Here is a very short and easy backpack approach that can net five or six 13er summits in three days (or two for strong parties) and also has the advantage of offering a beautiful campsite in a prime wilderness setting. The mileage we offer and elevation gain ( or loss in this case) is measured from the summit of Hermit Pass. Many vehicles will not be able to make it all the way to the pass. Whatever your mileage and elevation gain are to the pass should be added to our figures to obtain a total mileage and elevation gain/loss.

From the summit of Hermit Pass, the driveable road ends, but the original road still remains, somewhat covered now in grass, flowers, etc. It takes a downward, contouring route to the west and at 12,700 ft., switchbacks three times and then reverses direction, heading east for about .35 mile where it begins to give out. On the San Isabel National Forest Map this is Trail #747. A pack trail continues on down and forks at 11,880 ft. At that fork, continue straight west to reach Rito Alto Lake. The left fork gains an unnamed pass and then drops over into San Isabel Creek. This is how you can access UN13,054 on Trail #747. Back up on the road, at the third switchback at 12,560 ft., you can depart the roadbed and head straight down a broad ridge and slope aiming for the trail junction at 11,880 ft. By descending this way, you'll be crossing almost all tundra terrain until you reach the trail junction. As you approach that junction, low evergreens and some willows will begin to appear. At about the same elevation as the trail junction, if you walk north some, there are some benches amid the low conifers that offer some nice campsites.

From the trail junction, for Rito Alto Lake, continue down the trail (now trail #745) losing more elevation. Shortly, the trail does some brief switchbacking, then descends more to another section of switchbacks between 11,600 and 11,400 ft. where you'll enjoy a great view looking down on Rito Alto Lake and also seeing an impressive headwall cliff to the left. The trail goes along the west side of the lake and there is at least one very nice campsite on the left side of the trail by following a short spur trail up an embankment. Expect to see horse-packing groups passing through here from time to time.

Route shown is an approximation. Not intended for use as a GPX track.


The best camp location is the one mentioned above at Rito Alto Lake. As the trail drops to the lake and heads around the west side of the lake, it passes through an open area with willows and crosses a couple of small streams. It then enters open conifer forest and comes to another stream crossing. This stream will be coming more from the NW. The suggested campsite will be a little before that stream crossing. It will be on the left and up a small slope. The nice, level campsite has room for a couple tents. The nearby stream provides a good water source.

For climbing UN13,054, we suggest establishing a campsite on the benches just north of the trail junction. We found evidence of previous use here. Some rock outcrops help create the benches which provide smaller, level areas where you can pitch a tent. Good water is still close by. Deer and elk abound in the basin above that you packed down through, but watch out for aggressive marmots. Hang your food if you can find a place to do so.

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