| 13ers North of Engineer Pass (San Juans)
Blackwall Mountain – 13,073
Wildhorse Peak – 13,266
Darley Mountain – 13,260
From: 11,700 ft on east side of Engineer Pass
Approx. 12 mi, 4600 ft
Partners: Kirk M, Dominic, Dwight & Teresa
We camped near Capitol City along the Engineer Pass road on Thursday night. After only a few hours of sleep, we were back on the road heading toward Engineer Pass. Since we had different agendas for the weekend, Kirk and Teresa drove their own vehicles while Dwight, Dominic and I carpooled together in Dwight's. We made it to about 11,800 ft before the road was blocked with plowing equipment. This was around Palmetto Gulch, the point to which Hinsdale County had told us they had gotten a couple of days earlier. We didn't want to block the road in case they came back up to work, so we turned around and parked at a small pullout by a switchback around 11,700 ft.
Teresa was right behind us, but somehow we'd lost Kirk. After waiting a few minutes, Teresa set off back down the road to see what was going on. After a little while with no sign of Kirk or Teresa we too drove back down the road. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Kirk running up a steep bank towards us. What was he doing down there? It turned out that he had taken a wrong turn at an unmarked intersection somewhere around Rose Cabin. When he realized his mistake, he tried to turn around and got his truck high centered on some boulders. We left a note at the intersection for Teresa and returned to Kirk's truck. Luckily Dwight had a tow strap and was able to yank it out. It wasn't a pretty sight though – parts were flying. I made a video: http://s109.photobucket.com/albums/n59/dlsunwall/Wildhorse%20and%20Darley/. Aside from the minor cosmetic damage, everything seemed to be in good shape. Teresa found us and we all drove back up the Engineer Pass road again and parked at the pullout. Despite the early morning four wheeling adventure, we were hiking by not much past 6.
We first climbed a steep 100 ft slope to get to the road above us, avoiding a long switchback. The road was in good shape and had been plowed quite a bit further past the equipment blockage. At around 12,300 ft we parted ways with Teresa who was planning on climbing UN 12,694 on the other side of the pass. The rest of us planned on climbing Blackwall, Wildhorse, and UN 13,132, three of Kirk's few remaining 13ers. A weakness in the huge snow bank on the side of the road provided access to American Flats, a large area of gentle rolling terrain.
We planned on climbing Blackwall Mountain first since it was the farthest away. There were many little ups and downs as we headed north across American Flats. Wildhorse Peak looked intriguing and I was looking forward to climbing it on the way back. We passed by a fascinating looking 12er ( UN 12,968 ) which Kirk and Teresa fittingly refer to as "Funky Peak". It looks like a fun climb. Blackwall's southwest ridge is unusual. There is a huge step, or "wall", that looks fairly impenetrable. We hiked below the ridge until we passed by this wall and then climbed northwest up an old avalanche path to gain the ridge about 0.15 miles from the summit. We arrived around 9:20. The sight of the steep cliffs on the northeast side of Cow Creek topped by countless snowy peaks including Coxcomb and Wetterhorn was incredible.
On the way back down I couldn't resist investigating "the wall" from the top to see if there was an obvious weakness. I climbed up about 100 feet to the top peered over the edge. Much seemed to be slightly overhanging and I didn't see anything that looked too promising. It might be fun to go back and investigate further someday though. We descended the same way we'd come. The snow was already softening up and we had to put snowshoes on before long. After passing by the difficulties on the Blackwall – Wildhorse ridge, we gained the now rolling ridge about half a mile from Blackwall and traversed below Point 12,913 on its west side.
Dwight, Dominic, and I decided to climb Wildhorse's northeast slopes and Kirk preferred to circle around and climb it from the south. We'd regroup on the summit. Our route was much easier and less steep than it had appeared from below. From the top of the snow slope we climbed the remaining 200 feet up the easy southeast ridge to the summit. Kirk appeared just a few minutes later. It was around 11:40. Clouds were forming and it wasn't clear whether we'd be able to climb our final planned peak.
Although the snow was soft and wet there was some decent glissading down Wildhorse's south slopes. UN 13,132 was almost two miles away but most of the hike was across the flats and was easy with snowshoes. The east ridge of UN 13,132 posed no problems except for an area of deep, crappy snow near the summit. We got there just before 2:00 and were joined shortly thereafter by Teresa who had finished climbing her 12er.
Darley Mountain was right next door and the weather was great so Dominic and I decided to climb it. Its north ridge looked easy for the most part except for a questionable tower. It appeared that we could skirt around it on snow on the west side though. We summitted without any problems but didn't hang around since Dwight was waiting for us at the car. In our haste, we actually missed the highpoint (which we found out two days later when we happened to climb it again with Dwight). There are two points which are very close in height, but with two GPSs we confirmed later that the northernmost one is actually about 8 feet higher.
To descend we continued south along the ridge until we came to a nice place to glissade off the east side and slid back down into American Flats. From there it was a short hike back to the car. Teresa and Kirk left to investigate other parts of the San Juans while Dominic, Dwight, and I returned to camp near Capitol City, took a nap, and had a great steak dinner.
pictures & route map: