Hilliard Peak – 13,409 and Keefe Peak – 13,516

RT Length: 24.35 miles

Elevation Gain: 5700’

Due to weather issues, I did this as a multi-day trip. Due to permit issues, I camped just before the camping permit boundary for Conundrum Hot Springs (worked fabulously!!!). My stats are taken from several GPX files meshed together.

I started from the Conundrum Hot Springs Trailhead at 4:45am, after a quick nap on Independence Pass after a long drive and a long day.  Here’s the trailhead:

I followed the class 1 trail for 6 miles to the permit boundary, which is noted by a very visible sign. 

It was obvious this is a popular camping spot (just before the permit boundary).  There are a lot of social trails that lead off into the trees as well for campsites, if you don’t want to camp right next to the sign.  Here’s where I camped.   It’s relatively close to the stream, which is great for filtering water

I set up my tent, as I planned on being here for a few days. The next morning, I started out at 4:45am.  The trail is still class 1, and crosses Conundrum Creek several times.  All creek crossings were easy.

After about 2 miles I came to the Conundrum Hot Springs campsites, an old abandoned cabin, and more small creek crossings.  I took the trail to the right towards Triangle Pass

I was now still on Trail 1981, headed southwest, into the willows

At 12000’ I left the trail, and followed a drainage west

At about 12200’ I turned right and headed north, across the basin.  Yes, there were a lot of crows. 

I kept heading north, skirting a small pond.  This was all class 2

My goal was to gain this ridge.  This was my route (still class 2)

Once on the ridge I placed a large cairn, turned left, and headed west up the ridge

The terrain quickly narrowed and became class 3, full of chossy, loose rock. It never got more difficult than class 3, but the terrain was sketchy.  I was able to stay directly on the ridge.

As the ridge rose, it curved, and I stayed more to the left

I topped out, turned the corner, and saw more class 3 ridge work as I now headed northwest

I lost a little bit of elevation, then followed the ridge to the summit

I summited Hilliard Peak at 9:45am

Hilliard Peak:

From Hilliard, I could see Keefe Peak to the northeast

But first, I was going to have to get over the crux of the route: This pointy mountain right here.

I followed the ridge northeast, and came across this fun formation. I easily passed it to the left

This brought me to a small saddle.  I ended up climbing this part by taking a game trail to the ridge, then crossing over to the right side and heading up

And now for the crux

This is the route I took

But there’s a lot you can’t see…  So here it is step by step.  This is class 4

This was a small, airy traverse, about 6 feet long, ad no more than a foot wide

The good news is after that it’s all class 2 to the top of Keefe Peak.

I summited Keefe Peak at 11am

Keefe Peak:

I decided to make this a loop, and head east down an old avalanche runout.  Let me preface this by saying it worked, but the runout is quickly growing back, and there was a ton of bushwhacking.  Plan your route carefully.  Here are some pictures of the route that led me directly back to the trail (1981) and Conundrum Creek below.

Here’s looking up at the route I took down.  You could also take this route up, and just do Keefe from this angle, and skip the class 4 section of the traverse.  It’s a lot of elevation gain in a short while though (3200’ in 7.5 miles) with a lot of initial bushwhacking, but it goes.  I came down the left side (when looking up), but would recommend sticking more to the right and avoiding the middle.

Back on the trail, I followed it back to my campsite, and stayed there for another night. 

Here’s a look at the route out from the campsite back to the trailhead.

And my topo map

Mt Soso – 13,417

RT Length: 7.04 miles (From Rock Lake)

Elevation Gain:  2793’ (From Rock Lake)

This trip report starts at Rock Lake.  For instructions on the approach to Rock Lake, as well as the drive to Beartown from Silverton, click here.  

Since I was already at Rock Lake, at around 11850’, I made it a late start and was on the trail at 6am.  I was in the camping area directly in front of the lake, and from there I headed south towards the pass.

There is a trail that picks up on the east side of the lake, that will take you all the way to the pass on a class 1 trail

It’s rocky, but there is a well-defined trail here with cairns

At the top of the pass I headed southwest, following the cairns as they descended a bit. The trail goes on to Half Moon Lake, but I didn’t want to go there, so after descending down a small gully I changed directions, and gained the ridge to the west.

