San Juan Splendor
(Four More Off the List)

21-24 Jun 2007 - by T Colorado

We wanted to do a trip that entailed day climbs and car camping so we were off to southwestern Colorado. After leaving Denver early Thursday afternoon, we arrived at the Little Molas Lake camping area in the early evening. It is a beautiful lake with only a few people staying there, and great views of Snowdon from our car camp.

After a very quiet night, we got up Friday and headed up the trail. The trail we started out on was one that is situated directly across from a car camping parking spot, and it has a "Colorado Trail" sign to the left of the trail (be aware that we did not hike on the actual Colorado Trail, but merely on a trail to the right of the sign noting where the trail was down the road). After following this trail a short while, we recognized the large basin situated between 12,849 and 12,734 that houses access to the routes higher above treeline. Leave the trail and pick the best way you can through the tundra, wildflowers and willows. We avoided the willows for the most part and were soon in the basin. If you are lucky, you will find a game trail (or maybe it's a climber's trail) situated on the west slopes of 12,734 ... it begins partway up the basin. This trail continues, for the most part, all the way to Sultan Mountain. Once on the trail, we followed it as it gained the head of the high basin, turned right to pass below 12,899, and eventually intersected a saddle just below 13,087. The hike up 13,087 was nice and the views were wonderful.

All four of the peaks we climbed on this trip offer fantastic views of the San Juans including the Needles, the Grenadiers, the Wilsons, the peaks in Yankee Boy Basin, Engineer Mountain, the La Garita Mountains, and the Twilights (among many many others). Photographers ... bring your cameras!

The weather was looking a bit questionable on top of 13,087 and we debated whether or not to take the trail directly over to Sultan, hitting Grand Turk on the way back or to just take our chances on Grand Turk first. We headed for Grand Turk. The weather held. There was no summit register. We descended down talus and headed on the trail over to Sultan Mountain. There was no register on Sultan. But, what a great day! Wildflowers were abundant the entire day and we had clouds to break up the heat of the sun (with only a few moments of rain the entire day). We retraced our steps, bypassing Grand Turk on the way back, up and over 13,087 and down into the basin and eventually Little Molas Lake. After arriving at our truck, we headed to Red Mountain Pass and on to Ironton to the Richmond Pass Trailhead for our climbs the next day.

The Richmond Pass Trailhead (and parking area) is a bit obscure and hard to find ... it is between mile marker 84 and 85 on the west side of Hwy. 550. The parking area is right next to the highway and we thought we would have a hard time getting a good night's sleep. Such was not the case ... after dark, the amount of traffic dwindles down to nothing and we had no trouble snoozing. On Saturday, we were greeted by clear blue skies and after a great breakfast, headed up the trail. This is a steep trail. Not steep like North Cascade trail steep, but more like Gore Range trail steep. It climbs through beautiful aspen trees with nice views of the Red Mountains across the valley. We were able to follow the trail all the way to Richmond Pass ... here's the key ... if you lose the trail, just look for the next wooden post or cairn. Make your way to the post and the trail will be there. There was still snow below Richmond Pass and we made quick work of kicking steps and then following grassy slopes to the pass.

At the pass, we decided to do the further peak first so we were off to T8 which appears as a large long flat summit from the pass. We headed south from the pass gaining elevation and bypassing 12,657 on its west slopes avoiding the snow for the most part. After continuing on we bypassed on the west slopes just below the summit of 13,011 and intersected the ridge leading to 13,063 and eventually to T8. This ridge is narrow. You can follow it for a ways and then will come to a point where, if you don't have a rope, you will need to drop off on the north side about 20-30 feet to avoid some towers. The south side of this slope offers no options at all. We descended down on the crappy slope ... even large stuff moved. Definitely a place where you want to be hanging on really good with your hands before you start moving your feet (which I found out from personal experience). There was also very crappy chest deep snow in a couple of places which made us very uncomfortable, but did not last for long. The traverse bypassing the towers does not last for long and soon we climbed back up to the ridge just in time to go up and over 13,063. The rest of the route from 13,063 to the top of T8 was uneventful. There was no summit register on T8. We hung out for awhile, munching, shooting some video and eventually descending back down to 13,063. At 13,063, we opted to lose elevation into the basin between 13,063 and Richmond Pass, trying to stay on tundra as much as possible, but eventually found ourselves on some pretty good snow. We crossed the snow, regained the pass and headed up to Hayden Mountain South. I must say here that T8 was the only Class 3 climb we did this trip and the only reason it was Class 3 was the ridge. If you go from Richmond Pass, lose some elevation, cross the basin and then climb up to 13,063 and T8, you can keep this climb Class 2.

Hayden Mountain South is a bizarre peak ... I guess I should say it has some really unique rock on it. All different colors, black, copper, green, orange, white ... and very cool what we call "potato chip" scree near the summit. The trail from the pass does a good job of bypassing obstacles, though some of it is more fun to scramble over. We stayed on Hayden for quite awhile ... unfortunately, it was VERY hot ... there was no wind and no escaping the sun. There was also no summit register. Oh well. After awhile, we headed back down to Richmond Pass, back across the snow on the trail and down through the aspen trees. The hike down did not seem as steep as it was on the way up and we were soon back at the parking lot.

This was a great trip with great views, solitude, awesome food from the "tailgate cafe", wonderful weather and even better company. Happy Trails!

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