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.