| Hunting for a Route
Trailhead: West side approach via South Rock Creek
Route: West Ridge from 10,800 feet along the road into South Rock Creek drainage. Then direct to Point 12,042 then onto Hunts Peak.
Distance: About 6.25 miles
Who: Bob and Matt ("Matt")
Start: 9 ish am (due to a having to saw a fallen tree to drive up the road)
Car: 1:30 ish pm
Special gear: None needed. Insignificant snow.
Photos are from Bob unless otherwise noted.
KatieFinn was out of town this weekend and Matt and I had been looking to get together for a hike so I reached out to him and he was interested in Hunts. Off we went.
We utilized Furthermore's trip report for planning. And we used these trailhead directions, which got us there - eventually. The directions are about as good as can be written, but it's still confusing when you're looking at some of the intersections:
"Driving south on US-285, turn east at an unmarked dirt road approximately 4.6 miles south of Poncha Pass. This road requires a high-clearance vehicle soon after the turn from the highway. Turn right at a signed fork between the Rock Creek (FS-980) and Deckers Creek (FS-948 ) roads. Continue on to another signed junction that marks the fork between the North Rock Creek (FS-980) and South Rock Creek (FS-982) roads; turn right for the South Rock Creek road.
Here's where things get confusing with the extra roads all about; a GPS with waypoints isn't a bad idea. Generally, seek the most beaten paths, and you should do okay. You can also try to identify your surroundings because you'll want to make sure that your road makes crossings of both Rock Creek and Yankee Creek. It'll then parallel cottonwood-tree-lined Yankee Creek on its east side before making a second crossing of Yankee Creek. Sparse parking is available until you enter the forest. "
Hunts Peak from Poncha Pass:
Hunts Peak is on the right.
One thing to add - Parts of the road look very not-recently used. Just trust that you're on a road. Then a little ways into the forest, you'll come to a fork where the right fork looks somewhat nasty and rough and the left fork looks ok. If you take the left fork, you'll end up heading mostly north, paralleling the range. This is not the way to South Rock Creek. Take the right turn and park where you can. We parked around 10,150 ish. We could not have driven much further due to a large downed tree.
There are some good places to camp in the trees after getting into the National Forest.
The road in the trees definitely requires a 4WD high clearance vehicle. And you should expect some Rocky Mountain racing stripes if you have a wide car. Matt's FJ has some new stripes. (Thanks again for driving!) Also, there is a lot of dead fall around and we had to break out the saw after busting a tow strap on a very stubborn tree that was in our way...
We geared up with the company of some mosquitoes. We hadn't even thought about that issue - it seems to be too early in the year. Hiking up the road to 10,800 was pretty easy. The road isn't too bad, but the afore mentioned tree keeps you from driving much about 10,300 ish. At 10,800 we found the road's sharp left turn and we headed South-South East almost directly toward Point 12,042.
Leave the road. (Photo - Matt)
We headed up toward the snow filled gully. The terrain lower isn't too bad - talus and forest floor type stuff. The gully is the one that's between the first and second trees from the left that extend into the sky in the above picture.
Matt on the ascent to P12,042
Higher up, it became more scree than talus and sometimes a step up actually left me lower than where I started...
We kept heading toward the snow filled gully. We didn't bring appropriate gear to climb the snow, so we planned on climbing the rock on one side or the other of the gully.
The right side of the gully.
There are a lot of loose rocks in the area so we had to be careful about sending one down at a bad time. The climbing wasn't too bad, but I would have preferred more solid rock. This was mostly 2+ hiking, but there may have been a class 3 move or two that can be avoided.
Bob on the rock near the gully. (Photo - Matt)
Above the gully was more talus, but this talus was actually pretty stable. We got to the top of the ridge at P12,042.
The view from P12,042
The views of the Sangres, lower Sawatch, Mosquito, and southern Front Range from this point were incredible.
We looked east and the rest of the route was apparent.
The route ahead
We kept to the spine of the ridge as much as possible, though there were some snow drifts that caused us to deviate a little. The drifts aren't that big, but they are just soft enough to not let us walk on them easily. Also, tree line is quite high here and we zig zagged a bit to avoid some of the denser patches.
The slopes leading up to the summit of Hunts Peak were grassy and easy to hike.
Looking back from about 1/2 way up the slopes, the ridge walk is easy to see. We came from the back left, which is P12,042. Antora Peak (13,269 feet) is in the background.
Looking back at where we were
Soon we were at the summit.
