| Huron Peak, Northwest Slopes
Huron Peak, Northwest Slopes
14,012 feet (revised elevation), ranked 52nd highest in Colorado
South Winfield 4WD Trailhead, 10,600 feet
Huron Peak is located in the heart of the Sawatch Range about 18 miles northwest of Buena Vista. The peak is considered one of the easier fourteeners to climb, but it rewards hikers with absolutely stunning views of the Sawatch, Elks, and San Juan Ranges.
Huron's remote location makes it somewhat difficult to reach. To get to the trailhead, take CO24 out of Leadville and head south for about 20 miles. Turn right (west) on Chaffee County Rd. 390. Follow CCR 390 for about 11 miles until you reach the historic village of Winfield. Winfield has several nicely restored cabins from the 1870's and 1880's. Turn left at Winfield, and advance about ¼ of a mile to the 2WD trailhead. Four wheel drive vehicles can continue for another two miles until the road ends at a gate. There are plenty of parking places at the gate. The Clear Creek Valley is incredibly scenic, and is a worthwhile camping destination; there are many "informal" camping sites along CCR 390 that allow convenient access to the South Winfield and Missouri Gulch trailheads.
My hiking partner KeithK has been anxious to hike some high peaks in the Sawatch Range, and Huron Peak seemed like a good introduction. Sawatch fourteeners typically have long approaches and require more than 4,000 feet of elevation gain, but Huron is a relative bargain. According to Roach's guidebook, Huron only requires a four-mile roundtrip and 3,400 feet of elevation gain from the South Winfield 4WD trailhead. It appears that the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative has made some changes to the trail since the guidebook was published, so count on a roundtrip of just over six miles.
Getting to the trailhead from the Denver Metro area requires an early start. We left from the Morrison park and ride at 3:30 in the morning. Chaffee County Rd. 390 is a fairly decent dirt road, and it would present no problems to a 2WD vehicle. It was interesting to see all of the cars parked at the Missouri Gulch Trailhead, which we passed along the way. That trailhead gives hikers access to Mt. Oxford, Mt. Belford, and Missouri Mountain. CCR 390 did not get rough until we passed the village of Winfield, at which point a 4WD or high-clearance vehicle would have definitely been required. Keith enjoyed giving his Ford Ranger a workout, but all of the jostling made me a little bit nauseous.
We arrived at the South Winfield 4WD Trailhead at about 6:30. The trailhead, which is at 10,600 feet, is near the banks of Clear Creek. We were eager to hit the trail, so we didn't waste much time gearing up. Roach's guidebook advises hikers to go about 100 yards past the road closure and look for the trail on the left; the trail now bears to the left immediately before the gate. A small "Mt. Huron" sign marks the correct path. There was a trail register on the right shortly after we passed the sign.
The South Winfield 4WD Trailhead
The trail headed due south, and crossed over a small creek.
Log bridge over a small creek
After about ¼ of a mile, the trail turned sharply to the southeast and began to switchback up the hillside. The trail's grade was gentle at first, but the switchbacks were seemingly endless. This was perhaps the most pleasant part of the hike; the spruce trees gave the air a fresh scent, the trail was not difficult, and the scenery was a nice bonus.
Conditions on the lower part of the trail
At about 11,700 feet, the jagged peaks of The Three Apostles (North Apostle, Ice Mountain, and North Apostle) came into view.
The Three Apostles
We got our first glimpse of the summit of Huron Peak from a switchback at about 11,800 feet. I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach when I saw the immense pile of talus. The impossibly tall rock heap did not look like an easy fourteener from that perspective.
Huron Peak's distant summit
The timber thinned out as the trail switchbacked up to about 12,000 feet. As we emerged from the trees, a vast basin came into view. Huron Peak loomed over the basin on the right; the saddle between Brown's Peak and Huron Peak was straight ahead. There was a small, shallow pond in the middle of the basin. Snowfields on the northwest slope of Huron Peak were still melting, and the runoff poured into a creek that tumbled noisily downhill towards Clear Creek. The trail was straight and nearly level through the basin, and colorful alpine wildflowers dotted the landscape.
Huron Peak's upper slopes viewed from the basin below
The terrain changed drastically on the eastern edge of the basin. Everything that we had experienced up to this point was just a warm-up for what we were about to endure. At about 12,450 feet, the trail angled sharply upward as we zigzagged up a slope on the side of the Brown's Peak-Huron Peak Saddle. The Colorado Fourteener Initiative has placed stone steps on the most difficult stretch of this portion of the trail.
Steep slope on the side of the ridge between Brown's Peak and Huron Peak (image by KeithK)
The broad, grassy saddle gradually merges with Huron Peak's rocky upper northwest slopes. The trail switchbacked through the tundra on the steep slope for 1,000 vertical feet. Forward progress slowed to a crawl.
Heading up the steep grassy slope with the summit in the background. The crest of the ridge is to the hiker's left
The upper portion of the northwest slope starts at about 13,450 feet. The terrain abruptly changed from tundra to talus at this point. The trail through the talus was clearly defined, but inordinately steep.
The trail as it winds throught the talus on the upper northwest slopes (image by KeithK)
Keith saw a pika sunning itself on a rock, and managed to get a picture.
Pika in the talus on the upper slopes (image by KeithK)
We ascended 550 vertical feet in the next ¼ mile. It was a relentless grind until we were standing on the summit.
KeithK on Huron Peak's summit with The Three Apostles in the background
Greenhouseguy on Huron Peak's summit (image by Pete Francis)
The hike was more strenuous than I had expected, but the view from the summit was far more impressive than I could have imagined. Neighboring peaks to the north were Brown's Peak, Middle Mountain, and Cross Peak. La Plata Peak, Mt. Elbert, Mt. Massive, and Mount of the Holy Cross were farther to the north.
View to the north from Huron Peak's summit
Mt. Oxford, Mt. Belford, Missouri Mountain, Iowa Peak, Emerald Peak, Mt. Harvard, and Mt. Columbia were readily visible to the east.
Eastern view from Huron Peak's summit
The Three Apostles dominated the southern vista.
The Three Apostles south of Huron Peak
The spine of the Continental Divide was in the foreground to the southwest, and the Elks Range was in the background.
Southwest of Huron Peak's summit
The skies were blue, the air was still, and the visibility was nearly unlimited. I chatted with other hikers, took some pictures, and enjoyed the scenery on the summit for 1½ hours. All good things must come to an end, so we grudgingly began our descent. Keith was slowed considerably by his plantar fasciitis, but he was able to find a pace that allowed him to deal with the pain.
Looking back down the trail into Clear Creek Valley
We took our sweet time returning to the trailhead, and seized every opportunity to appreciate our surroundings. On the way back to the truck I found a solitary Western Red Columbine, and wondered how it sprouted so far from any relatives.
Western Red Columbine (Aquilegia elegantula)
Afterwards, Keith and I agreed that in spite of its relatively low stature, Huron Peak provided an outstanding hike.