13295 & Lake Fork Peak – 13,322

RT Length:  13.27 miles

Elevation Gain:  4196’

I drove to the La Plata Gulch Trailhead, then took 391 to 382 and parked just before the bridge. 

I gathered my gear and was on the trail at 4:40am.  The trail began by crossing the bridge, and then following 382.  This was a 4WD road that’s closed to vehicles because of the bridge.

Go left here.  It’s not a well-marked junction, and it’s not on a map, but it’s the way road 382 goes.  The sign on the right says “Trail”.

I followed 382 until it ended

And then picked up trail 1465.  This is actually a pretty decent trail for about half a mile, and then it gets lost in the willows.  No worries though, route finding is easy on this hike.  Just keep following the gulch, heading south.

After hiking for 2.7 miles I came to an avalanche runout.  This is where I would descend later in the day

I continued heading south.  There are game trails here to pick up through the willows if you look hard enough.  As far as willows go, these weren’t too bad.  As the sun rose, I could see my intended route to the ridge.  There are several options here, as the slope is gradual on both sides.  There is a grassy area that goes all the way to the ridge, which looked better to me than ascending via scree.  This is the route I tool.

Here are some step by step pictures.  As I ascended, towards the top, there were game trails that led me to the ridge.

Once on the ridge, I followed it southeast to the summit.  This ridge was class 2, with some narrow spots that may feel class 3 to some.  I wore my helmet, but it was all intuitive. 

I summited PT 13295 at 7:35am

PT. 13295:

My second peak of the day was to the northeast, Lake Fork Peak

To get there, I re-traced my steps back down the ridge, and then followed the ridge to the summit of Lake Fork Peak. Also, now is a good time to get a visual of the decent route from Lake Fork Peak via the avalanche runout.  This is the overall route:

I made my way down to the 13295/Lake Fork Peak Saddle

Here you can see the route I took up to the ridge from the basin. If you’re just doing PT 13295, this is an easy decent route as well. This is also a good view of the avy area you could descend from if you’re summiting Lake Fork Peak.

Now, on to the summit of Lake Fork Peak.  This was a class 2 ridge walk the entire way, with some loose boulders thrown in for fun on some of the steeper parts.  All along this ridge, I could hear, but not see, elk.

I summited Lake Fork Peak at 9:45am

Lake Fork Peak:

Here’s looking back at PT 13295

I looked down below, and could finally see the elk.  They were enjoying an afternoon swim in the alpine pond below.  There are more elk than you can see here, as they’re in the marshy areas as well. 


I kept a watch on the elk as I continued hiking.  Eventually they got tired of the water and sat down in the willows to rest.  I continued on my hike, making this a loop.  I headed northeast and continued following the ridge. This was all class 2.  I went up and down several bumps that weren’t ranked summits

Here’s looking back at Lake Fork Peak

When I was directly above the avalanche area, I descended back down to the trail

Then followed the trail, and the road, back to my truck

I made it back to my truck at 12:40pm, making this a 13.27 mile hike with 4196’ of elevation gain in 8 hours.

On to the next trailhead!

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!

Baldy Alto – 13,698 & Stewart Peak 13,983


RT Length: 11 miles

Elevation Gain: 3961’

Colorado had it’s first measurable snow Thursday and Fridays are my hiking days. Of course I paid extra close attention to the weather and it looked like the San Juans were going to be cold and windy but the snow would be negligible.  I had a few other peaks in mind closer to home, but I’ve learned the hard way while the trail may be snow free, it’s unlikely the roads/highways would’ve been snow plowed at the early times I like to hike.

I’d thought about sticking closer to home but didn’t want to waste a full free day when I could be above treeline, summit or no. Also, I had some new winter gear I wanted to test out and the area with the best forecast for the entire state was near the Eddiesville Trailhead in the San Juans.  I made it a late start because (at the trailhead) it was supposed to be 1* until 7am, when it jumped to 7*.  It was going to be cold, and I figured sunlight would help.

