The Stage 3 fire and access restrictions to the San Juan National Forest have been rolled back to a Stage 2 condition which means access to the forest is once more open to the public. However, fire conditions still remain high and we are currently in the middle of a strong heat wave. Consult current regulations with the San Juan NF before planning any trips. Fines for violations are significant.
Because of the difficulty of the terrain and the fact that we wanted to climb 3 summits out of the basin south of Mears Peak, we made this trip into a backpack, hence an "approach" description for the backpacking segment.
From the trailhead, follow trail #418.1B northward for a short distance on an open slope. A sign at the TH calls this the Deep Creek and Whipple Trail access. It then switchbacks briefly to the south and then back north to eventually join an old roadbed beside a diversion ditch in an aspen forest. Follow this ditch for nearly a mile to where it crosses Sheep Creek. Past the creek, the trail turns west, still contouring, and then after about 200 yards, makes a sharp turn to the north. Continue along the ditch, ignoring a trail sign for a trail that heads down. After another half mile or so, the ditch intersects "Whipple Creek." That is the name for the creek that drains the basin on the south flank of Mears and S.7. This name does not show on most maps. On the USGS quad, the stream here has no name.
Cross over Whipple Creek on a bridge and pick up the trail on the other side. Hike for about 10 minutes as the trail follows the creek. The trail then makes a sudden turn to the left, goes up a little, then begins to head gently downhill, paralleling the creek. From that sharp left, hike about 10 minutes watching for an old grass-covered roadbed on the right that heads uphill. Follow it north. This becomes what the Uncompahgre NF maps labels as the "Iron Mountain trail, #418.1C. If our directions fail to get you there, this is the trail you want. The Trails Illustrated map shows this trail in brown, indicating it's a lesser trail that receives little if any maintenance. Hike on up this trail for nearly another 2 miles until it terminates at an old mine site at 10,862 ft. Below the mine tailings, contour on up the valley across rock and grass heading for the next group of trees at 10,800 to 10,900 ft. and a nice grassy area on the south side of the creek. Hike a short distance up a small ridge and you should be able to locate a good campsite in the lush grass.
The best camping will be as described above, at an elevation of 10,800 to 10,900 ft. approximately, in grassy, open areas amid the sparse trees.