Peak(s):  Conejos Pk  -  13,172 feet
Date Posted:  06/26/2009
Modified:  06/28/2009
Date Climbed:   06/22/2009
Author:  MtnHermit
 Conejos Peak Loop  

The Conejos Peak Loop satisfies my passion for the semi-open landscapes near timberline. I found this loop by first deciding I wanted to backpack in the South San Juans, hadn't been there in a decade. I then opened my Above the Timber GPS Topos and started browsing. The red dashed trail lines greatly facilitated my initial search. When I found a candidate, I selected a landmark and Googled it to find trip reports and/or photos. Got a quick hit on Alan Ellis' Tobacco Lake TR. As I'm prone to do, I quickly modified that trip to a custom trail and off-trail loop.

When to Go:
Based on the many snowfields and mud, I'd say I went two-weeks to early. Except for the elk, see below. There were many snowfields, all were hard and many were steep, and of course they covered the trails. Even south facing trails in black timber had sections of 2-foot deep snow and the north facing timber had 2-4 feet of hard snow covering the trails. When there was no snow the mud was everywhere.

Which Trailhead:
I combined two trailheads (Tobacco Lake, 719 & Rincon, 720) for this loop and used the connecting road for the last mile. Both are off of FR 105 which is a dead-end road off of FR 250 (the super highway of the S San Juans). I simply set a waypoint on my Nuvi and it calculated a turn-by-turn from my driveway to the waypoint. Then the Above the Timber maps got me the last two road miles.

Water Sources:
Water everywhere, either liquid of frozen.

My Trip
I started Monday June 22 at the Tobacco Lake TH 0.3 miles W of FR 105 on a semi-4WD road. Look for the large worn FS sign. As I was leaving the TH, four people showed up in motorized butt buckets, none stopped and joined me on a little cardiovascular workout, too bad.

View from the trailhead.

Tobacco Lake trail.

Tobacco Lake, according to the locals it has fish in it.

My initial plans were to camp at Tobacco Lake but a quick hike and the million gnats made me decide to continue on to Conejos Peak. When I got to the summit, I sat and reflected and saw a relatively flat grassy spot. So that's where I camped.

Tobacco Lake as seen from the summit of Conejos Peak

View from Conejos Peak

The summit camp worked great until about 4AM then the mild winds increased to 20-30 mph. Just packing my tent was an adventure. It was so cold I had to wear my down coat for the first half-mile off the summit. So much for the sunny lazy morning taking photos and enjoying the views.

While not an official FS trail, the SW ridge has a climber's trail for the thin portion, then when it widened to tundra, I just stayed along the cliff edge for the scenery.

One of many hard snow cornices along the long cliff face

Twin Lakes looking south

Twin Lakes from the cliff face

Unnamed lake

West Twin Lake

The second day brought rain and thunder starting at 1PM. We set up camp near two small ponds on a high bench in the Hansen Creek drainage.

Lots of snow combined with green grass, isn't Colorado wonderful!

Calm sunrise, my favorite.

The cliffs of Conejos' SW ridge, bottom or top, great view. The summit is on the right. No doubt the cliffs were part of the caldera, talk about a super volcano!

Calm after sunrise, my favorite too.

Magnificent meadow below Conejos Peak

Looking back on the gray cliffs above Hansen Creek. I saw elk along the creek each time I stood at the edge. The cliff conglomerate rock is worth the hike.

I returned via the Rincon trail which has a new section from the ridge to Saddle Creek. Unfortunately, this new section was laid out late in the season irrespective of snow patterns. As soon as I hit timber, I abandoned the new trail for the older, steeper mostly snow free trail. Both merge just before Saddle Creek for a deep crossing. Between Saddle Creek and the trailhead, the trail is a nightmare of mud. Heavily used by horses, it has the characteristic deep holes formed by their heavy hooves.

Elk, Elk and More Elk

In all my years hiking and backpacking in Colorado, I've never seen so many elk. I'm sure I saw no less than 150 elk. From groups of two to herds of 50, elk were everywhere. These were not Estes Park zoo elk, rather wild elk, as soon as they recognized a walking human they scattered.

I learned two things about elk from this trip. One elk don't look up, when I was on the cliffs, I could show myself, walk about they never noticed me. On the other hand if I was below the elk they saw me in an instance and were highly agitated by my presence. Secondly, if a person is not walking, elk aren't quite sure what you are and their curiosity will cause them to stop and stare.

These are but a sample of the elk photos I took, should give you an idea. My overall conclusion is that I saw so many elk because I was only the second person this year into the basin, I saw only one boot print.

There are over 50 elk in this photo, most are laying down, the following zoom shot will help you pick them out.

A group of cows and calves high above Twin Lakes.

I had just finished loading my pack and was bent over lifting it to my back when I noticed a buckskin color in the trees. I slowly straightened and got my camera from my chest pocket. First they moved into the open and stared. Then they moved a little exposing the calf. Overall this lasted 1-2 minutes, seemed like an eternity. Highlight of the trip!

By comparison, this cow and calf saw me walking . . . gone!

I met three day hikers between Tobacco Lake and the summit, otherwise no people, just me, the dog and the elk. Nice bit of solitude.

If you have a general interest question, use the comment section, I'll get an email and update the trip report.

 Comments or Questions

Very nice
06/27/2009 03:41
description of why - and how - you came up with this route.

I tried this county highpoint (Conejos) last year but had to back off due to snow... looks like it‘s ripe and ready now! May have to squeeze it (and its big brother Summit) into the summer schedule. Thanks for all the great pictures... and elk advice, too.


Beautiful pictures
06/29/2009 13:41
Those are some great pictures and it looks like a wonderful area. I had a similar experience with a tiny elk calf and it was something I‘ll always remember. Congrats on a successful and unique trip.


Sweet Pics
07/05/2009 18:12
Those pictures are pretty slick.

11/21/2016 15:00
MtnHermit, I know it's been 7 years since you posted this report, but if you still have any of the photos of Twin Lakes and Hansen Creek and the Rincon Trail, I would greatly like to see them. For some reason the the photos will not load in your report. You can send them by email if you would like... Thank you in a advance.

07/03/2017 14:20
I'd like to see the pictures as well please.

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