Peak(s):  Virginia Pk  -  13,088 feet
Date Posted:  09/25/2019
Date Climbed:   09/21/2019
Author:  13erRetriever
Additional Members:   Chelsea
 Meet Virginia  

Virginia Peak (Bonus Winfield and "East Virginia")
Elevation: 13,088 ft.
Rank: 579
Date Completed: September 21, 2019
Mileage RT: ~7
Gain: ~3000

Don't ask me how we decided to do this peak. Chelsea would tell you it's because I wanted to try and reach 80 peaks before I go to Banff next weekend (lies!), but the truth is that I've had signs made up for these peaks for at least two years, tucked away in my folder after seeing some random trip report or post on the Facebook page. In any case, we decided to give the lowly Virginia group a try. We did have something working against us though. Neither one of us could do the full loop that the other reports on the .com follow. It's a long day at 4,900 gain with lots of up and down over 13 miles and we knew this was beyond us. The upside is that if you can handle this, you get five ranked summits in one go. We did a little research (spoiler alert: not enough) and decided to shorten the loop, going up the way that most people do but coming down into the basin that is shared by Virginia, West Virginia, and Sheep Rock after doing those three summits. Before you read any further, you should know that we ended up only summiting Virginia. We still came down into that basin though, and the purpose of this report is to provide some insight into this route. It technically goes, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it. A GPX file is included below, so you know what I'm trying to describe.

Next, if you haven't read my spiel over hiking with a dog, you can see my soap box presentation here!

We met in Denver at 6:30 a.m. (I got to sleep in!) and got to the trailhead at about 9:30. The Huron road was a lot rougher than it was last time I was on it three summers ago. Fortunately, Betty the Jeep Patriot was able to make it almost the entire way, and probably could have made it all the way if I was willing to chance a somewhat-deep mud hole. I had no interest in pissing all the Huron-hikers off though by blocking the road, and really didn't want to have to wait for someone with a winch to pull me out so we played it safe and parked maybe a quarter mile down the road from where we needed to start our hike. Not bad.

You start the hike crossing the South Fork of Clear Creek. We searched for the planks that were supposed to be there, but to be honest I had little hope of these still being there after the snow year we just had. I was right, and we never found the planks. We did find some shallower parts to cross through though, and I think each of us ended up with only one half-wet foot each. Could have been avoided if we just took off our shoes but who does that? (I do. When backpacking. Day hikes I'm lazy.)

Chelsea on the morning crossing

After the creek crossing, you just head up the slope until you intersect the Colorado Trail. You really can't miss it. Enjoy it while you can because it doesn't last long, and you'll be off-trail almost the entire rest of the day. Soon after getting on the CT, you'll be turning off to the left and into the unknown. I had taken pictures of Otina's GPX route, and we did our best to follow it up into the unnamed basin beneath Winfield Peak but we failed pretty miserably. I think we did probably turn off of the CT at a good point, but from there it's just a lot of guesswork and chance as you follow game trails up up up and through the trees. None of this was dangerous terrain, but being this off trail is a little unnerving if you're not used to it. It's been a while since I've bushwhacked like this and I quickly remembered why I had stayed away. The juniper bushes cut at our ankles, and the downed trees led us on all sorts of little side trips. However, there was a steady supply of game trails and it was kind of fun to link them all up. We did finally emerge into a clearing just beneath the basin, where the terrain began to even out a little more making the remaining forest pretty easy to maneuver.

Chelsea heading up the talus in the trees, still well beneath the basin. Almost all of the route is like this, if you're lucky. If you're not, there's a tree in your way.
Emerging into a clearing, the continued steep just before the route evens out in the basin

Once in the basin itself, the route it pretty obvious. There is an old mining road up to the right that you'll want to catch if you're doing the common loop. However, I think if you wanted to cut off Winfield, you could go up the ridge that is south from the basin (up the ridge to the unranked peak that we now call "East Virginia"). From below, it looked like this would definitely go, and once we were up above it also looked like this route would go pretty easy. When I come back for West Virginia and Sheep Rock, I'll likely take this way up. Chelsea likes the unranked peaks though, so we kept with the original plan to loop in Winfield and headed for the road.

