| Summit Peak in the Remote South San Juan Wilderness
Starting Elevation: 11,000~
Summit Elevation: 13,300
Roundtrip Distance: 7~ miles
Trailhead depart: 5:30 AM
Trailhead return: 11:00 AM
A serene lake scene just as the sun began rising; on the road to the trailhead.
Summit Peak was one of those obscure peaks that has interested me for several years. This is my first TR, so a little about me: As a life-long Houstonian, I vacationed with my family in the Platoro area southeast of this peak every year growing up, and as my interest in climbing 13ers and 14ers has grown in the last three years, this became a peak that I felt I naturally should tackle. My hesitancy was in the lack of beta available on this mountain. Internet searches turned up only a few trip reports that were outdated and severely lacking in detail. After summiting Longs Peak and making a reasonable attempt at Capitol the week prior, I decided that armed with my GPS and Trails Illustrated 142 topo, I could conquer this easier peak.
Access to the trailhead is somewhat difficult but this is due to distance. The roads are only rough 2WD, but you have to drive a considerable distance to get to there. I was staying in Platoro, which is 11.5 miles away, but the nearest highways are CO 17 (35 miles) and CO 160 (26 miles). On the day I hiked this peak, I didn't see another human being within a 10 mile radius. It was a truly remote experience. For details on getting there, check out the map I've already referenced (Trails Illustrated Map 142) and the SummitPost article on this peak: http://www.summitpost.org/summit-peak/152041
The trailhead itself is located at the end of FR243. There are no signs or indications that Summit Peak is up on the ridge behind the end of the road. There appeared to be several trails leaving this area, but I chose to follow the most visible Treasure Creek Trail 710 as shown on TI Map 142. The trail drops into the forest and there is an immediate stream crossing that traversed the northern fork of Treasure Creek and followed the western fork along the narrow canyon and up into a large, scenic basin.
Other reports I read followed the northern fork up its canyon until treeline and then traversed the ridge leading up to the plateau on which Summit Peak resides. I didn't follow this path and quite frankly didn't seen evidence of a clear path up through the forest from the parking area. If the deadfall in this forest is anything like I experienced on my route coming down (see the end of the report), I would think following the northern fork up the canyon through the forest to be very difficult.
Here's a shot looking at the forest from the parking area. My route follows the direction of the green arrow. The red arrow would follow the route in some of the trip reports I read online:
The following picture is taken about half a mile up Trail 710. Somewhere around this point, the map shows the trail entering the forest and switchbacking up the ridge. I never found evidence of a trail turning north in this area and ended following what ended up being a game trail further into the basin. I recognized the error and turned north a little past the arrows in the picture and made my own route up the ridge to treeline.
The views of the glacial gorge behind me were stunning as I made my way up the ridge. Here's a picture looking back down into the basin about 1/3 the way up the ridge.
Here's a shot looking up the ridge from the same position as the previous photo. Summit Peak is hidden but is above the ridgeline in the upper portion of the photo. Note the gully between the ridges. It is not that steep, but carried a lot of loose rock. I chose to stay above the gully to the right all the way up the ridge. At the top of the ridge, it is easy to cross the gully and traverse to the upper ridge above the cliff systems shown here:
Looking back (southeast) down the ridge just above treeline:
Same position as the previous picture, but looking northwest up the gully/ridge system. Summit Peak is now visible and is circled. My route continued up the to the right, traversed the top of the gully and climbed up to the ridge:
The ridge and gully suddenly level out and there is this small (yet beautiful) alpine lake at the top. My route is shown in green and the top of the gully system is the red dotted line:
Note the terrain in these pictures. This was typical of the area above treeline as I traversed around to the ridge with the cliff system. Nothing exceeded Class 2+ on the route I took. I could have made it Class 3 in a few short areas, but it wasn't necessary.
The following picture looks back (east) on my route (in green). The gully is the red dotted line. The trailhead is in the valley below and behind the lake.
Another shot looking back toward the same general area as the previous but showing more of the basin I came out of:
Here is a shot looking south. I am almost to the top of the western ridge of the basin. My route continued up to the right:
After climbing up through a rocky section, I found myself on the plateau above the western ridge. Summit Peak came into full view:
The easiest way to the top is to circumvent the base of prominence on the plateau to the left (south) and then climb up the grassy backside. The top is the right-most point. There appeared to be a steep Class 3 route following the grassy ledges beneath the left-most point, but I decided to take the easier route around the backside.
Here's one more shot looking back from whence I came:
Note some of the rocks and boulders near the top of the ridge immediately below my position in coming out of the upper gully. This would be considered the "crux" of the route, but was very short and could be kept at Class 2+. Once again, the trailhead is located in the valley east of the bushes behind the lake.
