Peak(s):  Hesperus Mtn  -  13,232 feet
Date Posted:  09/17/2008
Modified:  09/19/2008
Date Climbed:   09/13/2008
Author:  Matt
 aka Dibe Nitsaa  

Hesperus Mountain, 13,232 ft
Sacred Mountain of the North
Montezuma County HP
5 miles r/t, 2500 ft vertical gain

People often wonder what's left to do after finishing the Colorado 14ers.
Um, plenty? For me, it's been a return to lists and goals that preceded the 14er craze in my life. The shortest of these lists has only four items--the peaks sacred to the Navajo People, signifying the boundaries of their original territory.
Have you climbed Blanca or Humphrey's Peak? Those are two of the four directions. Some general background info is found here:

These peaks have a more profound meaning for me than most, because, since leaving the midwest in 2002, my life has become intertwined with Native cultures, traditions, and people. My paycheck from the Indian Health Service means little in comparison to the lifelong friends I've made, amazing things I've been shown and taught, and opportunities to make a difference for people in tribes across New Mexico and Arizona, including the Dine. It's hard to imagine my life or my current views without them, and it's not lost on me that I could have moved to some other part of the US and missed out entirely on the 14ers if not for the opportunity to provide care to Native Americans. I don't know which one—Indians or Mountains—has more influence on my desire to live where I do, but peaks like this one pay homage to both.

So... The four Navajo Peaks have each taught me lessons about something I can work on: underestimating a mountain, carelessness, afternoon thunderstorms, gathering more beta ahead of time... Blanca Peak even did me the favor of putting an end to a relationship that just wasn't gonna work—I broke up with her on the drive home… I like, but also have a healthy respect for these peaks. None of them is especially difficult by its easiest route, but all of them have my deference.

Hesperus is no exception. This was my third attempt. Owing to inexperience, scant beta, poor fitness, and a storm, it chewed me up and spit me out a few years ago. Last summer, none of those things were an issue--I was within a couple hundred feet of the summit with bluebird skies. However, as I approached the summit, a feeling of existential dread overtook me, just as the scent of sulfur (at 13,000ft??) filled the air. Ever have the feeling like "I'm gonna die today...?" That's how I felt at that moment, so I went down as quickly as I could and resolved to never visit this beautiful peak again, or at least not alone...
Lucky for me, Jim (jhodlof on this site), fresh off a Whitney summit and a "sacred peaks' finisher, was going to be in Durango and wanted to repeat this peak on a weekend I hadn't made plans for yet. Sometimes, things just work out, no? We met up in Mancos and made the quick drive to the TH. We dodged cattle lazing in the road as we approached Hesperus' impressive North Face.


It's huntin' season, and we talked to a couple guys from AZ at the TH before heading toward Hesperus on the West Mancos Trail. Hesperus looms behind the trees for most of the hike.


Much of the online info about this peak is vague and/or not written to guide hikers (ie trip reports on sites that don't have pictures). I hope this TR proves to be more helpful. We followed the West Mancos trail first through a meadow, then downhill into the forest, toward a crossing of one fork of the Mancos River, maybe a half-mile from the TH. At this point, a new log bridge has been placed, and the trail takes a sharp right turn, going uphill for a few minutes, then beginning its long, 2000ft descent to the Transfer Campground. Essentially, it's best to follow this trail about ¼ mile from the bridge, until it begins heading downhill, and then get ready to "bushwhack" up to treeline wherever it looks feasible. That word has always conjured images of machete-wielding hikers for me, but that's usually not its connotation these days. In this case, it couldn't hurt…


We used fallen trees as catwalks to avoid climbing up and over the trees mingling with piles of dead timber that stand between the trail and the talus above. Once through the trees, the Sharkstooth (12,462 ft) appears.

Regardless of where one exits the trees, heading to climber's right (west) is the only way to avoid the impossibly loose scree nightmare and sheer cliffs of Hesperus' north face. We set our sights on the snow-spattered gully at right below.


We made quick work of the talus between us and the gully and stopped for some water. A look back toward the Wilson Group gave me pause, knowing that at least one group was planning the El Diente-Wilson traverse that day… I said a prayer for them…


Looking upward…

The gully featured a mix of snow, loose talus, soft dirt, and wet grass. Owing to the melting snow, rockfall was constant, but never threatening since most of it was across from us. As we ascended, our trend was to move rightward away from the sunny, snowy side of the gully (and falling rocks), but into ever-looser and steeper terrain.


At one point, with Jim somewhere below me, I reached a spot untouched by the sun—the snow, while only a few inches deep, was rock-hard. Sans ax, I used some rocks to chop out a few steps to cross the snow. At that point, I'd had enough, and climbed a short, loose class 3 section to the ridge top. While waiting for Jim, an eagle came shooting upward from the south side of the ridge, zipping within 10 feet of my head. The look in its eye was cold—was this a sign from the Navajo deities to turn around? Nah… From here, I could see both from where I'd come and where I was going.



