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Peak(s):  Blackwall Mountain  -  13,077 feet
Wildhorse Peak  -  13,271 feet
Cow Benchmark  -  13,116 feet
Unnamed 13140  -  13,140 feet
Darley Mountain  -  13,275 feet
Engineer Mountain  -  13,225 feet
Unnamed 13170  -  13,170 feet
Unnamed 13702  -  13,702 feet
Gravel Mountain  -  13,596 feet
Date Posted:  09/28/2017
Date Climbed:   09/19/2017
Author:  bergsteigen
 Engineering an efficient solution   


Pt 13,180A

Trailhead: Alpine Trail
Mileage: 8.4
Elevation Gain: 4,384'
Route: East ridge
Partners: Solo

In the search for the most efficient and elegant way to tackle a bunch of 13ers, 13,180 A has been a pre-orphan. Connecting it from the ridge to the south would be 5 miles and almost 2K of gain and loss. So adding it to a long ridge run I have planned, would make this peak one of drudgery. There are enough peaks out there, that we do 'for the list and only the list', but I like to minimize this whenever possible. 13ering is fun. I like the challenge of finding a good and efficient route. Sometimes, you get surprised by what you find, which makes this journey one that I still want to be on. So on a whim and last minute, I roughly sketched out a route up 13,180 A from the north - from about the 2WD trailhead to Uncompahgre.

When I saw a stretch of really good weather in the San Juans, I leapt at the chance to spend a few days in the fall glory. I had 3 day trips planned along the road up to Engineer Pass, to close out all the remaining 13ers from that preferred access point. I drove down Sunday night, after all the leaf lookey looes were mostly off the roads. I got to the 4x4 road up Uncompahgre and found a nice pullout a few feet up it on the right. Got into the back of the truck, just in time for the graupel thunder storm to pass over me. Glad I'm not higher on the pass tonight!

I got up around sunrise, and drove out to try and find a spot to park near where I was thinking of starting up one of the north ridges. As I was preparing, I was not enjoying the thought of crossing Henson Creek. It would be deep enough that I would get wet and cold. The route up the north ridge was short and steep, and would have a bunch of cliffy areas to navigate around. All of this was weighing on me, so after a while of staring at my Trails Illustrated map for the area, I thought taking a trail from the east, and going up the mellower east ridge would be better. Double the mileage and more elevation gain, but less possibility of running into issues on the route. So I happily drove back down the road, and just east of the Hard Tack mine tour area for the wide pullout denoting the trailhead.

View from trailhead

So now I start along the Alpine Trail that goes all the way to the Mill Creek TH on the other side of the Alpine Loop going up to American Basin. A nice bridge to cross Hensen Creek, and a good trail to start. Things were looking good for a fast trail fest, before I started bushwacking up the east ridge. But alas, I traded 1 nasty wet stream crossing, for 6 icy tricky crossings. The last 2 sets of crossings I avoided on the return. Icy logs crossed the stream twice, and there was no real way to walk confidently on them, even if I was a gymnast as a kid. So I had to do a combo straddle skootch method to cross the slippery logs. I thought it was over as a nice stretch of trail is then encountered. But it seems the stream has taken out the trail, and so many have now crossed the stream instead of scrambling over the rocks on the side. On the way up I crossed, on the return I found a trail and also just clambered over trees and rock walls to avoid the possible wet boots.

First small creek crossing

Second small creek crossing

I divert near the start of the east ridge, and after an easy open forrest trek, I find a sea of sopping wet tiny aspens trees. It was like sailing the seas of cheese. With all the rain and graupel the night before, the trees were loaded with droplets ready to soak me with every step. I had to put on my rain jacket to not get soaked to the bone. I felt like the macaroni getting doused with the aspen gold cheese.

After that, I found the steep talus east ridge to be a lot more pleasant. I started to get views to the south, that were beyond my expectations. The north faces of the unnamed Centennials were emerging from the aspens around me. This random, last second route change may not be half bad!

Fall views of centennials

The ridge up

Final elevation gain on ridge

Snowy centennials

Once on top of the talus ridge, the remainder to the summit was pretty easy. Not too much snow on the route, but the northerly and shady aspects had some snow.

