Circuit from Hancock Pass

Page Type
Colorado, United States, North America
Route Type:
Summer, Fall
Time Required:
Most of a day

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Circuit from Hancock Pass
Created On: Dec 29, 2011
Last Edited On: Dec 29, 2011


Remainder of Route from southern slopesRemainder of Route from southern slopes of "Hancock Peak"

This route provides for a great day’s adventure, combing an easy Jeep trip with a slog up and down talus to visit the summits of three Sawatch Thirteeners. The scenery in every direction is non-stop and jaw-dropping. The talus can be cumbersome at times, but with careful route-finding solid footing can most always be found.

This route is high, largely trackless and delightfully wild. It would, however, be a bad place to get stuck in bad weather as there are few bailout options. A clear day with a solid high-pressures system would be ideal for this outing.
This route follows both the Continental Divide as well as the Chaffee County / Gunnison County line.

Roundtrip Distance: 6.5 miles
NET Elevation Gain: 2,700 feet (cumulative much higher)
YDS Class: 2+

Route Elevation ProfileRoute Elevation Profile

Getting There

Getting There 1
Getting There 3
Getting There 2

Getting There Map

To reach Hancock Pass from the east

From Hwy 285 near Nathrop, head west on Rt 162. Follow Rt 162 west for 15 miles to Hancock Road (FS 295). This road is suitable for passenger cars to the Hancock Townsite, but the route gets increasingly rough toward Hancock Pass. Those with low-slung 4x4s may wish to park at the turn-off for Hancock Lakes. Otherwise, continue on increasingly rocky terrain to park at Hancock Pass, elevation 12,140 feet. A few boulders, hairpin turns and rock ledges make this route fun for reasonably experienced drivers with a beefy stock 4x4, but it might be a bit much for inexperienced off-road drivers or those pushing their vehicles to their limits.

This driving route is not only incredibly scenic but chock-full of mining history, so I recommend allowing time on your descent to explore the area. The drive will take you past or near the townsites of St.Elmo, Iron City, Romley and Hancock.

Getting There 5Easy section of dirt road
Getting There 6Hancock Pass parking
Getting There 4Hancock Pass 12,240 ft.

Route Map

Route Map

Mount Aetna and Middle ForkMount Aetna and Middle Fork
Pomeroy Mountain from Hancock LakesPomeroy Mountain from Hancock Lakes

Key Waypoints

Hancock Pass38.6208-106.3741
"Hancock Peak"38.6171-106.3669
Van Wirt38.6061-106.3646
"Van Wit"38.5990-106.3596
Monumental Peak38.5927-106.3580
Chalk Creek Pass38.6063-106.3505
Hancock Lakes38.6151-106.3538

Route Description

 From the rustic parking area at Hancock Pass, ascend the talus on the northern ridge of “Hancock Peak.” After just a bit more than ½ mile of travel and few minor false summits, you will reach the top.

Glorious Talus SlogGlorious talus slog out of Hancock Pass
Looking back toward Hancock PassLooking back toward Hancock Pass from "Hancock Peak"
North toward  Hancock Peak  summitNorth toward "Hancock Peak" summit from southern slope

 Descend “Hancock Peak” in a curving line trending mostly southward toward Van Wirt Mountain. Approximately 1 mile away from “Hancock Peak,” reach the summit of Van Wirt.

Descending the southern slopesDescending the southern slopes of "Hancock Peak"
North from Van WirtNorth from Van Wirt

Ascending Van Wirt MountainAscending Van Wirt Mountain

 Descend steeply down steep talus of Van Wirt mountain to a saddle between Van Wirt and “Van Wit.” Begin climbing again to top out on the un-named, un-ranked “Van Wit.”

Summit of  Van Wit Summit of "Van Wit"
Northeast from  Van Wit Northeast from "Van Wit"
North-northeast from  Van Wit North-northeast from "Van Wit"

 From there, the summit of Monumental Peak is only ½ mile away as the raven flies, but it looms pretty menacingly ahead and above you.

Across Hancock Pass from  Van Wit Across Hancock Pass from "Van Wit"
Monumental PeakMonumental Peak
Across Chalk Creek PassAcross Chalk Creek Pass

 Strike out on a curving line following the ridge crest. The terrain is a mix if rocky talus and tundra all the way to the summit of Monumental Peak.

Views east from Monumental PeakViews east from Monumental Peak
Tomichi Creek drainageTomichi Creek drainage
Descending Monumental PeakDescending Monumental Peak

 After savoring the views from Monumental Peak, retrace your steps back to “Van Wit.”

Looking back along the routeLooking back along the route from Monumental Peak

 From the top of “Van Wit,” descend northeast toward Chalk Creek Pass over large blocks. (This was my least-favorite part of the trip. Easy scrambling is required, but by this time I was ready to just let out my stride and stretch my legs on tundra or a trail.)

Descending  Van Wit Descending "Van Wit"
Talus descent to Chalk Creek PassTalus descent to Chalk Creek Pass
UN 13147 and Mount AetnaUN 13147 and Mount Aetna

 Nearing Chalk Creek Pass, the footing turns thankfully to tundra. Hop on the pack trail and head north-northeast (left) down Chalk Cree Pass. Enjoy the smooth footing for a change and quickly descend into the willows to the Hancock Lakes.

Dropping into Hancock LakesDropping into Hancock Lakes

 Continue on the trail to the parking area for FS 295. Here, depart the trail and navigate through willows and mostly sparse timber for about ¾ mile to regain the road to Hancock Pass. Use an un-named little pond about mid-way between the two roads as a landmark.
 Ascend the rocky dirt road trending southwest back to your 4x4!

Essential Gear

Hancock LakesHancock Lakes

 Trails Illustrated #130 Salida, St. Elmo | Mount Shavano
 Colorado Atlas and Gazatteer
 Solid, supporting boots with good grip for all the talus slogging
 Plenty of water for the dry ridge run
 Outerwear appropriate to the season