Guide to the Colorado Mountains with Robert Ormes
(sort of a Bible of Colorado Mountains) does not provide much information: "South of a camp at Cataract Lake is a huge, isolated mass called Pole Creek Mountain. Climb to the 12,400' pass southeast of the lake and walk southwest along the ridge tops. There is an optional side climb of Peak 13,660 = "Northwest Pole" along the way."
I decided to choose a different approach from the south via Pole Creek Trail, which starts at Forest Road 520. I scouted this trail last year when driving to Beartown and from the summit of nearby Greenhalgh Mountain. It is much shorter than hiking from Cataract Gulch.
Colorado Rank: 138
I approached the Pole Creek Mountain from the south via Pole Creek Trailhead
. The Pole Creek trail begins at Forest road 520. You can approach this trailhead either from Creede
or from Silverton
(I drove from Silverton over Stony Pass). If driving from Creede, travel west on State Hwy 149 for 19 miles. Turn left and travel west 24 miles on Forest Road 520. You need a high clearance 4WD vehicle to drive this road. The trailhead is not marked but easy to find, just before you cross Pole Creek itself there is a large meadow and the start of the trail.
If driving from Silverton, drive towards Howardsville, turn east here towards Stony Pass, you need a 4 WD vehicle here. The turn off is signed - Stony Pass and Cunningham Gulch. Stony Pass is in a high alpine country, elevation 12,624 feet. It is a wonderful place in the summer with wildflowers (see photos). Head down FR 520 from Stony Pass towards Creede and Beartown, just after crossing Pole Creek there is a large meadow on the north side, this is the start of the trail.
If you have a time stop at the Stony Pass - Stony Pass Peak
appears steep but the route is only class 2 and it takes about 45 min to gain the summit. The views into Grenadier range from there are amazing!
Another approach would be via Cataract Gulch
- this is a long way in, consider backpacking. How to get to Cataract Gulch? From Lake City take highway 149 south, 2.5 miles. Turn right onto the road to Lake San Cristobal. Follow the paved road approximately 4 miles, then continue on dirt road for about 8.3 miles. Turn left at the fork toward Sherman; go 1.4 miles. A sign marks the trailhead to the left of the road. Cataract Trail is scenic and this route is great if you plan backpacking and doing more peaks, e.g. centennial Half Peak
(centennial means among the top 100 highest in Colorado).
As any mountain there are many options to get to its summit.
The easiest and most commonly used is the North Ridge, class 2. Walk south around the west side of Cataract Lake. Climb a short slope southeast to a 12,380 foot pass southeast of the lake. Angle south-southeast across the gentle slopes of the upper drainage of Pole Creek. Pick up the north end of the broad grassy ridge that leads south to the 13,660' -Northwest Pole - summit. You can summit this peak or you can just continue southeast over rolling terrain to a broad grassy 12,820 saddle. Hike south up the ridge to the large flat summit of Pole Creek Mountain. On this ascent bypass a series of ridge spires by staying to the right on the west side of the ridge crest. Expect a lot of talus on the slopes of Pole Creek Mountain, but the summit is surprisingly grassy and huge. The actual summit is to your left marked with a summit cairn. You can access North Ridge even if hiking Pole Creek trail, follow the drainage mentioned below and hike up the drainage all the way around the mountain.
I used above described route North Ridge for a descent and hiked up via Pole Creek trail from the 4WD Forest Service Road 520 descending from Stony Pass towards Beartown/or Creede. Just as the road wades through Pole Creek, there is a small parking lot and the start of the trail. There are also several primitive campsites here (I slept there in my car). You need a high clearance vehicle to get through the creek. I drove after rains and there was about one foot of water flowing. The start of the trail is not marked, but it was obvious to me - nice trail, just on and above the North Pole Creek (people mountain bike it too). Follow this trail for about 2.5 miles, you will encounter a gate at about 1/2 mile. Close it and continue on a nice Pole Creek Trail as it gradually ascends towards Pole Creek and Northwest Pole. I left this trail at a site drainage going between Pole Creek Mountain and Northwest Pole. There was no trail, but the going was easy. I ascended initially grassy slopes, then talus on the west side of the main summit of Pole Creek Mountain. As mentioned above, Pole Creek Mountain's mass is huge. I found a weakness in the cliffs on the west side and scrambled to the large grassy summit covered with yellow wildflowers. The scramble through the cliffs was class 3, but only a few moves. The rest of the hike was either class 1, nice trail walking, then class 2 on steeper grass and talus.
The summit has a cairn with a summit register from 2013. There were only a few recorded ascents there. I was the only one who signed the register this year 2016 so far.
There was a cell phone reception on the summit.
The Forest around Pole Creek shows a lot of damage from Pine Beetle, but per US Forrest Service, the epidemics is over and there is no more damage since 2013.
When to Climb
Summer is the easiest - nice travel over high tundra. The road to Cataract Gulch is open year round (snow plowed in the winter), but the hike from Cataract Gulch is long and does pose avalanche danger in the winter. I snow shoed part of the route into Cataract Gulch after ice climbing in the area and it seem that people use this trail at least a short way year round.
The 4WD road to the start of Pole Creek Trail is closed during the winter, and usually does not open until late May, and closes typically by November (based on conditions).
The Forest Road to Stony Pass is very popular in the summer - great wildflowers everywhere, thick fields of all colors, and one can view it just from a car.
Southern subsumit of Pole Creek
Wildflowers - Stony Pass
CampingPole Creek area
offers plenty of beautiful primitive camping. There are fire sites built with stones, water from the creek. No toilet facilities.
has toilet facilities at the trailhead. Camping is available at several pullouts on the road just west of the trailhead.