I enjoyed my summit time. Great view of some nice potential ski lines off the Centennials. I was quite happy to remain for a bit longer, until I noticed a black moving speck below me. A black bear! It was moving away from me and downhill, so that means it was much closer to me before I noticed it! It was descending down the talus quickly, just below one of the ridges I had planned to come up. So I figured I should probably get back downhill before the bear changes its mind.

Summit ridge area

Summit pano


On the descent I get lured into going down the valley to the north of the east ridge. The gentle non-talus slope was beaconing. I figured I would eventually pay for the choice, but the steep talus slope on the ridge wasn't enticing. Along the way I found the scat of the bear and it's family in multiple spots. Hmmm at least I'm out in the open, and not in the trees here!

Looking down the ridge and over to San Luis

The bear scat gully

I did pay for my choice a little lower, by getting stuck in another tiny aspen grove, but it was short and I was able to avoid the main mini aspen grove as well. From there, the bypass to one set of stream crossings was very apparent. A bit more elevation gain, but it was worth it. The opposite side is a bit difficult to spot, but when the trail dumps you into the stream, just return a few feet and look uphill.

Avoiding the unnecessary 3rd stream crossing

Back at the truck, I then proceed to drive up to Engineer Pass. Since I was going to do a loop, and I didn't really want to camp on the windy pass, so I stopped a little below, near the pack trail start. I grilled up dinner, and settled in for a windy night!

Gravel and 13688 from near Engineer Pass

Blackwall Mtn, Wildhorse Mtn, Cow BM, Pt 13,132, Darley Mtn, Engineer Mtn

Trailhead: Wildhorse packtrail, near Engineer Pass
Mileage: 16.7
Elevation Gain: 4,944'
Partners: Solo

After a fairly poor night of wind interrupted sleep in my rocking truck, I got up and on the trail for civil twilight. I wanted to start earlier, but the wind is such a demotivator! The trail is not bad to follow, even if it has gotten a bit braided. I leave it to go cross country, mainly to save myself some unnecessary elevation gain. Wanted to minimize that today!

Along the long route to the first peak of the day, I was treated to a spectacular sunrise!


Today was forecasted to be quite windy, with gusts to 40mph in spots. So I was dressed in wind/gortex pants to keep me warm enough. When the sun finally reached me, I had hope that I wouldn't have to wear all my layers this day.

Grassy tundra stroll

Darley Mountain

When I got next to peak #2 of the day: Wildhorse, I noted the way that others have gone, and then the way I went. Looking at the map, I didn't see any reason to follow the ridge, and have to gain extra elevation, to only lose it again to go around the wall on Blackwall. So I spied a nice efficient route that utilized the numerous game trails that contour the high tundra of the San Juans. Contouring may not be great for the ankles, but on a game trail it can be the fastest way to go!

Wildhorse from the east

Once I gained the ridge and looked out on Blackwall, my jaw dropped. Wow, I was not expecting this view! As I was getting closer, I was noting the gorgeous ranked 12er on the right. I knew it wasn't Blackwall, but part of me wanted it to be. The engineer/scientist in me was already running the routes in my head. How would I get up that? Which way would be best? Can I do it? I wonder if anyone I know has done that peak? (Of course BoggyB and Kylie have - as noted in the Blackwall summit register)

Eventually I had to turn my eyes away from the 12er eye candy, and refocus on Blackwall, which was also quite interesting looking too! I followed game trails as they descended the pass and then contoured over to the base of the wall. From there I just scampered on up the gentle slope to the first peak of the day!

I am thoroughly impressed with this summit. I had pretty low expectations from glancing at TR's from the past. Driving up to the pass, I had low expectations as well. Standing on the summit, almost every direction was stunning. Now, I was thrilled with having this peak "on the list".

Blackwall and the view that stunned me

Blackwall summit pano east

Blackwall summit pano west

Cimmaron group looking stunning


After a way too short summit stay, since I wanted 5 more peaks, I retraced my steps, and soon found myself at the base of Wildhorse. From there it was just a couple hundred feet up, with a nice rocky finish at the end, for the next great view of the day!

Approaching the summit of Wildhorse

Wildhorse pano east

Wildhorse pano west

I make short work of the descent, and find myself back on the Wildhorse pack trail, heading to peak #3, Cow BM. Here's another peak I've been looking at approaching from another direction, to make the loop I made today a bit smaller. But nothing looked good from the Ouray side, so here I am adding on 4-5 extra miles to the day. At least the elevation gain along the way is fairly minimal.