I spent a lot of time putting cairns in this area to help with navigation, but as long as you gain the ridge, the next part of the route will be obvious.

From the top of the ridge, this was my route up to the ridge of Mt Soso. 

It looks straightforward, but I ended up losing a lot more elevation than I wanted to, mainly because there’s a gorge that you can’t see from the pass.  I initially tried to go straight over the large boulders to the left, but it cliffed out.  You’ll need to stay more to the west. I lost almost 600’ of elevation making my way down into the basin.

This is all class 2, and easy to navigate.  Here’s a picture of the gully that will lead you to the ridge.  This is a class 2 gully, and you’ll find a game trail if you stick to climbers left.

From the top of the gully, looking back on the route I took there, I had a better view of the gorge I’d been trying to avoid.  There was a beautiful waterfall I hadn’t been able to see from the other side.

Once on the ridge, I turned right and followed it southwest. 

After about a quarter mile of class 2 terrain the ridge became class 3 for a bit.  I spent a lot of time putting together cairns for the rest of the route.  This is the route I took

Here are some step-by-step pictures.  Most of this is class 2, with some easy class 3 thrown in

Now is a good time to get a visual on the rest of your route.  The upper ridge is sustained class 3, but I dipped down a bit and took the grassy gully to the summit

Here’s a better look at the ridge

And some close-up pictures of the class 3 scramble.  I was able to stay directly on the top of the ridge for this, until I came to just below the grassy area.  If you’ve made it this far you can probably just go straight up and over the ridge, but I felt safer dropping down and taking the grassy gully up. I put a ton of cairns in the area to help guide the way.

Here’s where I dropped down about 20 feet

And then went up the grassy gully (class 2+)

Topping out of the grassy gully

And then it was a quick walk north to the summit

I summited Mt Soso at 9am

Mt Soso:

From the summit I could see my hike into the basin, and the cliff band I’d needed to avoid

I stayed on the summit longer than I normally would, because it was such a nice day.  Then I re-traced my steps back to Rock Lake, first by heading south to the ridge

And then taking the grassy gully down.  There’s an obvious willow bush in the path.  Turn right and head to the ridge BEFORE you make it to this lonely bush.

Then following the cairns back up to the ridge (circled in red)

Here’s the overall route down the ridge, back to the access gully that led up the ridge

And some step-by-step pictures

Then back down the gully, into the basin, avoiding the cliffs and waterfall

Then back up to the pass

From the top the view can get a little confusing, because there are a lot of rocks.  Here’s the route:

You’re aiming for this gully, which will have cairns that will lead you back down to Rock Lake

There is a trail here that will lead you back to the lake

Notice there are a lot of campsites in this valley area as well

I made it back to Rock Lake at 11:45am, making this a 7.04 mile hike with 2793’ of elevation gain in 5 hours, 45 minutes.

Rock Lake Approach from Silverton to Beartown

The approach drive is 21 miles from Silverton to Beartown, starting out on 110, then turning right onto 589, or the Alpine Loop, towards Stony Pass.  It’s a really good idea to make a gpx file for this drive, as I’ve encountered several people who got lost in the area while taking side roads.


At the fork in the road, keep left to head towards Stony Pass.

The 4WD road quickly begins gaining elevation, but is easy to follow.  There are several places to pass vehicles coming the other way.  After about 5 miles, you’ll make it to Stony Pass. 

From Stony Pass you’ll lose over 2000’ of elevation as you make your way east, towards the Rio Grande River.

I did this hike in September, when the river crossings were low.  In fact, they were lower than I’d ever encountered them before, and my Tacoma had no problem crossing.

First river crossing:

Then there’s a junction.  Stay right, and take the road that goes towards Beartown

Second river crossing:

From here you are now on 3A, and the road gets more difficult.  It does feel like it’s been graded recently though, as it wasn’t as bad as I remember it being last year.

I parked at a nice campsite at 10890’.  My truck could have made it further, but I love my truck, and didn’t want to drive it further down the road. Here’s the topo for the drive in

Now for the approach to Rock Lake.  This entire approach is class 1.

Here are the stats: 

2.7 miles and 1263’ of elevation gain from my parking spot to the top of Hunchback Pass

5 miles and 2349’ of elevation loss from Hunchback Pass to the Rock Lake cutoff

4.8 miles and 1713’ of elevation gain from the Rock Lake cutoff to Rock Lake.

