Tower Mountain – 13,549 and Dome Mountain – 13,370

RT Length: 14.13 miles

Elevation Gain: 4500’

I parked at 10,000’, just after the town of Eureka.  My truck could have driven up the 4WD road, as it was a nicely graded, wide road, but I didn’t know it at the time and figures starting at 10,000’ sounded pretty good. 

We were once again experiencing summer storms, so I was up and on the trail at 4am.  I followed the road as it rounded the mountainside, heading west.

Suddenly, I saw a fox, about 10 feet in front of me on the trail. I shined my flashlight at him, and said “Hey Fox!”  The fox walked up to me, and stood about 2 feet away.  He was brown with black feet, and had a piece of grass sticking out from its lips. He looked up at me like a puppy asking for a treat.  I wanted nothing more than to pet this cute little guy, but knew his behavior was off for a wild animal.  I loudly tapped my trekking pole on a rock and told him to move.  He jumped a few feet in the air, then skirted around me. He didn’t leave though, until I did it again. 

I continued on in the dark, making great time, until the sun began to rise.  That’s when I noticed I was heading the wrong way and realized I’d missed my turn in the dark. I’d gone a mile past my turn, and added 600’ of elevation gain to my day (already taken off my stats).  Drat!  I turned and ran a mile down the road, to the correct turnoff at 10,500’

I then followed this road, which paralleled the South Fork Animas River

There were a few dispersed campsites along the way. The road ended at a creek crossing.  Well, it didn’t end, but you couldn’t drive any further.

I crossed the creek, passed an abandoned mine, and the road curved.  This is where the trail began. It’s an unnamed pack trail, and very difficult to follow.  Don’t cross the creek.

I passed several large runnels

And noted now that I had a visual my intended decent route was going to need to be modified, as it cliffed out.  I resolved to instead take a different ridge down, which looked like it ‘went’ and continued southwest to treeline. Once again, there wasn’t a consistent trail here, but I did come across game trails I utilized when available.

Now at treeline, I needed to access the upper basin.  This is how I got there.  There were TONS of game trails in the area.

I was headed northwest, aiming for a saddle

Once at the saddle, I turned left to ascend the ridge and follow it south.  Initially I hit a scree-filled gully, but it was short.

I then hit some rocky tundra area, but once I ascended this I hit a class 1 trail.   This trail took me up and over PT 13060, then it went downhill while I followed the tundra towards Tower Mountain.

Here’s my route up Tower Mountain (which has a tower…)

And a few step by step pictures (this is all class 2)

I summited Tower Mountain at 8:50am

Tower Mountain:

From Tower you can see Dome Mountain to the east, but it’s not a simple ridge walk to get there.

I followed the ridge to the arrow, and then I descended (arrow) to avoid some nasty terrain just before making it to Dome along the ridge.

Here are some pictures of the ridge

Looking back at Tower

This is where the ‘fun’ begins, and doesn’t end until you’re back on the trail you hiked in on…  I left the ridge here, at 13100’, and descended into Cataract Basin, making sure to stay high.  No trails here, unless you stumble upon a game trail.

I then ascended the saddle between PT 13321 and Dome Mountain.  There was a lot of scree here.

This is my general ascent route up Dome Mountain.  I just went straight up the face, heading east.    Now is a good time to look at your route.

Here are some step by step pictures.  Now is a good time to put on your helmet if you haven’t already

This is difficult class 3, easy class 4, and most of it is pick your own route.  There were plenty of hand and footholds, but there was a lot of balancing involved, and not a lot of room.  Very little margin for error. This is the route I took

That was your warm up.  Now to ascend the larger wall.  Same rules apply, but with an added degree of difficulty

Woot!  Now some tundra to the difficult part

The last 300 feet of climbing is done on very loose rock.  Trust nothing.  It’s all class 3, but the terrain is rotten.  Here are some photos.  I continued east, and headed straight along the ridge to the summit.

I summited Dome Mountain at 10:45am

Dome Mountain:

There were a ton of bees and flies at the summit, so I didn’t stay long. I was making this a loop, and wanted to head north into the basin I’d hiked in, towards the South Fork Animas River.  I wasn’t 100% sure this would work, but as I looked this morning from below I knew if I could get down the rocky area I’d be good to go.  I headed south and followed the ridge.  This was also class 3-easy 4, but much more stable and easier to navigate than the ridge I’d taken up.  There are rocky chimneys to descend, but mostly tundra.  If I were just doing Dome, this is the route I’d take up and down.

