservoir. The route up is about 20 miles and the route down is about 24, but it puts me down about 4.5 miles from the parking for Vallecito Creek. It's already early afternoon, but I want to get in 8-9 miles today to keep the rest of the days around the 12 mile mark.

getting started on Vallecito Creek
Another warning about entering burned areas at the trail as it leaves the parking area at Vallecito Creek. There is a bathroom and a notice board.

There is parking for over a dozen cars and a few horse trailers at the trailhead. Happily my trailer is hanging out by the cat, so I can fit. There is a bathroom and a notice board and a warning sign for entering a burned area. Down here doesn't look burned, but the nearby slopes look like they may have had a second fire to clean up the mess a previous fire made. Notices along the trail as it circles around Vallecito Campground state that I am responsible for knowing the information on the notice board. From reading it, I learned that I must not camp within 100 feet of water, about 35 adult steps, for fear of a $100-300 fine with a note that it does get patrolled; there are no fires allowed in the Needle Creek drainage including the Chicago Basin, the typical camping area when setting up for the 14ers; the third bridge across Vallecito Creek was taken out by an avalanche in 2006 and is unlikely to get replaced; and if I'm hunting lynx, I better not accidentally shoot this other cat that looks similar but is endangered. (Wait, you can shoot lynx?) I already know toilet paper is trash and needs to be packed out and San Juan has a blanket ban against camping at trailheads. Plenty of that is relevant to me.

wilderness information and trail register
Another chance to learn what you are expected to know about the local regulations.

The wilderness edge comes with typical wilderness information, another notice board with most of the things that were on the first, and a register. I fill in my expectations of the trip among the many day hikers, some of whom are starting as late as I am. Across the bridge (what luxury) over Fall Creek, there is a wilderness sign, still in sight of the old trailhead parking at the end of the campground. Always good to get into the wilderness promptly. It then splits into horse trail and hiker trail, with the hiker trail becoming a wide ledge high in the narrow granite canyon that Vallecito Creek flows through. There were no glaciers cutting this.

ledge style trail
The trail is a ledge, but a quite wide one, so I'm not certain why it has been deemed that stock need a different route.

burned hills high up
Looking back and high, there is a lot of burn high up.

12 August 2019

Treasure Falls

San Juan National Forest

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Another reason I didn't go after Alberta Peak while hiking Treasure Mountain was that I wanted to be sure to have some late afternoon light to hike west facing Treasure Falls, not that it was looking anything but gloom at the moment I turned away from continuing southbound just a little further. There seems to be a parking area for westbound traffic on US-160, but it does leave you crossing a highway (signed at 45 MPH in that area, but everyone doing 60+) to get there and neglects to look like it is meant for parking instead of just a big, random turnout. On the other hand, shaded and uncrowded at this prime waterfall looking hour.

handicapped viewpoint with the falls
Treasure Falls is visible from the parking area at this handicapped accessible viewpoint. Trails to see it go up either side.

I really should have taken it, but was too slow on the uptake and I can make that turn. The trailer only makes it harder to do a three point turn, or anything that involves backing up, really. A sign points left for the interpretive trail and right for the "primitive" trail. Funny enough, I don't feel much need to take a primitive trail and stroll across the bridge for the wide path with plenty of signs and benches and even a couple lookout points. A sign at the bottom marks all these details and adds that switchbacks should not be cut "for your safety". Meh on that, but how about so you don't destroy the trail and turn the whole area into an ugly mass of muddy tracks joining the various trail segments. There are quite a lot of hikers who can't seem to notice that and keep cutting the switchbacks, making it just a little bit worse with each step. Being law abiding citizens must be so hard. I mean, who can imagine taking 6 more steps rather than cutting a switchback?

bit of distant green
A pasture off to the west from the first lookout point.

Treasure Mountain

San Juan National Forest

Rio Grande National Forest

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I was thinking I might do a loop of Treasure Mountain Trail, some gravel road, Silver Creek Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail backpacking, but decided against. But I can still do Treasure Mountain. The starting point is up on Wolf Creek Pass as the CDT follows along the Continental Divide. Treasure Mountain Trail drops off the side after about 2 miles. It doesn't actually go up the mountain, but I can fix that with a little bit of cross country.

interpretive site at Wolf Creek Pass
There is an interpretive site at the pass to tell about the divide, the road, and the trail. It gets a surprising amount of business. The trail is off to the left.

