SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2012
Winfield Peak (13,077') - unranked
Virginia Peak (13,088') - # 579
“West Virginia” (13,140') - # 535
Though the Winfield area sees plenty of summer hikers thanks to 14er Huron, there are quite a few 13ers accessible from Winfield that see very little traffic. One ridgeline in particular allows an aggressive peakbagger to nab a ridiculous number of 13ers depending on which direction and how far they feel like going.
My agenda for the morning was to sit atop as many of these summits as weather would allow. I wasn’t particularly attached to the idea of doing the entire ridgeline since I had a long drive ahead to the San Juans. I decided that a short day would be fine by me, but if the weather seemed to be generous, I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to keep going down the ridge.
I parked at the 2wd Winfield TH, which I would be looping around to at the end of the day, then began walking up the road toward the 4wd West Winfield TH that accesses La Plata’s SW ridge route. My map showed an old mining road that would take me a good distance of the way to Winfield’s unranked summit. Though unmarked, I found the road easily enough near a great camping spot.
Heading up the "road"
The “road” (or should I say what’s left of it) crosses a creek (easy) almost immediately and then winds its way up and up. The “road” quickly led me to a steep ditch that I followed straight up for awhile until I found the road again.
Road? What road?
Parts of this road appear to have been washed out possibly due to avalanche activity.
Ah! That road!
The road took me up to a bowl where Winfield Peak presides above. Where the road appears to end, there are a few options. The road picks up again somewhere and winds its way up to Pt 12,342' on the far end of Winfield's east ridge. I, however, liked the looks of the more direct options that aim for Winfield’s north ridge. I took the most direct option that put me on the ridge a short distance from Winfield’s false summit. The real summit is just a short walk beyond.
Winfield Peak ahead
Summit in sight
From my perch on Winfield, I was one happy camper. The views in this area of the Sawatch are nothing to scoff at.
Looking back at Winfield on the way to Virginia
Scanning the ridge to the south, it’s easy to see that a walk of the entire ridgeline looks easy enough, but long. First up, Virginia Peak.
Looking forward to Virginia and West Virginia
Virginia is a straightforward class 2 jaunt from Winfield.
The mayor of Virginia
On the summit of Virginia, I began to think I might have to cut my day even shorter than I anticipated. Clouds were building quickly and heading in my direction. It appeared to be raining in some spots to the west. I could identify a reasonable exit from Virginia and there were some possibilities between Virginia, West Virginia, and Sheep Rock Mountain. I hated to even think about descending so early in the day as I was feeling awesome and had a lot more energy available to expend. I warred with myself a bit while snacking and watching the clouds, but the situation wasn’t improving so I began heading down Virginia’s east ridge towards my chosen exit line. I’d only descended a short distance when I looked back at the clouds. Strangely enough, they were looking better than they had been a few minutes prior. Instead of coalescing into a mass, they were breaking up into smaller, non-threatening chunks. I paused, reassessing. It definitely was looking like I had enough time to at least make the jaunt over to West Virginia, and, if conditions worsened, there were plenty of descent options available.
So back I went. Instead of resummitting Virginia, I easily skirted around its southern face to meet the ridgeline to West Virginia. Again, a straightforward class 2 walk. I spent a short time on West Virginia’s summit as the clouds were starting to look a bit more interesting and decided to call it a day. I estimated that I might have enough time to get to the next summit, but I am no Mr. Bluebird so I wasn’t willing to push my luck. I descended from the West Virginia-Sheep Rock saddle into the valley below and was feeling justly rewarded by my choice once I felt a few raindrops a little while later. If I’m going to run a ridgeline, I would much rather enjoy it than be worried about weather the entire time.
Looking back at Virginia and West Virginia. Huron and the Three Apostles are prominent.
The view into the upper part of the valley from above treeline looks like an easy descent is ahead. However, be aware that near the entrance into Silver Basin, the terrain steepens significantly. I already knew this from looking at the map, so it was no surprise. I crossed the creek to the south side and continued down seeking the path of least resistance. The descent was better than expected and what little bushwacking I did was insignificant. I even encountered a couple of seemingly random cairns on the hillside at one point.
Looking at some descent options
Looking back and happy to be approaching treeline
Once into Silver Basin, I began meandering through the valley seeking out a trail that supposedly exists. I found potential pieces of it, but nothing that seemed to last for long. It’s not necessary to find this trail – just keep heading NE out of Silver Basin and you’ll find yourself in Huron territory. Eventually, I caught up with the trail and followed it to its intersection with the road to Huron's South Winfield TH. I was a little surprised to see a couple ahead on the trail and more surprised when they continued off the trail into the forest ahead. Apparently, they missed the faint switchback that takes hikers to an easy crossing of Clear Creek. Once back on the road, it was an easy road walk back to the 2wd TH.
Finally - a trail! I believe this is probably Ervin Peak in the distance.
The Three Amigos
Passing by my ridge o' fun. Weather's starting to look better now (of course).
Blaurock and Ervin with a hint of the approaching autumn.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):