I started out heading southwest along the dirt road (3A), towards the actual trailhead, passing a sign for Beartown along the way.

There were many capable vehicles parked at the trailhead

I followed the trail, 813/Vallecito Trail, as it wound its way up towards Hunchback Pass. 

At this point I was above treeline, but that would soon change.  From the top of the pass I descended down into the basin

Encountering willows (bring your rain gear) and re-entering treeline.

I crossed Nebo Creek, which is a great place to stop for lunch, or to filter water

This is where the downed trees began.  There were dozens of them, but luckily this is also a horse trail, so there were paths already beginning to form around the downed trees.

At around 10135’ I came to the junction for the Rock Creek Trail.  It’s marked by a wooden post, and easy to miss in the dark.

I turned left, and followed the Rock Creek Trail

The trail was easy to follow as it gained elevation, heading southeast, paralleling Rock Creek. I entered a wide basin (where I’d been charged by a bull moose on a previous trip to the area), and headed through willows towards Rock Lake.

The willows gave way to trees and switchbacks

Which gave way to more willows

At the end of the willows, was Rock Lake.  From where I parked, it was a total of 12.51 miles with 3044’ of elevation gain to Rock Lake

There are tons of places to set up camp directly in front of the lake, but also on its east side.  If you see campers set up on the north shore of the lake, realize there are many, many more along the trail ahead as well (hikers left).

Here’s my topo map for the route in from Beartown

And now some pictures of the way out, from Rock Lake back to the Vallecito Trail.

Back at the junction I turned right, and followed the Vallecito Trail.  At this junction, there’s a great place to camp (if needed).

Now for the fun part:  2350’ of elevation gain back to Hunchback Pass

I re-crossed Nebo Creek

And came across tons of wild strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries.  Since it was September, they were all ripe, and a great snack halfway back up the pass

I re-entered willows, and followed them towards Hunchback Pass

From the top of the pass, I headed back to the trailhead

From here you can see where I parked my truck

Back at the trailhead, I followed the 4WD dirt road back to my truck

When I got back, I found another vehicle parked in the campsite alongside mine, ready to combat those pesky marmots (I saw several on my drive out).

Here are some pictures of the drive out.  Remember, it’s all left turns now to get back to Silverton.

After Stony Pass I came across a rather large herd of domestic sheep grazing on the hillsides

Here’s my topo map for the entire route

As always, please contact me if you’d like a gpx file for this route.

13403, Cleveland Peak – 13,414, 13384, & Dead Man Peak – 13,050

RT Length:  23.05 miles (CalTopo), 17 miles (Strava)

Elevation Gain:  7080’ (CalTopo), 9474’ (Strava)

I parked at the Music Pass trailhead the night before, the only other vehicle in the lot until a 4Runner pulled up. 

I made it an early night, and was on the trail at 4am, heading west towards Music Pass.

I passed a trail register, which was full of moths and only one piece of paper.  I didn’t bother signing it.  The trail is class 1 and easy to follow

A tree has recently fallen near the signs at the top of Music Pass.  I continued on the trail and lost 450’ as I descended to Sand Creek below.

Now is a good time to get a look at how you’re going to ascend the ridge from Sand Creek Lake.  Getting up the ridge is not easy.  I would not recommend the route I took up (dotted line).  The easier route is up a gully.  Also note the cliffs you’ll want to avoid.  It’s important to make it to at least 13000’ before traversing to the ridge, as there are cliffs and chutes you’re trying to avoid. This is the overall route I took

After 3.3 miles I took the second junction and turned left.

I crossed Sand Creek and made my way to Sand Creek Lake on the class 1 trail.  There was a lot of deadfall in this area

I made it to the lake as the sun was rising.

At the lake the trail ended.  I knew I needed to ascend the ridge, so I headed south, which required some bushwhacking.

From here I’m going to show you how I descended, as it was much safer than the way I ascended.  At around 11,400’ there’s a gully.  It’s obvious, and the only one.  Follow and ascend the gully southwest and then south.

This is where you ascend the gully. This can be done mostly on grassy ledges. 

