Peak(s):  Bennett Pk  -  13,203 feet
Conejos Pk  -  13,172 feet
Montezuma Pk  -  13,150 feet
"Unicorn, The"  -  13,020 feet
Summit Pk  -  13,300 feet
Date Posted:  07/13/2019
Modified:  07/15/2019
Date Climbed:   07/05/2019
Author:  kwhit24
Additional Members:   jbradish
 The Orphans of Conejos County   

The Orphans of Conejos County

For the last few months I have been working in Louisiana for work but still get to come back to Colorado. So when the job took off for 4th of July I made an extended trip back to CO which gave my hiking partner, my pup (Maverick) and I a good chance to go after some lonely San Juan peaks in Conejos County. In addition to Conejos Country we went out to Silverton to hike a few and caught Mount Ouray on our way back to Denver before my flight but that's a different report...

Bennett Peak (13,203' #485 in CO)

Hiking Statistics:

  • Total Length - 4.92 mi (Garmin Fenix 5)
  • Total Elevation Gain - 2,064'
  • Total Time - 2:53:23
    • Start Time - 5:22 AM
    • Summit - 6:54 AM (1:32 time; 2.37 mi; 1,958' gain) 10 min on top
    • Back to TH - 8:15 AM (1:21 time; 2.54 mi; 65' gain)

Trail Description:

The trail starts at the end of FS265 which is a 2wd road all the way to the dead end. I made it to Denver early and got what I needed for the weekend out of my storage unit. No sense in having an ice ax, or Thule box, or skis in Louisiana haha. We got a late start on the road and didn't make it to the end of the road until 10pm. Clear skies and an amazing starry night though. There aren't really any spots to set up a tent on grass so we ended up pitching or tents on the end of the road. At that point I realized that I forgot my sleeping pad I let another friend borrow weeks back. Oh well.

We woke up at 4:30 knowing we had a long drive after Bennett to Conejos. There are a few different ATV and game trails throughout the lower section. After a little over .75 miles we turned right and headed through a clearing to gain the ridge. The area has open grazing so watch out for the cow mud pies. There are A LOT. As we headed up the drainage to the ridge there were some Elk which was an awesome way to start off the hike.

Early morning sun looking back at where we left the trails
Heading up the drainage with elk on the other side of the rocks

Walking up the steep grass was pretty easy since it was firm and knobby. After gaining the ridge it is an easy walk up to the summit on an ATV path. The whole time we didn't hear anyone until just before the summit and to our surprise there was a group of about 15 on the summit. No solitude on this 13er ha! They were part of a ministry hiking group that came up through the lakes after a long approach the day before. We took some pictures of their group for them, grabbed a snack and headed down. We had cell reception on top so we made a call to friend to let him know what time we thought we'd be at the Tobacco Lake TH so he could meet up with us and also to bring a spare sleeping pad!

Cows grazing in the distance
ATV road near the top

Conejos Peak (13,172' #505 in CO)

Hiking Statistics:

  • Total Length - 7.07 mi (Garmin Fenix 5)
  • Total Elevation Gain - 1,946'
  • Total Time - 4:01:17
    • Start Time - 12:34 PM
    • Summit - 2:43 PM (2:09 time; 3.67 mi; 1,772' gain) 10 min on top
    • Back to TH - 4:35 PM (1:42 time; 3.41 mi; 138' gain)

Trail Description:

Even though Bennett and Conejos are only 15.5 miles away from each other as the crow flies it takes a healthy 3.5 hours to drive from one TH to the Tobacco Lake TH. We made it to the FS 105 off FS 250 and waited at the FS100/FS105 intersection so our buddy could catch up. After about 20 min he showed up and we followed him in his Outback Suburu to the big switchback parking lot (roughly 11,145' elevation). Past that point the road get quite a bit more rough so he crammed in the Forerunner with his dog and we all headed up to the TH. The turnoff sign is very weathered and beat up but nonetheless that is the turnoff (about a mile past the switchback). After another .5 miles we made it to the signed TH. To be honest we actually parked below the TH because we got confused but on the return of the hike we found it just another 200' up the road, SMH. Since we started south of where we should've we ended walking through a lot of thick vegetation. Not ideal. After 40 minutes and 1.25 miles of trying to find a trail we met up with the trail and that's where the snow began on and off.

