Julie and I wanted to find somewhere to camp over the Fourth of July weekend that would provide good access to a nice hike/summit and avoid the holiday crowds. We chose to camp at one of the designed sites along the Medano Pass 4-wheel drive road in the Sangre De Cristo Range. This base-camp would allow us to hike to Medano Lake and to summit Mt. Herard. The following day we would drive to the Great Sand Dune National Park if time allowed.
We headed out from our home in Colorado Springs early Saturday morning wondering if any campsites would be open during the busy holiday weekend. We stopped in the nice little town of Westcliffe to get gas and a little gas station food to stuff in our backpacks. The morning views of the Sangre de Cristo Range from the Wet Mountain Valley are a real treat. The 4-wheel drive road was not too bad to Medano Pass. At the pass you descend into the National Preserve and begin to see numbered campsites. After a short distance from the Pass we took the right turn on the dead-end spur road to the Medano Lake trailhead. We found an open space and parked the jeep. After putting our boots on we hiked the short distance to the signed trailhead.
Trailhead to Medano Lake:
The hike up to Medano Lake starts with easy grades and becomes more moderate closer to the lake. One section of the trail had one of the larger aspen groves I’ve seen – these trees were huge with some in the 18”-24” diameter range. By the time we arrived at Medano Lake we were ready for a little break. We found a nice boulder near the outlet of Medano Lake and had lunch in the beautiful valley below Mt. Herard.
Medano Lake to Summit:
Julie decided to find some shade by Medano Lake and read a book while I pushed on to the summit of Mt. Herard. From the north shores of Medano Lake I headed up and around a series of cliffs to their right via a convenience grass/rock ramp. Once at the top of this ramp the route climbs out of view of Medano Lake for awhile. After switch-backing up for some time I entered the upper bowl which ends at the saddle on the north side of Mt. Herard.
I quickly descended back towards Medano Lake passing a few other guys who were heading towards the summit. I met up with Julie and we headed back down to the jeep and our campsite. We had a great campfire with hotdogs and marshmallows followed by a few minutes of star-gazing and then a good night’s sleep.
Great Sand Dune National Park:
We made a light breakfast and some nice hot coffee and enjoyed the peace and quite as no one else had camped near us. We then broke camp and drove down to the Great Sand Dune National Park. The drive down was fun but not too technical because it was July and the snowmelt was well past peak. Once in the park we stopped to air up our tires. There were a few places where it would have been easy to get bogged down without partially deflated tires. I looked up at Mt. Herard and for the first time knew that I had finally summited and had looked down here!
All in all this was a great Fourth of July weekend!