Once up the gully, it’s time to make it to the ridge.  You don’t need to go all the way to the top, instead, ascend to about 13000’, then traverse over to the ridge at its lowest point. It’s important to make it to at least 13000’ before heading west to the ridge, to avoid the drop offs and smooth gullies. The terrain here is full of loose rocks.  Every one rolls, so be prepared to wear your helmet and take your time.

It was at 13000’ I unexpectedly awoke a bobcat.  He was not happy with me, but allowed me to take his picture before bounding off.


I continued heading west, across some tundra and rock filled gullies, towards the ridge.

Once on the ridge, I followed it straight up to PT 13495.  However, this is an unranked point, so there is no need to go there.  Instead, you can skirt this summit and instead head over to PT 13403 (also unranked).  If you decided to go up and over PT 13495, it’s all class 2, both up and down.

From the summit of PT 13495, this was my route up 13403.  The ridge looked like it went at class 3, but I decided to keep it class 2 and ascend the face

And some closer pictures

I summited PT 13403 at 10am

PT 13403:

My next objective was to follow the ridge south towards Cleveland Peak.  Here’s my overall route up (going down I stuck to the ridge, which was class 3 with maybe a few class 4 moves)

I made it down to the saddle, and crossed over on some scree. 

From there I tried to stick to the ridge, but every so often I had to drop to the right.  This is choose your own adventure.  The ridge goes at continuous class 3, easy class 4, and was the most difficult climbing of the day. 

I summited Cleveland Peak at 11am

Cleveland Peak:

My next goal was PT 13384, to the southwest.  There was a little more class 3 ridge work, and then I crossed a plateau and made it to the Cleveland/13384 saddle

Once there, I followed the ridge to the summit.  The ridge goes at class 3

Here are some closer pictures of the ridge

I summited PT 13384 at 12:10pm

PT 13384:

Dead Man Peak was to the north.  To get there, I would have to make my way back to the Cleveland/13384 saddle, re-ascend to the plateau, then head northwest over to Dead Man Peak

I made my way back to the Cleveland/13384 saddle

Re-ascended up to the plateau

Then descended 550’ and re-gained 400’ to the summit of Dead Man Peak.  This could all be kept at an easy class 3 by sticking to the ridge

The summit is circled in red, to the northwest

I summited Dead Man Peak at 1:45pm

Dead Man Peak:

To get back to Cleveland Peak, I had to go back down to the saddle, and re-gain 770’ of elevation

After re-summiting Cleveland, I had the most difficult part of the downclimbing to do to get back to the 13403/Cleveland saddle.   

I was able to stick directly to the ridge.

I did not summit PTs 13403 or 13495 this time, but skirted them to the right

Once I could see Lower Sand Creek Lake, I stayed high on the ridge to pass all the cliffs, then descended straight towards the gully below.

I bushwhacked it to northwest to Lower Sand Creek Lake, then found the trail and took it back to Music Pass

Then followed it back to the trailhead

On big days, I tend to get wildly different numbers from CalTopo and Strava.  CalTopo says I did 23.05 miles with 7080’ of elevation gain, and Strava says I did 17 miles with 9474’ of elevation gain.  In any event, the hike/climb took me 16 hours, 15 minutes to complete.   

On to the next trailhead!

Tower Mountain – 13,552 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.

Kendall Peak – 13,451 – “Spencer Peak” – 13,420 – Mountaineer Peak – 13,441 – Mt Rhoda – Whitehead Peak – PT 13109, PT 12829

RT Length: 12.88 miles

Elevation Gain: 4571’

I parked at 10870’, just after the junction for Kendall Gulch and Deer Park.  My truck could have easily made it to Deer Park, but as some of you know, I don’t like passing other vehicles on narrow dirt roads.  I’d rather walk the extra miles.  It was still raining when I made it to my parking spot, and I was soaking wet from the hike earlier, so I changed my clothes and made it an early night.

It was supposed to rain starting at noon (it did) so I wanted to make it an early day. This was going to be a long ridge hike, and I wanted to be off the ridge by noon.

I was on the trail at 4:30am, following the road south for a mile to Deer Park

There was a great place to camp for the night, and this was also where my hike (which I’d made into a loop) would end.

I continued following the road.  I was supposed to follow the road until 10930’, where I was supposed to meet another road and follow that, but I never came across the road.  Later on in the day, I was able to see the road from another mountain, but it was one of those roads that hasn’t been used in several decades (if not longer) and is completely overgrown.  In the daylight I was able to make out bits and pieces of it, but at night, it was completely invisible. No worries though!  I found a simple solution.  At 11,300’ I left the road and headed northeast, aiming for the ridge I could see and treeline.

