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Peak(s):  Aztec Mountain  -  13,311 feet
Bullion Mountain  -  13,190 feet
Mt. Valois  -  13,173 feet
Amherst Mountain  -  13,164 feet
Organ Mountain  -  13,040 feet
Sheep Mountain  -  13,073 feet
"Peak Twenty Two"  -  13,107 feet
Sheridan 12,794
Endlich Mesa 12,490
Date Posted:  09/14/2020
Modified:  09/15/2020
Date Climbed:   09/07/2020
Author:  bergsteigen
 The Wemi beatings will continue until morale improves   

Aztec, Bullion, Valois, Amherst, Organ B, Sheridan, Sheep D, Pk 22, 12,442, Endlich Mesa

  • Total mileage: 59.63
  • Total elevation gain: 16,613'
  • Trailhead: Endlich Mesa, high clearance &/or a lot of time required
  • Partners: solo
  • Class: 4 max
  • Camp: City Reservoir

I came into this trip with roughly 7 plans of attack for these peaks. With the Caltopo app, it's fairly easy to plot out routes and get an idea of mileage and elevation gain. The amusing thing, I used none of these "plans", as the terrain and my lack of speed made me have to change the plan at least 3 times each day. I'm blaming the lack of speed on my inconsistency this season. I'm hiking like an out-of-stater, and that's not enough to keep my tolerances and my speed on rough terrain high enough to roll over peaks like I'm used to.

Endlich Mesa is a misspelling for Endless... The road up to the trailhead is very rocky and can take a considerable amount of time. Plan on 1-2 hours. I took 1:20 up and 1:40 down, only because I was really tired and wanted to get to the trailhead and sleep. On the way down, I didn't want to hurt my truck. A Subaru made it, although it was a very old one, so maybe they didn't really care about damage. On the way up, I passed a couple hunters with a horse trailer. I was in bed and fully asleep before they arrived and woke me up briefly. So lower vehicles can make it, but I'm guessing 3-4 hours!!!

Day 1: Pack in to camp

  • mileage: 9.66 (includes extra mileage & elev gain for forgotten items)
  • elevation gain: 1769

I packed up my pack in the dark, and made sure my solar panels were deployed on my truck roof before setting out with the onset of civil twilight. The hunters were packing up their horses too. I got up the trail and to the beautiful first overlook after 1.4 miles and about 600'. I took my first photo, and realized my camera battery was flashing. Uh Oh! My spare battery was in my bike pack - in the truck. So I had a dilemma. Do the trip with a battery that would die soon, and then use my iPhone (yuck). Or do I drop my pack and return to pick up my spare battery. Since I took ~400 photos on this trip. I did the sensible thing and returned for the battery.

Endlich Mesa looking at the distant Wemi peaks.

With the added distance and mileage, my very remote thought of doing a through hike over a bunch of peaks, the way Furthermore did, was pretty much out for the day. I had a span of many days without storms, but I still lost too much time. It was a silly plan anyway.

Once up on the mesa, travel goes pretty quickly, as there is little gain or loss for a few miles.

Easy Mesa travel. 12er Endlich Mesa on right

About half way to the descent into camp, the 2 hunters passed by me. I talked with the guy on the horse for a while. It's too bad I didn't capture his surprised face when I told him my plans. With the start of archery season the day before, I figured I would see some hunters, so I talked to all of them, to make sure I wouldn't be hiking where they would be.

Archery hunting season is on

Pack Horse

Since I was my own pack horse, I took a lot longer than the hunters to get into camp. They had already caught their dinner from the reservoir before I arrived.

I took a short break where the trail drops down to the reservoir. A few zones of steep scree, but in-between is a slow contouring descent.

Dropping down to the Res

Trail down to Res, Sheridan & 12,442

I got into my chosen camp above the reservoir around noon. The reservoir is really low this season, barely any water left. Instead of dropping my overnight gear, and heading up for an afternoon ascent on Valois, I hung out in camp reading and chilling my feet in the stream. First time I would regret not doing Valois early, a recurring theme...