Beautiful drive on FS 250
The snow ahead

The wet trail was somewhat busy for a 13er (probably saw 20 people) and had snow on and off all the way to the beautiful blue Tobacco Lake. We then stayed to the north of the lake to avoid traversing snow right above it. After the lake there was a few snow fields we had to go up to gain the ridge. We didn't need any micros at all on this hike and rarely postholed. Once on the ridge it is pretty straight forward. We wanted to get to the next TH (The Unicorn Group - End of FS243) before dark and still had to eat dinner so we made it a quick summit and headed down but this time of the actual trail!

Tobaccp Lake looking south (We stayed north to avoid traversing that snow)
Looking down at the area we crossed from the actual trail on the way back

Montezuma Peak (13,150' #524 in CO), The Unicorn (13,020' #624 in CO), Summit Peak (13,300' #392 in CO)

Hiking Statistics:

  • Total Length - 8.45 mi (Garmin Fenix 5 and Caltopo)
  • Total Elevation Gain - 3,638'
  • Total Time - 7:18:36
    • Start Time - 7:18 AM
    • Summit of Montezuma Peak - 9:07 AM (1:49 time; 2.05 mi; 2,119' gain) 27 min on top
    • Summit of The Unicorn - 10:34 AM (1:00 time; 1.05 mi; 512' gain) 13 min on top
    • Summit of Summit Peak - 12:25 PM (1:38 time; 2.23 mi; 978' gain) 9 min on top
    • Back to TH - 2:37 PM (2:03 time; 3.17 mi; 33' gain)

Trail Description:

After Conejos we made the amazingly beautiful drive further on FS250. Between the weather and the winding Conejos River it looked spectacular. We were hungry and had time so we stopped for a burger and fries at Gold Pan in the little RV town of Platoro (Still no cell reception). I never this place existed before and I love visiting these little hidden away spots in CO. Burger was very good and they I splurged and had a homemade Amish pie (from down in the valley) with ice cream. The people there were very accomidating and gave some route advice for the next part of our journey to Silverton, however, it was still uncertain if FS380 was open all the way to Summitville. We later found out it wasn't and only ATVs or wenched vehicles we getting through. There was only the one spot making the whole road impassable so later that added 1.5 hours to get to 160 since we then had to back to Monte Vista. Oh well. All in the drive from Tobacco Lake TH to Summit Peak Group TH (End of FS243) was 1.5 hours and Platoro was about the mid point. The drive on FS250 all the way to the end of FS243 (including part of FS380) was very easy 2wd and both vehicles made it to the end of the road. We found a very close camping spot to the TH (many other all over the FS243 road). The end of FS 243 follows Treasure Creek so there is water near by.

We decided to sleep in since we had no rush for weather. The "trail" starts off easy to follow but quickly becomes tough to follow. The waterfall as described in other trip reports were extra spectacular and pumping hard. Eventually we picked our way through the forest and vegetation to get to the clearing were Summit Peak came in to view. The first .75 miles had a 1,100' gain so that woke our legs up quick. We quickly realized we would need to be looking for a route across the creek since any normal crossings were going to be possible with how much snow melt was coming down.

So many waterfalls
Probably 7-8 waterfalls on this hike
"Trail" through the forest and vegetation

Once we made it above the tree line Summite Peak and The Unicorn both came into view. We moved a little more west on a flat area to a slightly better drainage line. Based on on previous beta we knew to ascend Montezuma Peak from the east to avoid walking up its loose scree west side. The rest of the route up Montezuma Peak was straight forward and we didn't need any micros to walk up the snow slope.

