A trail hike to spectacular Highland Mary Lakes followed by a tundra walk then a moderately steep ascent of tundra covered slopes and ridge to a unique summit with fantastic views of the surrounding mountains.
From the trailhead the route is approximately 3 3/4 mile one way (with options to loop/combine with neighboring peaks!) and about 2600 vertical feet of elevation gain (maybe a little more with the rolling nature of the tundra).
This route is accessed from the Highland Mary Lakes trailhead, located at 10,800 at the southern end of Cunningham Gulch. Follow Highway 110 north out of Silverton, then turn right onto San Juan County 2 (access for the Alpine Loop) to Howardsville. Turn south onto San Juan County 4 and follow it to the trailhead. The last 1/2 mile gets a little rough and there is a stream ford right before the parking lot. You can park lower clearance vehicles at a large pullout just past the primitive campground before this rougher section. 2WD with high clearance should have no problem reaching the main parking area.
Tundra slopes to Mt Rhoda's summit
The route begins by following the Highland Mary Lakes trail, a moderately steep ascent through the forest. There are a couple of easy stream crossings on rocks along the trail, which may in high runoff be a little more tricky. The trail is in good condition, but there are a few social trails to the side here and there, just stay on the main trail and you should easily reach the lower lakes in about 2 miles of hiking. The trail goes between several of the lakes, when you get to the southern end of a medium sized lake turn west and follow tundra slopes as they ascend to a high basin at 12,600'. There is a trail shown on the maps, but we did not see it.
From the 12,600' basin Whitehead Peak and Mount Rhoda are visible ahead of you, you can ascend the grassy slopes directly to the saddle between these peaks. From here turn north and follow the grassy ridge to the summit cap. There is a break in the cap that provides easy passage just to the right (east) of the ridge.
Ascending the south ridge (photo by Sarah Simon)
From here you can easily access other high peaks such as PT 13109, Whitehead Peak
, and PT 13434
. If you continue on to PT 13434, it makes the most sense to descend to Spencer Basin and pick up an old trail/mining road back to the trailhead where you will have to ford the creek. For the other peaks, backtrack to the Whitehead-Rhoda saddle and descend your route.
No special gear is required, this is a fairly gentle trail and tundra walk to a beautiful high perch. Bring you camera for the lakes, wildflowers and views!
Winter access would likely be prone to avalanche danger, there are some steep slopes that drop to the southern end of Cunningham Gulch.