Twig Adventures

GET Day 12: West Peak of the Pinaleños

Monday Mar 29th, 2021, 0900-1930
Klondyke Road to Clark Peak rec area Segment 10, mm 207
21 miles

It wasn’t easy leaving the comforts and splendor of the Purple C Ranch. We dragged our feet in the morning but the mountains were calling. We had a big day ahead with a ton of elevation gain. I hoped to make it some 22 miles to a lake but a later than usual start didn’t bode well.

After all our goodbyes, Bob dropped us off at the start. We walked a series of dirt roads from Klondyke Rd to Tripp canyon…the foothills before the mountains began. Along the way we met the local rancher, Kyle, who told us to ignore his private property and no trespassing signs, hikers welcome. Of course we already had ignored the signs because it’s all BLM land. He just installed several new solar wells and is trying to deter theft and vandalism from passing vehicles…I can’t blame him after seeing the havoc vehicle access can cause. We benefit greatly from these solar wells too so it’s a weird balance.He invited us to try water from his newest well at Indian springs. We didn’t really need water but we just had to open the nozzle and like magic clean water came out. What a treat! I wish they were all so easy. We got to a cross country portion just as it was starting to get warm. We had to go up and over a steep ridge but it was pretty straightforward with minimal bushwhacking. There was even a stock trail to follow on the way down. But I sweated a ton getting over this obstacle.

We took an alternate from Tripp Canyon, as the main trail was said to be “almost impassable”. The alt mostly followed roads and had water so it was a no-brainer. The first road was more of a trail following a water line. Ranchers run these lines from springs or wells for miles to deliver water to distant troughs and storage tanks. Except this one had split near the source, from which a nice fountain was pouring forth…another easy fill.

We had lunch at the water, wondering if we could still make it all the way to the lake. We were optimistic so we just brought the usual amount of water for a half day. We took a connector trail up to a forest road and that road all the way to the top of West Peak…this was a deviation even from the alt but we wanted some views for our efforts. It was a hard uphill walk. We’d already gained more then 4,000′ since started, topping out at 8670′.

A fire tower and cabin were at the top, making for a fun exploration. But we still had a long trail ahead, which we could see laid out from the peak. We would follow the ridgeline, which went down about 1000′ and then gained it all again in spades. The trail was pretty good for most of it, especially on the south-facing parts. The opposite side meant snow and/or burned areas, so the trail was sometimes hard to find. We started to encounter a lot of snow around Clark Peak, near the end and just as it was starting to get late. There were some sketchy steep traverses that made me think what if? The sun was actually setting as we made our way across the last bit. If either of us slipped, it was going to be a challenging recovery in the coming darkness.

We made it to the end of the trail and beginning of a road just in time. But it was still a few miles to the lake and we had some new problems. The wind had picked up and it had gotten really cold all of a sudden. Our feet were wet, which just accelerated the chill factor. I stopped to put on layers and break out my headlamp. We were still walking through snow on the road but there were some tire tracks we could follow. I just wanted to find a dry, protected place to pitch my tent but that seemed increasingly difficult on this dark, snowy and dreadfully windy ridgeline.

A spot behind a large downed ponderosa caught my eye and I went for it. Stellar found a similar log and so we were committed. I still had 1.5 liters of water, more than enough for dinner and breakfast, so I was happy. I did some creative pitching to snug my tent right up next to the log and it worked pretty great as a wind break. I stayed warm while the wind howled. I even put earplugs in to drown the noise. It was nice at least to be under such big trees… provided they didn’t crush us.

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