Now in the basin, I could see a faint trail.  I followed that trail to the saddle

Once at the saddle I turned left, and followed the ridge to Kendall Peak.

Here are some pictures of the route, which was all class 2 and straightforward.  I was so glad I chose to do this hike instead of taking the gully from Kendall Gulch (which I’d tried and failed to ascend the last time I was in the area).  This route was much easier.

I summited Kendall Peak at 6:55am

Kendall Peak:

Here’s looking back on the route in and the saddle.  I turned and made my way back there.

Here are some close up pictures of the route back to the saddle.

Once at the saddle it was my goal to head east, but I was worried the terrain was too steep, and I couldn’t see a trail to get across.  I went for it anyway, and ended up stumbling across a very helpful game trail. 

Once safely on tundra, I turned right and headed west up to the summit of “Spencer Peak” (unranked). This was all class 2.  In fact, the entire day was class 2.

From the summit of Spencer Peak, you can see Mountaineer Peak and Mt Rhoda to the southeast

I turned left again, and followed the rocky ridge south. 

I then turned left again, and followed the tundra southeast towards Mountaineer Peak

I summited Mountaineer Peak at 8:30am

Mountaineer Peak:

I could easily see Mt Rhoda (unranked)  to the south, and headed that way.  This was an easy tundra stroll

To summit, I went to the right of the block tower, and found more tundra (no need to climb up the tower).

Mt Rhoda:

From the summit of Mt Rhoda, here’s looking back on Mountaineer and Spencer

Continuing the loop, I headed south towards Whitehead Peak (unranked), which was another easy, tundra stroll

The summit was flat, but you couldn’t beat the views!

Whitehead Peak:

Here’s looking back at Mt Rhoda

And now on to PT 13109. I headed west, following the ridge

Here’s my overall route

And some step by step pictures

The last bit to the summit was on a bit of an airy traverse, but still class 2, just narrow

I summited PT 13109 at 9:45am

PT 13109:

Here’s looking back at Whitehead and Mt Rhoda

I continued west, towards PT 12829

I came across some ptarmigans along the way

At the saddle I came across an open mine shaft… then continued up the ridge

From here I could see the route I took that morning, and I could actually see the old road, or what was left of it (directly above the cairn)

I continued west down the face of PT 12829.  It was my goal to link up with the Whitehead Trail.  I do not recommend this. Serious route finding is required.  Instead, take one of the many trail that will take you back to the road you hiked in on.  In any event, here’s my route down

I swear there’s an actual trail here… I kept losing it, but then finding it again

I eventually came to Deer Park Creek, and that campsite I mentioned earlier

I then followed the road back to my truck

I made it back to my truck at 11:45am, making this a 12.88 mile hike with 4571’ of elevation gain in 7 hours, 45 minutes.

On to the next trailhead!

Kelso Mountain – 13,164

RT Length: 6.32 miles

Elevation Gain:  1937’

I arrived at the Grays and Torreys Trailhead the night before, curious to find there were only a handful of vehicles in the parking area.

I picked out a prime spot (that proved later to be a bad choice), and settled in to read a bit before heading to bed.  I talked to an awesome CDT thru hiker, and noticed two girls fiddling with a camper in the parking lot.  A very old camper, on top of a very old Tundra.  They were all over that camper; on top pulling at buckles, on the back, fiddling with the door, banging on the sides, etc.  When I saw them bring out a hatchet I stopped reading and walked over to them.

I said hello, told them I was a mom and a Girl Scout Leader, and also told them my kids ages, trying to let them know I wasn’t a freak. I asked them if they needed any help? Yes, yes they did.  It seemed they’d locked the keys to the camper inside the camper.  I asked them how old they were. 16 and 17.  Wow!  I was impressed!  Not only had they driven this clunker up to the Grays and Torreys Trailhead, they’d convinced their parents to let them do it alone, in their dad’s truck.  When I was their age my mom wouldn’t have let me do that.  I know because I’d asked, then had to resort to the “I’m sleeping at Kelly’s house” thing as I went to bonfires in the woods where my mom had no idea where I was at.  Kudos to their parents.    The girls has about 15 14ers under their belts, and wanted to tackle Grays and Torreys in the morning, but it was going to be a long night if they couldn’t get the back open.

