Monday July 8, 2002
My plan for today was to reach the 13478 ft summit of Canby Mountain. I was hoping to drive to the 12588 ft Stony Pass where the mountain would be a mere 900 ft climb. I had noticed Canby Mountain months ago while I was looking at my maps. I had not found any information about it anywhere and I had not even seen a picture of it so I had no idea what I was going to encounter.
Woke up in Silverton, Colorado (elevation 9318 ft) at 6 a.m. and got ready. I took the Jeep we had rented yesterday and drove 4 miles west on Route 110 to the ghost town of Howardsville. I then turned southeast on Cunningham Gulch Road. Stony Pass and Canby Mountain are located near the end of Cunningham Gulch. I could see a mountain in that direction and was wondering if that was Canby. Later I realized that it was probably a nameless 13214 ft spot northwest of the summit of Canby. I don’t think that Canby can be seen from anywhere near Howardsville.
Cunningham Gulch Road was a well-graded dirt road that followed the creek 200 ft above it near the bottom of the gulch. The gulch was still in the shade. The road went by an abandoned mine where you could take a tour but it was still too early and no one was there. A few aerial tramways could be seen near the road. These were built about 100 years ago to bring down the dig from the mines that were far up the slopes. Some of the buckets on the tramways still had dirt in them from the day that the mines were shut down many decades ago.
After 1.5 miles from Howardsville, I reached the junction of Stony Pass Road (10100 ft) and turned onto it. This was a four wheel drive road that went up the mountain through a forest of Pine and Aspen trees. In some places the road reached the edge of very steep drop offs. Behind me, I had great views of the 13552 ft Tower Mountain across the valley of The Animas River (where Route 110 runs). I was considering climbing Tower Mountain the next day. I could also see a very steep and impressive-looking ridgeline that formed the western wall of Cunningham Gulch. This ridge is known as King Solomon Mountain and rises to a maximum height of 13185 ft. I was still completely in the shade.
At around 11500 ft, the road went above timberline and entered a gently sloped alpine valley that was covered with grasses and flowers. I reached Stony Pass (12588 ft) 3.5 miles after the start of Stony Pass Road. The pass was a broad (0.25 miles wide) grassy area between Peak 13165 ft to the southwest and Canby Mountain to the northeast. Some parts of the grass field were yellow while others were green. I could see a few small ponds. No one was there and I had not seen anyone while I had been driving the road. I could only hear crows as they flew by and made an occasional noise. Stony Pass Road continues another 30 miles or so to reach Route 149 near the town of Creede.
I could now identify Canby Mountain to the northeast. I was standing on a sunny area over the pass but Canby was in the shade. Except for a small area on its northwestern ridge, the summit of Canby seemed to be surrounded by a continuous band of cliffs. It seemed like I could access the summit via this ridge without any difficulty.
I started to hike at 8:30. My maps showed a trail that started on the pass and went to the northwest ridge but there was no trace of any trail anywhere. Just above the pass, there was a rocky area. I avoided this by going to the right where I reached a grassy area and went in the shade again. The grass soon ended and I reached a huge talus field below the cliffs of Canby. I walked diagonally up and across the field toward the northwest ridge. Further up, the talus turned into steep slopes covered with fine gravel. With each step, I sank a few inches into the gravel. I gradually came out of the shade when I reached the northwestern ridge. Another 200 ft or so up the ridge got me to the summit at 9:30. My GPS showed that I had hiked 0.5 miles.
The summit was a flat and relatively large area. No one else was there. I love having the entire mountain to myself. The summit registry showed that in 2001 only 11 people had come there. The last entry was from September 9, 2001. It was all sunny.
