Tuesday July 2, 2002
It was only a month ago, when I was looking at my maps, that I noticed a string of 13ers that rise to the east of the ghost town of Gladstone (near Silverton, CO). North to south, these mountains include: Bonita Peak (13286 ft), Emery Peak (13310 ft), Peak 13330 ft, Velocity Peak (13325 ft) and Storm Peak (13487 ft). On the USGS map, Storm and Velocity are shown to have steep rocky slopes but Bonita and Emery appear as attractive day hikes. According to the map, a four wheel drive road goes from Gladstone to the Minnehaha Basin where a ridge-top trail can be followed to a 12750 ft saddle between Bonita to the north and Emery to the south. I had become very interested in Bonita and Emery and wanted to climb one of them soon. I had not read anything about these mountains and had not even seen a picture of them. On Sunday, when we had first arrived in Silverton, we had driven to Gladstone to identify the mountains and assess their climbing potential. From Gladstone, Bonita and Emery appeared very inconspicuous. With their big rocky walls, Storm and Velocity dominated the view. I had at first mistaken Storm and Velocity for Bonita and Emery and was having second thoughts about climbing them. Peak 13330 was very prominent and I had wondered why it had not been named. Bonita seemed to consist of steep grassy slopes that lead to a long and narrow summit while Emery was just a rocky high point on the north ridge of Peak 13330.
Got up at 6 a.m. in Silverton, Colorado (elevation 9318 ft). I was actually planning to climb Emery but I was thinking that I could do Bonita if Emery turned out to be too difficult. It was 43 degrees F outside. I went on Route 110 A to Gladstone. The road headed north following the Cement Creek at the bottom of a valley. 8 miles after Silverton, I reached the town site of Gladstone (elevation 10600 ft). There was really nothing there besides a bunch of abandoned mines. Only one mine/factory (or whatever it was) seemed to be still operational. I saw a couple of pickup trucks going into the gated area of the mine (looked like people going to work). The mine made a constant noise that sounded like a jet engine heard from far away (I kept hearing this noise throughout the day, even from the summit).
The sun was directly behind Bonita, Emery and Peak 13330 so they appeared as pitch black shadows. Storm and Velocity were more to the south and the sun was shining over them. Four 4WD roads begin in Gladstone and go in different directions. Although these roads are signed as San Juan County Road number so and so, the numbers do not appear on any map so they are not helpful. I was glad I had come here on Sunday and had identified the road I needed to take.
I started hiking at 7:20. I went on Route 53 and made an almost immediate turn onto Route 51. The road was steep and was wide enough for only one vehicle. It went into a dense forest of tall pine trees that was still in the shade. In places like this, I do get concerned about bear or other wild animal attacks. I took comfort in the fact that I had my bear mace and my big knife readily accessible. I could not see Bonita, Emery or Peak 13330 but where there was a break in the trees, Storm and Velocity could be seen. I was also beginning to have great views of Red Mountain #3 (12890 ft), McMillan Peak (12804 ft) and Ohio Peak (12673 ft) across the valley of the Cement Creek to the west. The road made 3 switchbacks going up to 11500 ft where a nameless road spurred to the left. I turned onto the nameless road. A guy on an ATV drove by. Bonita, Emery and Peak 13330 soon came into view but they were still in the shade.
At around 11700 ft, I went above the timberline and entered the western end of the Minnehaha Basin, which was a glacially carved alpine valley. Emery Peak loomed high above the east end of the basin. To the south, a craggy reddish peak that rose to an elevation of 12601 ft could be seen. With its pointy top, Peak 13330 stood far above Peak 12601. A ridgeline that descended from the saddle between Emery and Bonita formed the northern boundary of the basin. The floor of the basin seemed to house a boggy marshland. I could see two cottages on the other side of the basin. I was thinking that this was a very nice and secluded place to have a summer cottage. How many people have ever heard of the Minnehaha Basin?
The road then went by an abandoned mine and made a switchback going up the ridgeline that formed the northern boundary of the Minnehaha Basin to reach the spine of the ridge at 11900 ft. A crushed old car and a few abandoned shacks could be seen by the road. The guy on the ATV whom I had seen earlier was standing there by his ATV enjoying the views. I talked to him a little. He was staying in one of those cottages.
I could see that the road continued beyond the spine of the ridge to enter a drainage below Bonita Peak where it dead-ended. My maps showed that a trail started where I was standing and followed the top of the ridge to reach the saddle between Emery and Bonita. I knew that I had to leave the road there. I could have driven to this spot and saved a lot of energy but the hike was fun.
I left the road and went to follow the top of the ridge to reach the saddle but I could not find a trail. It simply did not exist. The sun was shining right into my eyes. The slopes above me were still in the shade and I could not see what exactly I would encounter on my way to the saddle. It seemed like I had to cross a very steep scree slope where there were a few bands of cliffs. I did not want to go there. The sun had just begun to shine over the slopes of Bonita. It looked like I would encounter nothing but steep slopes if I chose to go to Bonita instead of Emery so I decided to do so.
To reach the summit of Bonita, I did not need to stay on the top of the ridge. I veered a little to the north to go directly up the very steep grassy slopes of Bonita. Behind me, I had excellent views of Red Mountain #3 (which we had climbed yesterday). As I went higher, all those 13ers on the west side of Route 550 began to rise above Red Mountain #3.
The slopes were grassy and were covered with beautiful flowers but the angle of the slopes kept getting steeper and steeper. It was difficult to even stand in one place. If I put down my backpack, I had to hold on to it or it would start tumbling down the slopes. I could swear that I was climbing a 60 degree incline (later I measured the angle in one of my pictures. it was 45 degrees). Hiking was very slow and breath taking. I had to stop often to catch my breath. I could see an abandoned shack a few hundred feet away half way up the steep slopes. I assumed that it was built 100 years ago at the height of the mining era. It was just mind boggling that a lone miner could haul supplies to a spot like that and build a cabin (well, maybe it was built as part of an organized group effort).