OK, time to problem solve.  I didn’t think breaking a window was a good idea if we could help it.  I knew how to open a car window with duct tape.  I asked if they had any, and they brought out a small roll of electrical tape. That wasn’t going to work.  Next, I looked at the door handle, which didn’t look too secure.  I was thinking we could probably jolt it back and forth and it might break.  As I was jiggling the handle, I asked how close the next set of keys would be?  They said it didn’t matter, because the keys to the truck were inside the camper as well.  I was really thinking I’d just drive them back to Denver or something to pick up the keys from their parents, when one of the girls got the fabulous idea to look for another set of keys to the camper, and found them inside the glove box inside the truck.  Problem solved.  I wished them luck, happy they hadn’t broken a window with a hatchet, and told them to knock on my window if they needed anything during the night. 

It rained.  Around midnight I heard something crawling around underneath my truck. It sounded slow, and it was trying to get itself inside the gears.  I pounded the side of the truck and it seemed to creep away.  Half an hour later it came back, so I knew if I didn’t get rid of this thing it was going to be a long night.  Also, I wasn’t going to make friends at the trailhead if I kept banging on the side of my truck all night.

I got out of the topper and into the front seat of my truck. I turned it on and revved the engine a few times.  When I was done, and crawling back into the topper, I saw a porcupine waddle away from underneath. It seems my secluded spot at the back of the parking area had been a bad idea, as it was easy access for porcupines.  No one else had porcupine trouble that night (that I talked to).

I was up and on the trail at 4:30am, and the trailhead was now about half full of vehicles.  I crossed the bridge, and began following the Grays and Torreys trail.

This is a class 1, wide, easy to follow trail. 

My beta said to follow the trail all the way to the Kelso/Torreys saddle, so that’s what I did, but you don’t need to do that.  You can gain the ridge at any point after about 11900’.  If I had to do this again, this is where I’d ascend the ridge

But, I had beta that said to go to the saddle, so that’s what I did.  I followed the trail for about 2 miles, and then made my way to the saddle. There’s a trail the entire way.

When I got there, I turned to go east up the ridge, but noticed it was all class 3 and above.  This seemed silly to me, because there was clearly tundra below.

So I backtracked and took the tundra route to the ridge.  This was a fabulous idea, easy going, and I didn’t need a helmet.

This is what I was trying to avoid, which looks ok from this side, but more spicy from above.  Just take the tundra route.

It was here, around 5:30am, when I saw my first helicopter flyover for the day.  It got dangerously close to the mountains, and I was worried someone needed SAR.  All kinds of scenarios went though my head. I knew CFI was doing work in the area, but the post I’d seen a few days ago said they weren’t starting until next weekend (I found out later they posted again with the proper dates last night, but I was already at the trailhead, so I didn’t know this).  I was worried someone needed help, and the helicopter couldn’t find them.  I spend a lot of time looking for someone myself as I hiked.  


The helicopter came back around about 20 minutes later, and took a different path.  Once again, I was worried they were searching for someone.  Then about 20 minutes after that I saw the helicopter carrying wooden ties, and knew it must be CFI doing trail maintenance.  THANK YOU CFI!

Once on the tundra, before gaining the ridge, I came across some mountain goats lounging, watching the sunrise.  I stood there and watched it with them.

Then I continued on towards the ridge

After making it to the ridge, I followed it northeast to the summit.  This was a simple ridge walk on tundra.

I summited Kelso Mountain at 6:30am

Kelso Mountain:

At the summit cairn there was a journal that was recently placed there.  I know some people get worked up about this type of thing, but it’s there for a good cause, and it will be taken back down.  Needless to say, I text the man battling cancer a good morning, and sent him pictures of the goats. 

Then I retraced my steps back down the ridge

I left the ridge at 11250’ to head back into the basin.  I aimed southwest, towards the obvious Grays and Torreys Trail

The goats were still lounging around, so I stopped for a bit to enjoy their presence.  They seemed unbothered by the flyovers.  I didn’t get too close, but it was neat they were so relaxed.  The views were incredible.

