Conejos Peak, 13172', Conejos County highpoint
7 mi, 1800', 3hrs
Summit Peak, 13300', Archuleta County highpoint
6 mi, 2300', 3.5 hrs
Bennett Peak, 13203', Rio Grande County highpoint
4 mi, 1300', 1.75 hrs
Total Time RT from South Fork: 15hrs
"Hiking Colorado's Summits", Covill/Mitchler
These three county highpoints each require easy to moderate hikes, but are fairly remote, requiring lots of driving on unpaved roads. I decided to try to get all three with a loop from South Fork.
I left South Fork at 3:30am, heading west on Hwy 160. Turned on Park Creek Rd(FR 380), taking that to FR 250 through Platoro to FR 105. FR 105 is signed "Lake Fork Ranch." As I neared the TH, I passed a sign that said, "Trail Closed," so I kept driving until the road got too sketchy. By this time I had already seen many elk, including a calf or two. I would see 40 or so today, on all three hikes and along much of the drive.
CONEJOS PK HIKE
I started hiking up the road at 5:52am, shortly reaching the road's end and realizing the closed trail was probably what I had wanted. Not wanting to turn around, I just headed towards the western portion of the slopes ahead. The bushwhacking was easy and I was soon strolling along the rolling tundra slopes towards Conejos. My route was along the ridge above Tobacco Lake. Summitted at 7:21am. A new register was placed in May 05' with just a few entries. Had a nice view of my next target, Summit Peak. Returned to the car at 8:48am.
SUMMIT PK HIKE
Drove back along FR 380 to the Lake De Nolda turnoff, taking this road to its end. Started hiking up Treasure Creek at 10:12am. This was the most beautiful hike of the three. I was quickly greeted by gorgeous cascades and waterfalls. The stream was flowing quickly. I crossed at about 11400', where the stream divided in two. A log took me across one half and a hop across the other. As I reached the upper basin there was a lot of snow, though it presented no special challenge. Eventually I started veering south away from the creek and towards Summit Peak.
Summit looked very formidable from here, with a vertical north face and much snow. The route stays east of the north face and winds around to the south, where I was greeted by gentle tundra slopes and little snow. As I ascended Summit, I began getting tired and started to rethink my plan. Originally, I had hoped to also summit nearby ranked 13ers "Unicorn" and Montezuma. Now, I wondered whether I could do these and still get Bennett today. Reached the top at 2:18pm. From here I could see that the ridge down to the saddle with "Unicorn" was steep and loose, maybe even impossible for me to do safely. After weighing options, I decided to forego the other 2 13ers here. On the return I saw two hikers traversing the snowslope on Summit's north face. They may have been backpacking the Continental Divide Trail. These were the only hikers I saw all day.
Reached the car at 1:41pm, taking FR 380 to 330 to 329 towards Blowout Pass. A mile from the TH I saw a mid-sized golden bear on the road. It scampered into the woods, watched me a little, and ran off before I could get a photo. My 2nd bear sighting in Colorado! The last 1/2 mile to the TH requires high clearance, though it also came in handy for much of my drive today.
BENNETT PK HIKE
I was glad this was the shortest hike of the three and had a trail to the top! Clouds were getting a little dark in some areas and I was tired. Started up at 3:27pm. 4WD road/jeep ruts go to the summit plateau. The route is simple - just turn left at the Bennett/Sheep saddle. Summitted at 4:25pm to find a giant and poorly constructed cairn. Lots of wildflowers everywhere. Thunder in the distance kept me going quickly on the descent and I finished the hike at 5:10pm.
Drove back out to FR 330 and headed to Del Norte, pleased that the last 11 miles were actually paved. Arrived back in South Fork at 6:30pm, showered, and devoured a large chicken fried steak at the Hungry Logger.
"After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, which is the most horrible thing in the world."
--Oscar Wilde on Absinthe