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.

Irving Peak – 13,218 and North Irving – 13,017

RT Length (from Rock Lake): 11.44 miles

Elevation Gain (from Rock Lake): 4009’

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, I could see Mt Soso, and the gully I would need to climb to access the next basin, where Irving and North Irving were. 

This is the route I took to get to the gully.  There are a lot of small ponds in this area, and marshy areas.  I found I could skirt the water to the north, and then easily access the gully

I first had to descend 450’ into the basin (I stayed high, as you can descend much further if you take a different/lower route), and then re-ascended 560’ up the gully.

The gully really wasn’t that bad to ascend

At the top of the gully, I could see Irving Peak and North Irving.

I had a clear visual of how I wanted to ascend, and descend to get there.  This is the overall route I took.  I stayed high, losing about 650’ of elevation, and paralleled the mountainside at around 12300’ to get to the base of Irving Peak.  The dotted line is my descent route off North Irving (more details later).

Here are some close up pictures of the route

When I made it to the bottom of Irving Peak, I had a few options.  I decided to head up the gully to the left, but this meant I’d need to descend about 50 feet on the other side and then regain the ridge.  Now is also a good time to note my decent route from North Irving.  If I were to do this again, I’d choose the same route.  The gully I took down would not have been fun to upclimb. The area circled in red is what I was trying to avoid, as it didn’t look like it ‘went’.

Here are some pictures of my route up to the ridge (all class 2+)

And once on the ridge, the area I dropped down to avoid, and then regain the ridge

Some step by step pictures avoiding the rocks and accessing the gully

The gully was at worst class 3

At the top of the gully, here’s looking back on my route from the pass

I turned left, and followed the rocky ridge southwest to the summit of Irving Peak.  This was a class 2 scramble

I summited Irving Peak at 11:15am

Irving Peak:

Now to head over to North Irving.  This was a class 2 hike northeast down to the saddle, then 240’ of elevation gain as I followed the ridge northwest

I summited North Irving at 12pm

North Irving:

There was a storm coming in, so I quickly made my way back down towards the Irving/North Irving saddle. 

There are several gullies you can take down.  I took the second one, circled here in red.  I do not regret my choice.

Once out of the gully, I retraced my steps back the way I’d come, to the Oso/Soso saddle

From the Oso/Soso saddle I aimed for the ridge to the northeast, losing and then regaining elevation.

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 3:30pm, making this an 11.44 mile hike with 4009’ of elevation gain in 9 hours.

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…