There's a good trail from this point to the summit, the top of the La Plata Range, at which point, there are many options through the loose talus. It's mostly class 2, with plenty of loose, but not exposed, class 3 options on loose rock.



Once we reached the summit, all I could say was, "Yah at eeh," because that's just how it is… I'm beyond grateful to have been able to summit so many beautiful peaks, especially ones that sent me packing in the past. This one, in particular, brought satisfaction because it pays homage to the people and cultures I've been fortunate to work and share life with over the last six years.

The views of neighboring Lavender Peak, the La Platas in general, & the San Juans are breathtaking. I could even see the next day's destination, Mt. Peale (Utah) through the haze of coal-fired power plants sending electricity to Los Angeles, leaving the pollution here for me and my patients (sorry, I digress).

Lavender and Centennial Peak traverse

San Juan Smorgasbord

More San Juans

After about 45 minutes of digging through the summit register, refueling, and taking lots of pictures, we headed back down.

As far north as you get in Navajo Country, with Lavender in the background

Looking down toward the saddle


Looking back toward the summit

This time, we took a different route. This was full of loose, moist, sandy dirt that provided the best scree ski of the season for me. I was down to the grass in a matter of minutes, grinning like a fool… In hindsight, this way probably offers the easiest path to the saddle. Here's a look from the basin below…


It looks like taking the use trail to the left side of the rock rib in the middle would be the best way to ascend. There, you have better footing and a rock rib to use for balance. This way goes up to the saddle before the summit push and could definitely provide the best way up there, depending on conditions.

Upon reaching treeline, we bushwhacked downhill to the trail below. We headed generally to our right as we descended, knowing that the creek crossing was that way, and that there is no way to avoid meeting the trail or the creek as you head downward. We hit the main trail, and headed down to my truck.

Mission Accomplished!!
For more info on the cosmology of the Navajos, especially of Hesperus, check these links:

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

You succeeded
02/05/2011 00:22
Very helpful TR!


Beauty is where you find it
11/30/2010 17:28
And it looks like you found plenty, Matt.
Your writing shows such a beautiful mind... and you look pretty good up on that summit too (have you been working out ?). Nice report, thoughtfully written – and great pictures, too – especially of that Wilson group (who'd be crazy enough to be up there on that day?). Since Hesperus is a county highpoint, I need to think about getting down there to do it before there's more snow – or maybe it would work better as a snowclimb? Regardless – thanks for all the great beta on that very special peak – and the links to information on its place in Native American history and culture. A good tourist always does a little research before venturing into the homeland of others, and we're all tourists here in one way or another, no?


Great trip report!
09/18/2008 14:21
This is a definite ”to do” on my list (as are others in that little wonderland in Colorado). Thanks for posting such useful information and photos. Happy trails!


good photos!
09/18/2008 15:03
The shape and angled lines on this mt. sorta look like a small version of a singular maroon bell! from the 1st photo anyway. Nice job.
Your team looks quite a bit better than KU this year, and would like to see the tigers rep. the b12 and play for a national BCS title~


Centennial - Lavender Traverse?
09/18/2008 15:24
The La Platas are a cool group of mountains for sure. I love the bands of color on Hesperus. I was there a few weeks ago and climbed some others peaks in the area as well. I noticed you labeled one of your pictures as the Centennial to Lavender traverse. Have you heard of it being done? I could see Cenntennial from Lavender, Moss & Sharkstooth as well and I also climbed it from Sharkstooth Pass. The traverse looked pretty much impossible to me. Looking down from Centennial, all I saw were extreme cliffs! Not to mention rotten rock. Anyway, just curious.

Lavender is an awesome peak too - cool rock, fun scrambling. The traverse between it and Hesperus is fun and interesting.


01/19/2011 03:38
The La Platas get far less press than they deserve, so I hope people get out and see for themselves.
Jim--I‘m truly grateful that you repeated that peak with me. What a great day!!! See you this winter in AZ.
Sarah T--No, I‘ve never heard of anyone completing that traverse. I also deemed it ridiculously dangerous when looking down off Centennial. The La Platas hold some of the loosest choss in Colorado. That pic was intended to lure out someone--anyone--who might have tried it.
Susan--if you can get back there (it‘s far from pavement), Hesperus would be a nice snow climb.
Presto & Patrick--I‘m surprised you haven‘t been out there already! Enjoy!
Joey J--Football‘s just getting started. Who could have anticipated all the fun of last year? Looking fwd to 11/29...


I‘m very happy
09/19/2008 23:15
to hear you‘ve made peace with Hesperus, Matt.

Congratulations on a successful climb. Your pictures and write-up are first usual!



10/22/2008 10:35
Congratulations on nabbing Hesperus finally Matt! Man, talk about a feeling. Kind of a neat little way to wrap up the 14ers, eh? Kind of like the nail in the coffin.
That North Face is jaw-dropping.
In the immortal words of a masked man, ”Now, that‘s a spicy meatball!”
Good job!


Sacred Mountain
11/20/2009 15:37
Nice TR. Here is a favorite Hesperus photo.

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