Groundhog Mountain P1K
Peak 11,405ft P300
Black Mesa P900
Peak 10,411ft
Willow Divide P500
Peak 10,500ft

Oct 9, 2023

With: Eric Smith

Black Mesa
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX Profiles: 1 2


Our seven days in town had drawn to a close and we had to vacate our cush rooms at the Hotel Telluride. We planned to be in Albuquerque on the 14th for the eclipse, but our options in getting there were pretty fluid. We had considered driving to Ouray and doing something in Yankee Boy Basin, then working our way south on US550 to hit up Engineer Mtn and some other peaks, but after seeing how much snow was still at the higher elevations on the north slopes, we decided on a lower elevation option. Groundhog Mtn is a P1K in Dolores County and the Uncompahgre NF, west of the San Miguel Mtns. There's a lot of dirt road driving to reach it from different directions. We would combine this with a handful of other summits in the eastern part of the county for what would be as much a driving exercise as a hiking one, enough to keep us busy pretty much all day.

Groundhog Mountain

It was 25mi of dirt road driving from SR145 to reach our starting point for Groundhog. Luckily, the roads were well-graded and in decent shape with little mud. Still, it would take us well over an hour of driving in the Jeep and we didn't get started until almost 10a. Our route to Groundhog followed a track posted by John Kirk on LoJ, starting from the south. A spur road heading west is gated and no longer driveable, but makes for a good parking spot. The route is barely 2mi roundtrip with less than 1,000ft of gain, but not an easy effort. We followed the indistinct South Ridge through forest with a lot of downfall, eventually becoming a talus slope above 11,600ft, after half an hour's effort. The talus is somewhat loose and goes on longer than one would expect from a minor summit. The snow we encountered in a few places made for easier walking than the talus heaps. After reaching a plateau, the route turns northwest and west, the highpoint found at the west end of several rugged points, all class 2. Views are quite nice even if the climbing is forgettable. The register we found was nearly as messy as the slag pile we'd just climbed. But the views we enjoyed - northwest to Lone Cone, and west across Aspen forests in fall colors, and then harsher desert terrain beyond, in the SW corner of the state. We went back via the same route, about two hours for the effort.

Peak 11,405ft

This minor summit lies a short distance SW of where we'd parked for Groundhog. Other TRs made use of Forest Rte 534B (no longer driveable) to reach the peak from the north. We started off doing this, but quickly changed our minds when we realized one can start from Rd 52 (Forest Rte 534), less than a quarter mile from the northeast. This goes up more steeply, first through forest, then up the talus slopes that form the NE Ridge. The talus was much like that found on Groundhog, though not as loose. It took only 15min to reach the summit this way, with views similar to those of the previous peak. Beth Lakin had left a register here a year earlier, ours making only the second entry (though there are dozens of entries recorded on LoJ). We were back down the same route in a similar amount of time.

Black Mesa

This one is found 3-4mi off the main roadway. In dry conditions, high-clearance should suffice to allow one to drive nearly to the summit. We had some mud and snow and were happy to have 4WD to engage. From where we parked, the hike to the forested summit took less than two minutes. We wandered about the indistinct highpoint area, but found no register or cairn. Kindofa dud, this, despite almost a thousand feet of prominence.

Peak 10,411ft - Willow Divide

Willow Divide is about 3mi southeast of Black Mesa, but there is much driving to circumvent the deep drainage between them, about an hour and a half's worth. The roads are a bit rougher, but because the summit is 1,000ft lower than Black Mesa, there was almost no snow or mud to contend with. Peak 10,411ft is located at what used to be considered the Willow Divide HP, and still is on PB. However, LoJ has identified another point to the northwest that is higher by a few feet based on more recent LiDAR data. We managed to drive the Jeep nearly to both points, maximizing our laziness quotient. We wandered about the woods at both locations to satisfy requirements to claim both points, then sat on some downed logs with partial views to the southeast to enjoy some relaxing herbs - peakbagging can be hard work.

Peak 10,500ft

This was the most enjoyable summit of the day, despite being the most work. We used the Navajo Lake TH, commonly used to reach Navajo Basin and the 14ers in the Wilson Group. A lesser trail forks off shortly after starting out where it crosses a footbridge over the Dolores River. It is easy to follow initially through forest as it climbs out of the river drainage to reach the plateau above, to the west. The trail only roughly matches what is shown on the topo map as the Groundhog Stock Driveway. Once the plateau is reached, the gradient eases and the trail becomes harder to follow as it goes through a series of meadows and some forest. There are a series of old wooden stakes that mark the path, easier to follow on the way down than on the way up. We even spent some time trying to fix an old trail sign that had fallen over. Losing the trail is no big deal as the cross-country travel is relatively tame. The fall colors from the aspens and scrub oak were some of the best we'd seen on the day. The summit is found towards the south end of the mesa, on the border of a large, grassy meadow and the forested slope that drops down the east side towards the river. We wandered about looking for a cairn or register, finding neither. We spent a little over an hour in reaching the summit, about the same for the return. The other vehicles in the trailhead had left upon our return at 6p.

It was getting late as we drove back to SR145 where we'd left Eric's car. We took showers off the highway before heading into Rico looking for dinner. The Enterprise Bar & Grill was the only establishment open upon our arrival, but there was no cook to support the "Grill" in the name. Two characters were watching Monday Night Football while the bartender puttered about with various chores. She eventually warmed up after dismissing our dinner request, offering to warm some chili for us if we'd like. We took her up on the offer and had a couple bowls each before we were satiated. Afterwards, we headed off to a campsite above town I'd used a week earlier before our stay in Telluride. It fit two vehicles nicely and we spent a quiet night there undisturbed...


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