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.

Mt Oso – 13,684

RT Length:  33.61 miles

Elevation Gain: 9833’

This trip changed so many times before it even began.  I have an actual job, with responsibilities, meetings, etc.  I drove down to Durango Wednesday night, slept in the cab of my truck at a Walmart (the topper is still on order), got “the knock” at 10:30pm, moved, then woke up and worked/had meetings in my truck the next day. Then I drove to Hunchback Pass through Silverton (my favorite way to get to Hunchback pass).  It started raining as soon as I hit the dirt road, and didn’t stop.  There was a 60% chance of rain today, but I was still hoping to find a window and hike either 5 or 10 miles to a camping spot (depending on when it got dark, weather, etc.). 

The road over Stony Pass was sketchy in the rain.  Miles did great, but there were a few times I was worried the mud was too deep to get through.  I was a bit worried about the river crossings too, but Miles once again had no trouble.  

I’ve been to this area 3 or 4 times, and know the perfect place to park:  It’s a pullout at 11230’, just before you hit the trees (again), and before getting to Beartown.  My truck can make it further, but from past experience I know it’s going to get Colorado pinstripes from the willows and I have the opportunity to scrape the frame a couple of times as well. I love my truck, so I parked here, about 1.3 miles from the trailhead, in a flat spot with a campfire ring at 11235’.

I parked and waited for the rain to stop.  The rain turned to graupel, then rain again, then hail.  I could see the clouds coming over Hunchback Pass, and they weren’t getting any prettier.  Wave after wave of new sets of clouds kept cycling in.  After waiting for a few hours, I decided to just get some sleep.  I know many of you would start out in the rain, but with my Raynaud’s I can’t risk it:  If I get wet/cold that’s it for me, as I cannot warm up.  I woke up every hour to check on the weather. The rain didn’t stop/clouds didn’t clear until 4:30am.  That was a 15 hour rain delay that was seriously messing with my summiting plans.

I put on my rain gear to ward off water on the trail dripping from plants, and was on the trail before 5am. 

Day 1 went like this: 

  • Gained 1275’ over 2.8 miles (to Hunchback Pass)
  • Lost 2350’ over 5 miles (to Rock Creek Junction)
  • Gained 2503’ over 6.4 miles (to pass over Rock Lake)
  • Lost 500’ over .5 miles (From pass across basin)
  • Gained 1150’ over 1 mile (from basin to Oso/Soso saddle/to Oso Summit)
  • Woot! Summit!
  • Lost 1150’ over 1 mile (back to basin)
  • Gained 500’ over .5 miles (back to saddle)
  • Made it back to Rock Lake (losing about 600’ more)

Ok, so, let’s start from the beginning:  From my parking space at 11235’, it was an easy hike to the trailhead, passing through Beartown. There were two other 4WD vehicles parked here, a 4Runner and a Tacoma like mine, unmodified, so you know it’s doable (choose wisely). 

Once at the trailhead (813) I followed the Vallecito Trail up to Hunchback Pass

And then I headed south through the basin, following the trail down for 5 miles as it lost 2350’ in elevation

There were willows here, and I was glad to have on my rain pants.  There were a few stream crossings, all easily crossable.

I saw evidence of someone’s fire getting out of control: looks like they lost their pack in the process.   I wonder how they put it out?  In case you’re wondering, yes, the ground was cold and the fire was out (I’m sure the 15 hours of rain last night had helped).

After hiking for a total of 7.8 miles (from where I parked) I made it to the Rock Creek Junction, and followed that trail southeast for another 5 miles up to Rock Lake. This trail was also class 1, and easy to follow.

Just before making it to Rock Lake I passed through a basin

In this basin was a bull moose.  I didn’t worry too much about him, because he was hundreds of yards away from me, on the opposite side of the basin.  I continued on the trail, but once he noticed me, he raced towards me and stopped a few yards away. He charged me (it was a bluff). I knew not to make eye contact with him, which was what he wanted. I could actually feel him willing me to look at him.  I kept my head straight and walked the trail with a purpose, ignoring him.  He continued snorting and pawing at the ground and shifting his head from side to side. Then he paralleled me for about 50 yards, walking about 5 yards to the west of me. When he was done, he trotted away and took in a view of the mountains.

