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Our week in Telluride was drawing to a close and it was time for Steve and Eric to drive back to Albuquerque. I decided to hang around in the area for another week, so after saying our goodbyes in the morning, I drove around the mountains through Ouray and to the old mining town of Silverton. The mining has all but ceased but the town survives as a tourist destination, popular with the OHV crowd drawn to the popular Alpine Loop, a series of connected 4WD roads that allow folks to visit the high alpine valleys around the center of the San Juan Range. There is a large campground in town with hotel and restaurant offerings as well to support enthusiasts. The popular Durango-Silverton railroad also brings a bevy of tourists to town several times a day. My destination today was a CO 14er named Handies Peak, starting from a trailhead off County Road 2 along the Animas River, part of the Alpine Loop. The map I possessed seemed to indicate I could drive my passenger van at least part way up the road. I had brought my bike for such situations and was happy to make good use of it today. I didn't make it to Handies Peak today, but that wasn't the fault of the road, the van or the bike.
The good dirt road ends about 10mi from Silverton at the old Eureka site, now just a campground. I drove another mile up the steepening road but called it quits when it appeared the van might be in for a beating. This seemed a fine place to start now that I was above 10,000ft. I parked at the edge of the road where it widens and a cliff drops 100ft down to the river. On the opposite side of the road was a steep talus slope with large boulders that looked like they could go tumbling down at any time. It would have taken only one well-timed dislodgement to send my van crashing down into the Animas. The odds seemed in my favor, so I took my chances and headed off on the bike not long after 10a. The gradient was excellent, climbing about 600ft over the course of just under two miles. When I reached what I thought was the Grouse Gulch TH I locked the bike to a road sign and gingerly danced my way across the Animas, hopping from rock to rock to reach a rough dirt road climbing up the opposite hillside. Herein lay the crux of the day's route-finding challenge. Had I gone only 200yds further up the road, I would have found the road crosses the river and then seen a small sign indicating the hiking trail I was looking for. I had the route marked on the GPSr, but at the scale I was viewing it, it seemed I had reached the starting point. I was a mile up what turns out to be the adjacent Burns Gulch before I realized my track had diverged significantly from my intended route. Rats.
Ok, I screwed up, but did it realy matter? I hadn't been to any of the peaks in this area, so I just needed to redirect my attention. More poking around on the GPSr (now conveniently loaded with the entire LoJ peak database for the Western US) found a couple of named 13ers at the head of Burns Gulch that I might climb, now conveniently right on my way. Handies would wait for another time. It took about 30min to hike another mile further to the road's end in the upper half of Burns Gulch where Jones Mtn could be seen to the east and Niagara Peak to its right. Now well above treeline, all was green alpine vegetation and talus. My first thought was to simply hike to the saddle between the two peaks and climb each from there, but as I got closer the NW Ridge of Jones looked to make a shorter route to the first peak after which I could continue on to the saddle. It was steep going to reach the ridge proper, after which the gradient eased and I found my way to the top by 12:30p, no more than class 2. A cairn marked the highpoint that offered up views over a great portion of the range, including Handies, the highest around, less than two miles to the northeast. It is connected to Jones by an undulating ridgeline that includes American Peak, roughly half way between the two. Had I started earlier I might have included American on today's circuit, but the weather was threatening and it didn't seem like a good time to be on a long ridge traverse.
I turned my attention to the southwest where Niagara Peak rises less than 3/4mi away. I descended the easy South Ridge off Jones Mtn to reach the saddle between the two. Here it began it hail, not heavily, but with a stiff wind that drove me to take shelter on the lee side of the ridge and wait for the precipitation to lighten. Clouds were lower now and threatening to engulf the summits. Since there was no lightning in my vicinity (some miles to either side were some more serious storm cells) I decided to run up to Niagara as the hail all but ceased for a time. "Run up" is a euphemism for a fast hike in this case, and with the help of a handy use trail it took only 15min to climb the quarter mile from the saddle to Niagara's summit. I found a recent register on Niagara with another person climbing it earlier in the day by an unknown route. I snapped a quick series of photos from the summit before beating a retreat back via the same route to the saddle. I continued northwest off the saddle, descending through much talus with some snow to break up the monotony, eventually finding a ducked use trail descending the gulch back down to the road. The weather continued to be threatening but I got lucky with no more rain. It was 2:45p by the time I returned to the bike and a quick 15min ride back to the van. Rather than drive the 10mi+ back to Silverton, I decided to stay put for the rest of the afternoon and would spend the night here. I had plenty to read, movies to watch, enough food to tide me over, and the spot I had parked at was fairly level. The only troubles I would have were the late-night OHVers driving by and the thought of those big boulders perched precariously up on the slope above me while I slept...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Jones Mountain - Niagara Peak
This page last updated: Wed Aug 31 16:06:23 2016
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