Palmyra Peak

Tue, Jul 19, 2016

With: Steve Sywyk
Eric Smith

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


Palmyra Peak is the highpoint of the Telluride Ski Area, nestled in the San Juan Mtns of Southwest Colorado, and a little tricky to get to. I had tried a year ago to reach the summit via the NE Ridge from Gold Hill, but found it to be tougher than my abilities. A year later and a little more research turned up the NW/North Ridge combo as the easiest way to the top. This ridgeline in much milder than the other serrated ridges which make access difficult, but still a good challenge. There is no skilift service to Palmyra or the ridgeline, but in wintertime the ski area periodically opens this ridge to foot traffic to allow access to the expert chutes that fall off either side. Most of these are so close to the vertical that they would make for dangerously loose climbs in the summer without snow. One could hike from the base of the ski area at the Mountain Village, but that approach can be shortened about 3mi each way by starting from Alta Lakes, accessible via Hwy 145 and the dirt Alta Lakes Rd. This makes the outing less than 4mi roundtrip and about 2,000ft of gain, about the amount of effort I figured Eric and Steve would be willing to subject themselves to on our vacation in Telluride. The lake area is popular for fishing and camping and there was plenty of both taking place when we arrived shortly after 8a. Clouds were already present overhead with thunderstorms expected in the early afternoon, so it was imperative that we got an earlier start than the day prior.

We had some trouble finding the trail leading from the lakes up to the ridge. We wandered about on some of the dirt roads that connect the various lake and camping areas, initially missing the unsigned trail that forks off the road we hiked. A quarter mile later I realized our error and upon backtracking we found a faint use trail leading north about where expected. The trail shows on older topo maps, but not newer ones. The trail is only faint where it start through a marshy area, but soon becomes an easy-to-follow one through forest as it climbs up towards the ridge. Near the top the trail fades out altogether at the Saddle SE of Bald Mtn where it opens to a broad, flat meadow. Walking north across this soon gets one to a road on the edge of the ski area, winding its way up to the top of the Prospect Lift where the road ends. The terrain above this is called the Prospect Hike, following the grassy NE Ridge up towards our summit.

The views along the ridge are some of the finest to be had inside the ski area, and we spent more than an hour hiking up the green slopes above the chairlift, the second half becoming significantly steeper. The grass gave way to loose talus, moving towards class 3 and becoming a little spicy. Eric grew uncomfortable with several hundred feet to go and decided to back down while Steve seemed uneasy but willing to go on with a little coaching on route choice and techniques to use on such terrain. It was 10a by the time we reached the summit ridge with the last 80ft of class 3 still before us. There was a ski patrol sled cached here with some other gear and the highest of the couloirs that could be skied under certain conditions. A snowbank is found here that had blocked the summit from one visitor, as described in a TR I had read the night before. It was much smaller now in early August and took only a few careful steps to cross. Above this is some class 3 scrambling. There is at least one bolt hanger I noted that has probably been used for rope work by others, but it didn't seem necessary. Steve and I both climbed this last section with due caution and arrived atop the rock-strewn summit a few minutes later.

The summit has little prominence (less than 200ft) to its higher neighbor to the south, Silver Mtn, but it makes a fine perch from which to take in most of the ski area and further areas looking west, north and east. We found no register but stayed perhaps 10min aloft so that Steve could rest and take a selection of photos to mark our visit. After retracing our steps back down the class 3 section and across the snowfield, Steve was relieved to find the descent through the loose talus below us to be easier than he had anticipated. Both he and Eric would comment that the steep grass descent further below this was also much easier than expected and Eric would have some lingering regrets over not joining us for the summit. We found him resting about halway down the the ridge, sitting atop a metal box used to store ski patrol supplies. Cell coverage was quite good here so he had plenty to do while waiting the 45min or so for us to return.

Another party of 4-5 had reached the ridge from Alta Lakes by a much steeper route and were heading higher as we were going down, even as the weather was showing signs of deteriorating quickly. The rain held off until we had retraced our steps back to the roads around Alta Lakes, but it would come crashing down in buckets before we could return to the car. The sudden squall had driven the fisherfolk and day visitors from the lakes, leaving only a few other vehicles besides our in the area. It was a somewhat slippery drive down the muddy road before we reached the better-maintained gravel sections and an easing of the rainfall. The highway back to Telluride was mostly dry though we would get some additional rain on and off through the afternoon. With the peak attained, it was time to get into more traditional vacation activities, including some only legal in Colorado and a few other states...

Gordon Jacobs comments on 09/03/16:
" was time to get into more traditional vacation activities, including some only legal in Colorado and a few other states..."

Hopefully, soon after November in California. ;-)

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