I left my house at 1:30am and arrived at the Nutras Creek Trailhead at 6:30am, surprised to see a tent set up near the trail but no vehicle. It’s a 24 mile drive on a dirt road to this point, and I wondered how they made it here?  My dashboard said it was 14* and I already considered today a win (to be fair, it went all the way down to 0* on my drive in and back up to 14*, so the forecast was in the correct range).  The creek crossings were negligible, just a trickle at the first and completely dry at the second.


Not knowing how much snow had actually fallen here yesterday I’d brought both my summer and winter hiking boots. It was icy on the way in and there was a sprinkling of snow on the peaks nearby so I opted for the winter hiking boots, just to err on the side of caution.  The last time I was here to summit Stewart Peak it had rained and my feet had been soaked in the first 10 minutes and were solid blocks of ice on the peak.  I didn’t want that to happen again.  The winter boots were overkill but also the correct choice.

I’ve needed new gear for a while, and this year saved up money to purchase better winter equipment. All of the centennials I hiked in cold conditions I did so wearing a snow bib I’d bought for $2 at a garage sale in 1998. After an intense winter/spring hiking season this year the bottom half were ripped to shreds thanks to my wonderful microspikes and snowshoes.  The jacket I’ve been wearing was a great jacket from a great brand, but I’ve sewn up over two dozen holes and it no longer keeps me warm/waterproof.  I need to wear compression socks when I hike (and basically for any activity that requires shoes) and I wear wool socks over them but the ones I’ve been wearing haven’t been keeping my feet warm.  My goal this winter season is “no blue toes” so I was trying out a new pair of socks (over my compression socks).  Also, gloves.  By far my most expensive purchase was when I splurged on a new pair of Alti Mitts last month:  I’m super excited to try them out.  These would be cumbersome but could be game changers.

So, I bought new socks, gloves, and ski pants (woot! No more taking off half my layers to use the restroom!).  Roxy makes a pair of outdoor snow pants that almost fit me.  The smallest size they make is one size too big for me, but I found they fit better if I wear yoga/moisture wicking pants underneath them.  Bonus: They’re not from the kids section and they kind of make it look like I have a figure instead of looking like the Michelin Man.

Finally, a new jacket. I’ve been in the market for a long time for a new winter mountaineering jacket but I’m frugal and don’t want to spend $500+.  I’ve gone to REI, Sierra Trading Post, and several other outfitters looking for something that would keep me warm without breaking the bank and came up empty.  I was in an online forum for people with Raynaud’s and someone very highly recommended a simple mountaineering jacket. I was exceedingly suspicious due to the (very low) price and because it was synthetic and made in China, but I purchased it on Amazon and figured I’d give it a go early in the season.  When it arrived I was doubly skeptical:  It came in a small 12x12X4 inch plastic case and didn’t look robust enough to keep me warm.  I left the tags on it in case it didn’t perform as advertised so I could return it and try again.

Fancied out in all my new gear I hit the trail at 7am, being careful to be quiet since the campers were not yet awake.


The first 2 miles of this trail follow Nutras Creek southwest on an easily identifiable trail. I could see a light dusting of snow on the nearby peaks.


Anywhere there was water or where water accumulated there was ice


After 2.2 miles of hiking on an established trail I came to an area where I was close to the creek and it looked easily crossable. I’d need to be on the other side to summit Baldy Alto. I chose to summit Baldy Alto first today because I’ve already summited Stewart Peak and I wasn’t entirely confident my new gear would allow me to summit more than one peak today. The creek looked frozen solid until you stepped on it and then you plunged into the water, realizing it wasn’t more than an inch or two thick.  At its lowest point about 5 feet across.  My little legs weren’t going to be able to make that jump so I walked up and down the creekbed looking for a better way to cross (a log, large rocks, etc.).  When I couldn’t find one I added a few medium sized rocks to the creek and made my way across.