Summit Peak (left) and The Unicorn (right). Our route took us toward The Unicorn
Drainage we took up

Looking back on the approach from the left
Snow field before Montezuma Peak summit

Since we had cell reception on top of Montezuma Peak we made a quick call to the ranger's office to ask about FS380 and our route out. He told us the same story but at least we knew. We also took some time to look at our potential routes for The Unicorn. Perspective changes a lot so we knew we would reevaluate as we got closer. Routes were as easy to see since the CDT is mostly covered up but throughout this whole hike we were on and off it. We carefully made our way down the scree slope plunging steps to the CDT. Once we got to the bottom and crossed the first bit of snow our buddy decided he would skip The Unicorn since the rock area we went up got pretty steep. Jordan, Mav (my pup) and I carefully picked our way up the rock which was pretty good and accomplished our second summit of the day.

Route up The Unicorn (yellow) and in front of Summit Peak (blue)
Looking back at Montezuma Peak with our buddy below us

Mav and I on top of The Unicorn
We found some flowers while descending to the saddle below Summit Peak

From what we read the route up Summit Peak is much easier from the East so after making our way to the saddle and kind of following the CDT we put on the micros (didn't really need them in the end) and traversed the snow below Summit Peak. The snow was still hard packed and the angle wasn't bad at all. Our friend met up with us on the east side of Summit but wasn't feeling it so he said he would wait for us to go up. We made the turn to go up a little to early. We should've went further around Summit to almost to south side and went up and gradual grassy slope but hindsight is 20/20. We made it up through the steep snow and then rock to gain the ridge and take that to the top. After a quick snack on top we made a big glissade down the south face and to followed the CDT back to our friend. From this point it became a little interesting. We knew we still need to get back on the other side of Treasure Creek but there was a lot of snow in the upper drainage area. So we stayed relatively high unit we found and area we good glissade a few times and make our way down to the creek. We failed to see a "dry" place to cross the creek and it was too wide to jump across so we just walked through it. After the long day it actually didn't feel as back as we thought.

Route below Summit Peak
Glissade area down to Treasure Creek
More waterfalls!

Once we made it back to camp it did not take long for the pups to fall asleep! The start to another successful trip in the San Juans!

Tired Mav
Tired Tibby
The REI sleeping bag pillow

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 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Comments or Questions

Montezuma trio
07/15/2019 10:00
Kyle, nice work! I went for Montezuma, Summit, and the Uni last May from the west (east of Pagosa). I didn't make it very far. Time to go back. Nice report man. Looks like a great 4th weekend!


Lonely peaks
07/15/2019 22:45
Don't see a lot of beta on these ones. I have been thinking about the South San Juans a bit recently. Will keep these in mind.


Thanks for this
07/23/2019 09:02
The lower two are in my sights for later this summer. I'd been wondering about how melted out the area was.
FYI, Bennett Peak is not in Conejos County.


Drive from Pagosa Springs
06/08/2020 10:45
Awesome description -- thanks for putting this up!

I've been trying to figure out the roads you describe, but it looks like every road in that sector is called 380 :-) I *think* that what you describe is you coming from the east. Is the part of 380 that was blocked the one that heads north and then east from 243 (a couple of miles east of the trailhead)? You don't happen to know whether it's possible with a 2WD to get to and from the trailhead from Pagosa Springs via 667, E Fork Rd, and then 380 from Elwood Cabin?

Thanks in advance!


I believe 4WD only
06/08/2020 20:06

We weren't able to go through the area so tough for me to say but that is the route we were going to take since the drives goes from 5h40m to 3h 55m. All the vehicles in that area seemed to be lifted. This website describes it as pretty rough ( and our buddy in his Outback didn't want to take the chance after talking with locals. My buddy has a 4wd 4runner with a 2.5" lift so we wouldve been fine


Re: I believe 4WD only
09/04/2020 11:40
Oh, doh, didn't see this until 3 months later... I ended up calling the ranger district and they told me that E Fork Rd (=667) is not passable -- good in the beginning, but requires an ATV towards the end. You have to go all the way up to the intersection with 380 on highway 160. Driving on 380 with a 2WD was not a problem: sometimes slow, but totally passable. The slow part are the 2 miles in the valley on Fdr 243 going to the trailhead. Also totally doable in a 2WD, but slow.

Overall, the drive from Pagosa to the trailhead takes ~2hr.

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