As he trotted away I breathed a sigh of relief, and continued on the trail, exiting the basin and making my way to Rock Lake.

I arrived at the lake at 11am and decided to set up my campsite for the night.  I didn’t see anyone else here.

It was still early in the day, so after a quick snack I left my heavier gear and just brought the essentials:  I planned to summit Mt Oso today. To do that, I skirted Rock Lake to the east and ascended the rocks

As I made it to the rocky area, I came across a cairned trail, and followed that trail southwest.  Note, I took the solid line up, the dotted line down. The dotted line was easier, but both ‘went’.  You can’t tell from below, but there’s a grassy area by the dotted line that helped me avoid the willows (pictures on my way down).

Here’s the cairned route, with the ‘exit cairns’ circled in red

Here’s where I left the trail.  If you continue following the cairns, you’ll go down to Half Moon Lake. I was headed towards Mt Oso, so I left the cairns and continued heading up (west).

Time for more elevation loss, and gain.  I was headed for the Mt Soso/Mt Oso saddle. This required me to lose 500’ through this basin, and then ascend the gully.

The basin was easy to cross. There were small streams and some willows to navigate, but the route was obvious (and choose your own adventure:  just keep heading towards the gully/saddle). The gully was a mix of large, loose boulders, smaller loose rocks, and scree. 

Once at the top of the gully/saddle, it was once again time to lose elevation.  Being here also gave me a great view of Mt Irving.  I descended the gully to the northwest, staying on the scree at the base of the rock outcroppings, rounding them, and losing 175’ in elevation.

Stay low here.  You’re going to want to stay high, but you’re aiming for a green rock band to cross.  It’s lower than you’d like it to be (around 12600’)

There’s a little bit of scrambling to get over the rock band. I was able to keep it as easy class 3 by taking this route

Once across the green rock outcropping, it was time to gain the ridge.  I turned and headed north.  The rocks here were large and loose, with some scree mixed in.

I went low just before ascending the ridge, following a scree/game trail

And then followed the ridge to the summit

Summit of Mt Oso

Mt Oso: 

There was a large, military grade summit register, with a moving dedication inside, as well as some ceramic bowls (I’m sure that’s not what they actually are, ad that they have a purpose?).

I looked over at Irving and North Irving.  I did the math in my head, and there was no way I had time to loose the 1500’ of elevation, then regain 1300’ to summit Irving, plus hike back with all those ups and downs to Rock Lake before sunset.  It’s important I’m in my sleeping bag before the sun goes down, which limits my hiking time. Oh well, just one peak for this trip.

So, I turned and headed back towards the Oso/Soso saddle

Back at the saddle I retraced my steps down the gully, back across the basin, and up to the next ridge, finding a grassy bank to ascend

The route looks much different heading back, so be sure to study it on the way in.  Stay just below this cliff band

And now to head back down to the trail

You know you’re back on trail when you see cairns

Back down to Rock Lake. Here’s an overall view of the route I took down, and check it out:  another camper!  I walked by his tent, and apologized for doing so, but told him he was camped in the only area without willows…

There are lots of cairns here to guide you back down.

I made it back to my campsite as the wind started picking up.  I was glad I’d made the decision to head back.  I jotted down some notes, and looked at my tracker:  I’d done 18 miles today, with almost 7500’ of elevation. I sat in my tent for a while, glad I’d decided to bring a tent, listening to the wind howl outside.  I eventually fell asleep, and woke up to frost inside my tent. Lovely.  I quicky broke camp and headed back down into the basin.  Everything was covered in a thinl layer of frost.

Oh, did I mention the trails were mucky? It was from all of that rain yesterday.  The entire way in, and out, I was walking on water/mud/avoiding puddles, glad I was wearing new hiking boots that were still waterproof. 

On my way out of the basin I decided not to take any chances, and wore my helmet. Towards the end of the basin I spotted the moose again. This time he had a friend, and didn’t seem to care I was there. I’ve seen over 20 moose in Colorado while hiking, and this was the first aggressive one I’ve come across. It’s interesting today he had no interest in me, while yesterday he was overly intrigued/agitated I was there.

