Rito Alto Peak – 13,794, Hermit Peak – 13,350 and Eureka Mountain – 13,507

RT Length:  12.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 4551’

I’ve hiked Rito Alto Peak before, but due to an early snowstorm had to skip Hermit and Eureka.  Today I was going back for those two (but hit Rito Alto again as well because I didn’t get good photographs).

If you love your vehicle, park at around 9000’.  Seriously.  This road is a lot worse than it was the last time I was here, and even then it was pretty bad.  Here’s the parking area(s) around 9000’

I have a new Tacoma, and wanted to see what it could do, so I continued driving further.  You’ll definitely want both high clearance and 4WD to continue.

If you can make it past 10,500’ you can make it all the way to the pass.  I stopped and parked at a camping area at 10,800’ because that was where I’d parked last time.  I gathered my gear and was on the trail at 4:30am.

I followed the 4WD road west towards Hermit Pass.

It was early morning, and I could hear the coyotes calling to each other.  This lasted for about 10 minutes.  I was actually a little concerned when they stopped yipping.

Coyotes: 

From my parking spot I hiked 4.2 miles to Hermit Pass

As the sun rose, I could already tell I wouldn’t be getting great pictures today: the haze from the fires wasn’t going to cooperate.

I made it to Hermit Pass, turned right, and followed the ridge northeast to the summit of Rito Alto Peak.  This ridge has a lot of large rocks, mixed with tundra.  The rocks have the Crestone-grip and most don’t roll. 

Just before the summit there’s a ‘false summit’ with a memorial to Christopher Horns.  They’ve replaced the flag since the last time I was here, and added a large summit register tube.

I continued heading north to the summit of Rito Alto Peak. 

I summited Rito Alto Peak at 6:45am.  Note, there was a very small summit register here, in a jar that looked to be about 1.5 inches  in diameter:  like one of those sample jam jars.  I left it where it was.

Rito Alto Peak: 

From the summit I had a good view of the other peaks I intended to summit today (if not a good view of the area overall).

I turned and headed back towards Hermit Pass.

Once at Hermit Pass I chose the path of least resistance to the summit of Hermit Peak, making this a ridge hike.   The true summit is hard to determine, as both the east and west ‘highpoints’ look like the summit, and indeed, both have cairns.  CalTopo says the true summit is to the right (west).

Here are some pictures of the ridge hike, mostly on tundra to the summit of Hermit Peak

I summited Hermit Peak at 7:40am

Hermit Peak:

Here’s looking back at Rito Alto Peak

And now, on to Eureka.  I first crossed over to the east side of Hermit Peak (which also had a cairn)

Here’s looking back at Hermit Peak from the cairn on the other side

Here’s looking back from that point at the Hermit Pass Road I took hiking in

And from that point looking southwest to Eureka.  As you can see, this is another ridge hike

While it might look sketchy, this ridge stays at class 2. First, I descended about 650’ down the ridge

Then ascended 300’

And descended another 150’ before gaining 550’ to reach the summit of Eureka Mountain.  Note the true summit here is also to the west (this will be hard to determine when you’re up there, as it looks like it should be the point further east). 

The hike is a tundra/rock ridge hike until the last 20 feet or so.  Here’s the route I took, staying above the snow but below a rock formation on the ridge.  You could also just go straight up the south face.

Just before the summit there was a little (very easy) scrambling

I summited Eureka Mountain at 9am.  It was a small summit, so I sat on it but didn’t stand.  I took a selfie instead of setting up my camera.

Eureka Mountain: 

From here you can see, looking east, how it looks like that might be the summit. I wanted to be sure, so I hiked over there (sketchy class 2)

This area was actually lower, but gave me a good view of the true (small) summit of Eureka

I made my way back to the true summit and headed back down the ridge the way I came, eventually heading towards the red arrow.

I stayed on the ridge to avoid the marshy area, which didn’t look like a fun time.  Once above the marshy area I cut across the tundra to the east side of the mountain

Here’s a closer look at the wet area, and my route across

As I skirted the ridge, I could see my intended route back to the road.  I was aiming north, towards the smallest outlet of Horseshoe Lake.  Once I made it there I would cross the stream and I hike up the hillside, back to the road.

First, I had to descend a gully.  This was difficult class 2 at the hardest.  There will be pictures later:  make sure to descend the correct gully to make this easier.

Here’s the route I took down the gully, towards Horseshoe Lake, and back to the road.  There were some willows to navigate near Horseshoe Lake, but once again, all class 2.

From the road, here’s a view of the path I took down the gully.  If it’s daylight when you’re hiking in, spend some time visually memorizing the route.

Back on Hermit Pass Road, I followed it east back to my truck

The wildflowers were on point

I made it back to my truck at 11:15am, making this a 12.2 mile hike with 4551’ of elevation gain in 6 hours, 45 min.

The drive down wasn’t any better than the drive up, but Miles got his first real 4WD workout, and had fun splashing through the mud!

Author: Laura M Clark

Mom, Solo Colorado 14er Finisher, Outdoor Enthusiast, Traveler, and Girl Scout Leader with an MBA in International Business and Marketing. I value adventure, growth, courage, wisdom, integrity, accountability, and family. I enjoy yoga, wine, whiskey, traveling, reading, and the outdoors. I strive to be the person who inspires and motivates myself and others to succeed.

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