After a few minutes I got up again, and headed down the tundra to the trail below, noticing there were tons of people hiking like ants below.

Once back on the trail I realized it was still early, and considered Grays or Torreys or both, but I had a 10am meeting I needed cell service for, and I wasn’t 100% sure I’d have it on the mountain, so I headed back to the trailhead.

Check out the CFI helicopter picking up ties

I made it back to the trailhead at 7:30am, and the parking lot was already full.  It’s a Tuesday.

I got back to my truck at 7:30am, making this a 6.32 mile hike with 1937’ of elevation gain in 3 hours.  This would be an easy addition to Grays and Torreys.

On to my meeting!

Prize Benchmark – 13,384

RT Length: 10.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 3996’

There is a ton of camping at the Tellurium Trailhead, so that’s where I spent the night. 

I was parked next to a small stream, and had the entire area to myself. Not bad for a Friday and Saturday.

I was up and on the trail at 4:30am, following the 4WD dirt road 584 north for just under 1.5 miles.  There were a lot of dispersed camping sites along the road.  I was glad I’d parked where I did and hiked in.

After hiking for just under 1.5 miles I came to an old dirt road that has been blocked off.  It was on the right, and wouldn’t have been obvious in the dark.  There is no parking there.

This was a road someone had tried to make unusable.  It made hiking interesting, as I could not hike in a straight line.  The road was obvious and easy to follow however.  

When you come to the meadow, if it’s light out, get a good look at Prize Benchmark. This is the route you’re going to want to take.  Notice there’s a ridge?  You’re going to want to parallel that ridge, then dip into a basin before ascending Prize.  This will make more sense later.

There were two creek crossings I did not need to take off my shoes to cross

There were a few side roads that went to old houses and mining operations.  Every time I had an option to turn I kept left (twice).  I followed this road all the way to the Enterprise Mine.  There’s not a lot left…

Here’s where I messed up. I went over the ridge.  Don’t do that.  Instead, try to stay parallel with the ridge, as you’ll want to cross it at a low point because you’ll be descending into a basin.  There is no trail here, but don’t try to ascend the ridge, stay at about 11800’.

When you can see east, it’s time to descend into the basin.  There are a few game trails here. Yes, you’ll be headed back into the trees.

I just kept heading east.

I could see a grassy band I wanted to take to the ridge, and thought the easiest way to get there was over a pile of rocks.  It wasn’t.  The rocks weren’t stable, and more than once I seriously considered heading back.  This is the way I’d recommend ascending

Here are some pictures of the way up the ramp.  I stayed to the left of the trees.

Then I followed the tundra east to the ridge

As I was heading east, and the sun was trying to rise, I notices a small herd of elk to my right.  They were sharing the tundra, and after a while the mamas woke their babies and trotted off. 

I continued hiking east.

As I was trudging up the tundra, I heard what sounded like a bark.  At first I thought it was a coyote, but they don’t bark.  Then I thought maybe a dog, but it was unlikely there was a dog all the way out where I was.  I heard a single bark every two minutes or so.  One time, when I turned around, I saw an elk, and realized the ‘bark’ belonged to her

Elk barking:

I figured she’d gotten separated from her herd, and was calling them. On I trudged.  I reached the ridge, and turned left.

This was all class 2. I navigated the rocks to the left

And then could clearly see the summit

I summited Prize Benchmark at 8:15am.  I could still hear that elk barking, but watched as it went in the direction of the herd.

Prize Benchmark:

I turned and re-traced my steps, thinking to myself how much easier this route had been rather than doing this from the other side with Booby and 13460.  I aimed for the tundra below.

This time I stayed to the right of the trees, aiming for the grassy rib and gully below

As I was hiking down, I saw something that didn’t fit with the terrain.  It was small and brown, and even from a distance, I thought it was an elk calf. IF was curled up, and I was worried it was dead, but seriously hoped it was a misplaced piece of wood.

As I got closer, it was obvious this was an elk calf, and I was sure the elk I’d heard earlier was looking for her baby. 

Then, suddenly, the calf popped up and stood on all fours, looking at me straight in the face.  I was relieved it was alright, then went into mom mode:  I chastised the baby, saying “Your mom’s looking for you! I know you heard her, because I heard her for over half an hour. Go back to your mama!” I pointed to where the mom had gone off to, and the calf ran in that direction. 

