Bennett Peak: Rio Grande County Highpoint

After a day with successful summits of both Summit and Conejos Peaks, I headed eastwards through the mountains to the small community of Jasper. In Jasper, I turned north onto Blowout Pass road. Blowout Pass wasn’t a particularly difficult drive, it was just steep and narrow however, I was very much hoping I didn’t run into someone coming downhill (and if I did, I was totally going to invoke the rules of the road and make the downhill car back up the hill). At the top of the pass, we found a lot of cows grazing on both sides of a cattle guard. I’ve never had issues with cows, they mostly just ignore vehicles passing through, and I pulled over to sleep for the night.

The cows didn’t go away.

Cows on Blowout Pass

They hung out for almost an hour licking the Jeep and generally trying to decide what was going on. Eventually, they got bored (I assume) and wandered away. After the cows left the rain started. And just kept going alllllll night.

Fortunately, in the morning, the clouds seemed to be parting so we headed up for the short hike to the summit of Bennett Peak. I honestly didn’t feel all that great after eating a can of tilapia for dinner and then skipping breakfast (thanks cows for making it kinda weird to get out and cook…) but the hike was short and straightforward up a quad track. It made for some sort of miserable hiking because where there was no rock it was kind of muddy and then on the uphills there were big chunky rocks that weren’t all that fun to walk on.

We took a quick photo at the summit to celebrate my 16th Colorado County Highpoint and then headed back down the trail.


Sprocket near summit of Mt. Bennett

I was happy to see that the cows hadn’t tried to climb over the jeep or something crazy in our absence. Driving down the south side of Blowout Pass made me a little bit nervous (I didn’t really want to back up for miles to find a place for someone to pass me) plus I decided gas was closer if I headed out to the north. The road was pretty muddy just getting off the top of the pass and again further down. At one point I found myself going a little too fast (and had already gone back to 2WD) and ended up sideways in the road. I slowed down, went back into 4WD until I got to pavement, and safely made it down to Del Norte.

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Conejos Peak: Conejos County Highpoint

After our successful summit of Summit Peak earlier in the morning, I was in no hurry to get to the trailhead of Conejos Peak. From what I understood, it was a rough but not particularly difficult road to the trailhead so there was no reason to make it up there much before dark. I dallied in Platoro and had a hamburger for lunch at Skyline Lodge (sadly they make all their hamburgers well done…besides that the lodge atmosphere was great!).

Sprocket and I easily made our way up FS 105 followed by 3A to the trailhead. I went up the road in 2WD, 2nd gear. There was one spot on 3A where high clearance might be nice but totally not necessary. I was happy to have low range headed down hill but again, nice but not necessary.

When we reached the trailhead, I took a look at the sky and realized that although it was about 3pm, it looked relatively free of thunderstorms. The hike to Conejos doesn’t gain that much elevation so I figured that worst case scenario we’d get a preview of the next day’s hike and we set off down the trail

Conejos Peak trail

Sprocket on Tobacco Lake trail

The whole way up, I kept scanning the sky to the southwest to see if the storms were looking threatening. As you can see, there were puffy clouds to the northeast but nothing that said, “don’t summit!”

Tobacco Lake

Admittedly, after my experience on El Diente and my recent descent from Ice Lakes, I was cautious but felt confident about our quick bailout options down the basin so we continued upwards. I occasionally felt a little nervous but the clouds seemed to be getting dark over the ridgeline and then disappearing.

Conejos Peak

This was one of those hikes where my summit picture really was the start of my photo taking rather than the end since I was feeling so much better about not leading my unsuspecting pup into danger. It was all to no avail since Sprocket is anti-summit selfie:

Conejos PeakWe made great time back down the gentile summit ridge:


Conejos Peak Ridge

This hike really had one of the best grades to a 13er that I’ve experienced so far. The start was really gentile to get warmed up then it was fairly constant but awesome the whole rest of the way up:

Conejos Peak RidgeThere was a small part of me that worried about taking Sprocket on his second 6+ mile hike of the day but I had no reason to worry: with the cool temperatures, this pup was ready to hike allllllll dayyyy:

Sprocket below Conejos Peak

Back at the car, we slowly began descending to the Conejos River. There was a part of me that was sure that the rain was going to hit us any minute but it continued to hold off (for a few hours anyway… more on that tomorrow).

