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I was camped for a second night in the Silverton area of Colorado, this time about 7mi north of town at the end of County Rd 110. This is the site of the now infamous Gold King Mine which garnered attention in the news when the EPA accidently allowed the release of millions of gallons of acidic, metal-heavy water into the Animas and San Juan Rivers a year earlier. Much money has been spent on halting the flow and continued efforts to sequester the tainted waters from the environment, an all-to-common legacy from the not-so-distant past of Colorado mining. I was here to climb a half dozen 13ers along a 4mi stretch of ridgeline separating the Animas River drainage to the east from the Cement Creek drainage to the west. It was a very fine outing with delightful ridge walking for much of the way. I was up not long after 6a, heading out around 6:40a for the 13mi, 5,800-foot gain day.
While starting up County Rd 10, I was wishing I could have used the mountain bike I'd brought with me, but since I was planning a loop I didn't really have a way to use it (I found out only later I could have driven up the road I descended on foot at the end of the day). The bike would have made the first 3.5mi to Hurricane Pass much easier. In addition to a few old mine ruins, the views along the way were nice enough to keep things interesting. Road 10 is part of the popular 4x4/OHV road network found in this area called the Alpine Loop. Because I had started fairly early, there wasn't much traffic, only a single Jeep that came by, just past the junction with County Rd 11. The passenger got out to help the driver over one rough spot, but it had no trouble clearing the rocks and they were soon gone up the road. I spent about an hour and 20min hiking to the 12,700-foot pass. A dead end spur heads north into Alaska Basin while the east side of the pass drops down to Animas Forks and the Animas River where I'd started from the past two days.
Turning southeast, I left the road to head up the NW Ridge of Hurricane Peak, an easy ridgeline that climbs about 700ft in less than half a mile to reach the 13,447-foot summit. Less than a mile to the SW along the continuing ridge can be seen Hanson Peak, only 7ft higher. To the east across California Gulch is the lower California Mtn, my next goal. There is a small saddle along the way that can be reached by 4x4s coming up from Sunnyside Saddle, another of the many spur roads off the Alpine Loop. I followed the ridge towards Hanson, which continues to be fairly benign until one approaches the rough-cut features of the unnamed summit that forms the apex of the two diverging ridgelines to California and Hanson. What it lacks in prominence it makes up for with rugged terrain that requires some class 2-3 scrambling, even with some avoidance of more serious obstacles along the ridge proper. Once over this summit, I turned northeast to follow the ridge to California Mtn. With the exception of a short, steep class 2 section, most of this ridge is a class 1 walk over packed talus with use trails in places.
It was almost 9:30a by the time I reached California's summit and signed a register I found there barely a year old. The top offers an even better view overlooking California Gulch than Hurricane Peak does. After taking a few pictures I returned back along the half mile ridgeline to the unnamed summit I'd come from on the Hurricane-Hanson ridge. Once there, I turned left and made the short foray to Hanson's summit, arriving just after 10a. Sporting over 900ft of prominence, Hanson was the highest summit on today's outing, though just barely (the aforementioned 7ft above Hurricane). It, too, had a recent register, this one made up of a handful of loose pages. After enjoying the nice views to Placer Gulch to the northeast and Eureka Gulch to the south, I took a few more pictures and set off. Once again I returned back along the route I'd come and would have paid a third visit to the unnamed summit at the junction if I hadn't decided to traverse high across its SW Face instead. I'm not sure if it saved any time, but it was probably somewhat easier. Back on the main ridge heading south, I dropped down the easy slope to Sunnyside Saddle where a small convoy of Jeeps were making their way up just before I reached the saddle. Bonita Peak is the next summit along the way, about 3/4mi south of the saddle. The route is comprised of green alpine slopes mixed with short sections of class 2-3 scrambling, none of it difficult. The grass and flowers give way to rock and talus as one nears Bonita, a use trail appearing above some old wooden ruins next to a lingering snowfield. Reaching the summit by 11:15a, I found a glass jar holding a register tucked into a cairn. The next mile south of Bonita is perhaps the most scenic of the day, straddling Minnehaha Basin and the Cement Creek drainage to the west, and Eureka Gulch, McCarty Basin and Slagle Basin to the east. Emery Peak is reached about a half mile south of Bonita, most of this ridge green and easy save for a short class 3 chimney found near Emery's summit (this can be easily bypassed to the west, but it was too fun to pass up). The second half mile to Proposal Peak continues the class 1-2 cruising, though I dropped down on the east side to avoid some trickiness along the ridgeline at the midway point. All three summits had registers though none older than 2-3yrs.