Day 2: Aztec, Bullion

  • mileage: 11.71
  • elevation gain: 3095
  • class: 3 east ridge, 4 west ridge

This morning I had planned on doing Sheep first, then on to Amherst and Organ. But I was looking up at the drainage for Sheep all day previous, and I just didn't like all the granite slabs and cliffs in the trees. It looked like there could be some serious route finding. Furthermore said that it was time consuming from Sheridan. So I thought I might roll the dice and see if I could do a large traverse starting from Aztec and then drop from the drainage in the full light at the end of the day. Bushwhacking in the morning is never good. So I adjusted the plan at 5am, and was starting up the trail to Columbine Pass with the light increasing before sunrise.

The trail up went pretty fast by Lake Marie, and then up onto the mesa above. The route is fairly well cairned, though I did miss a few in the granite slabs, but you still travel in the general direction.

Shadow dancing on the mesa

Looking down the mesa, Sheridan on left

When I got up to the pass with Florida, the unranked 13er, I decided to follow the ridge over to Aztec, instead of continuing on to Columbine Pass. I hoped it would be a faster route. I didn't realize the bump along the ridge was an unranked 13er, Bullion.

Bullion on the ridge to Aztec

It was a quick ascent up to the summit of Bullion, where I got a nice view of the ridge route over to Aztec. The ridge didn't look too bad, but It did have a bunch of rough sections.

Aztec zoom

The ridge off Bullion had one small class 3 notch, nothing too bad, but enough that I was starting to look for a faster option to get back to Florida on the return.

Along the way, I got a fly over by Air Force 1! At first I wondered what all the noise was, and looked up to find 2 large planes closely surrounded by fighter jets. The first plane had 4 and the second had 3. I didn't manage to get a photo, since by the time I realized, they were pointed at the sun, and my camera couldn't focus fast enough.

Once on the main east ridge bump to Aztec, I got a good view of the route ahead. So far it didn't look too bad. The route over to Columbine Pass looked a bit more involved. Hmmmm plans...

East ridge to Aztec

The first section of ridge went well, then the scrambling started. The gendarmes got a bit more intense. The route more loose. ie Time consuming. Very time consuming. I skirted a few towers to the south, and worked my way closer to the peak. The closer I got, the more involved the route got. Along the way, the inevitable happened, and my camera fell out of it's case, since the zipper is broken. The camera is attached to the case, but the lens still hit a rock, and the lens cap and the polarization filter flew off. I managed to recover the filter, but the lens cap is a needle in the talus scree haystack. So I had to use my sunglass cloth case as a camera lens condom. Works, but annoying. I'll have to get some of those stretchy lens caps for emergencies!

Finally I got to the final notch saddle before the summit pitch. Here the route goes slightly to the north of the ridge proper, and is class 3 and more solid.

Class 3 at start of summit ridge push

Looking at the east ridge of Aztec, Bullion on right

Once on the solid rock, the ascent to the summit went much faster! It was also a lot more enjoyable.

While enjoying the summit, I got another flyover. Much closer and so I was able to snap a bunch of photos.

While the view of Chicago Basin from Aztec was very nice, it doesn't compare to the view you can have with snow in spring!

Aztec Pano

Spring Pano from Mt Kennedy

Eolus and friends
Windom and friends

It became apparent that I was not going to be able to do the large peak traverse today. So once again, I was regretting not ascending Valois this morning on my way to Aztec. That would have made more logistical sense for the day and week plan, and would have saved a couple days at the end of the trip. Ahhhh Valois!

From here I had thought of many exit routes off Aztec, but I figured heading down the west ridge and then down the Silver Mesa would be best. Too many cliffs and elevation loss to get back to Florida enroute to Valois. The route down the very long Mesa would still take much of the afternoon, as it was deceptively long!

The west ridge was infinitely more enjoyable than the east. The rock is solid, and the scrambling a lot more fun! There is one notch that required class 4, but it's really short. I didn't head over to Kennedy, since I had already skied that unranked 13er a few years ago.

West Ridge of Aztec, Oh so much fun!

Ski route on Mt Kennedy all dry

Once I had traversed onto the Mesa, travel became faster, if still slower with all the granite slabs.

Looking back on Aztec

After the long Mesa walk, I met up with the trail back to the Reservoir and was able to make much faster time. Still I returned back to camp in the late afternoon.

