Peak(s):  South River Peak  -  13,148 feet
Date Posted:  07/13/2020
Date Climbed:   07/08/2020
Author:  bergsteigen
 Hot Springs Time Machine   

South River Peak

  • mileage: 25.84
  • elevation gain: 6824'
  • trailheads: West Fork
  • partners: Brian (day 1)
  • camp: Rainbow Hot Springs, 9040'

Who doesn't want to time jump either forward or backwards? 2019 is looking might fine right now. Though jumping to the medical end of this pandemic also sounds good as well. With an elderly disabled mother who is home bound to take care of, I have to be exceedingly conservative with how I handle things. Thankfully I can work from home and have groceries delivered. The only interactions I have are with partners outside at a distance.

Hiking South River from the north is the "standard route" if there could be one for a 13er that isn't popular. After day hiking into the hot springs in 2016, I was convinced that I was going to do South River as a backpack, no matter how much extra mileage or elevation gain there would be, So it got to be a wee bit more than I realized. Oh well, 13ering is sometimes more about the experience than the check mark!

Day 1: Pack into Camp

  • mileage: 5.78
  • elevation gain +1533 -580

I convinced Brian to do a repeat hike of South River, despite the fact he doesn't like backpacking anymore. Our first hike together, almost a decade ago, was a backpack on Isolation. He came from a summit of Summit Peak while I drove down after a Zoom call. I also convinced him to get up early to do the pack in before the worst of the heat. It also had the added benefit of getting the hot springs all to ourselves for many hours.

Once past the wilderness sign, things started to look different than 4 years ago. There was beetle killed then, but now, it was infinitely worse, and there was a wildfire, avalanche damage/tree fall and stream washouts along the trail. I didn't take many photos last time of the way in, since it was all in the forrest, but now, it was all open with most of the trees on the ground. The worst stream blowout was right before the camp sites/ hot springs. As the trailhead signs say, horses can no longer make it past that blowout (photo 3)

Into the wild. Beetle + wildfire

Fireweed and char

Stream blowout

After setting up camp at 9040' (there's a survey marker on a big rock on the second campsite) and having a snack, we changed and went down to the hot springs to play hydrogeologist and build up the walls of the springs to add 6-8" to the water level. We spent a couple hours playing in the nice hot water.

Hot Springs when we found it
2016 hot springs, when we left as is started to rain

Just as we were heading out, and back to camp, the second through 4th groups of families started arriving at the hot springs. Perfect Timing!

We dried off and found places in the shade to read and I took some time to photograph the neighborhood.

Regrowth after the fire
Pretty flowers

Reading in the shade

I decided to go back down to soak another time before dinner. After about another hour of luxuriating in the hot water, a group of 4 young guys showed up. They will hence forth be called the Woo Boys, since that's all we could hear from camp. Woooooo! They set up their camp right by the entrance to the hot springs. With all the fallen trees, it may have been the safest place to camp, but it was the rudest location.

Day 2: South River Peak

  • mileage: 15
  • elevation gain: 4803'

We decided to start the summit bid around first light. Unfortunately on the first steep ascent out of camp to get into the upper drainage, Brian hit the wall and decided to bail. It was likely a good idea, since the day hike was going to be big enough that the pace may have been too much after his other hikes the previous days. So I continued on alone, while he packed out. Pretty cool view of the moon on the switchbacks up.

Moon with burned trees

Once up the 500' of switchbacks, it was a ~3 mile trek up the drainage. A few waterfalls and lots of wildflowers to see along the way. Plus burned trees, old and new. Some pretty awesome patterns on the trees.

Moth or butterfly?

Tree burn

About halfway up, the trail crosses the stream, and the trail is swallowed by muck and foliage. All you need to do is follow the same bearing, and you'll find the trail on the other side.

Stream crossing and hidden trail


Like dead, burned sticks

Tree hole

The next stream crossing was also a bit of a navigation find. It goes up the middle of the tho stream drainages, just look for the trail going up the scree.

Stream crossing #2. Trail behind trees on right

After a bit more mileage, I finally made the divide saddle. Right turn towards the CDT and the Peak. There are game trails to follow up, if you look for them.

Looking down drainage towards the Hot Springs/Camp
Looking NW from the saddle

Red Mtn that you can see from camp, on the other side of the divide

South River from the divide

I had originally planned to take the CDT trail up to the upper ridge, instead of going direct at the peak, since usually a good trail beats off trail. But the trail was overgrown or rutted, so it was not going to be a time saver with all the added distance. So instead of swinging far to the right, I decided to go up the grassy gully just to the south of the peak. There was even game trails in the gully from the numerous elk that likely live in the area.

South River from the divide
Backlit flowers

Grassy gully
Rhinoceros? Hippo? Peak just poking up on the right

When I got up onto the ridge, I followed the class 1 trail to the east of the summit. I passed by the start of the class 2 route up to the summit, since it didn't look pleasant. Since most other approach from the north, I wasn't sure where to start up. So I went north until I hit the north side cliffs. A small rockslide covered the trail, so I wasn't looking forward to the ascent. I back tracked, and found the way up, based on the scree dirt from foot prints and usage.

The class 1 trail, looking at the start of the class 2 zone
Looking back to the south, from the start of the class 2

The ascent was loose and nasty. Not just scree, but loose precariously perched talus. It is likely worse after years of 13er hikers going up and down this route. I would make sure any rock kicking partners are below at all times. Even being careful, everything moves. Thankfully its a short distance.