As I reached 12800 ft or so, the summit of Bonita came into better view. It looked very different than what I had seen earlier. It now looked like a triangular block of rock. At least one part of it was a sheer cliff 100 ft high. I was wondering if the summit was going to be a technical climb.
I hiked across a talus field to reach the base of the summit at 13100 ft. The view of the other side (east) appeared. I went up the scree and rocky slopes on the west side of the summit using my hands and feet and reached the summit at 10:20. I was glad to see that my GPS altimeter showed the elevation to be 13285 ft. It indicated that I had hiked 2.9 miles.
The summit of Bonita was a long and narrow rocky ledge that was no more than 3 feet wide. The surface of the ledge was covered with loose rock. The edges of the ledge dropped down steeply to the east and to the west. This made standing or walking on the summit somewhat dizzying.
Winter of 2002 had been a low snow winter and spring had brought draught. The mountains had much less snow than they usually have. Recent wild fires had produced a blanket of smog that seemed to cover the entire western half of the state of Colorado. The views were limited and distant objects seemed to have a yellowish tinge.
To the west, the steep rocky slopes of the summit dropped 200 ft down to reach the grassy slopes. The steep grassy slopes went down to around 11500 ft where the forest started. I could see the road going across the grassy slopes 1000 ft below.
The Red Mountains covered an area two miles long to the west. The highest point of the Red Mountains is Red Mountain #3 (12890 ft) which was only 3.5 miles away. Route 550 runs on the other (western) side of the Red Mountains but I could not see it from there. All of those 13ers on the west side of Route 550 could be seen in the haze of the distance. The huge pyramid of Mt. Sneffels (14150 ft) was 12.5 miles to the northwest. With my camcorder, I kept zooming on the rocky southwest ridge of Sneffels where I had been a year ago.
South of Red Mountain #3, McMillan Peak (12804 ft), Ohio Peak (12673 ft) and Anvil Mountain (12537 ft) made a chain of 12ers that rose on the west side of the valley of the Cement Creek. Beyond these, the mountains around Vermilion Peak (13894 ft) could barely be seen in the smoky/yellowish horizon 14 miles to the southeast. Much closer, I could see the Minnehaha Basin, the road I had hiked on and a portion of Route 110 A just south of Gladstone.
To the south, the jagged summits of Storm Peak (13487 ft) and Velocity Peak (13325 ft) along with Peak 13330, Tower Mountain (13552 ft) and Emery Peak (13310 ft) formed a solid wall of mountains. I could also see a very sharp and triangular peak which I later identified as Dome Mountain (13370 ft).
To the east, it seemed like the slopes of Bonita dropped almost vertically into a broad grassy valley called Eureka Gulch. This valley was around 12000 ft high and was bound to the north and east by Hanson Peak (13454 ft) and its ridges. A 4WD road traveled the length of the valley. I once heard the roar of the engine of a vehicle that was struggling up the road. Niagara (13807 ft), Jones (13860 ft) and Handies (14048 ft) Peaks could be seen roughly 6 miles to the east.
To the north, the 13477 ft Hurricane Peak was only a little more than a mile away. A crazy 4WD road seemed to go straight up the slopes of Hurricane.
I then connected my CD player to my camcorder and began videotaping while playing Rossini's "The Italian Girl in Algiers" Overture.
I loved it up there and could have sat there forever but I eventually left at 11:55. I was a little concerned about going down the steep rocky summit block but it turned out to be not bad at all. I quickly reached the steep grassy slopes. I did not need to go down the exact same route that I had taken up (near the top of the ridge). I could go anywhere down the slopes to reach the road that was well visible.
The vast fields of wild flowers that covered the slopes were very beautiful. In the morning everything had been in the shade but now I could better appreciate the beauty of the area. The slopes seemed to be comically steep. I could only take one small step at a time. Each time I stopped to rest or take a picture, I had to make sure that whatever I put on the ground would not start rolling down the hill.
When I reached the road, I could finally begin to walk fast. I hiked past the abandoned shacks and went back through the Minnehaha Basin. It was partly to mostly cloudy but now that the sun was up, the colors were much more vibrant than they had been in the morning. I took my time and took many pictures and sat down to enjoy the area.
I reached my vehicle at 2:10 and drove a little to a place where Bonita could be seen. From there I could not appreciate the fact that the summit of Bonita was a rocky block. All I could see were the steep grassy slopes leading to a broad summit.
A couple of miles before reaching Silverton, Kendall Mountain (13066 ft) and (I think) Peak 13338 ft came into view. Kendall appeared much steeper and much higher than it did from Silverton.
I then returned to our Bed & Breakfast in town. Mary was there. I was very hungry so we went to an ice cream store. It seems like at any point in time, 80% of the tourists on the main street of Silverton are licking an ice cream cone. Mary had given my film from yesterday (Red Mountain #3) to the only photo shop in town so we went to pick it up. They had done a terrible job of developing my film. The colors were distorted and white spots could be seen all over the pictures. I was not going to give them any more of my films. It then rained a little. You could see "Think Rain" signs all over the town. Lack of rain may be bad for a lot of things but it is good for hiking.
We had been considering renting a jeep for the next few days. Mary had made inquiries about it today. We had driven to Silverton with our own Jimmy (which does have 4WD) but we did not have proper tires and did not want to take it on a really rough road so we went to a rental place and picked up a jeep. We then ate a big meal at a restaurant.