Missouri Gulch, Aztec and Kennedy above

Day 3: Valois, Amherst, Organ B

  • mileage: 10.64
  • elevation gain: 4948
  • class: 3
  • scree: high

Today I figured would be long, but I would get all 5 13ers and then pack out of camp. Worst case, I would get all the peaks, but have to spend an extra night. Haha.

I started up the same trail to Lake Marie, but exited before the trail went up to the Mesa. The start of the ridge up Valois looked interesting with all the granite slabs, and took a bit of route finding to get on top of.

Start of south ridge up Valois

I started out on some grassy ramps on the west side of the ridge, and then made my way up to the ridge proper after a little while. Once on top of the first granite cliffs, the route was fairly easy.

Making my way up from grassy ramps to the ridge top
Granite slabs abound!

Lake Marie, with Valois shadows

Looking down once on the ridge
Upper ridge

Once on the first prominent bump on the ridge, the route to the summit comes into view, and the narrowing of the ridge is pretty nifty.

Approaching the narrows on the ridge

Valois narrows

While the narrows look intense, it was a simple walk over and up to the broad summit

Valois Pano

After a couple photos I was quickly on my way. The route over to the Amherst ascent gully looked ... time consuming. Granite slabs everywhere!

Dropped the east ridge until I could gain access to the grassy slopes below. From there it was a steep grassy descent to the lake below, where amazingly, there was a bit of a trail.

Down the grass and over to Amherst
Amherst and the lakes

I left the trail/game path and dropped into the willows and granite slabs and marshes to make my way to the base of Amherst. It took much longer than anticipated, and most of the marshes had dried up! Total time sink! Once again, wishing I had done Valois on one of the days previously!!!

Valois and why you can't go straight across: granite cliffs

After getting above the stream, I could see the loose scree gully to get up to the ridge with Amherst. It was NOT fun. Class 3 scree crawling. Loose and nasty. Did NOT enjoy.
It starts with steep grass. Transitions to large talus. To smaller talus, to scree, to loose steep scree, where you have to claw your way up. Then I moved into the center with steep lichen talus (ie hasn't moved in a loooong time), and finally talus to the ridge.

Scree gully up to Amherst
Looking back on Valois from large talus section

When I got to the top of that monstrous scree gully, I almost cried at the terrain I would now have to endure to get my "easy class 2 peaks". I seriously contemplated turning around and just leaving. A sign that I've been under way too much stress lately. But I continued, since the peaks were so close, and there was no way I was going to repeat that gully 2 more times on top of what I already had to do!

There is a very steep scree and grassy scree contouring game trail over to the SE ridge of Amherst. It was slow at times, as I had to kick steps into the ball bearing scree to not slide down the slope. But eventually I made it to where I could finally ascend Amherst. (My track will show that I tired to ascend too early.)

From the SE ridge/E face area, it was just a steep kitty litter scree ascent to the summit area.

Looking over at Organ B on the ascent
Summit of Amherst is over to the north

Amherst summit pano

I also didn't want to go over to Organ either, as the scree was just so off putting, but I sucked it up and did it. Once at the saddle, the route was actually pretty enjoyable.

Organ from Amherst

Organ B from near the saddle

Route up Organ, easier that I had feared

I went up the west ridge of Organ, and traversed under the summit boulders. From there you go up the E/SE ridge to near the summit, and then traverse up to the north, before backtracking south to the summit boulders.

Summit Boulders on ridge

Looking down the cairned route from the northern section of the summit area

Fun class 3 scramble to summit block

I went over to the southern summit block, but it didn't look good to climb, so I went back over to the northern one. You have to pull yourself onto the block to the right/north and then step onto the bigger block. I'm short, so I had to do a few harder moves to get onto the lower block, but there are great hand holds on the far end of the block to pull you up, and a left foot on the big block to push you up. Not quite elegant, but it worked. I got up there when there wasn't any wind, so I was able to stand on the summit block.

At this point I figured I had used up too much time to get to Sheep D and Pk 22, so I enjoyed my summit stay a bit longer.

Organ B summit pano

The return back to the red scree gully went fast than the way out. I guess I "got used to the terrain" along the way. What happens when you are out of practice and hiking like an out-of-stater!

