Peak(s):  Wasatch Mtn  -  13,555 feet
La Junta Pk  -  13,472 feet
PT 13,145 A  -  13,145 feet
Ballard Mtn - 12804
San Miguel Pk  -  13,752 feet
Date Posted:  07/11/2013
Date Climbed:   07/06/2013
Author:  Chicago Transplant
Additional Members:   Steve Knapp
 San Juan Day Trippin' - Part 2   

San Juan Day Trippin' - Part 2

Bridal Veil Falls 13ers and San Miguel Peak

July 6, 2013
Wasatch Mtn (13,555')
La Junta Peak (13,472')
"Jackass Point" (13,145')
Ballard Mtn (12,804')
Bald Mtn (11,868')

July 7, 2013
San Miguel Peak (13,752')

Day 3: Bridal Veil Area

Our third day found us starting out with a drive back to Telluride from our camp along the Last Dollar Road, we had camped there because we figured between the shelf road and mining sites there wasn't really any car camping around Bridal Veil Falls, and that is probably pretty accurate. You could pack in a ways into Bridal Veil Basin. When we arrived at the parking area we were the second car there, an old beat up Coup de Ville was parked there. I would not recommend driving your Cadillac to this trailhead, however, unless you don't care about it. The road is not bad, but it has its moments probably is best saved for better clearance vehicles. Right above the parking area the road goes to one-way downhill only as it is the exit from Black Bear Pass. The parking is limited, 4-6 cars at the pullout. It doesn't stop people from parking along the side of the road below, which makes it a one-way endeavor in the afternoon on the way out.

Anyway, we started up the closed road through the nice "hiker hole" in the gate and headed up the abandoned mine road turned hiking trail. The road is pretty steady but not too steep, along the way it takes a few steeper switchbacks to avoid some cliffs/falls before a split near treeline. You want the right fork, the left one goes to Blue Lake on the backside of Three Needles and "T10". The views from the trail back down valley opened up nicely along the road

Down valley views

Higher up the basin there was another road that we missed that goes basically to the Wasatch-La Junta saddle, we went cross country and re-found the road. The terrain is mainly grassy here with some bouldery cliff bands that are easy to weave through adding some nice interest to the landscape. Pretty area, and the lack of scree was pleasing on the third day!

Early view of La Junta

We followed a creek with a small waterfall to the upper reaches of the basin aiming for the Wasatch-La Junta saddle and the rolling grass continued. You can see the creek to the right side below the distant saddle.

Heading toward Wasatch-La Junta saddle (Wasatch summit is middle one)

Thinking our route would go up the ridge on Wasatch we aimed for the saddle, where we found the road again, and a small tarn. But we also saw a grassy gully that would lead to the ridge and headed that way across the base of the lower ridge. This gully proved to be pleasant, although steep, as the grass made for smoother progress than any chossy scree slope could have.

Grassy access to Wasatch ridge

Once on the ridge crest we had a few hundred feet of reasonable talus to reach the summit. The true summit is right at the top of this ridge, even though it does not seem that it would be the highest point from below. The rock was a little loose, but better than a lot of San Juan talus.

Summit ridge on Wasatch

From the summit you can easily preview the cascading peaks ahead in descending order, with La Junta first up on the remaining agenda. We heard loud "whoops" from its summit and counted about 10 people up there. Seemed like quite a lot of people for this area, and we doubted they all fit in that Cadillac we saw in the morning. We both started our descents at similar times and met up at the saddle where we found out it was the Telluride HS XC team and two of their coaches. They had come up from Bear Creek, which is apparently allowing access again, at least temporarily. Something about an old county document found in the archives that lists the trail as county ROW. The trial with Telski is active and there was an article on it in the paper that evening, but maybe there is hope for long term access to Bear Creek? We can hope. Anyway, back on track!

View towards La Junta from Wasatch

There is a use trail up La Junta, but it is steep and mostly a lot of loose dirt and scree. Not too pleasant to go up, but if this is the worst we have to deal with today, we are in good shape. Near the top I actually thought it got more stable, and the summit was a nice little perch with more good views.

Ridge up La Junta

La Junta actually marked the halfway point for me on the San Juan 13ers, it was a nice point to reflect surrounded by so many other of the peaks in the range, but it just reminded me how big of a list that it really is. 250 total 13ers, I am just glad I don't have to tell everyone my halfway point was "Jackass Point"

Another look at ridge up La Junta

No time to reflect too long, if I am ever going to climb all of these 13ers I need to get the second half of the San Juans started soon, and luckily there is one more 13er on the ridge for today. The nickname for PT 13145 A of "Jackass Point" comes from Jackass Basin below it, and the San Juan Mountaineers and it was named in their 1932 climbers guide. The descent off of La Junta has a few little cliff bands, but they are easy to avoid and we just kept following the ridge.

