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Rito Alto Peak, "Peak of the Clouds", Spread Eagle Peak, Hermit Peak A, Eureka Mountain A
Trailhead: Horshoe Lake (along Hermit Pass Road, ~12K)
Elevation Gain: 4,888'
Road beta: Hermit Pass
I've grown used to the stares I get in my truck. Sometimes it's just 4x4 jealousy, or wondering what a gal is doing driving a truck/road like that. Other times it was Native Alaskans letting me know I was not welcome in their village. But on the drive up the very popular Hermit Pass road, I got rubber necked by almost every dude at the campsites along the road, and there were quite a few. Even the group of 4-wheelers were staring at me when they turned around to go back down the road, like I was odd or something. All I could come up with for a reason, is a paraphrase off a local rock radio stations' commercial - She thinks my tractor's sexy!?
Or is it that they wanted me to invite them to go Cruise? A few were cute enough...
So, back to the road. It certainly is a high clearance 4WD road, with careful tire placements necessary. I didn't find it too difficult, but then again with a 2.5" lift kit, I really only have to worry about my tires and axles now. Can't wait for bigger, better tires! I could have easily driven to the top of the pass, but the clouds above looked a bit nasty, so I decided to stop by the overlook to Horseshoe Lake. I figure this is the best campsite along the road, view will be great in the morning!
Soon after arriving, the rain, sleet and wind starts. The wind rocked my truck all night long, not sure if that helped or hurt my sleep, but I didn't want to wake up in the morning. Kept hitting snooze. The wind didn't make me too comfortable with an early start. Rocks were sure to be plastered with ice and snow above. Part of me also wanted to see sunrise from my stellar campsite. It did not disappoint!
I Love my truck!
So once I was satisfied with the sunrise, I started walking up the road. Found a nice trail after one of the early switchbacks to avoid the bigger road switchbacks. The trail will take you almost all the way to the top of the pass, so that's nice. Along the way I spied out my descent path down the cliffs. The night previous, they looked quite steep, and I wasn't sure if it "went" or not.
At the pass I look west to see some peaks that look like fun. They look low, and at the time I thought they might be 12ers. But once I got home, realized they are the unnamed 13ers I had planned for a back-up hike. Sweet!
The ridge up to Rito Alto's summit did prove to be a slippery, rocky, icy ascent, so hiking it in the dark would have been a bad idea. Poor frozen flowers!
Once on Rito Alto's summit, the way over to Peak of the Clouds and Spread Eagle looks long. 2 miles out and back, with a huge drop off Rito Alto. Hmmm, wonder if I can traverse low on the return? I never plan to contour, as one can never really tell without seeing it in person. Time to keep my eyes open! The descent off Rito Alto is steep with big blocky icy talus. Rather slow going for a while until I got down to the nice springy tundra.
Steep grunt up Peak of the Clouds, but all easy class 2 walking. Just another mile out. The last bit up Spread Eagle looked like it could get interesting, but there is a hiker's class 2 path to the east of the ridge.
The puffies have started already, and it's barely 9am. Guess I really should traverse as low as possible on the return. Never quite sure if it really saves much time, but the last section of ridge up to Rito Alto's summit on this side was kinda treacherous with the ice, so I'd rather avoid that again!
Along Rito Alto's east face, there appears to be a slight terrace system low and higher up on the face. Looking at my photos from the other side, I didn't want the low traverse, since then I'd have to pick my way up talus on the far side. So I chose the one higher up. Still some route finding to do, as you make your way around the big blocky cliffs on the east face, but the terrace full of red paintbrushes go's.
Once back on the ridge, I can breathe a little easier. The last two peaks should be fairly simple ridge walking. The temperatures had finally gotten warm enough to melt the ice and snow, and mist was rising. I wasn't too worried about storms, but I still didn't dawdle on my way to the next peaks. Never comfortable until I'm on my way down!
Once on Hermit Peaks' summit (I walked over both, as it was hard to say which was higher until you got there), I can see the mass of 4x4 humanity buzzing around below. Plenty of people fishing the lake as well.
Once on the summit of Eureka Mountain, I relax a bit, even though the mist is rising behind me in the valley. A little creepy, but as I can see that the puffies around me are not rising into storm clouds, I enjoy the last rocky summit.
Now all I have to do is find a gully or ledge traverse to get down to Horseshoe Lake. I get above the first one... and it go's! Yay! I don't bother to look at the others, since I found my path! The ledge system that drops a little further NW might be a bit more gradual of a descent. The willows below meant a bit more winding around to find the path up to my truck, but not too bad.
I sat up at my truck for a while eating my lunch, and allowing the numerous 4-wheelers and 4x4 trucks to start heading down and home. The road above treeline is quite narrow, and while I've had to do the back-up to the last pull-out before, I'd rather not today! Overall, a very unique experience in the picturesque Sangres!
And no, I didn't go get it stuck, but I did blow through some stop signs
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Could you describe the road a little more, or compare to other 4x4 roads. I've heard various descriptions but am wondering whether I want to drive this or not, or how far up I want to drive it and then walk.
piper14er - Thanks, my website is a labor of love. Lots of great camping spots up there.
nkan02 - Just wait till I go beast mode
Chicago Transplant - Walking that road? Sounds awful! Too rocky. Rather liking the Sangres! Looking forward to more.
traderaaron - The road is not as bad as the one up Cottonwood by Rainbow Reservoir, and easier than the road up Sneffels. Traildamage.com is a great resource, as it gives ratings on various roads. So you can compare to what you've done. There are lots of campsites below treeline, so you can stop whenever you like (or there's a spot free). It's fairly rocky, with a couple large(r) rocks to either avoid or put a tire on. I put it into 4WD low once above treeline, and on the way down, so I would have better control (and no hot brakes). Overall, I didn't find it all that bad. But high clearance is a must. I turned around a guy with a low slung explorer with running boards. He would have lost them!
Traded the Xterra for an Outback last year and don't drive as high as I used to. I started just below the lower Rainbow Trail, one short rocky section freaked me out in the dark .1 mile below the TH and as it was next to a nice campsite, I decided to stop there. I probably could have gone to about 1/2 mile above the upper Rainbow though. Walking was not bad in the AM (plus I left early to climb 12671), but coming out in the PM with all the ATVs was not as fun!
Yes, the Sangres are a lot of fun! Closer to me than I realize too, I need to go there more often myself!
Love #19 - ”misty Eureka mtn” shot. Nice camera work.
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