Amherst from high on Organ B

When I got down from the nasty gully and made my way through the time consuming granite slabs and marshes over to the game trail, the late afternoon light said I would be arriving close to sunset to camp! So much for getting all the peaks and packing out tonight!

At least the game trail forged a path through the willows and remained a very strong trail until the base of Valois. Then it petered out to nothing, so it may be tricky to find in the opposite direction.

Afternoon shadows on Valois

I got into camp with local sunset already shadowed in camp, and ate most of my remaining food. I hadn't exactly planned for this extra night out, but I had enough food to pull it off.

Day 4: Pack out of camp

  • mileage: 6.84
  • elevation gain: 1437

I got up early and pack up camp and bolted out. A group with headlamps was wandering around my camp the night before, and as I was heading out around the Reservoir, there were a bunch of tents in view. Oh the humanity of Labor Day Weekend! Ran into my backpackers and a lot more hunters on the trail out. Once back up on the Mesa, the distance went quickly, even with a full pack of overnight gear.

City Reservoir

I talked to all the hunters, and let them know where I saw the game. A sizable herd of Elk was up near the saddle of 12,442 as I was ascending.

Bow hunters

The funny thing is, both nights I camped at the trailhead, I was visited by at least 2-3 deer! Poor hunters.

Day 5: Rest & Recovery

  • mileage: 2.78
  • elevation gain: 260

My feet were pretty beaten down by the previous 4 days, so I figured if I took a complete day off, I could do a mega day and get the orphan peaks I had left behind. So I read my book and took a short walk, and ate very well.

Eating well requires a fridge, battery and solar panels!

Day 6: Sheridan, Sheep D, Pk 22, 12,442, Endlich Mesa

  • mileage: 18
  • elevation gain: 5104
  • class: 3 (last boulder)

I woke up really early, so I could get the route done and have enough daylight to exit the Mesa before full dark. I had panned on using the waning full moon as a good light source, but as I woke up, it was dimmer than expected. Getting out of my truck I could smell smoke faintly and the sky only shown with the brightest of stars. Well, with internet service at the TH, I looked up the air quality, and it was within my tolerable zone. Not ideal, but I had already invested my entire trip on these peaks, it was time to get them done.

I got on the trail and made speedy work of the trail to the base of the route up to Sheridan. I tried to make it for sunrise, but was a bit late. Though with the smoke, it didn't really matter. The show was before sunrise today.

While I have no plans to complete any list of 12ers, getting to the summit of Sheridan had it's uses. I could better see the granite slab labyrinth over to Sheep D well.

Sheridan summit pano

Sheep D and Pk 22

Almost empty reservoir

It was a steep grassy descent down the east ridge of Sheridan. Glad to have that over, I knew I wouldn't reascend that!

Once down from Sheridan, the granite slab-athon started immediately. Quite fun, but slower going than otherwise. But that's the whole zone here, granite slabs. I'm now used to them after 4 days!

Slab maze
Slab lake

Rosy glow on Sheridan

While time consuming, the slabs themselves weren't too hard. There was always a class 2 way to be had. You can also make it as hard as you want too, all the way to 5 if you wish it!

Exiting the slabs with a cairn. Sheep D on right

The slabs end with a bit of a granite cliff, but a cairn points the way to get down. You can drop elevation and get off the cliffs sooner, but I followed the cairn. From there it was a gradual ascent to the broad summit of Sheep D

Grassy route on Pk 22 apparent
Pk 22 from Sheep D

Somewhere along the slabs and way up to the summit of Sheep, the smoke got worse, way worse. Now into my unacceptable range. But as Pk 22 was close in reach, I continued onwards.

I followed the game trails that start down the north ridge, and noted where Furthermore took his gully. All you have to do is take the slope immediately to the left/west to get onto the steep grassy gully slope to get down off the peak.

Descending north ridge
Exiting Sheep D and traverse to Pk 22

Once off Sheep, I did a low traverse over to the north ridge of Pk 22. You can go up a grassy slope before that, but I wanted the view.

Pk 22 north ridge

I followed the steep grassy western slope until I reached the south side of the peak, and then made my way to the class 3 summit boulder.

Pk 22 summit pano

Sheep D from Pk 22

I was glad the summit boulder had a cairn on it, as it meant I didn't have to go any farther. That ridge looked airy!

