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I wasn't yet ready to leave the cozy confines of Cortez, CO, where I was staked out for a few days before heading north to Telluride. Having had enough of Mesa Verde NP the previous day with slim pickings for peakbagging, I decided to head east to the La Plata Mtns, a subrange of the San Juan Mountains. The range highpoint is towering Hesperus Mtn at 13,212ft, which also happens to be the highpoint of Montezuma County. There are a dozen other high summits in the range and I hoped to do four of them along with Hesperus. I had downloaded a GPX track of John Kirk's from LoJ in which he did a nice outing that tagged Hesperus, Lavender, Moss, Diorite and Sharkstooth in a 10mi loop. I hoped to substitute Centenial for Diorite (which seems really out of the way and more easily approached from the east). The starting point would be the Sharkstooth TH on the west side of the range. Driving in the night before, I wasn't really sure how far I'd get in the van, but found the roads in excellent shape until I got to the last junction with 1.5mi to go. This was better than my fears had been earlier, and the extra 3mi of hiking would be no big deal. I simply turned the van around and parked at the edge of the road at this junction.
Once again I got an early start (this time 6:10a) in order to avoid the usual afternoon thunderstorms. I followed the road the remaining distance to the Sharkstooth TH, taking the rightmost of two trails starting from this TH. The West Mancos Trail descends the North Fork of West Mancos River drainage. My goal was to reach the West Ridge of Hesperus, the trail neatly bypassing cliffs and some heavy brush found on the north side of the peak. There is still some brush to contend with, however. I left the trail short of the first mile, relatively easy going though thigh-high flowering plants. Fairly quickly I came upon a ducked use trail that neatly got me through the rest of the bush before dumping me out on the talus slopes on the north side of the West Ridge. Going up this talus to the West Ridge was somewhat tedious, but by seeking out the vegetated sections where I could, it wasn't all that bad, getting me to the ridge by 9a.
Once on the ridge the going is straightforward, mostly on the ridgeline, taking about half an hour to reach the summit up seemingly endless talus slopes. The summit is open to some fine views. A damp register was found here in a PVC tube - you might think they'd have figured out that PVC registers kinda suck in rainy places. I noticed Don Palmer's signature - always nice to see other Sierra regulars in these far places. From the summit, Lavender Peak is another half mile to the southeast and Mt. Moss another quarter mile further past Lavender. The going is not technically difficult or dangerous, just lots and lots of talus. Lavender turns out to have two closely-spaced summits with much class 3 scrambling between them. Coming around off the West Ridge to approach from the south, I initially started up to the west summit because it looked higher. The GPX track I was following stopped short of reaching either summit, so it was no help. My GPS had the summit located to the east, so I changed course and climbed that first. Of course it was lower. Looking west, I could see a tall cairn erected on the slightly higher west summit. Drats. It took less than 10min to get from one to the other, so it wasn't that big an inconvenience. There was a register here, too, this one of the CMC variety that looks like a spreadsheet for specific entry items - boring. It only dated back a few years and it, too, was damp, making it hard to write on.
It had taken nearly an hour and a half to get between Hesperus and Lavender, but the route to Moss was much easier, taking but 25min. The glass jar on Moss was broken, the register contents missing. Such is the emphemeral existence of a summit register. Kirk had descended Moss's South Ridge towards Babcock Peak, eventually bailing off the east side when the going became disagreeable, descending Tomahawk Basin before climbing up to Diorite. Looking at Diorite from Moss, it seemed just too far away. I could see a road climbing up from the La Plata River into Tomahawk Basin and figured that's probably the more usual approach. Ditching the GPX track I'd been following, I struck out on my own. My rough plan was to drop into the Bear Creek drainage on the east side of Centennial Peak, then circle around and climb it from Sharkstooth Pass. The trick was getting off the crest I was atop, whose north side was mostly sharp cliffs. There were a variety of chutes descending the north side but most of these were still filled, or partially filled, with snow. With axe and crampons it would have been a snap since none of the snow had seen freezing temps in at least a few days. On the traverse between Lavender and Moss I had noted a possible route down from the saddle between the two and it was to this I returned after leaving Mt. Moss's summit.
