| Great Day in the Sangres
Since my first trip to the Sand Dunes, I’ve wanted to stand atop the summit of Mount Herard, which stands guard over the National Park and contributes mightily to the contrasting landscape. Once I got into hiking prominence peaks and 13ers, Herard ascended to near the top of my yearly wish list, but always seemed to stay there by the time winter rolled around.
Herard is accessed via the Medano Pass road (CR 559), which has outlets on both the west and east flanks of the Sangres. Though both approaches require 4x4 with some clearance, access from the Westcliffe side is easier, with only one rough section. Access from the Sand Dunes requires a few miles of deep sand and a series of creek crossings that can be prohibitively deep in May and June. Having buried a Subaru in this sand back in the day, I can safely say that this approach is no place for AWD vehicles. Low range and some clearance should win the day, however.
I was joined once again by fellow prominence and highpoint enthusiast ChrisinAz, and we set out from Denver on Friday afternoon, taking a detour through La Junta into Bent County, where we explored 4ers San Jose Ranch Mesa (county highpoint) and its neighbor, UN 4770, before motoring across the plains to Walsenburg, then north on CO 69 to our turnoff. 4ers? No, that’s not a typo. 4ers differ from 14ers by more than just 10,000ft of elevation… In 95-degree heat, only a fool does not wear cotton, and the plethora of cacti, livestock, and thorns make class 1/2 walks up Bierstadt or Grays seem like a cakewalk. We got some class 3 scrambling in to gain the mesa top, careful to avoid handholds that hid vicious, needled flora.
Chris looking out on the plains
I digress…. Along the road to Walsenburg, we spotted our old friends the Spanish Peaks.
We turned off CO 69 and started heading toward Medano Pass, stopping a couple times to snap some photos of the Sangres in twilight.
We reached the top of the pass, crossed in to the National Preserve, and took the first designated site we saw. These sites are great—big fire rings and bear boxes—and dot the roadside all the way down to the Park boundary. With a fire ban in place and Chris fresh off his MCAT study marathon, we hit the sack early.
With monsoon season not yet upon us, and a favorable forecast, we headed to the TH little after 7 a.m.
The well-maintained trail starts by crossing Medano Creek
and follows its path 1900ft upward over 3.2 miles to Medano Lake at 11,500ft. Up to about 11k, the hike was gorgeous, but uneventful. Here are some pics.
Around 11k, we started running into snow across the trail, but it posed no problems. Shortly thereafter, we met someone coming down from the lake. It was traderaaron of this site, and we were well met. He had camped at Medano Lake the night before and was heading home on a tight schedule. He warned us of high winds above treeline and we cringed, but doubled our resolve.
We continued upward, getting our first views of our goals for the day.
UN 13153 "Medano Peak"
Other than some drifts in the trees, this short crossing was the only time snow crossed our minds until our descent.
Once at the lake, the views of Herard were stunning.
We took a break for photos, water, sunscreen, & snacks, then headed up this ramp toward the upper basin.
The wind began picking up, and was a factor for most of our ascent. While nothing ferocious like I’d dealt with the previous week on Hunts Peak, a staccato of gusts kept us on our toes and made the warm temps a little less cozy.
Once we reached the upper basin, the Herard/Medano saddle stared down at us.
While the “standard” way to do these peaks is to first ascend to this saddle, Chris suggested we simply grunt our way straight up the steep slopes of Medano Peak, as this would save us time and distance.
It was a great suggestion, as the footing was solid and we emerged only a few hundred feet from the summit.
From the summit, views were spectacular, but a persistent and chilly wind precluded our lingering for long.
Here’s a shot of the Crestones.
Our route to Herard
Not surprisingly, the Spanish Peaks make an appearance, as does Greenhorn, ruler of the Wet Mountains.
We boogied down stable, grassy slopes festooned with small, stable talus, to the saddle.
Looking back at our route to the saddle from Medano.
The wind was giving us a respite, so we stopped and snacked a bit on the saddle before heading up to Herard. This part was steep, but uneventful, and we quickly topped out onto a summit plateau that rivals or exceeds the size of Longs.
Last push toward summit
Once atop Herard, the views were mind-blowing, among the best I’ve seen in Colorado. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Blanca Group far and near
Crestones near and far
We strolled for 5-10 minutes from the true summit to get our first full view of the dunes.
We returned to the summit rockpile, and since the wind had mercifully let up, we lounged around for 45 minutes, taking it all in. On the return trip, we scored the bonus of a short, but speedy glissade, making the day even better.
Looking down at Medano Lake on our descent.
The hike out was uneventful, and I quaffed the requisite Gordon back at the TH while chatting with some folks from Loveland and Cortez. We drove out through the Park and got a parting shot of Herard just before exiting the sandy road.
Here are some relevant links if you’ve any interest in doing this hike. Thanks for reading.
Other TRs on this site:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):