Mt. Herard from the Dunes
7-9 May 2004 - by T Colorado
This trip was ideal for this time of year for many factors: 1) This part of the Sangre De Cristo range in Colorado is far enough south that it melts out earlier than most parts of Colorado (especially when entering from the San Luis Valley side); 2) As the trailhead starts in the Sand Dunes, the mild spring made for better cool hiking weather; and 3) There is still water flowing down the drainages this early in the year (which is not the case later on). Mt. Herard sits by itself in its own massif (actually along with an unnamed 13,135 peak) between the Crestones and the Blanca massif. There seems to be some discrepancy on height (13,247, 13,500, 13,400) ... the point that counts in this description is that it is indeed above 13,000 feet. My husband and I picked up our parking permit from the visitor center (the parking areas are within the Sand Dunes National Monument and therefore overnight parking does require a free permit). The ranger was skeptical that we would be climbing Mt. Herard from the west side of the Sangre's, and then from the south ridge (no trail). No problem, we told him. We backpacked in the approx. 4-1/2 miles on the sandy rolling trail that goes behind the Dunes until we came to the Little Medano Creek drainage. We slogged our way up that drainage and found a forested, hidden and cool campsite along the creek and down away from the sand (which permeates this drainage right up to the base of the mountains). As we were backpacking in, we picked out what appeared to be a pretty direct route along a southern ridge that connected to the western sub-peak of Mt. Herard. The next morning, we arose and followed (amazingly) the most direct route exactly as it had appeared to us. We approximate we were about 3-1/2 miles (and about 4,200 feet elevation gain) from the summit when we started and it took 11 hours roundtrip. The entire route (sans the ridge above treeline) was bushwacking. Some in snow ... some in sand ... some on rock ... all in the trees. Route finding skills were an absolute must as there were many cliffy areas and staying high was the key. The summit view from Mt. Herard is unmatched. The Dunes look surreal and their awesome size is apparent. The views of Lindsey and the Blanca massif were beautiful. The views of the Crestones (see you later again this summer) were jaw dropping. Lots of snow still everywhere. The summit of Mt. Herard had some snow, but the summit cairn was clear as was the glass jar register (and the stuffed bear stuck on a stick in the cairn ... I have no idea what type of ritual was performed here ... haha). We did not dally long and headed down back to camp. On Sunday, we hiked out, stopped in Canon City for cheeseburgers and returned to Denver happy to have another peak under our belts for the season. Happy trails!
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