I followed the Rock Creek Trail back down to the Vallecito Trail

Then took the Vallecito Trail back up to Hunchback Pass

And then back to the trailhead, the road, and my truck

When I made it back to my truck, my tracker told me I’d hiked 33.61 miles with 9833’ of elevation gain. 

Now, for the hour and a half drive back to Silverton! Oh, also, side note:  If you’re driving these back roads, make sure you know where you’re going!  It’s easy to get lost back here.  I met a man in a jeep as I was hiking back to my truck who was totally turned around.  He wanted to know how much further down the 4WD road to the ‘real’ road.  I had to tell him he wasn’t going in the right direction (this road is a dead end) and that Silverton was many, many miles away.  An easy way to not get lost out there without cell service is to load your track onto CalTopo, then add a line and trace the roads you wish to take, then use that track your drive. 

Just for fun, here are some pictures of the road out…

“C.T.” Peak – 13,312

RT Length:  6.21 miles

Elevation Gain: 2925’

I’d been parked for a couple of days at Cooper Creek, dispersed camping and hiking.  I woke up to rain, so I decided to hit the snooze button on my alarm and just lie there in the bed of my truck and wait it out.  Within 15 minutes the rain stopped, and I was on my way.  This is a very straightforward hike, mostly above treeline, with little route finding (although there is some bushwhacking along Rock Creek).

I followed CR 30 for about a third of a mile, and then ascended Rock Creek, sticking to the right side of the creek

Just before making it to the basin, at after 1.5 miles and at around 11900’, I left the creek and started heading east, up the west ridge of the peak. 

While straightforward, this area was steep.  It started out with scree, then turned to rocks the size of microwaves, and then smaller rocks the size of softballs.  I just kept following the curve of the mountain as it climbed northeast.

Once I made it to the ridge, the elevation gain evened out.  I followed the ridge for .75 miles northeast, all the way to the end, to the summit.  95% of the snow was avoidable. 

I summited “C.T.” Peak at 6:15am

“C.T” Peak: 

There was a summit register.  It was still early, and it had been my intent to continue on to “Gudy Peak”, but the traverse was covered in snow, and I knew from yesterday’s hike how quickly the snow turned dangerous, so I opted to wait for it to thaw out and come back another time, knowing there’s be snow in the Cooper Lake Basin as well.  I turned and headed back the way I’d come.

Back down the ridge

Until I met up with Rock Creek and followed it back to CR 30

It was still really early in the morning, so I decided to spend some time investigating the avalanche site.  It looked recent (this winter?).  The house was scattered all over the area, with the roof several hundred feet from the closest level of the house (it looked like at least a 2-story house).  Beds were still made, but the fridge was empty, indicating the house had been closed up for the winter.  There were hiking boots in great condition, bed frames torn to pieces, propane tanks, wood burning stoves, and daily household items lying around, even a full bottle of laundry detergent.  There were camp chairs, still in good condition, folded and lying under fallen aspens next to what could have been a porch.

After abut a half hour of wandering around I made my way back to the road and followed it back to my truck.

I made it back to my truck at 8am, making this a 6.21 mile hike with 2925’ of elevation gain in 4.5 hours. 

Here’s a view of the ridge route from PT 13540

And a look up the ridge from the PT 13540 ridge

It was still early, so I decided to take a nap for a few hours.  I woke up, finished reading the book my daughter lent me, as well as a biography on Calamity Jane, and decided this finishing hikes early and just relaxing had its’ benefits.  I hiked around for a bit, started a campfire, sipped some whiskey, and thought how wonderful dispersed camping, and life in general, can be. 

PT 13540 and PT 13427

RT Length: 8.95 miles

Elevation Gain: 4206’

CR 30 has had some work:  the road was much nicer to drive than it was last year.  No more potholes!  At least the firsts 11 miles or so.  The last 5 were still a little rough.

I parked near Cooper Creek and settled in for some dispersed camping.  There was a storm rolling in I and I got to listen to the thunder roll as I ate dinner (Pho, which was awesome) and read a little.  After a while campers set up across the way.  I went over and talked with them:  It was a father and son duo from Alabama, road-tripping because the son had just finished college.  Very cool father/son time. 