The ridge up to "East Virginia" that I think will go. We also got to look down on it from the top. This is view from basin.
Chelsea just before we began aiming for the road. Not far from it here. Our ridge behind her.
Pawdicure time before we hit the rocks. Harper gets a wax fix (and some belly rubs) at the top of the road
Chelsea coming up Winfield's East ridge, above road

The rest of the route is pretty obvious all the way up and over to Virginia. From the top of the road, just hike the ridge. Getting to Winfield took a lot more energy than we anticipated. Once we neared the top, the rock isn't nearly as good as I was expecting. Don't get me wrong, it's not entirely bad rock, the boulders just tended to move a little more than I'm used to in the Sawatch and Harper was having one of her off days and was asking for a lot of help to get up and over some easy moves. Partially due to dog and partially due to undulating ridgelines, we never really got to the ridge proper getting to Winfield near the top, and instead skirted alongside the mountain. We did make it to the summit though, and got our first glimpse of what was to come. Holy s**t. The other reports made those summits look a lot closer and a lot easier. Ugh.

Looking over to "East Virginia", Virginia, Sheep Rock, and West Virginia from Winfield Peak

After a quick break, we decided that we at least wanted to make it over to Virginia so we could get a ranked summit. This traverse wasn't all that bad, and we even opted to go ahead and summit the other unranked sub-peak that lies between Virginia and Winfield, dubbing it "East Virginia." From here I also got a good glimpse of the ridge that leads to this sub-peak from the unnamed basin that we came up, and I think the ridge definitely goes and does so at no more than class 2.

Harper with a good view of the Apostles
Good view of Virginia, Sheep Rock, and West Virginia from the "East Virginia" knob. The two UN but ranked peaks are somewhere in the back for the full loop

Once on Virginia, we had some decisions to make. I was pretty sure I could do both West Virginia and Sheep Rock, but Harper wasn't feeling it that day and Chelsea and I were both getting nervous about how much time we had already been out. I told Kyle I'd be back in Denver by 6:30, and it was already clear to us that we were going to miss this deadline. Neither one of us got cell reception on the summits so we couldn't contact anyone to let them know that our times had changed. My parents smuggled my InReach to Kansas, so we were out of luck there too. So we decided to save these two summits for another day, and instead of heading into the basin between Sheep Rock and West Virginia as was originally planned, we headed down directly from Virginia. This descent into the upper basin wasn't bad at all, and we were pleasantly surprised to find grassy slopes with large, solid boulders to break up the terrain. It wouldn't be particularly fun to go up this steep route, but it would be safe.

Summit register!
Summit pup. I promise she enjoyed it more than this.
Really,,,I promise
Looking back up our descent route from Virginia

We made it to the upper basin in good time, but here is where things got a little dicey. Winging it above treeline is one thing; you can see where you're going. Winging it beneath treeline? I've never had very good luck. In fact, this is the type of hiking that makes me most nervous. Because we knew ahead of time that we would never make it back to the CT at Lake Anne Pass, we planned instead on descending back to the car via this basin, then lower Silver Basin, down to where the CT is near the Huron trailhead. What made me nervous was doing this through the trees, without a trail, on contour lines that looked very close together. Google Earth and my maps did show an old mining road that we could make our way over to for most of the lower part of the descent, but there was a good 700 feet of loss that we needed to complete before we could do so. My fear was that we would cliff out, or at the very least find ourselves on steep loose dirt that may as well be cliff. Google Earth didn't make it look very promising. I saw the bald patches on steep slope and knew what that probably meant, but we decided to go for it anyways.