South of Proposal Peak, the ridgeline returns to the alpine grass and flower cakewalk as far as Pt. 13,229ft (only a foot lower than Proposal Peak). The south side of this point is a somewhat loose talus slope, not all that fun to descend and probably even less fun going up. The talus slope leads to a 12,500-foot saddle between the Middle Fork of Cement Creek and the South Fork of the Animas River. This is where I picked up the expected trail leading back down the west side. A more ambitious outing could continue south to Tower Mtn or Storm Peak, but those would wait for another day. I headed northwest down the faint trail, following it partway down into the Middle Fork before it makes a U-turn into the South Fork drainage. The trail was a lovely find and would have been one of the highlights of the hike until I ran into a thousand head of Muir's hoofed locust quietly munching away along a half mile stretch of grassy slopes at 12,000ft. They were only quiet until I approached, still following the trail as it went through the middle of the flock. They bleated their annoyance as they moved off to avoid letting me get too close. This would have been just fine and I would have been happy to leave them undisturbed as I continued down, until their bleating caught the attention of their minders, two large white sheep dogs, none too happy with my appearance.
Roused from their napping stupor, the dogs were quick to defend their charges, barking and jumping to their defense. The more enraged dog raced directly towards me, covering ground I had no hope of quickly retreating from, while the other dog took a side tack which I thought he was doing to encircle me. The braver one came within 10ft, barking, snarling and showing teeth in a most threatening manner. I yelled at the dog in a very loud voice in an attempt to give it pause as well as to draw the attention of a shepherd I assumed would be nearby to call it off. No luck in either effort. I dared not turn to walk or run away for fear of having the thing attack me from behind. I backed up, still yelling, keeping one eye out for the other dog to the side (luckily the other dog was happy to let his buddy do all the work). I was perhaps 100ft back over to a minor ridge separating two adjacent drainages when I thought about defending myself with a rock. When I picked up a softball sized one and raised it over my head, the alpha dog stopped his advance for the first time, though his barking and snarling didn't let up. I faked a throw which made it jump back a foot - I suspect it's had stuff thrown at it before. I imagined a well-placed aim could easily maim the dog, and wondered if this wouldn't raise the ire of its owner who might come over and shoot me on sight (I also imagined the owner watching unseen from a distance, amused at the scene). Better to not hurt the dog, I thought. I tossed the rock in front of the dog and it backed off about five feet. A few more rocks kept it at bay, though it did not run away. I eventually got behind the small ridge and out of sight and immediately left the trail to begin a more direct descent down the fall line. I was happy to find neither dog take up the pursuit - they were probably content that I had left the vicinity of the sheep. I kept looking over my shoulder for the next ten minutes until I had dropped more than 500ft. The sheep looked to have gone back to their grazing as though nothing had happened and the dogs were nowhere to be seen. I'm not sure what the legal ramifications of such an encounter was. I was clearly on public lands managed by the BLM. Could I have legally claimed self-defense in maiming one of them? Do they have Stand Your Ground clauses for sheep dogs? Could the owner be prosecuted if I had been injured? Who knows, but they had completely derailed my wilderness high. Fucking dogs...
I eventually dropped down to County Rd 52 at 11,200ft on the north side of Storm Peak, just below unnamed Lake 11,300ft. As I descended the road I noted it was in very good condition and wondered if I couldn't drive the van up it. I passed by more mine ruins and an awful, orange-colored stream flowing under the road at one point. It took less than half an hour to descend the 1.5mi stretch of road back to Goldstone and the Gold King mine remediation efforts. A handful of workers were milling about the place, directing the tainted waters to fill up a series of holding bags the size of football fields. I'm not sure, but it looked like the bags might be semi-porous to let water out and leave the sludge behind. A worker was walking knee-deep through one of these in waders, the thick goop resisting his efforts to walk across it. Three others watched on. I was some distance away on the road and out of earshot, but wondered if they were offering advice or merely laughing at his efforts.
I got back to the van by 3p and decided it was far too warm to spend a second night here, at least not until much later in the day. I chose instead to drive back up the road I'd just descended, gaining both a thousand feet of elevation as well as shade from the high ridge which lines the drainage to the west. I would spend the next few hours visiting the lake, checking out the surrounding area, talking to a few of the 4x4 visitors and watching a couple young guys hike up to a thin tongue of snow on the north side of Storm Peak for about 30 seconds of skiing after an hour's hike. I surveyed the terrain around Storm Peak which I hoped to climb the next day. As the afternoon wore on the visitors all left one by one, eventually leaving the place to me. It had cooled off nicely, as hoped, and I slept most comfortably that night...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Hurricane Peak - Bonita Peak - Proposal Peak
This page last updated: Mon Sep 5 09:42:18 2016
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