of San Juan Mountains. It is located far from any roads and this long access means that it is not often summited peak. Expect a nice solitude.
For a shorter and easier combination consider hiking White Dome and Hunchback Mountain.
Colorado Rank: 182 (bicentennial peak - among the highest 200 in Colorado).
: 0.76 miles Elevation: 13,589 feet
is the largest Wilderness area in Colorado and one of the largest in the contiguous 48 states. It includes three of Colorado's 14ers: Mt. Eolus
, Mt. Windom
, and Sunlight Peak
and numerous peaks above 13,000 feet. Size: nearly 500,000 acres.
Crossing Rio Grande
Wildflowers - Stony Pass
4WD Road to Beartown/Kite Lake:
As mentioned above White Dome is located deep within the Weminuche Wilderness of the San Juan Mountain Range. The shortest way to reach it is via 4WD road to Beartown. You need a high clearance vehicle since you will need to cross several streams, including Rio Grande. Water levels vary based on conditions, e.g. recent rain or spring time run off from melting snow. We found it pretty deep even in early September.
The road to Beartown is accessible either from Silverton or from Lake City/Creede/Rio Grande Reservoir. I would recommend driving in from Silverton - shorter, and easier. I drove it both ways and found the road towards Rio Grande Reservoir in a bad shape - mostly water damage, would not want to take my car on it again. The road from Silverton is in much better shape and faster.
Trinity Peaks as seen from Continental Divide Trail
Along Continental Divide Trail
drive northeast on the main road past the courthouse and take a right on Colorado Highway 110, County Road 2 toward Howardville. Pavement ends after a couple of miles. Around 4.2 miles you reach Howardsville (mostly mining buildings). Take a right turn here on a well signed road Stony Pass/Cunningham Gulch, FS 589. Shortly you come to an intersection - one to the left is signed for Old Mine Tour, the other one close to the creek continues straight. It does not matter which one you choose, both reconnect after 1-2 miles, and neither is technically challenging. You have to leave Cunningham Gulch and start climbing on a narrow 4WD road towards Stony Pass - FS 737. It is again marked and hard to miss. Mid July to August there are amazing wildflowers along the road. Stony Pass elevation is 12,590 feet. The road from the summit has relatively gentle grade. The road down from the pass all the way to Rio Grande Reservoir is numbered as FS
Peak Two as seen from Continental Divide Trail
CDT with a view of Arrow and Vestal Peaks
520. At 11.6 miles you reach an important intersection - well signed for Beartown/Kite Lake to the right, or straight (left) to Creede.
From Lake City
: again, I am not recommending taking this route, longer and in worse condition, especially after a rain. Take Colorado Highway 149 to FS 520 and turn west toward Rio Grande Reservoir. There are several river crossings, deeply rutted sections, lots of deep puddles after a rain, narrow rocky steep sections making passing vehicles in an opposite direction impossible. It is about 25 miles long to get to the turn off for Beartown.
Once you have reached FS 506, the road to Beartown is another 4 miles (6.5 miles to Kite Lake). I usually park around mile 5 by the Continental Divide/Hunchback Pass Trailhead. You have to cross Rio Grande right at the start of this road, the water can be pretty deep. The rest of the road is not bad, can get muddy after a rain and towards the end there are some rocky sections. There is a sign/kiosk at the start of the trail and enough place to park 2-3 cars, there are a few more car parks nearby (above the kiosk). The last mile of the road gets steeper and more rocky.
Thirsty Moose - by beaver ponds
Resting by beaver ponds
On foot approaches:
1. Approach from the Highland Mary Lakes/ end of Cunningham Gulch out of Silverton
. Passenger cars can make it close to a trailhead (to reach the actual TH it is better to have a 4WD - stream crossing required). You could either start your hike towards Highland Mary Lakes and turn off towards Continental Divide Trai
l less than 1 mile in skipping the lakes, or you can hike all the way through Highland Mary Lakes and connect with Continental Divide/Colorado Trail later on. The second options is slightly longer.