Wildhorse and Blackwall from trail

The biggest bump on the ridge is the only big obstruction. You can divert and contour to either side on talus/scree, or go around, up and over like I did. After that, I chose to drop below another ridge bump, since I didn't know what was on the other side. Turns out the bump can be easily skirted much higher on the other side. The ridge proper itself looks like class 4 - if you have extra time. I did not. I was running the math in my head, and I figured I'd have just enough time to get all 6 peaks done by sunset, but it would be close. Very close.

Bump on the ridge to Cow BM

Remainder of ridge to Cow BM

I was quite pleased to get to the summit of Cow BM. Nice views of the Sneffels group and Ouray below. I took a few minutes to air out the feet. I was the farthest out on my route now, and I wanted my feet to quickly carry me to the next peak. At least from Cow BM, I could see the ridge skirts would be easier on the return. Perspective!

Hello Ouray!

Summit pano east

Summit pano west

The long ridge SE, love those tundra colors!

Getting closer to 13,132 I could see why it was an out and back along the SE ridge. It would cost too much elevation to drop to get to the NE ridge. The sun was now in my face again, as I clawed my way up the loose talus slope to the ridge and summit. The initial route is on steep unstable talus along a zig zag "trail". After the first 30' or so, the slope angle eases and the trip to the summit wasn't that bad. With this summit, I knew I could get over Darley in time. I could see the ascent on Engineer would be easy, but would I have enough light to make it worth it?

Next up, Pt 13,132

Loose talus slope of 13,132

Summit pano

Darley Mountain

I get off the loose rock of 13,132 with relief. Now to find my way up Darley. I didn't think I could tackle the summit directly from this direction, so dropping around the west side looked best. I didn't think much of the first ridge obstruction until I was on top of it. Turned out to be a lot more exciting than I was expecting at this late of an hour. A bit of scrambling, until I decided to drop off the ridge to the west. The last stretch didn't look good, and I didn't want to waste the time. Looking back on it from beyond, the ridge looked like it would go at a stiff class 4 that is highly exposed to the east.

Skirting the summit and then regaining the ridge was on annoying loose talus, but eventually I clawed my way back up and found the ridge to summit quite easy and well traveled.

Darley Mtn from saddle

Approaching Darley

Looking back at scrambly ridge

On the summit, I enjoy the last moments of cell service to prepare for the next day. I couldn't stay long, as the sun was still racing across the sky faster than I liked. The long shadows from the summit were wonderful, along with all the colors popping along the ridges.

Pt 13,132 from Darley

Pt 13,132 and Cow BM from Darley

Long shadows on the tundra with Wildhorse and Blackwall

Engineer from Darley

Evening light on the rocks along the ridge

I got down to the empty pass, and quickly start up the other side, as I note the sun starting to drop behind the Sneffels group. I kept my sunglasses on all the way to the summit. I'll take that for the win!

Engineer north ridge

I didn't get to spend much time on the windy summit, as it was getting late and the temperatures were already dropping. So on with the puffy and the headlamp! I got down off the worst of the rocky talus before I had to turn on the light. At least the road down to my truck was easily done in the dark.

Twilight on Darley

While I had wanted to get back in time to drive below the windy pass, getting another night up at elevation is not terrible either. I got to see the big starry sky and the Milky Way as I grilled my dinner.

Pt 13,688 & Gravel Mountain

Trailhead: Golconda Mine, end of 4x4 road
Mileage: 2.4
Elevation Gain: 1,630'
Route: West Face
Partners: Solo

As soon as there was enough light to see clearly, and before the sun had risen over the horizon, I was heading back down from the pass. The road up to Engineer Pass from the east isn't all that difficult. Except for the switchbacks. Those took a bit of careful driving, as did the narrow road above them, but the pass is easily attainable in a high clearance 4x4.

The next road though... This was a lot more challenging! Just getting to the stream crossing from this direction was watching all tire placements on the sharp rocks. The crossing even required me getting out of my truck to inspect first. But if you can cross that, you should be able to complete the road. The next hard section is the first switchback beyond the split. That one I had to take a second go at, since the road is loose and rutted. I ended up just powering up that slope on round 2. The next switchback has an unfortunate boulder placement that makes it tough for a long wheelbase to get around. A big strong person should move that boulder! Beyond that, the road is narrow and cliffy with virtually no pull offs. The first section is the roughest, and after that the road all the way to the mine is in great shape.