There was loose talus on the other side. My goal was to make it to the trees and then up to treeline.


There was no trail, and once again the talus was very loose and would slide out from underneath me when I took a step. Once in the trees I just kept aiming southwest, looking for treeline


Just before treeline I came across an area where it was obvious elk frequently bedded down for the night. It felt special just to be hiking through the place.  Treeline actually came fast and I aimed for the ridge, knowing most of this hike would be above treeline.  Here I passed willows through game trails and some lose rocks (all class 2)



I was about halfway up the slope when I heard what sounded like a flock of seagulls conversing with a group of horses. Curious, I turned and noticed a herd of elk coming down the slope of Stewart peak. So cool!  They were making trails through the willows like nobodies’ business.  I followed them with my eyes, watching where they were headed.  I’d half expected them to make their way to the bedding area I’d just passed, but they turned and headed west, following the drainage.  I kept an eye (and ear) out for them as I made my way up the ridgeline.


Last time I was here I hadn’t been able to see the summit due to clouds, so I wasn’t sure where the actual summit was. That ridge was long.  It felt like it took forever to climb, and every time I thought I was at the summit I realized it was a false summit and it was over the next hill.


The worst part? The wind.  Those 20-30mph winds never stopped.  The wind never got below 20mph, and several times I was knocked down by a gust.  I’m assuming the gust would have to be over 50mph to make that happen, so the forecast had been a bit off.  Wind chill with 30mph winds was forecasted today at -20, so it was cold, cold, cold.

The best part? My winter gear was working fabulously!  There was no way I’d still be hiking in these conditions if I was wearing my old jacket/gloves.  No way.  I could tell the wind was frigid but it was tolerable.  Snot was freezing to my balaclava and the top of my jacket which was a little annoying but I wasn’t miserable. I’ve found a lot of hiking is about being in a constant state of some sort of discomfort and getting past it to obtain your goal. Cold, yes.  Miserable, no.  Woot!  I have found gear that works!

Finally, after 3 or 4 false summits I made it to a cairn and I could tell I was almost to the actual summit of Baldy Alto


I’m not sure when I summited (I feared taking off my gloves for any reason due to the cold/wind to check my phone/time/etc), but I found with my new camera if I had a tool I could manipulate the buttons to take timed photo without taking off my gloves like I’d needed to with my last one. I found a pointy rock and made it happen (those buttons are small!).  It took about 15 minutes, but it worked!  High-Five to my new gear for making this possible!  Not sure how to take a video yet in these conditions (but I’m working on it).  There was no summit register.


Despite the unrelenting winds I wasn’t unbearably cold and due to the minimal elevation gain/trail length I wasn’t tired yet at all, so I decided to take the ridge over to Stewart Peak. This is the route I took.  The elk are in the red circle at this point.  I could see but not hear them (the wind drowned out all other noises except its own howls).



I aimed for the saddle. I’d been watching the elk for about 3 hours and thus far they hadn’t noticed me because I was downwind from them, but as soon as I hit the saddle that changed.  They could smell me now (if it hadn’t been for the intense wind headed their way the fact I’d been sweating for the past few hours meant I’d be hard to miss at this point even in lesser winds).  Their heads picked up and then each one looked at me and quickly fell into a procession.  They started moving together as one up the basin and onto the ridge I’d just crossed.  I found it intriguing a herd of elk would be intimidated by a single person.  They were all eyeing me, trying to sneak past me like a freight train.  I stood in awe for a moment, and then fumbled for my camera in the -10-20* weather (maybe colder with the higher than anticipated winds?). Knowing pictures would never do the experience justice I held the camera at my chest and just kept shooting, leaving my eyes free to take it all in.  It was magnificent, like something you’d see watching a documentary on National Geographic but on a much grander scale because I was in the middle of it and the reason behind their behavior.  I saw their eyes staring at me, their hooves stomping the dirt to dust, their heads moving up and down, the warm breath puffing from their noses into the cold air, and the muscles in their legs charging them forward.  They each looked at me individually but moved as one, up and over and down the hillside.  Wow.  Just… wow.  I didn’t want the experience to end, but they’d moved on and it was time for me to do so as well. The pictures really don’t do justice to the occasion.