FS 105

Clearly, it was a good day:

Sprocket in Jeep


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Summit Peak: Archuleta County Highpoint

After leaving Silverton on our failed Vermilion try, we headed for Pagosa Springs where we gased up and continuted on to South Fork for a prime rib dinner. After dinner, we cruised to the trailhead for Summit Peak. Along the way, the sunset was pretty sweet.

Sunset near South Fork

Park views near South Fork

In the morning, we started up the trail bound for Summit Peak, the high point of Archleta County. Treasure Creek Trail is fairly undefined. I really struggled to follow it but with some GPS points managed to find myself in the upper basin where I finally located the trail again.

Treasure Creek Trail

Treasure Creek

Treasure Creek Basin

Summit Peak area

Below the summit of Summit Peak, I was faced with a decision: make my way up the eastern slopes or traverse around to the southeast. I decided to scramble up the eastern slopes seeing nothing that prevented me from getting up with Sprocket. As it turned out, the easiest way up is up the southeastern or south facing slopes: they’re nice and grassy although SP and I are used to (and love) the scrambles for making up elevation in a hurry.

Summit Peak

On the summit, we took some quick pictures and headed down the mountain. We decided against going for Montezuma Peak, another 13er just north of Summit, but I do not feel one bit bad about this because the area was so pretty.

Sprocket on Summit Peak

Summit of Summit Peak

Summit of Summit Peak

Southwestern slopes of Summit Peak

Summit Selfie, Summit Peak

Rather than taking the same descent route, we meandered below the face of Summit Peak, around a high alpine tairn, and then more directly down the face of the mountain to the car. In the end, it was a quick, fairly painless summit and another Colorado county highpoint!

Tairn below Summit Peak

Summit Peak

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Ice Lakes Basin

After parting ways with the FSJ guys, I headed down South Mineral Creek road headed for the Ice Lakes trailhead. I was pleased to discover that by following the Clear Lake road I was able to cut off some elevation gain and Sprocket and I promptly hit the trail. The trail to the lakes doesn’t mess around: it climbs about 2,000′ to the upper basin in right about three miles.

Ice Lakes Trail

Ice Lakes Trail

Ice Lakes Basin

When I emerged into the lower basin, my jaw dropped. This basin was one of the most gorgeous places that I’d ever visited. Since the goal for the next day was to climb Vermilion Peak, San Juan County’s high point, I continued on to the upper basin to remove as much elevation gain as possible for the next day. (I camped at Ice Lake this time and will probably continue all the way up to Fuller Lake next time.)

Lower Ice Lakes Basin

Ice Lakes Basin

Ice Lakes Basin

Ice Lakes Basin

Ice Lakes Trail

Ice Lakes Basin

Ice Lakes basin waterfall

The upper basin was more alpine and austere than the lower basin but in some ways I loved it all the more. It was rather chilly up in the 12,000′ basin so I bundled up and enjoyed reading in the last of the sun’s rays.

Selfie at Ice Lakes

Sprocket at Ice Lakes

The next morning, we didn’t rush out of the tent because we’d cut our approach distance by camping in the basin. This was a mistake, while it was brilliantly sunny at 7:30, by 8:15 fluffy clouds had started to appear in the sky. It was still super early so I headed out, climbing above Fuller Lake studying the sky the whole way. As I reached the bench above the lake, I heard the first roll of thunder. It was time to call off the hike. It wasn’t quite 9am but the weather was speaking clearly.

Ice Lakes basin

I hustled back to the tent, quickly shoved it in my pack, and started downhill as quickly as possible. The clouds were rolling in over the mountains and things were about to get realllllyyy interesting. As I reached the lip of the upper basin, the hail arrived.. The descent down the headwall was nerve wracking as thunder boomed around us. Sprocket fell in at my heels and we headed down as quickly as the wet rocks allowed.

Storm arriving in Ice Lakes Basin

As sad as I was that my Southwest Colorado high point adventure started out this way, I’m not sad that I’ll have to come back to Ice Lakes basin soon. This was one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever been to, thunderstorm and all.

Storm clouds over Vermilion

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