La Junta descent overview from "Jackass Pt"

Eventually we got over the top of a larger one and do not feeling like backtracking, but had we dropped earlier it would have been easy to do so. We instead downclimbed it with some stiff class 3 moves before exiting on a ledge and back to easier ground. Here is Steve working his way down:

Crux downclimb, can be avoided if traverse west early

Once at the saddle the climb up "Jackass Point" is a straightforward ascent up steepening grass with some talus at the top, and we made quick work of the 325' of prominence to the summit.

Going up "Jackass Point"

From here we started thinking about our descent plan, and consulting the maps. Do we go down to Jackass Basin? What about Silver Lake? While not shown on Trails Illustrated, other maps showed potential trails from either. The ridge off "Jackass" didn't look so good to the east splitting the basins, so we committed to Silver Lake as the descent off of unranked Ballard Mtn (12804) seemed like it held the easiest terrain. We descend towards Ballard, having to leave the ridge early and bypass one more cliff, a good use trail cuts across the bottom of it.

Descent from "Jackass Point"

Silver Lake looked like a cool place to check out anyway, who can resist a high alpine lake? Besides it almost looks like a trail remnant comes off Ballard to the lake.

Silver Lake, trail at top left of lake from this angle

Ballard only has 104' of prominence, and is a pretty easy climb, plus after seeing that from below the entire face across "Jackass Point", including directly below the saddle with Ballard, is just one continuous cliff, is there really another option anyway? Ballard turned out to be a nice little summit and the views of town, some 4000' below, are quite nice too! As we were up there a German student who made a pit stop in Telluride on a cross country bike tour and can't seem to find the heart to leave (I hear that, Telluride is a cool town!) comes up from Bear Creek. I guess more locals come up these peaks than we realized.

Telluride: 4000' below

We descended the ridge on Ballard and after we reach the end of the continuous cliff (which makes it all the way to this ridge!) downclimb through a steep class 2+ gully and pick up the old trail remnant. It fizzles out and we just contour across grass to stay above the willows to get to the lake. As we descend we notice people at the lake, awesome, this trail must really exist! Its getting quite buggy though, my picture back to our descent ridge and gully has a lot of black dots in the air, those are all bugs!

Descent off Ballard, notice that a direct descent from "Jackass" or the saddle cliffs out!

We reach the lake and find the day hikers and the start of the trail, which is in great shape and loaded with day hikers. How did we not see the turnoff from the earlier mining road? I guess we will have to solve that mystery later, for now we are just grateful for a real trail so we don't have to bushwhack or worry about getting cliffed out somewhere. The trail steepens dramatically as it rolls toward Bridal Veil basin, and while its a rough steep trail, its still a trail, and progress is quick. As we reach the road we see why we missed the trail, its not signed and looks like just a small piece of road at the bottom that ends across the creek. We cross the creek on a log and some rocks and follow the now popular road to the power station and our vehicle. The Caddy is still there, and so are about 20 other cars and a few ATVs and some Jeeps coming down Black Bear. A popular spot to be today, but after experiencing all this valley has to offer, we can understand why. This is a beautiful area and a place worth coming to regardless of the breadth of ones peak list. Check it out!

On the way back to town we stop to check out Bridal Veil falls, and enjoy the cooling mist it gives off:

Bridal Veil falls from the drive out

We headed to town and walked around, had a late lunch/early dinner at Smuggler's, and then walked over to the gondola to head up to Mountain Village. It was cool to check out the village, our firm had some involvement with the gondola stations and some condo properties in the mid 80's, long before I worked here, and it was nice to see some of it live instead of on the renderings in our marketing materials. When we got back to town it was time to head to camp, but not before squeezing in an "after dinner mint" on Bald Mountain. It was 6 when we left town, and once again just going to camp was good enough for me, but why not? We drove toward the Alta townsite and found a really rough side road (skid plates hit at least 3 times, park at the bottom!) that we gave up on before it ended and hiked the 800 or so vertical to the summit of this 11er on the border of the ski area. I left the camera in the car, but it gave a nice view of the upper reaches of the ski area, you could even make out the stair case up Palmyra in the distance. Looks like a fun place to ski! Not to mention we spied a possible route up Silver from Alta Lakes.

We then headed to Trout Lake and snacked and set up camp for the night in a flat area no more than a 1/4 mile below the parking lot for the Lake Hope trail. Some light sprinkles passed over around 9, and I heard some light thunder rolls as I was dozing off, but so far we had really lucked out with the weather. It had been a great weekend so far.

Day 3: San Miguel Peak

This would be my third trip to the Hope Lake trailhead, but so far the previous two I only made it up the trail as far as Poverty Gulch, once for Golden Horn and once for Pilot Knob. The closest I had even been to Hope Lake was the saddle between "V8" and "V9" (twice) from South Mineral. Re-exploring new parts of areas I have been before is always a special feeling, and throwing in the closest thing I have to a "namesake" peak in Colorado and it was shaping up to be a nice way to wrap up the long weekend. The falls along the trail helped set the early mood below the lake:

Falls along Lake Hope trail

The route leaves the trail before the lake to contour around a hillside and over to the lake outlet, but we stayed on the trail a little too long and ended up partially climbing over this hill. It made for a nice perch to preview the ridge from, however, which was nice as well. We descended to the lake, and were surprised to find that it is actually dammed at this end, although rather crudely with 2x10s and mortered talus. The crossing of the outlet was easy, and we took a snack break on the other side before heading up.