The wind started picking up, but we were able to relax on the summit and enjoy the views for a while.
The summit view looking south. (Photo - Matt)
The summit view looking northwest. (Photo - Matt)
You can see the melting Angel of Shavano in the above picture, at the right of center.
Here's a zoom in on the Angel.
Angel of Shavano
The Crestones -
Crestones from Hunts. (Photo - Matt)
Our goal for the rest of the day was to hike north along the ridge to Unnamed 12,401. It's not close, but it's a doable hike.
Matt is heading down to Unamed 12,401.
We started heading down the steep north side of Hunts. The route remains class 2, but it's pretty steep.
(Photo - Matt)
Unnamed 12,401 is the 5th bump along the ridge in the picture below. The first 3 bumps go from right to left. Bump 4 is to the right of Bump 3, and has a little snow leading to it. Bump 5, U12,401 is between Bump 3 and Bump 4. This pic was taken low on the descent to the saddle. The first couple of bumps are avoidable to the west (the left in this photo).
The goal is way in the distance.
Here's the LOJ map of the area. Follow the bumps north to U12,401.
Here is the view of the side-hill under the first bump. The rock is mostly stable (but I managed to find a tippy one and banged up my shin pretty good...). However, the wind really picked up. Matt and I were getting blown around a bit. I was knocked down for the first time on this hike. It started getting a bit miserable, but we pressed on.
The wind kept getting worse. We were hiking on the ridge and we both started getting worried about getting sent too close to the edge. We stopped often to wait out strong gusts, but it seemed the gusts, or temporary wind speeds, were the slower winds and the strong winds were the norm...
We got to the top of the 3rd bump, which is the one between P12,593 and P12,417 and we sat down hoping the wind would get better. We couldn't even talk. And sitting on the ground kept us low enough that all the grit the wind was picking up got in our faces. I leaned in to Matt and yelled "I'm done." He agreed. So we started heading down the ridge that leads back west. Here's a shot of Hunts from the descent down the ridge.
The descent started out being pretty easy. And the wind died down a bit, too. We were finally able to talk and discuss our descent.
I didn't mark it on my GPS, but we probably left the ridge and started descending toward South Rock Creek around 12,000 feet. We tried to keep to the trees so we wouldn't be on talus. Lower down, the brush got denser and the angle got steeper.
This was not real fun.
Our "route" down lead us through pine, talus, and aspen. We could still hear the wind in the trees tops above us. We had a steep gully that we had to negotiate, which lead us to this view - almost there! After hiking on loose pine needles and dirt (which started out better than walking on talus), I was actually looking forward to walking on rocks again.
Matt is almost down.
It was just past the rocks in the above picture that we found the valley floor. We also soon found South Rock Creek. Matt used the opportunity to rinse the grit off his face.
We continued bushwhacking southwest a bit and we followed the arrow on Matt's GPS, which said we should continue heading southwest to intersect the road we hiked in on. We regained some elevation, but Matt and his GPS lead us back to the road, maybe 50 yards above where we left it earlier in the morning.
It's probably possible to contour around to avoid the elevation re-gain, but it was only maybe 150 feet ish that we regained so it wasn't a big deal. If you were to contour, you'd need to make sure you didn't lose too much elevation otherwise you might miss the road. According to the map, we must have re-crossed the road somewhere in our ascent/descent, but I never noticed it if we did. It gets fainter just after our turnoff at 10,800.
We encountered a lot of dead fall on our descent and the quick up to find the road, but it was manageable.
A quick hike down the road had us back to the car.
About the route - It is completely off-trail once you leave the road. None of our route was particularly bad, but there were some annoying areas: scree, loose rock, dense trees, dense dead fall, thorns... As mentioned before, we hiked from the sharp turn in the road at 10,800 feet almost directly to the top of P12,042. This got us where we wanted to be and is a fine route - it mixes things up so it's not a simple walk-up.
It would likely have been easier to head further west on our ascent - to gain that spur of the west ridge west of and lower than P12,042. Or it might have been easier to take the ridge that the road starts going up.
Also, on the descent, once you get to the creek, you could probably just follow it to the road. It parallels the road lower down.
We did not try these alternate routes so you should do your own due diligence.
Approx actual route - Red. Potential alternatives - Blue.
Red is our approximate route. Blue are potentially easier alternatives.
Pizza and an IPA at Amica's in Salida was Matt's suggestion and it was excellent!
Thanks for hiking with me, Matt. I'm looking forward to our next adventure.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):