West Twin Peak

Sat, Jul 30, 2016
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It was time to start heading back to California after several weeks in the Telluride/Silverton area. On my way north on US550 I decided to stop in Ouray to do a hike to Twin Peaks and Sister Peak on the west side of town. My info on the trails around here was somewhat limited, but I managed to find my way to the old Twin Peaks TH in a residential area at the junction of Queen St and Pinecrest Dr. The trickest part was getting to the west side of the Uncompahgre River. 3rd Ave at the south end of town has a bridge going over the river before turning north to become Oak St, and from there it was easy to get to the TH. There is parking for only a few cars and one has to be careful to avoid blocking driveways and otherwise invoking the wrath of the neighbors. I had no idea where one might find the "New" Twin Peaks Trail, but this one would do well enough.

The Ouray Perimeter Trail encircles much of the town on three sides, the Twin Peaks Trail network being a part of this. There are fine views overlooking the quaint mountain town, the trail in excellent shape with well-constructed bridges over various cataracts found along the way. I had thought this was a fairly easy outing, a few miles and a few thousand feet of gain, but it turned out to be almost 8mi roundtrip with 4,000ft of elevation to climb. There are several trail junctions found along the way, the mileages appearing to be somewhat off, but not terribly so. I spent almost two hours hiking to Sister Peak, a striking lower pinnacle found on the east side of Twin Peaks. A ledge system can be used to circle around the base of the feature on the west and south sides, but I found no reasonable way up. The best option appears to be a vertical crack/chimney system up the middle of the west side, but without climbing gear I was not willing to solo it. Another option on the north side looked even harder. Strike one.

Back on the trail, the maintained route ends a short distance up at East Twin Peaks. An easy class 3 scramble leads to the top of the summit, or almost so. About 10yds to the south is a detached blade of rock maybe a foot or two higher, a register container easily visible from across the 20ft-deep gap that separated it from the lower block I stood upon. I carefully climbed down into the gap between the two but found no way up from there. Later I found that the usual climbing route comes up from the base by first going around the east side of the blocks and climbing a steep, somewhat loose face past a tree to the summit. Strike two, though the slightly lower East Twin summit does make a good perch to take in the views.

A little frustrated, I wondered if I was going to make it to any summit today. I turned west and noted the west summit about 1/3mi away. It looked to be a forested, non-view of a summit, but at least something I could reach. It proved more difficult than it first appeared. The main trail does not continue past East Twin, though a use trail can be found traversing the south side of the ridge in one place. There is some downfall and brush to contend with, though no technical challenges. The actual highpoint is found behind what turned out to be a false summit and though higher than East Twin, West Twin is a disappointing pile of talus with poor views. Other locations along the connecting ridge offer better views of the surrounding San Juan Mtns. I returned to the TH via the same route, crossing paths with a handful of other parties who had started up later.

Back in town, I drove over to the east side of the canyon to investigate an unusual cascade I had seen from the Twin Falls Trail. A stream appears to flow out of the rock face and drop hundreds of feet to the forest below. This turns out to be Cascade Falls, preserved as a city park by the folks of Ouray. It is incredibly popular, possibly the easiest hike to be found in the area. There were dozens of folks milling about the base of the cascade where the trail ends (other branches connect to the Perimeter Trail), at various view benches and along the trail itself. I spent maybe 15min here before continuing my journey north.

I drove 55mi north to the community of Delta, then another 35-40mi into the high country around Grand Mesa further north along Hwy65. The area is home to more than a hundred lakes, most of them manmade and a mecca for the fisherfolks. RVs, OHVs, summer cabins and the like abound. Good dirt/gravel roads wind among the lakes around the 10,000-foot level, providing access to the many square miles of forest and lakes. While much of the surrounding lower country is baking in the summertime heat, this area is a cool respite and understandably popular. My goal the next day was Leon Peak to the east, a county highpoint found above the Weir and Johnson CG at the end of the road I traveled. Finding a flat spot to park outside the campground, I settled in for the night with temps outside dropping to the 40s - one of the better sleeps I had all week...


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