RT Length: 17.43 miles
Elevation Gain: 5584’
I drove in the night before to heavy clouds of smoke from the Arizona and New Mexico fires, but the weatherman predicted a cold front would push the smoke away by the next morning.
The drive in was on an easy 4WD dirt road, and probably doable in a 2WD vehicle to where I parked in the camping area before the pass.
There were private ranches on either side of the road, with bison and what looked like hunting property. There were tons of signs telling you the property was private, with information on how to report poachers. I knew Medano Pass was closed from the Sand Dunes side, but was surprised to find it was closed from the HWY 69 side as well. I parked in the camping area at 9200’, just over 2 miles from the pass. Mine was the only vehicle there, which made sense because the pass was closed. Also, it was a Monday. And extremely windy. There was quite a bit of glass on the ground from past campers who’d broken bottles and left them.
There were signs indicating bear activity in the area, which I confirmed the next morning. If you camp here, please secure your smellables/food/etc.
I made it to my campsite late (but it was worth it because my youngest daughter, who’s in college, called to chat with me a bit on my way in, and I had to stop where I had cell reception), so I made it an early night for what would be an early morning. I was up and on the trail at 3:30am.
I started by following 559 west to Medano Pass. There were a few campsites along this road, but very few turnaround points. This is now a 4WD road.
Once at Medano Pass I found the gate closed to vehicles. I hopped over the gate, and continued towards the Medano Lakes Trailhead.
Along the way there was a sign warning of bear activity
After hiking for 2.9 miles, I made it to the Medano Lakes Trailhead. Note if you’re driving, there are still several downed trees on the road, so you won’t be able to make it all the way to the trailhead. There are several campsites along the way with bear boxes.
I signed the trail register and was on my way
A couple of things to note: This is a class 1 trail, and mine were the first footprints in the mud/snow. There was a lot of evidence of bear activity, I crossed numerous streams (easily, no need for creek crossing shoes) and there was a lot of downfall. I mean, an excessive amount. Several times I was walking UNDER avalanche debris. These were also spring conditions, so a lot of times, the trail was under water/snow.
After hiking for 6.75 miles, I made it to treeline, the upper basin, and Medano Lakes
At 11540’, I left the trail and followed a faintly cairned route to the saddle of Herard and Medino. This is where I was aiming
There’s a faint trail that’ll get you to the upper basin
Just before the upper basin there are two cairns you’ll pass through. Take note of them for the route down
Now in the upper basin, the trail is gone for a bit, but there are cairns that will lead you to the saddle, and even a trail. This is the easiest way to make it to the saddle
The cairn you’re aiming for is circled in red
I decided to do Herard first, so after making it to the saddle, I followed the ridge south. There was a false summit, but this (and in fact the entire hike) was all class 2.
Here are some pictures of the terrain
And the false summit.
There was a bit of snow to navigate (nothing too serious) and then I followed the tundra (and a faint trail) to the summit.
The summit was flat. I summited Mt Herard at 8am
I turned and headed back to the saddle. My next objective was Medano Peak
This was also a class 2 ridge walk. Here are some step by step pictures
Also, you might be able to see them in this picture… I came across 5 elk, who weren’t too concerned I was there, until I started hiking up from the saddle. At this point, they headed higher up, towards 13,000’. I was curious, until I noticed they were gathering their 5 babies, who were hidden amongst the rocks. They couldn’t have been more than a month old. Then the mothers trotted them off along the ridge.
I summited Medano Peak at 9:05am
Here’s a look at Mt Herard from Medano
I retraced my steps back down to the saddle, and into the lower basin and Medano lakes
It was a super windy day (predicted winds of 45mph). As I was hiking I was able to notice a bighorn sheep ram below me. Since it was so windy, he didn’t notice me until I was right up on him.
He trotted away as well, and I hooked up with the Medano Lakes trail, which took me back to the trailhead
And then I followed road 559 back to my truck
I made it back to my truck at 12:30pm, making this a 17.43 mile hike with 5584’ of elevation gain in 9 hours.
On to the next trailhead!