I made it an early night, sleeping until my alarm went off at 3am.  I hit snooze and was on the trail by 4am.  The route starts out following CR 30 west for about a third of a mile, then I left the road and followed the drainage/Rock Creek northwest.

The area where you leave the road is also the site of a recent avalanche:  a house was destroyed, and there are pieces of the house, roof, furniture, shoes, etc. strewn about the area for about 100 yards.

I followed Rock Creek into the upper basin, staying to the left of the creek (but hugging the creek the entire way).

Once in the basin I followed it as it curved northwest.

There was a lot more snow here than I’d expected:  I put on my microspikes and climbed into the upper basin.

Once in the upper basin there was even more snow.  Microspikes were still ok at this time, but I knew I’d want to take a different route down, as the sun was going to warm up this snow quickly and there was no telling how deep I’d be postholing.  I aimed for the ridge, and once on the ridge, followed it west to a kind of saddle

At the saddle I turned right and followed the ridge northeast to the summit of 13540.

There was a class 2 rocky section to navigate.  I just went up and over this.

Here’s a look at the summit

I summited PT 13540 at 7am

PT 13540: 

Here’s a look back down at the upper and lower basins. 

My next objective was PT 13427

Here’s the route to get there

I turned and followed the ridge southeast.  Here are some step by step pictures

The area in the above picture, circled in red, is pictured below.  I skirted this to the right

Then followed the ridge, glad I’d put on my microspikes

Eventually I came to an area where I started losing elevation.  The snow was largely avoidable by sticking to the left on the ridge.  I was a little worried about that cornice in front of me however

I lost about 475’ of elevation to the saddle

Then started up the east slope.  This area was covered in scree, and quite steep. I kept eyeing the cornice, trying to find the best way to ascend.  While I had snowshoes, I didn’t have crampons, so my microspikes would have to do if it came down to it.  Here’s the path I chose to take to the summit, looking for a stable but accessible part of the cornice to climb.

When I got to the cornice, I was able to kick in steps with just my microspikes, although, lacking in forward facing spikes, they needed a little creative help from my ice axe at times. 

Towards the top I started postholing as the cornice leveled out, and had to slide on my belly the last few feet to make it to the tundra. Once over the cornice the summit was obvious, to the north

I summited PT 13427 at 8:30am

PT 13427:

Here’s a look back on PT 13540

It was still morning, but the snow was softening up quickly.  I wanted to get back over that cornice asap. I turned and headed back towards the cornice

It was easy to find my entry/exit point, as I could still see the marks from where I army crawled a few minutes ago.

I did the same thing again, facing the mountain and using the steps I’d kicked in earlier.  It was rapidly warming up:  the tip of the cornice was now steadily reedripping water.

Here’s a look at the ridge back up towards PT 13540

I slid down the scree and followed the ridge back. 

The snow was mostly avoidable until I made it to where the ridge kind of levels out for a while.  From then on it was posthole city

I knew there was no way I wanted to re-enter those basins, so I decided to take the southeast ridge down.  It parallels the basin, and while there was snow, a lot of it was avoidable.  Where it wasn’t I was postholing.  I had snowshoes, but was too stubborn to put them on.  Here’s the overall route out

And step by step, first down the ridge

Then following Rock Creek back to CR 30

Here’s a picture looking up the ridge (in case you want to take the ridge up)

I came to the avalanche area, and it was then I realized a house had recently been destroyed (more on this in my next trip report on “C.T.” Peak). 

I made it back to the road and followed it back to my truck

I made it back to my truck at 11:15am, making this an 8.95 mile hike with 4206’ of elevation gain in 7 hours, 15 minutes.

For reference, here’s a look at my route up to PT 13540 (solid line) and down (dotted line), as seen from the west ridge of “C.T” Peak.

