Sun, Sep 8, 2019
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There are a trio of peaks west of the Wilson Group on the boundary of Dolores and San Miguel Counties that I had been eyeing for a few years now. Dunn, Middle and Dolores Peak lie within the Lizard Head Wilderness at its westernmost extent. Heaped high with thousands of feet of talus, they aren't the sort of peaks my companions for our week in Telluride would be interested in. To the south, however, are a group of peaks centered around Elliott Mtn and Sockrider Peak that have lovely trails with beautiful vistas reaching right to the summits, a group I had visited some years earlier. Both areas share much of the approach drive up County Rd 535, also known as Dunton Rd. So the plan was to drop Eric and Ingrid off at one trailhead, then drive to my own, do the hike and return to pick them up later. With no cell coverage over the entire area, it was important that we set up clear timelines beforehand. The weather forecast had about a 40% chance of rain so it was expected that our outings might get interrupted at any time. Though we were up early, there was a lot of driving to do, first about an hour to get Eric and Ingrid to their trailhead at the East Fork of Fall Creek, the same one I'd used for my hike there back in 2015. Then it was another hour to get to my TH on the south side of Dunn Peak, a pleasant enough drive, but long, so it wasn't until 8a that I was ready to head out.
I had some trouble getting to the start because the older topo map I'd used for the route was a bit outdated. The more modern ones on MyTopo and elsewhere show the roads correctly, I believe. Much as I expected, there was no trail once I left the road. I couldn't even see the peak through the forest and had to take it on faith that it would present itself if I just kept going north. Where I spotted a first talus slope, I kept to the right through more trees, figuring I'd soon have more talus than I cared for. After about 20min the views begin to open as the trees thin, and not long after I was hiking up the piles of loose rock that somehow sounds better when you call them "talus." I found the west side of the ridgeline provided more protection from the cold wind blowing up from the south/southeast, and kept off the ridge directly, for the most part. It took about an hour to cover the mile and a quarter distance to Dunn Peak where I found a small cairn but no register.
Another 700ft higher and a mile further, Middle Peak looked to be more foreboding, with dark, loose-looking rock forming its upper reaches and long summit ridgeline. The first half of the route from Dunn looked pretty pleasant by contrast, though it was probably better seen from a distance where the ridgeline looks smooth and pleasant. There are some sections of grass and firmer footing here, but there's also just a lot of rock, too. I spent much of a second hour making my way to Middle Peak along the connecting ridgeline. Where the contour lines grow steepest after 12,600ft, the crux is encountered though it wasn't much. The class 2 ridgeline becomes easy class 3 for a short distance, with talus chutes available on one side or another to bypass the difficulties encountered on the ridge. All the while, I kept an eye on the developing weather behind me. Though Dunn was lit up colorfully in the bright sunshine, I could see rain falling in the distance to the south, the direction the weather was coming from. I wondered if it might hit Elliott Mtn first, but it seemed to be keeping west of that area some. Middle Peak has two summits. The western summit has the label on the 7.5' topo map and a good-sized cairn, but the highpoint is another ten minutes to the east where a smaller cairn is found. No register at either point, however. With better weather and more time, I had hoped to continue along the ridge to Dolores Peak, probably another hour away, but I was afraid I wouldn't be able to make the 2p pick-up time for the others. I would have to leave it for another time.
Rather than return back over the summit of Dunn Peak, I thought I might drop into the bowl south of Middle Peak. It looked like a horrible moraine debris pile for much of it, but with extra time now, I figured, "What's a little extra loose rock?" Plenty, I would find. I went back along the ridge only a short distance before starting down a loose chute that appeared to drop down through a cliff band on that side. A few minutes into this effort, I unleashed a rock slide that slowly gained momentum beyond the usual dislodging of a few rocks. I gingerly skipped to the right to get out of its path, then watched as it grew wider and longer, taking a whole layer of overlying rock down a path that became about six feet wide and continued sliding for more than a minute. It kicked up waves of dust that half-choked me and got in my eyes. "Hmmmm," I thought, "maybe this isn't so safe after all." Rather than continue with such a clear warning, I scrambled back up to the ridge and decided to go back over the west summit of Middle Peak and then down towards the saddle with Dunn Peak. This would take longer, perhaps, but I would feel safer and perhaps live a little longer.
I descended the SW Ridge of Middle Peak, then began traversing below the ridge on the east side. When I looked back up at Middle Peak, I found the upper part of the mountain now buried in clouds that had moved up from the south. I was kinda glad at this point I wasn't on the ridge heading to Dolores as I'd have had no views whatsoever. I found a game trail, or more like a series of game trails, that I could use to traverse the east side of Dunn Peak, at the edge where the grass/forest meets the east side talus slopes. These worked nicely to get me back to my starting point by 11:30a, about half an hour faster than I'd guessed earlier. There was some rain on the drive back to pick up Eric and Ingrid, but not all that much. When I arrived an hour later, I found them waiting at the TH where I'd left them. They reported having only waited a few minutes, so our timing was quite good. They had managed only two of the peaks before the rain made them reconsider the outing, but were happy with the time they'd had and enjoyed themselves a great deal. They would come back a week later (after I'd left Telluride) to do some of the other peaks in this area with better weather. We drove back to Telluride to spend the afternoon with Steve who was still recovering from his accident a few days earlier...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Middle Peak
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