Here’s looking back on the ridge.  It’s a lot longer than it looks

This is also a good view of my ascent route from this morning

Now all I had to do was head down an avalanche runout, back to the trail.

Here’s looking back up that avalanche route

Now back on the trail, I followed it to the 4WD road

And followed the road back to my truck

I made it back to my truck at 1pm, making this a 14.13 mile hike with 4500’ of elevation gain in 9 hours. 

As I was putting my things away, I saw the same fox I’d seen that morning, this time sitting on the side of the road, overlooking Eureka below.

PT 13552

RT Length:  14.15 miles

Elevation Gain:  5337’

I’ve taken the Willow Lake trail several times, and I’m guessing if you’re doing this peak you have too, so I’m going to start this report from the camping area just before Willow Lake. If you’d like detailed instructions on the approach, click here 

I would also like to recommend pairing this up with other peaks in the area:  PT 13153, Mt Adams, PT 13580, etc.  This felt like a really easy day.

I was on the trail at 4:30am, surprised at how easy the approach was this time.  I attribute it to taking the week off from hiking to visit my son in Alaska, and in doing so, consuming about 10 times more calories than I normally would, thus giving me an excess of energy. 

There are several spots to camp just before making it to Willow Lake, including one very large area at 11500’. There are still plenty of areas to hang bear bags already set up (for public use).  I continued to hike west. My tracker told me I’d hiked 5.3 miles to this point.  

I followed the sign left that took me on the trail for Challenger/Kit Carson

About 10 yards after this sign I left the trail and headed north up the hillside.  There are cairns here, but they may be difficult to see in the tall grass.

There are game trails here.  I saw tons of deer and bighorn sheep the last time I was here, and this time I saw a few deer.  Find a game trail and follow it north, keeping the creek to your left and rock outcropping to your right.

At the top of this hill there are cairns indicating you should go right, but if you do so, you’ll be going through a lot of willows. Instead, parallel the creek, staying to the right of the creek, and you can follow a game trail to the end of the basin, staying out of the willows, or at least keeping them to the easy ones that just reach your knees. Just keep heading north.

You’re aiming for this gully

Here are some step-by-step photos (just keep heading north, this is class 2 terrain on tundra). First, stay to the right of the creek, and to the left of the willows

Then, continue north towards the gully.  I was easily able to cross a creek and avoid the willows.  I kept to the left of the willows and right of the creek the entire time.

Next, I ascended the gully.  This was easy as far as gullies are concerned.  I was able to stay mostly on grassy areas.  Note, you do NOT need to ascend all the way to the top of the gully.  About 15 feet before topping out, take the grassy ramp to the left, staying below the rock outcropping of the ridge.

This grassy area is easy to follow. I just stuck below the rock.  Here’s an overview of the route to the summit.

And step by step, first, following the ridge west

After the rocky ledge, I stayed on the ridge all the way to the summit.  Once again, all class 2, and you can stick to the ridge.

Yes, this stays at class 2 (it looks harder than it is)

There’s a small false summit, and then it’s an easy trek to the peak

I summited PT 13546 at 8:30am

PT 13546: 

It was a hazy day. There was a summit register, but it was one of those pipe ones, so the paper inside was wet.  It was also completely full of signatures, so I left the paper in the tube and added another one. There was a nice view of the Crestones; I just wish it was a little less hazy today.

I turned and headed back the way I came in, aiming for the Adams/13546 saddle.  If you look closely, you can see a route to Mt Adams. I still had to get to work today, so I didn’t have time for Mt Adams (or PT 13153). Both look straightforward though from the saddle.

Here’s how I exited the ridge

Once back on the saddle, I headed south out of the basin

At the south end of the basin, I turned and followed the grassy ridge down (make sure you’re on the grass, not in the trees:  there will be game trails here)

From the grassy area, the trail is easily visible.  I made it to the trail, and followed it west, back to the trailhead.

I made it back to my truck at 11:30am, making this a 14.15 mile hike with 5337’ of elevation gain in 7 hours.  While it was hazy today, it felt like a perfect day to be out!