This next part of the hike was class 2, up and over the ridge on large, loose talus.


I continued along the ridgeline to this point. I’d thought this was Column Ridge and the point beyond was Point 13,795, but apparently the point beyond is the only one that’s a 13er (it’s not ranked).


Oh well, that’s what I get for not taking out my map. There was a marker here though…


Time to head over to Stewart Peak. This was an easy trek


The last part looked like it might be tricky, but it wasn’t. I just continued up and over class 2 terrain


And then walked the rest of the way to the summit.


No videos today of the summit(s) due to cold/wind. I was able to get another summit photo again using a pointy rock.  I had a pencil and stylus in my pack, I just didn’t want to take off my pack to get them out because my gloves are cumbersome.  I’m thinking I’ll keep them a little more handy next time, and this week I’m going to attach longer strings to the zippers of my pack so it’s easier to open/close with my bulky gloves.  Also, I’m smiling in this picture.


There was a summit marker here too… but no summit register


The hike today had seemed too easy. The most difficult part was dealing with the insane wind.  I hadn’t thought about it before starting out, but I didn’t know how to tighten the strings around the hood of my new jacket to make it fit my face, and once out there hiking I wasn’t able to figure it out without taking my jacket off.  Since I wasn’t about to take my jacket off in these conditions I resorted to placing my hand on top of my head to keep the hood from blowing off when hiking into the wind.  Not ideal, but it worked.

The trek down from Stewart Peak was actually kind of fun. I decided to just “wing it” since I’d been here before, and I didn’t take out my topo/etc.  I just followed the ridge to the end and aimed for the creek, knowing it would lead me eventually to the trail.




I’m not recommending this approach unless you have good route finding abilities and you like to rock climb because I made it to a section I’d label as class 4. I love to boulder so I went through this area with vigor instead of looking for another way around, but if this not your cup of tea follow the standard approach down Stewart Peak to the creek.


Also, there are tons of game trails here that look like actual trails but lead nowhere. It’s a bit… misleading.


By keeping the creek in sight I was easily able to link up again with the trail out.




The entire time down I was thinking of how much easier this hike had been taking Baldy Alto first instead of Stewart Peak: the elevation gain had been more gradual and if I were to do this loop again I’d start with Baldy Alto. Once I made it to treeline the wind stopped and I could hear elk conversing with each other through the area I’d hiked that morning.  That got me wondering if there’s more than one herd up there, or if it was split up?

I made it back down to the trailhead and there was more gear at the campsite than when I’d passed it this morning. There was a young gentleman of about 25 years sitting in a camp chair, dressed head to toe in camo.  There were guns and archery equipment propped against the trees and a second tent set up.  He stood up when he saw me and said hello and asked me where I’d been.  I could tell by his accent he was from the south and my heart melted a little bit.  Apparently the check engine light had gone on in their vehicle so the rest of his party had gone to Gunnison to get it checked out.  They were here hunting elk and had spent last week in Wyoming hunting antelope.  He dripped of congeniality.  I’m a sucker for a well bred southern man and if he’d been around 40 years old and single I would have prolonged the conversation by telling him where he could find those elk.  Instead I wished him good luck and went back to my truck to clean up and head home.

I started at 7am and finished at 2pm, making this an 11 mile hike with 3961’ of elevation gain in 7 hours.



Please don’t judge me (too harshly) and know no one is paying me to say this, but the jacket I got was the Wantdo Waterproof Ski jacket (I’m not yet sure if it’s actually waterproof but others tell me it is).  It worked so well and exceeded my expectations, especially for such a low cost jacket (under $100).  I’m not sending it back and look forward to an awesome winter adventure season!  The gloves and socks and pants were phenomenal as well.