Now to continue on back to the basin

Here’s the route I took out of the basin.  While taking this route, I saw something I hadn’t on my way in:  remnants of a mine (circled in red).  I was going to explore when I made it down there.

There wasn’t much to see.  It looked as if the opening was entirely covered by snow… or a large boulder had been placed to cover the entrance.

I took a few pictures and continued on.  Now to regain the ridge. 

Once on the ridge I stayed level at 11800’ and aimed for the Enterprise Mine, which I could clearly see while on the ridge

Once at the mine I followed the destroyed road back to 584

I then followed 584 back to my truck

When I got there, I stopped my tracker, only to find it had gone all wonky, right at about the time I’d seen the calf, so my mileage was taken from my iPhone (which is usually pretty close to my tracker) and the elevation gain from CalTopo.  I made it back to my truck at 11am, making this a 10.4 mile hike with 3996’ of elevation gain in 6.5 hours.

On to the next trailhead!

Booby Prize – 13,312 and PT 13090

RT Length: 11.08 miles

Elevation Gain: 3174’

Trailhead: Just before South Fork Lake Creek, where 391 and Trail 1466 meet.

I drove in the night before, so I could start early the next morning.  The only problem?  I wasn’t able to drive all the way to the trailhead.  There was a small ice flow that still hadn’t melted, and it’s the middle of June!  It wasn’t very big, but so far no one has been able to cross it. 

It wasn’t a big deal, but I did have to back up for half a mile before I could find a place to turn around, which happened to be at a nice campsite at 11,000’, so I parked there

I was up and on the trail at 3:30am, hoping to avoid some of the cold, wet, rainy weather that was supposed to arrive today.  No such luck: It was raining when I left my truck, so I put on rain pants and a waterproof jacket and started following the road south.

After hiking for .8 miles I made it to the trailhead.  Just before reaching the trailhead the road was covered in old avalanche debris. 

The trail starts to the left of the gate

As I mentioned earlier, it was raining.  I followed a very wet, willow-filled trail all the way into the upper basin.  This trail is class 1, but a bit overgrown since it’s early in the hiking season.  It was also teeming with water, and bear tracks (although I did not see any bear scat).

When I made it to the upper basin, I knew I wanted to gain the ridge.  I also knew, from yesterday’s experience, that I wanted to gain it from the left, and not the right. 

Note:  There is a game trail here that goes to the ridge, but most of it was covered in snow. I was only able to see it in bits and pieces on my way up and down. This is the route I took to the saddle

The basin was mush.  Not only was it raining, it was warm enough for the snow to thaw, so I was walking on 6 inches of water most of the time.  Here’s my route to the ridge

As I was gaining the ridge, the sun was rising.  It was a beautiful, misty morning

I gained the ridge, and headed over to Prize Benchmark, my first intended peak of the day.  As you can see, conditions weren’t ideal:

In fact, that was one of my better photos of the day.  The clouds kept coming in and out, obscuring my route. 

Eventually, I was in class 4-5 territory, and decided to call it and come back another day when I could see what I was doing.  I knew I was headed in the right direction, but the terrain didn’t feel safe.  I wanted to take the gully, and it was still full of unstable ice. 

I downclimbed, and headed back to PT 13090.  Even though it’s not ranked, I summited it, just because I was there

This was an easy ‘summit’

PT 13090:

I turned right, and headed southeast towards Booby Prize

Here’s the overall route I took, avoiding the rock slabs and snow.  This was all class 2, with some loose scree/rocks to navigate

The clouds picked up again, obscuring my view, but luckily, this was all class 2

Here are some step by step pictures

I summited Booby Prize at 8:10am

Booby Prize:

Nasty weather was predicted for the day, so I decided to re-trace my steps and head back to the PT 13090/Booby Prize saddle

Back on the saddle, I could see the game trail that led down, but it also went right through a large patch of ice, so I went a little further up the saddle to find a snow-free route.

Here’s my route back to the trail

The route down was obvious

And the trail was easy to follow, if wet, back to my truck

I made it back to my truck at 10:30am, making this a 11.08 mile hike with 3174’ of elevation gain in 7 hours.

On to the next trailhead!

Mt Herard – 13,350 and Medano Peak 13,153

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

Mt Herard:

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

Medano Peak:

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!