Expect hiking on a well established trail, well marked, well engineered cairns along the trail, incredibly beautiful scenery, and one of the best views into the Grenadier Range. The hike quickly ascends to above 12,000 feet and you continue your approach above the tree line and high elevation (keep this in mind during summer monsoon season). It is roughly 6-7 miles in (I did not measure the distance) to reach the Eldorado Lake below White Dome. Eldorado Lake is a great place to set up your campsite. This is the easiest and quickest backpack option for reaching White Dome.
There could be a slight variation to this backpacking option: drive to the east side of Stony Pass and hike the Continental Divide/Colorado Trail from there. It would shortly connect with above mentioned Highland Mary Lakes trail and you would not have climb as much on your foot since your start would be already above 12,000.
2. Backpack from Molas Lake - Take Colorado Trail down Elk Park, cross the Animas River (nice footbridge), hike along the Durango Silverton Railroad for a short distance and continue on Elk Creek/Colorado Trail past beaver ponds towards the point where Colorado Trail connects with Continental Divide Trail. It is less than 1/2 mile from here to reach Eldorado Lake. You don't need a 4WD car at all - you park along the main road 550, just below Molas Pass.
3. Another variation of backpack from Molas Lake - you start as above, but at beaver ponds you turn off south towards Vestal Basin - this gives you an opportunity to explore Arrow Peak, Vestal Peak and Trinity Peaks. You can cross via Trinity Pass and continue over Peak Three, towards other numbered peaks and White Dome. (If you drop down from Trinity Pass towards Trinity Lake, you are in a great position to climb Storm King Peak).
4. Stormy Gulch Approach
- if planning a little backcountry experience - start at rough 4WD trailhead at Beartown, hike over Hunchback Pass - consider a quick stroll up Hunchback Mountain
, descend down to Vallecito Creek, cross it and ascend up Stormy Gulch. Again, this approach is great if you want to climb Storm King Peak. The trail up Stormy Gulch is pretty non-existent now - too many fallen trees covered up the trail. The trail does re-appear higher up. Past Trinity Lake you ascend Trinity Pass
and can go over Peak Three towards other numbered peaks and White Dome.
White Dome and its reflection in Eldorado Lake. Northwest ridge would be on the right side of this photo, further right would be access to the White Dome - Peak One saddle.
As any mountain, there are multiple routes up it.
I ascended via Northwest-West ridge - class 2/2+. From the campsite at Eldorado Lake go up around White Dome's north side towards its northwest ridge. You will obviously bypass a sub peak of White Dome and in between the sub peak and main peak is a loose scree gully. There was another unnamed lake just below White Dome's NW ridge. I choose the path of least resistance and hiked up on medium size scree up this ridge. There is no established trail, no cairns, the ridge felt comfortable. I reached the summit ridge and followed it to the highest point marked with a cairn. There was no summit register.
Descent on the ridge, or below the ridge on its west side towards White Dome - Peak One saddle. Expect some loose rock, ridge is class 3. You can either descent back toward the unnamed lake below NW ridge or continue onto Peak One.
This route is convenient if camping at Eldorado Lake.
Internet research describes a route from Kite Lake towars the saddle between Point 12,924 and White Dome = above the Eldorado Lake. Continue up the east side of White Dome and ascend east slopes of White Dome. You should get great views of Vallecito Lake if ascending from the east. Class 2/3 per internet.
Rough 4WD access is possible only during the summer months and early autumn (before any snowfall). Also remember that the drive in requires crossing several streams, including Rio Grande, which can run high after rains and early in the summer.
Winter means at least 15 miles backcountry travel through an avalanche danger zone.
There is a multitude of beautiful campsites in the area. Camping by Eldorado Lake (elevation above 12,500 feet) is very popular. You are high above the tree line - no wood for campfire, and it does get cold at night. Another great option would be camping at Vallecito and the approach to White Dome/Peak One appears easy. (I have camped twice at Eldorado Lake and never at Vallecito, but both lakes appear nice. Eldorado Lake is much bigger and offers different little sites hidden from others).
Campsite at Eldorado Lake
Camping Eldorado Lake