Summit pitch from just above the nasty loose section

Nice and breezy on the summit. I didn't spend much time, since I had a long way back to go. Plus I wanted to get off the loose crap asap. Snapped a couple summit photos and let Brian know I made the summit.


West to the rest of the Weminuche

Looking down the nasty class 2

Makes me wonder where Brian found that class 3 route to the summit. was it from the north or the south? Too bad he bailed hours earlier.

Look back at the peak from the trail
Summit cliff from the south. Climbable???

I enjoyed the flowerful descent back to the trail to camp.

Love summer wildflowers

Back on the established trail, I made good time down, since the hot springs were calling!

Leopard print tree

Tree jam waterfall

Log jam stream
Tree fall

I got back to the hot springs and noted the time, before heading to camp to snack and change. I got back to the hot springs, and thankfully the 4 woo boys were not in it, though 2 were napping below it a few feet. At least I got back to camp after the day hiker time frame (noon-4pm). I was able to soak away tired legs for an hour, while reading my book. Quite relaxing!

Reading in the hot springs

After an hour, I decided to go back to camp for dinner. While hanging out, I glimpsed a water fall by the blown out stream crossing. So I grabbed my camera. 2 photos from 2020 and 2 from 2016. So much damage! I didn't get a wide angle of the waterfalls this year, but it's devastated.

Sunset waterfall

Waterfall in last light

2016 lush waterfall

2016 waterfall rainbow

With the sun behind the ridge above, and getting darker, I decided to get into my bivy tent and read. I was pulling up my sleeping bag, to make it easier to get into the bivy when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye... BEAR a big brown bear. Grabbed my camera in the failing light, and did my best to capture him walking upstream. Pretty sad I missed the bear rubbing his back on a tree, but I was almost in bed and couldn't move fast enough!

I had seen bear skat when I got back to camp, it was deposited that day, and had baked in the sun. But seeing the bear confirmed it's residence in the area.

Bbbbb BEAR!

I didn't sleep too soundly that night. My very first backpacking experience was in the Adirondacks and the first night in the lean to, a friend woke us up screaming "Grab your pots and pans, we have to scare the bears off Marcy Dam, they're eating our food!". Since then I've had a recurring nightmare/dream that bears are eating my food. Every night. Every single damn night I swear I hear the sounds that indicate the bear found the food and found a way inside. Yellow yellow, a bear in the Adirondacks could open the squeeze and twist canisters. So you have to use the screwdriver type. I had only just stopped having these dreams. They're back!!!

Day 3: Pack out of Camp

  • mileage: 5
  • elevation gain +611 -1554

The next morning I looked out at my bear bag, and it was still there, Phew. The sounds in the night lied or were not what I thought they were.

Guess the bear smell wore off

I got up out of my bivy and changed into my suit to go for a final morning soak. #4 of the trip. Steaming hot springs!

The Woo Boys campfire last night may have kept the bear away, and their poor bear bag placement was at least away from their tents, but easy pickings - on the ground. It was in tact, so the bear is still mostly wild.


After another hour, I packed up and headed out. Saw a few groups on their way in. I warned those with overnight packs of the bear. Make sure they keep a good clean campsite.

Owner/ranch hand on the Born Ranch by trailhead


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
Brian Thomas
Prominence > Altitude
07/14/2020 06:34
Prominence wins every time. And South River has 2,448' of it, ranked 42nd most prominent in the state. 21.15 miles of isolation isn't too shabby either.

Summer gapers won't understand what I'm talking about. The range of numbers their empty little skulls can comprehend is limited to 13,000 to 14,433. It's an LoJ thing, baby.

Thanks for the invite. No thanks to the ticks in my tent or the mice in my car

Jon Frohlich
Weird numbers
07/14/2020 07:50
Brian, I almost feel sorry that I made you climb something with only 759 feet of prominence. Almost.

I'll keep this one in mind for when I need a nice place to read a book.

Beautiful photos!
07/14/2020 12:45
You've got quite a knack with a camera. Nice going!

Vicarious hike
07/14/2020 15:07
Thanks for the vicarious hike, Otina! Will be the only way for me this year as we are not venturing out this summer for several reasons.

It's good to see your TR's again! This trip kinda reminded me of my last hike last summer around Lumpy Ridge. It seemed to be a very relaxed hike and seemed focused on the simple, natural beauty of the wilderness. Even through destruction with fire, pestilence, avalanche and washouts, there is beauty to be discovered and appreciated. Great photos as usual.

Good to see Brian again too. We need another reunion like the IPW one.

07/15/2020 20:40
Brian - Câmon, no one cares about peaks below 13,809â!!! Youâve included a few too many peaks in your gaper list. Mice?! Hope they didnât eat too much.

John - itâs a nice quiet location, minus noon-4pm

Mathguy - Iâve had a bit of pent of photography desires lately. Glad I could capture some nice images finally.

Doug - Too bad it has to be vicarious this season. May next summer be better for everyone! Still lots to explore in the IPW!

Very nice!
07/18/2020 11:40
I always enjoy your trip reports-and I'm always on the lookout for the obscure places to avoid the hordes so thanks for sharing this! (The Woo Boys-hysterical!)

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