I think Chelsea regretted this decision almost instantly. After emerging from the trees, we headed in a generally East direction, trying to contour as much as possible while also only gradually dropping elevation. My hope was to meet up with the road right where it began, but without any preloaded tracks to follow we were really just winging it. Chelsea did have a portion of the road show up on her GAIA app, so we weren't walking totally blind but honestly, we may as well have been. As we contoured and descended, the terrain got worse and worse. It wasn't long before we were grabbing what little vegetation was available to help keep ourselves upright. Rocks were loose. Dirt was looser. Harper in her four paw drive didn't have a problem, and I thank God every day for my little hiking companion. I never had to teach her how to help me on this stuff. She just knows. She walked alongside and uphill of me and let me hold her collar for stability. When I'd start to slide, she'd sit and stop me from going any further. When I got back up, she'd wag her tail and give me kisses of encouragement. She is seriously the best dog in the world. Her attitude from earlier in the day was gone, and now it was her turn to help me get off the mountain. She knew it. Don't let the pictures here deceive you. Over on my Grizzly/Garfield report, I really liked to say that the route was a lot easier than the pictures made it look. This descent route is the opposite. Pictures look easy, but it's deceiving.

Near the beginning of the crud after trees
Looking down. This is very deceiving. In actually, it is much looser and steeper than it appears in pictures.

This went on for over an hour as we were moving at a very slow pace. Eventually, Chelsea made the executive decision to forget about finding the road, and for us to just go straight down instead of contouring. I'd been on this stuff before and while I don't like it one bit and never truly felt in danger, I have the benefit of experience so I let her choose which path she was most comfortable with. This actually ended up being the correct decision. At the worst part of the route, I began to just slide straight down on purpose, slowly and holding on to Harper as an anchor. I was aiming for the first flat spot that we had seen in hours. Chelsea was making her way down slowly behind and above me, as we were taking turns using Harper and staying out of each other's way. I got down to the flat spot, sent Harper up to get Chelsea, looked around, and shouted with joy. THE ROAD! It was so overgrown that I hadn't even recognized it as such! In the end, we found the road right where I had meant to catch up with it all along. the terrain just ended up being much more difficult than we expected. Can you say lucky?

Ta da! It's a road! Really! I promise!
A very concerned Harper waiting on Chelsea to make it down to the road

The rest of the route down to the car was easy. The road is very faint, very overgrown, and you would hardly recognize it as such unless you are looking for it. We switchbacked down to the lower part of Silver Basin, then continued to follow the faint but gradual road out to where it joins the CT. Even at this point, the road is very hard to establish. You'd never know from the CT that there is even a road/trail there, as it's not marked in any way. Give it another 30 years and the road will be almost entirely indistinguishable. The remainder of the hike was very enjoyable now that we were out of any danger and knew where we were going. We watched the alpenglow on Huron and the Apostles as the sun sank behind us, and made it back to the car at around 7:45. Kyle clearly didn't kill me for giving him a heart attack by not being home by 6:30 as I had promised, but he did tell me that he was about an hour away from calling SAR. I really need to get my InReach back.

And a very ecstatic Chelsea on the road! Yes, a road, I promise!
Now do you believe me? A little road...
Huron sunset glory
Harper and the Apostles on the CT

So, in all, a successful trip. On the ascent, I'd like to try the southern ridge leading out of the basin beneath Winfiled. For a descent off Virginia, just be careful. Maybe do more research than we did and see if you can find an established trail that leads out of the basin. Lastly, I certainly would not want to go up the way we came down. That loose dirt would be awful even with spikes to help grip.

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

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

The missing piece
09/26/2019 14:41
Sorry, I dont write TRs much anymore but was going to write one from my trip a couple weeks ago that might have helped you out. I was actually going to recommend the same basin you dropped into as an excellent route for Virginia> W Virginia> Sheep Rock. The key piece that it looks like you barely missed is the game/climbers trail that drops down to that road you found below.

Where you started trending east at 11800 you should have stayed straight down to the creekbed below the little tarn on your map. It's an easy bushwhack south along the stream from there to about 11600ish where the terrain starts to open up and get steeper. At that point I picked up a cairned trail 20-30 ft east of the stream that dropped to the SE and connects to the road you found below. At the spot where we both rejoined the CT I went the same way as you but believe that going to the right probably would have connected to the lake Anne trail not far above the Huron 4wd TH and allowed for an easy creek crossing.


10/07/2019 11:05
@KevinK that will be helpful for when I return for Sheep Rock and W Virginia. Thanks. I'll look for your report in a couple of years for when I decide to try it again! I think you're correct on the Lake Anne Trail. We were so over it by the end of the day that we just walked right through the creek to get to the car.

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