Ascent overview from Lake Hope

The lower part of the ascent was grass mixed with boulders and cliffs, it was fun winding through them to find the path of least resistance, while looking back to check our vertical progress above the lake below. The ridge flattened briefly and crossed some talus, before getting steeper again, substituting the grass for talus, but keeping the boulders and cliffs. Follow the path of least resistance and it stays class two, but the route finding is fun as you zig zag your way through on reasonable rock, much better looking than the scree chute to the right.

Working up the slopes

We crested this section to another flat strip of talus, the route is nicely broken up like that. We took a break here before the final push, admiring the beautiful purple flowers growing inbetween the talus. The route ahead looked like it could be loose, but the rock was surprisingly stable, and fun to scramble through.

Final summit cone above a carpet of wildflowers

Some larger boulders kept the route class 2+ at its easiest, but also some class 3 could be found if you took the boulders more head on. Nearing the ridge the boulders got larger and we traversed right to a break where we scrambled up to the ridge crest and found some really enjoyable stable rock creating a nice catwalk in the sky. We could see the summit ahead and it looked like a straight walk.

Summit ridge, good rock!

By now the views back behind to the Vermilion group were also opening up and the whole ridge was quite enjoyable. This was turning out to be a great peak, good rock and great views. A nice way to finish up the trip!

Steve on the ridge with the Vermilion group beyond

Hmm, I may have spoke a little too soon about that straight walk business, looks like one last notch in our way before the summit. A direct descent does not look possible from above. The other side looks good, a class 2 gully to the left that would require a little down climb from the notch, or maybe right up the gut will work with a short steep step if the rock is good.

Looking at the notch

We descend a loose talus gully (one blast of loose rock on an otherwise pretty stable peak!) to our right side and then traverse over towards the notch. We aren't much lower than the notch and its a quick reclimb up. View of the descent portion:

Our descent into the notch

I round a corner and up some talus to check out the steep step and the rock looks good. Some quick 4th class moves transition to 3rd class and then a class 2 route around a corner and back up towards the ridge and peak's highpoint. There is no cairn, but we find a register. There is another false summit beyond, but it looks a little shorter, this one has the register, and we have been told this is the higher summit, so we don't bother with the notch required to go check that one out.

4th class, because its there

Great views abound, and this peak turned out to be a bit of gem. Some of the other peaks in the area are pretty loose, speaking from past experience, and we are delighted this one turned out to be pretty solid and a nice peak. We glance over at Sheep, but being unranked and 600' lower and looking like a scree pile from hell, we are content to just head back and call it a weekend.

Good thing Sheep in unranked

A few last glimpses of the surrounding views and we are off.

Summit views

Hope Lake provides some great views of the surrounding peaks itself, and I always love a good reflection picture! Here is "V9"

"V9" and Lake Hope

The hike out is much like the day before as all the day hikers are out in force, they are in for a treat when they reach the lake. We chat with a few along the way, including a family from the Chicago suburbs that I notice because of their sports related hats and T-shirts, nice to run into some hometown folk! We get back to the car pretty early, but with the long drive decide not to stop for any more peaks. There are some 8ers around Ridgway Reservoir, but its also 85-90 degrees out and who wants to climb 8ers in that kind of heat anyway? Save those for a spring or fall trip we say and head to Montrose for lunch. Its 98 in Clifton, so peakbagging is officially cancelled and we drive back towards home. Steve checking the CDOT reports along the way is pleased to find the traffic times at the Twin Tunnels progressively improving. He drops me off and another successful San Juan holiday weekend is in the books. Time to start planning for Labor Day... keep those TRs coming, I may copy one of them in a few months!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions

I remember that notch ...
07/11/2013 20:54
We did that traverse to the right on San Miguel too. Looks like you're making up for lost time very well. Thanks for the beta on the other peaks. Happy trails!


07/12/2013 01:13
Thanks for bringing that one to my attention. I must climb it.


Reflection Pic
07/12/2013 05:46
Outstanding! I have been to Lake Hope several times and never seen such an image as that last one. Strong work!

Steve Knapp

Great weekend!
07/12/2013 17:48
Thanks for writing these reports up Mike! As always, I really enjoyed getting out there with you. Good times, good company, good weather, good peaks. It was fun and I look forward to next time.

Chicago Transplant

07/16/2013 16:01
Presto- Yes, we did make up for lost time well, nice to take advantage of a long weekend!
Darin- Just another one to add to the never ending list
J- Thanks, and contrats to you on finishing the 14ers!
Matt- Thanks, its a beautiful lake, I guess I just caught it at the right time!
Steve- It was a great weekend, glad the weather cooperated so well. Good to hang out with you for a long weekend!


08/20/2013 04:39
Cool reports. Missed these in the post July 4th TR apocalyptic flooding.

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