"Phoenix Peak", 13895', Mineral County highpoint
Ascent: East Willow Creek Falls
Descent: South Slopes
John Kirk and I met at the East Willow Creek TH north of Creede. We started hiking around 5:40am along the trail that bypasses some of the 4WD road. Before long the trail meets the road again, and we followed it to Phoenix Park.
Neither of us really knew why we missed the cutoff to the Center Stock Driveway. Perhaps we both did a little less homework knowing the other was here. At one point I noticed a 4WD trail far across the creek, but it didn't sink in that we had to go there. As my photo taken on the return shows, there is a cairned metal post labeled 787 where we should have cut across the grass and then across the creek.
We continued along the road until we were pretty sure we had gone too far. At this point, we left the road, turning east along a decent trail to a nice waterfall. A wooden cross at the base of the falls indicates the death of a teenager here. (The falls are clearly marked on the topo.)
At the base of the falls we turned left and scrambled up a gully. The last 10' were steep and loose, and a fall could have meant a 30' slide. I tried to ascend the left side, giving up after plucking several holds out of the slope. I then followed John's lead, going up the right side on a sketchy ledge.
Safely through the crux, we followed the valley upwards. I enjoyed the valley quite a bit - it seemed peaceful and remote. We walked up grassy slopes, generally heading towards Pt 13628, an unranked summit at a southern bend in the Continental Divide. At around 12500' the grass stopped and we endured a steep talus slope. My pace slowed and John was patient enough to wait for me.
Eventually we veered right to hit the saddle of 13628 and "Phoenix", then walked SE up to the summit at about 9:25am. After a break, we started our return via the standard south slopes route, heading SE then S to the conglomerate ridge. Its rocky hoodoos are almost worth the trip themselves. A large elk herd to the east filled the valley with their cries.
We found the Center Stock Driveway south of the creek and followed it back west. Beavers have done incredible work here, felling many large trees and creating lovely terraces. We saw where we should have turned off the 4WD road and were not too surprised we had missed it. The hike back felt long, and we returned about 12:20pm.
While our loop hike was not planned, it did make a very scenic "Tour de Phoenix"!
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