My route ended up connecting with Continental Divide Trail 813 as it circumvented the base of the peak. I followed it around to the south in the direction of the arrow shown here:
The picture below shows the backside of Summit Peak along with two route variations. The one in green is the route I took, which was more direct to the top. If I do this again, I would take the route in red. It is a much easier line and avoids several loose, steep, talus-filled gullys that were very difficult to traverse/hike up (behind me in this photo):
Before reaching the summit, I hiked over to the summit ridge to check out some of the exposure. The picture below shows what the exposure is like directly on the summit ridge. It's quite dramatic for the mountains in this area and a large contrast to the grassy tundra used to access the summit.
The final push up the grassy tundra to the top:
From the summit looking east:
From the summit looking down the immediate gully to the relief below. This might make for an interesting snow route when full:
From the summit looking north:
In the picture above, Montezuma Peak can be seen in the upper right. This is another ranked 13er at 13,150'. The connecting ridge looked like doable class 3, but loose with considerable exposure further down coming off of Summit Peak.
I think my high point for the day was when I noticed the Blanca group way off in the distance as shown in the shot below. I literally shouted "This is awesome!" I was excited. From Summit Peak, the Blanca group is roughly 75 miles east across the San Luis Valley. Blanca and Ellingwood are clearly defined. Is that Little Bear to the right of Blanca?
Obligatory summit shot below. The temp was around 50 with winds gusting to 20 mph out of the north. It was a little cool for this Houstonian:
There was not an official register at the summit, and the water bottle containing a few scraps of paper referenced July 2011. This peak does not see much traffic at all.
I descended from the peak following the easier red line that I referenced in one of the shots above and then circled the peak back to north using Trail 813. At the point where the picture below was taken, I found the upper portion of Treasure Creek Trail 710 and proceeded to take it. I wanted to see if I could find the division point that I assumed I had missed before down in the basin.
Here's a shot looking back at the peak as I descended along Trail 710. Note the condition of the trail:
The trail was obviously very unused and had become more of a conglomeration of runoff systems for snowmelt. There were several places on the decent where I lost the trail entirely and picked lines across the tundra in the general direction that I thought the trail went. Along the route above treeline, there are several places where it is obvious that snow traversals would be necessary in a heavier snowfall year. They were all melted out when I hiked in mid-July.
It was unclear as to when the last person hiked on this trail. I found no evidence of anyone on it and I wouldn't necessarily recommend using the trail at this point because it completely disappears once it enters the forest below. The slope in the forest is very steep and I encountered a lot of deadfall. At one point, I found my only method of declination to be climbing 10' off the ground on top of a 3' diameter tree that was fallen downward across several layers of other trees. I spent considerable time looking for the trail and it seemed to just disappear once it hit the forest. I saw several game trails, but nothing that looked man-made or even remotely maintained. I would say that the trail is in complete disrepair and due to the lack of interest in this area, it will most likely not be rebuilt any time soon.
Here's a picture of some of the forested area. I'm on what I later determined to be a game trail that sputtered out fairly quickly into deadfall:
I bushwacked downward and found a steep gully that provided relief from the fallen trees. I took this route back down into the basin. The green line below was my descent. The red line was my ascent.
Note the sharp turn to the right at the end of the red line. This is where I began my ridge ascent early in the day after "missing" the trail division that climbed into the forest. I never found this division and believe it is safe to assume it is not maintained and has disappeared. If I hike this again, I will most likely use my original ascent line again for both ascent and descent.
After getting back to the trail in the basin, I turned north and continued the trek out of the basin. Apparently there was another fork in the trail and I missed my turn back to the trailhead. I realized this at the point in the picture below. Note the "good" trail continuing to lead down the valley. I took a left and trekked through the meadow and met up with the northern fork of Treasure Creek. I crossed it, hiked up the hill, and found my XTerra in the parking area.
Here's a final shot further east down FR243 looking back at Summit Peak. The green arrow shows a small portion of my ascent route, while the red arrow shows my traverse around the knob in an attempt to follow the trail downward into the trees. The trailhead is at roughly the same elevation as the picture was taken but located at the base of the forested ridge to the lower right of the red arrow.
Below is a breakdown of my entire route. My ascent is in green, descent in red. The point at which I lost the trail on the descent is the yellow dot. The purplish square areas are places where I presume snow traversal would be necessary on a heavier snow year. Traction would most likely be advisable and an ice axe would make these sections easier to cross. I don't think a slide would be deadly in these areas, but the slope is extreme enough to necessitate caution if snow is involved.
In closing, let me just say how much I appreciate 14ers.com and the community that meets here. Many of you have been passively influential in helping me become the hiker/climber I am today and the vast information found here is extremely helpful. While my peaks-climbed list is short at this point, I am confidently working toward knocking more out as the opportunity arises for me to leave Houston and head to Colorado. I've been hiking the lower 13er/12er peaks of the South San Juans all my life and have now begun to branch out into many of the other beautiful and more challenging peaks in the state.
Thanks to Bill and all of you who contribute. This has been a life-changing site for me.
Hopefully this TR will provide some important beta on a not-well-known 13er in Archuleta County and is a small thanks to a community that means quite a bit to me.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):