This was easily the spiciest part of the entire day. I basically descended the small gap between the rock and snow on the left side as I went down, eventually traversing left across steep but managable rock to lower ground. I dubbed it the Moaty McMoatface route. Trademark pending. Things got much better after that. Instead of the mile-long, loose talus descent I was expecting, I soon found lightly vegetated areas that made for pretty solid talus and pleasant walking. Even better, I traversed high around the base of Centennial and found that I could ascend the steep but reasonable NE Ridge without having to circle further around to the NW Ridge. The NE Ridge had some loose talus lower down, but as the ridge grew steeper the rock became more solid, keeping it from becoming dangerous. As I was ascending, I heard voices and spotted several folks higher up on the NW Ridge - the first time in a week I'd seen someone out on the trail, let alone on a summit.
Upon reaching the summit, I came to find myself in the company of a dozen 10-14 year-old girls, not an adult in sight. I came to find they were from Durango, part of a backpacking-oriented summer camp group. They had gotten up at 4a to drive to the Sharkstooth TH, had parked their van next to mine and started up around 7:30a. Their adult leaders had stopped at the pass and let the group go up on their own. They seemed to have enjoyed it thoroughly, I only heard one or two in the group complain about being tired. I helped them assemble for a group photo with Lavender Peak in the background (the photo I took with their camera had them all smiling). They were impressed that I had climbed these other peaks before Centennial while I was even more impressed that they knew the names of all the other peaks around us. Most of them were shy, as one might expect, but a few were quite chatty and happy to converse with a complete stranger. When I shouldered my pack to leave before them, I told them I had one more stop before heading back. Without a moment's hesitation, one replied, "Oh, you're going to Sharkstooth!"
There is a very good use trail descending the NW Ridge of Centennial (which, btw, was named in 1976 to commemorate Colorado's 100yrs as a state), nearly all the way to Sharkstooth Pass. It disappears in places where there is alpine vegetation, but picks up again for the final talus descent. Sharkstooth appears to have no such love. In fact, as a climb goes, it pretty much stinks. It is a massive pile of incredibly loose talus just waiting to smash a toe or finger with large, sliding blocks for the unaware. Approaches other than from the south appear to be blocked by cliffs, leaving no obvious alternatives. The summit register was soaked (I didn't bother to try and sign it) to add insult to injury. Such a good-looking peak from a distance (really does look like a shark's tooth), such a crappy one close up.
In contrast, the trail descending from Sharkstooth Pass was very pleasant and incredibly beautiful. So much greenery and colorful flowers, the sort of thing one rarely finds in the Sierra. The first peal of thunder had occurred just before I'd started up to Sharkstooth. Thunder and lightning would come more regularly now that I was descending back to the TH. I was happy to stay dry this last hour as I made my way down. Seems the rain would not come down in torrents today, just a few smatterings of sprinkles even an hour after I'd gotten back. Halfway down from the pass was an old mining site with a number of placards describing the history of the place. The most recent activity was in 1988 when a mining concern built a road up to the site to take some deep core samples. The placard described how, after finding insufficient ore samples to make mining profitable, they revegetated the area and returned it much as they had found it. Then this gem on the placard - "This demonstrates that modern companies can explore for minerals without permanent harm to the environment." The key word here is "explore". What if they had found something of value? Why, then the place would look very different, wouldn't it? Several roads, more buildings, sluices, ore-crushing equipment, settling ponds - all of it abandoned when the company goes belly-up and left to the EPA to deal with the unstable heavy metal ponds and other trash. But I digress.
There were a few other parties heading up to the pass as I descended. One was a family of four with two tweenage daughters. They were wearing tanktops and shorts, no rain gear evident. Mom seemed a little concerned by the thunder and asked, "Do you think it's going to rain?" The ground everywhere was still wet from the previous afternoon's rain, there's semi-regular lightning and thunder. Are they just in denial? I kinda smiled and replied, "I'd bet it's going to rain sometime soon..." Another party of hispanics lower down were better prepared - grandma even had her umbrella up before the rain had even started. I'm guessing they were locals and the first party were not. I got back to the Sharkstooth TH by 1:45p and the van half an hour later. I drove about half the distance back towards the pavement (there's about 15mi of dirt road driving on this one) before finding a sunny spot off the road to shower. The sun was nice to minimize the mosquitoes that seemed to be swarming in the shadier spot I where I'd parked back at the junction. The rain started up in earnest around 4:30p, so all the other parties likely managed to finish up their outings before getting soaked. Another fun day in Colorado...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Hesperus Mountain - Lavender Peak - Sharkstooth Peak
This page last updated: Thu Nov 16 08:44:27 2017
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