The trail going south seems a lot more defined than the one headed north. It crosses a meadow and then a creek with a bridge. Talk about luxury. Then up through the beetle killed trees where it needs a lot of maintenance. It has gotten a lot, too, but there is more work now. These beetles know that killing their host is not only considered bad form, but bad judgment, surely? They won't have any food and we won't have any spruce. Or whatever these used to be.

trail through the dead trees
Dear beetles, Stop it. Stop it. Stop it.

mountains over the trees
The divide stretching to the north. It isn't always on the highest mountains out there.

As the trail breaks out to the ridge and above the trees, it is pushed onto the Pacific side by the ski resort mostly on the Atlantic side. Lots of view with more to the west coming around with each step. First there is something that might be Treasure Mountain. No, it isn't. A little further there is something that is definitely Treasure Mountain and the long drop down to the East Fork San Juan River.

mesas near Treasure Mountain
Some nearby lower peaks.

11 August 2019

Silver benchmark on the Continental Divide Trail

Rio Grande National Forest

San Juan National Forest

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Oh, dear, the weather looks absolutely dreadful, but in the spirit of having no idea what it will really do so I might as well go for it, I'm going for it. There have been some mornings that looked just as dreadful and did nothing much. A random section of the Continental Divide Trail that happens to have a benchmark nearby is the goal with maybe a little extra look about to the south. Access is via a short trail to Bonito Pass, but it goes off the end of an old logging road marked as unimproved dirt road #388 written vertically, both basically code for you ought to have a 4WD and better have high clearance to drive this, especially if it has been raining. It's positively soggy and since I have neither, I have an extra 2.5 miles from gravel road #390 (signed for Tucker Ponds) at a place labeled Campo Molino.

muddy road by a meadow
My starting point, off the side of an impacted dispersed camping spot spur. Road #388 (on the right) actually looks pretty good except for the mud.

Someone has driven up this road soggy and down again with it even soggier. More old logging roads spur off the sides of this, but they seem to be being left alone by the sort that would normally breach the barriers on them. The sky shows some bright spots and then darkens so much it feels like night is coming on in mid-morning. The clouds are clearly lower than the pass, but I think they are rising. A little bit. I don't want to get high up and hike in clouds. That could be miserable even if it doesn't rain.

foggy pass
A flat grassy spot shows where an old logging road once passed below the foggy pass.

more light
A little more light over the meadow below near my parking and up that valley.

Pass Creek flowing
Pass Creek seems to have good flow today and this "unimproved" road has rather good crossings with culverts.

The tire tracks go all the way to the small turn around at the top where "area closed" signs decorate the start of the trail. As usual, the small type says "to motor vehicles". There are some fresh muddy footprints to go with the fresh tire tracks on the well used and maintained trail up to the CDT.

10 August 2019

Lobo Overlook

Rio Grande National Forest

San Juan National Forest

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Lobo Overlook sits on the Continental Divide and the edge between the Rio Grande and San Juan National Forests high above Wolf Creek Pass where US-160 crosses over that divide. The road up is gravel, starting about a quarter mile east of the pass where what is most visible is a large dirt turnout. It is finally signed at the road leaving the turnout by a gate. At the top, the road splits to access the lookout area with bathrooms and picnic tables or an electronics site where a short trail connects to the Continental Divide Trail a short way below. The overlook comes with quite a lot of view east and west with more view north to be found near the electronics site. The day was already looking quite stormy when I got there although it never quite turned into anything.

San Juan National Forest
The San Juan National Forest side from the overlook.

Rio Grande National Forest
The Rio Grande National Forest side from the overlook.

Table Mountain area
Table Mountain should be one of those out there. Probably a bit to the right, the central point being an unnamed peak of the same height and the left peak being Mount Hope. I'm rather disappointed with myself to not be able to pick it out confidently after climbing it.

mostly San Juan
Lobo Trail to the right and much that is northwest making this a mix of both forests.

As usual, any picture can be enlarged if clicked on. If not, there's something I need to fix.

©2019 Valerie Norton
Written 2 Sep 2019

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