To the south, I could see a vast grassy plateau that was around 12000 ft high. This plateau contained the headwaters of the Rio Grande River. A very dense and jagged chain of peaks rose at the far end of the plateau roughly 9 miles away. These were The Grenadiers. I had seen them from the top of other mountains and they were always very impressive. Today, their view was absolutely stunning. They looked like a harsh jumble of rocks and spires that brought the words "upheaval" and "turmoil" to my mind. This was in sharp contrast to the "peaceful" and "serene" plateau above which they rose. I could see two peaks that looked like giant semi-pyramidal slabs of concrete with smooth surfaces. These were Arrow (13803 ft) and Vestal (13864 ft) Peaks. They cast a long and ominous shadow over the areas to the west of them.
Stony Pass was immediately below me to the west. I could see my Jeep. The last stretch of the road in that gently sloped valley just north of the pass was well visible. I could now see occasional 4WD vehicles, ATVs and bikers inching their way toward the pass. At one point, two bikers stopped at the pass and began to talk. Although I could not understand them, I could hear them from 900 ft below. In the western horizon some 16 miles away, I could see the jagged and colorful summits of Vermilion Peak (13894 ft), Golden Horn (13765 ft), Pilot Knob (13738 ft), US Grant Peak (13767 ft)…Beyond these, I could even identify the tips of Mount Wilson (14246 ft), El Diente (14159 ft) and Wilson Peak (14017 ft) 26 miles away.
The many summits of the 13661 ft Lookout Peak rose abruptly above Ophir Pass to the west and slightly north. All those 13ers on the west side of Route 550 north of Silverton, formed an uninterrupted chain. I could even see the red summit of the 12673 ft Ohio Peak that I had climbed yesterday.
The 13552 ft Tower Mountain dominated the view to the northwest only 6.5 miles away. I kept zooming on it to study the route that I may want to take tomorrow when I go to climb it. The 14150 ft triangular summit of Mt. Sneffels which was 21 miles away, popped above the slopes of Tower Mountain.
To the north, Maggie Gulch appeared as a broad grassy valley above the timberline. I could identify Niagara Peak (13807 ft), Jones Mountain (13860 ft), Handies Peak (14048 ft), Redcloud Peak (14034 ft) and Sunshine Peak (14001 ft).
Rio Grande Pyramid (13821 ft), seemed to be the only prominent mountain (that I could identify) to the southeast.
Like I have been doing over the last few days, I wanted to videotape the views and play another one of Rossini's overtures as background music. I connected my CD player to my camcorder and began to film while I played "La Gazza Ladra". During the climax of the music, which happens three times, I zoomed on Vermilion Peak and the mountains around it, Mt. Sneffels and The Grenadiers.
After a couple of hours, it gradually became partly cloudy. I had seen the area in varying degrees of shade and sun. I loved it up there but eventually left after 11:30. Going down was quick and easy. Once I reached the grassy slopes near Stony Pass, I could see colorful flowers all over the place. Canby was no longer in the shade and I could better appreciate its cliffs. A group of people on ATVs came to the pass and began to talk loud, laugh and make a lot of noise. Why did they have to be so loud and obnoxious? I sat there among the flowers until they left.
It was aroud 12:15 when I reached my Jeep. I walked around just to enjoy the beauty of the area. A sign there gave a little history about Stony Pass Road. It was built in early 1870s to bring supplies from Santa Fe, New Mexico to the mining towns around Silverton. It was so rough that in some places the wagons had to be disassembled and carried on horseback. Despite that, it remained a major access route until 1882 when the Durango-Silverton narrow gauge was completed.
I then began to drive back. In the morning everything had been in the shade but now the sun was high in the sky and everything appeared bright and beautiful. The high valley below Stony Pass was covered with huge fields of colorful flowers. The views of Tower Mountain were most spectacular. I stopped in a few places and got out of the Jeep to better experience the area.
When I reached Route 110, I stopped at the mouth of Hematite Gulch. My maps showed a trail that started there and went up to near the summit of Tower Mountain. I found a two-track that started there. Tower Mountain could not be seen. I will start here tomorrow morning.
I returned to our hotel in Silverton and rested until Mary came. We returned the Jeep and ate at a restaurant. It rained pretty hard again.