It was still early:  I’d initially intended to add “C.T” Peak on today as well, but didn’t want to re-enter the basin with the way the snow was warming up, so I switched my plans and was going to do that peak tomorrow.  Instead, I got out a book my daughter just finished reading and was eager for me to read as well so we could discuss it together.  I walked around Argentum, found some old structures hidden way up in the hills behind my campsite, relaxed, and sipped whiskey.  Dinner was a block of white cheddar cheese and some bacon.  I had new neighbors, so I welcomed them, and then made it an early night.  It rained.

Hunts Peak – 13,071

RT Length:  6.79 miles

Elevation Gain: 3528’

I’d attempted this peak last week (along with 2 others), but the gate had been closed just off the highway, just as the gates for the other two peaks had been.  I was super bummed, and since all 3 of my potential peaks for the day had been shut down, I went home.  (I leave my plan a, b, and c on the counter and if they all fail I go home because I solo and want to make sure someone knows where I’m at when I’m adventuring). 

The gate to Hunts Peak said it was subject to seasonal closures, but didn’t have a reopen date.  All the other gates said they were closed due to Sage Grouse mating/nesting/hatching season, and opening on May 15th, so I crossed my fingers the gate would be open today (May 16th). 

I didn’t have a plan b today (mainly because I had a short window:  my youngest has prom tonight), so I was thrilled to find the gate open. 

From 285 it’s a 3.65 mile drive east on 980 to the good campsite. There are a few potential turn offs, but stay on 980.

At the junction of 980 and 982 you can either camp, or drive the .6 miles southeast and park just before the trailhead.  Here’s the sign where the camping area is, and a view of the camping area (on the right).

Notes about this section if you choose to drive further:  it’s narrow, there isn’t a spot to turn around/let someone pass, it can be muddy, and only 2 vehicles will fit at the parking area at the hill above the trailhead, so choose wisely depending on the day of the week you’re there and the time of day you’re entering.  I have a 4WD vehicle, but didn’t need to put it into 4WD (good thing too, because my 4WD is currently out and I have a new truck on order that unfortunately won’t be here until the middle of summer:  this seriously messes with my mountaineering plans!). Here are some pictures of the road

I parked my truck just before the second stream crossing at the top of a small hill.  I’d advise doing this, especially if you don’t have 4WD (when I arrived it was dark and I didn’t want to chance it in my truck’s current condition).  I parked and was on the trail around 4:40am.  This was by far the warmest start to a hike I’ve had so far this year:  45 degrees at the trailhead!  I opted not to put on my snow pants and was on my way (something I’d regret later).  It was a short distance to the trailhead, and the creek was easy to cross.

I walked around the closed gate and followed the old road.

The road was easy to follow northeast

It was obvious this road hasn’t been used by vehicles since the fire, because there were downed trees all over the road.  There was a little bit of snow as well, but totally manageable without traction.

Eventually the ‘road’ fizzled out.  I followed the contour of South Rock Creek and then the mountainside as it headed east.   In the daylight the route to the ridge is easy to see

I followed the drainage as far as I could, then headed east to gain the ridge.  This was steep, but the bushwhacking was minimal due to the fire

I gained the ridge, and followed it southeast over this hump

I had a good view of Hunts Peak at this point

The rest of the route was straightforward:  I went southeast over the hump, and then followed the ridge east to the summit

It was easy to avoid most of the snow, and what was unavoidable was consolidated

There was a short trek southeast to the actual summit

I summited Hunts Peak at 7:10am

Hunts Peak:

It was very cold and very windy.  I regretted not wearing my snow pants now.  Pulsing my fingers, I descended the way I’d hiked in.  Advice here:  the ridges look similar, especially if you’re summiting in the early morning/dark.  Be sure of your route down!  Here’s the route back

Back over the bump

Here was where I encountered the most snow of the day.  It was mostly consolidated, with the odd postholing up to my thigh

Now it was back down the ridge and down the gully, back to the old 4WD road.

Once back on the 4WD road it was easy to follow it back to the gate, keeping South Rock Creek to my right

At the gate I turned right and followed the road back to my truck.

I made it back to my truck at 9am, making this a 6.79 mile hike with 3582’ of elevation gain in 4 hours, 20 minutes.

Here’s the easy part of the dirt road on the way out.  I didn’t see another person/vehicle/grouse all day.  I did see a few antelope though.