I had signed up for a Colorado Mountain Club trip to South River Peak in September 2007. I had never even heard of this mountain until fairly recently when I saw it on the Colorado Prominence Map. I did some preliminary research on the mountain, and discovered that it was fairly remote and a long ways off the beaten path. Our original plan was to take the standard 24-mile round trip trail starting from the Ivy Creek Campground. This route is easy, but it’s a long ways to carry overnight packs. At the last minute, our leader discovered a road that could get us further in. It’s marked as Forest Road 523 on the map. We decided to try this route.
We drove to the end of Forest Road 523 at 11,500’. We parked one car here, and one car further down the road at this approximate location. Our goal was to climb over to a saddle, drop down 1,300’ to a trail, climb up to Piedra Pass, then over to South River Peak. On the way out, we saw a trail on the map that leads to Love Lake. We would climb up this trail to a saddle, then over to our second car. This route involved bushwhacking and steep slopes, but saved a lot of distance.
We started out during a light rain and wind. However, the weather soon got better. We climbed up to this saddle, then made a steep drop through the trees down to the Red Mountain Creek Trail. The descent wasn’t very difficult, but I wouldn’t want to climb back up this slope, especially with heavy packs. We emerged out of the trees into a scenic meadow at this approximate location. We quickly found the trail, which is really an ATV track. We climbed up the trail to about 11,000’, where we camped for the night. There are several streams around here for water. The next day, we headed out for Piedra Pass. The pass is on the continental divide. Once we reached the pass, we turned left on the trail, and started heading up to the peak. We climbed up the trail for a ways, then decided to take a shortcut and leave the trail. We headed straight up a steep grass slope to reach the trail on the south ridge of the peak. The south and west sides of the peak are cliffs. You can climb 40’ up a Class 4/5 crack on the south side of the summit block to reach the top, or you can take the trail around to the east side of the peak for an easier route. Some of us climbed up the cliff, and others took the easier route. We all eventually reached the summit.
We once again took a shortcut on the way down, but eventually hit the trail and descended it back to our camp. We descended to the meadow, then continued further north to this location, where we hoped to hit a trail that would take us out of the valley. We certainly didn’t want to climb up the route we had descended the day before. However, we didn’t see any trail. We continued further north closer to Streams Lake to see if we could locate the trail, but we couldn’t. We backtracked a short distance and considered our options. Somehow, we had to get out of this valley and back up to the ridge. With our heavy packs, that could be a problem if we couldn’t find a trail. Also, we could see some cliffs up there, but we figured that there had to be a gap in the cliffs somewhere for the trail. We decided that we would start climbing up the slope where the trail was supposed to be, and maybe we would find it. However, we never did. Despite what the map shows, there is no trail here. It may have been here at one time, but not anymore.
We started climbing up through thick vegetation. The first 200’ was tough. I thought that if this continued, it would be a long ways up. However, the thick vegetation soon turned to grass slopes, and the climbing became easier. The route was fairly steep, and our packs were heavy, but we made fairly good progress up the slope. Climbing up this route was easier than climbing up our descent route. As we got further up the slope, I could see that the cliffs would be no problem. From down below, they looked steep, but the closer we got, the easier they looked. Near the top, it started raining on us, but I really didn’t care at that point. We eventually reached this saddle. My GPS said we were 0.9 miles from our second vehicle, which we had parked at 11,200’. We had to make a difficult traverse across a steep side slope with a lot of downed timber to reach the vehicle. For about a half mile, the going was tough, but eventually the ground moderated, and we reached the car. This route saved us about 9 miles in distance, and some elevation gain, but it was tougher hiking. However, you might be better off just doing the 24-mile trail, especially if you can pull it off as a day hike.