I didn't spend too long up there, as I had a long way to go back, and the smoke destroyed the views. From my earlier perch on Sheridan and Dillon's TR, I knew the lower drainage would go, so I could traverse around Sheridan back to the trail. It took time, but was easy enough. I stayed in the center of the drainage until the stream got bigger. Then I contoured high on the left/south side till I got to Sheridan. There are plenty of game trails in the area to follow, lower down.

Looking back on Pk 22
Looking down valley at Sheridan

Sheridan low traverse

The start of the low traverse around Sheridan went quickly, but then became pretty steep and lots of scree. The elk imprints are everywhere. At the end I just had to go up a steep slope to get to the trail on the other side.

Again, I have no plans to ever do a 12er list, but am not opposed if there is a ranked one in my path. I debated 12,442. I didn't really want it. But it was right there. Only 300'. I wasn't going to do it, but when I go to the saddle and the trail, I found myself heading up. At least it went quickly and soon I was on the summit.

Sheridan and Sheep D
Looking SW from 12,442

Endlich Mesa in center

While on 12,442 I could spot an easier game trail on the other side that skirts Sheridan. Much easier than what I did.

The descent went quickly and I was back on the trail. Up and around and over to Endlich Mesa, another 12er. Barely any work to get this add on, and now I have 5 ranked peaks in a day. LOJ is evil.

On Endlich, looking at all the peaks I did today

Soon enough I was back to that first overlook from 6 days ago. The view has changed dramatically, and is why I wouldn't hike in these conditions if I wasn't already a captive audience - AND have seen the view before. Hiking these 13ers is more than just a checkmark to me.

Smokey view

I got back to the mostly empty trailhead. All the backpackers were gone, and only a few hunters remained. I hope they are ready for the snow tonight! I have no idea how that horse trailer will get down the road if the snow hits here hard!

I didn't plan to spend 6 days up on Endlich Mesa. But at least I never have to drive this road again! (Lime Mesa is another access point)

Smokey Sun

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
9/14/2020 3:55pm
Rewarding trip, I'm tired just thinking about the mileage! Fantastic write-up and images. Well done.

9/14/2020 5:04pm
Beautiful pictures, as always! Sometimes leaving it all in the mountains is the best stress-buster of all Nice job!

Great report!
9/14/2020 5:06pm
Thank you for a wonderful report and for sharing that climbing mountains is more than just a a check mark. Same for me. Rest your feet and enjoy the week, you deserve it!

Chicago Transplant
Special place
9/14/2020 5:49pm
I really liked that area, Organ is one of my favorite 13ers! Sorry about all that Monday smoke, I could barely see Twilight driving over Molas that day, even Snowdon was hard to see.

Memory lane
9/14/2020 11:20pm
Thanks for the trip down the memory lane, although I did these peaks from the Johnson creek side. It's a big group to get done on one trip! And I really liked those white slabs

Love it!
9/17/2020 10:18pm
I did a similar trip at the end of July, which was luckily before all the wildfires. As always, I enjoyed your pics. Good job on persevering to get them all, with the Labor Day invasion! The mixture of grass and slabs makes for an almost magical setting and, while I have no aspirations of completing 12ers, Sheridan is worthwhile. The road is long; it took me 1 hour 25 up and 1 hour 15 down in my Rav.

9/18/2020 10:58am
BostonBD - The mileage adds up!

ctlee - Mountains are my stress relief!

mtngoatwithstyle - If they were just checkmarks, I wouldn't take any/many photos, and I'd be done with the 13ers already!

chicagotransplant - I loved Organ! If I could repeat it without all that loose scree/talus, I would.

CaptCO - Always an adventure, when you don't know every detail before hand

Natalie - You did most of the Wemi to start, while I'm saving mine ;) Those white slabs were fun, I just wish I had planned smaller chunks, so I could enjoy them more, instead of trying to rush through them.

Vadim34 - So many peaks, and yes, so many ways to approach them. I'm hoping that getting eyes on some of the other ones, I can come up with fun ways to approach them

Marmot72 - These big approach/backpacks can be tricky to find a good time of year to do them. Monsoons in July or snow in September? Let alone wildfires at any point in the summer. LD + hunting season = invasion! I thought this was a "quiet" trailhead!

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