Even well after sunrise, the sun is blocked by the peaks above. So it was a cold ascent up the west face of Gravel. There are spots of trail most of the way up from the mine itself. I lost the trail in one place, and ended up going up steep unstable talus for a few tens of feet, but on the descent I could easily see where the trail went further to the south than where I went.

With the unranked summit of Gravel a few feet out of my way, I decided to visit it, and feel the full effect of the strong wind. From there I could see a trail almost all the way to the summit. A very nice trail!

Pt 13,688 from Gravel Mtn

Trail along ridge

A short time later, and I was finally on the summit of Pt 13,688, which I had to orphan on a trip around the Cinnamon Pass 13ers 4 years ago now! Proof that what looks like it goes on a map, doesn't always work out in reality.

Summit pano SE

Summit pano NW

Why you can't connect 13,688 from Cinnamon Pass

The descent went quickly, especially with the knowledge that there was a serviceable trail through the loose talus.

The route up Gravel

Back at the truck, I toured the mining building and enjoyed my empty drive down the road. I was quite glad that no one was driving up the road. 3 jeeps were at the mine while I was on the summit, so I was hoping with all my might that no one else would come up.

Once back at the main road, I took my time enjoying the leaves and playing tourist. I stopped in a pretty place and grilled my lunch. The next day I would attempt Helen to Father Dyer, so I had all day to get there for that.

Pt 13,180A in fall glory from road

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50

Comments or Questions
Ridge runner
12er eye candy
9/28/2017 4:13pm
Wow, those are some stunning views. I'll have to bookmark this one for next summer. Nice job!

9/28/2017 10:01pm
That looks like a really great trip!

Really nice pix!
9/29/2017 8:16am
Excllent job knocking out some out-of-the-way 13ers.

9/29/2017 10:02am
You manage to do in one trip what it takes me weeks to do! Love your reports as always. Pic 48 is a killer.

Kevin Baker
Dragon's Back
9/29/2017 12:58pm
The really cool looking 12er by Wildhorse is Dragon's Back, which goes at 4th class. It's a really fun one to figure out! Nice work, Otina.

Nice Summits
9/29/2017 1:33pm
Well-written Trip Report too. Thanks so much for posting the quality 13er route beta Otina. Excellent work with reaching all those cool San Juan peaks. Way to go on a big outing. Information regarding these more remote types of Colorado mountaineering lines is great having. Keep climbing safe, smart, and strong

9/29/2017 3:57pm
Great report and pictures, Otina, and nice ridge run! Regarding the bear, the terrain it's down-climbing seems to be awfully barren for it to even be up that high. I would have expected it to be in the trees or at least a more tundra-like area. Or maybe it was just enjoying the view from a summit and not looking for food.

Thanks All!
10/8/2017 2:57pm
Ridge runner - Views so good, I'll be back for the eye candy eventually!

Above_treeline - Never know what you'll find traipsing around on 13ers!

Hoot - My photos barely did the region justice.

Jay - I do try to maximize my trips! Pic 48 made me cry when I was on the other side. Heard rockfall, ran away!

Kevin - I absolutely love that name! I can't wait to go back and slay the Dragon!

jasayrevt - I love big outings. Just wish the weather would cooperate for more of them/year!

MtnHub - I think the bear came from my descent gully (the one with all the scat), and because he could smell me, avoided me on the summit. There was a bear on the first Culebra 13er trip too, up on the ridge. At least there was closer to bear food.

Trotter - I was not expecting to see a bear in a sea of talus! This solo hiker would have put up quite the fight, armed with bear spray and a knife!

boudreaux - It was difficult to concentrate after seeing Dragon's Back! I'll be back in another season, armed with a partner and some more beta.

10/3/2017 1:31pm
great report on some rare peaks, as always. its crazy a bear goes up that high, wonder what its after.... solo hikers?

The Real Soluton
10/6/2017 11:44am
Dragon's Back! I was looking at Wildhorse, but when I saw Dragon's Back, I forgot all about the other peaks in the area! It's simply stunning.

thumbs up
10/30/2017 3:21pm
pretty damn impressive !!!

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