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San Juan National Forest Re-opened

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. 

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  • Hunchback Pass to Nebo Creek  Moderate | RT: 5.5 mi / 1,900’

    This "approach" is part of a sequence of approaches that utilize the Vallecito Trail beginning near Kite Lake and above the "Beartown" site. The trailhead is located at: N37° 42' 44.57"  W 107° 31' 04.97". Use the "Beartown/Kite Lake/Hunchback trailhead information for instructions on how to drive to the TH.

    The trailhead is actually within the Rio Grande National Forest. The TH number is #813 on both the San Juan and older Rio Grande National Forest maps and is a part of the "Continental Divide Trail" at this location and segment. Once the trail crosses Hunchback Pass, it crosses over into San Juan National Forest and becomes #529, continuing south all the way to Vallecito Reservoir. If using Trails Illustrated #140, they identify this as the Continental Divide Trail and use the #813. Walk south from the TH and follow the easy gradient through open terrain with some willows to Hunchback Pass. The trail first sweeps SE, then makes a gradual turn SW, then west to the open, tundra-covered pass with about 900 feet of gain over just under a mile. Coordinates for the pass are: N 37° 42' 16.62"  W 107° 31' 12.37". Hunchback Mountain is west along the divide and can be easily climbed by those interested in bagging all the 13ers. You can drop your pack, stroll to the summit and return in under an hour.

    From Hunchback Pass, continue south heading straight down an unnamed fork of Vallecito Creek. The trail cuts trough plenty of willows in this section and stays on the west side of the drainage until just before the trees. Because of the numerous willows, plan on getting pants & boots drenched if it has rained recently. Also, as a general point, the Vallecito Trail is utilized regularly by pack horse groups so you can expect to see and experience some of the typical trail damage done by horses. The trail then turns to the SE and comes to an intersection. A newer trail (#813) that does not show on the 1964 USGS map heads east up Nebo Creek, crosses the Continental Divide and goes to West Ute Lake. That is the continuation of the Continental Divide Trail. The Vallecito Trail continues south and west from this intersection. Near the trail intersection, there is a very large and good campsite on a prominent knoll above Nebo Creek on the NW side. The campsite makes a good base camp for 13ers off the CD trail including Mt. Nebo, UN13,110, UN13,230, and UN13,169, all of which can be done in a single day from the campsite. See "Camping info" for more details.



    Camping

    The Nebo Creek campsite sits near the intersection of the Vallecito Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. The elevation is appx. 11,500 ft. Coordinates are below. They are something of a guess by using Google Earth, but the campsite is right off the main trail. There are several good tent spots and large logs near campfire areas. The creek is a short jaunt down the hill.

    Campsite Locations

    Nebo Creek N 37° 41' 12.36", W 107° 31' 14.88"
  • Nebo Creek to Trinity Creek  Moderate | RT: 2.5 mi / 1,000’

    This "approach" is part of a sequence of approaches that utilize the Vallecito Trail beginning near Kite Lake and above the "Beartown" site. The trailhead is located at: N37° 42' 44.57" W 107° 31' 04.97". Use the "Beartown/Kite Lake/Hunchback trailhead information for instructions on how to drive to the TH.

    From the Nebo Creek campsite and the trail junction of the Continental Divide Trail #813 and the Vallecito Trail #529, head south down the Vallecito Trail. The trail swings to the west through forest, staying well above Nebo Creek and then makes an abrupt turn back to the south to cross Nebo Creek. We have usually found this crossing to be a little difficult and somewhat intimidating. The water is swift and nearby the stream heads over the beginning of a waterfall. Sometimes there are logs you can walk across on and other times, there's little help. You may have to wade.

    After crossing Nebo Creek, continue downhill, through a series of switchbacks and at 1.25 miles from the Nebo campsite, you should come to an open meadow on the right (west) side of the trail and see a secondary trail heading over to a crossing of Vallecito Creek, below where Trinity Creek comes in. This meadow area is often used as a camp spot by various groups, though it tends to be a little lumpy. From this location climbers can reach The Guardian, Mt. Silex, Storm King, and Peaks Seven, Eight and Nine as day hikes/climbs. But if you're willing to lug your pack back uphill, read about other higher elevation campsites under the "approach" for those peaks.  If hiking back up to the Nebo Creek camp or back over Hunchback Pass to the trailhead, this section from Trinity Creek back to Nebo Creek is the steepest part of the return hike gaining about 1,000 feet in elevation. It is also possible to hike all the way up Trinity Creek and cross the ridge that separates the Trinity Basin from the Vestal Basin and access the Vestal Creek summits.



    Camping

    An easily identifiable trail turns west off the main Vallecito Trail and leads over to where you can cross Vallecito Creek, downstream from where Trinity Creek comes in. This trail leads across an open meadow that is frequently used as a camp location. See approximate coordinates below.

    Campsite Locations

    Trinity Creek N 37° 40' 33.01", W 107° 31' 27.89"
  • Trinity Creek to Rock Creek  Easy | RT: 3.5 mi / 400’

    The 1.75 mile walk from the Trinity Creek camp to the crossing of Rock Creek is an easy, quick jaunt down the trail that will take under an hour with only about 400 feet in elevation loss. Though the trail starts out in forest, it crosses plenty of open valley terrain before re-entering forest for some broad switchbacks that make the final drop to the Rock Creek crossing. We have never found any useful logs to cross on here, so be prepared to wade, and at the crossing point, the stream widens out so the wade is long, but usually not challenging. If heading up to Rock Lake, you will not need to make the crossing. The Rock Lake Trail stays on the north side of Rock Creek. Vallecito Creek from the Trinity Creek intersection and heading downstream begins to offer attractive pools and stream fishing opportunities.

    The Rock Creek trail #655 provides access to Rock Lake, a seemingly popular destination for horse-pack groups. From a possible base camp location near Rock Lake, the following 13ers can be accessed, most of which are found on the Columbine Pass and Emerald Lake quads: UN13,302, Irving Peak, Peters Peak, UN13,222, UN13,220, Mount Oso, UN13,417, UN13,310, and UN13,340.



    Camping

    In past visits, we have not found very good campsites at this crossing, though you can certainly find spots to "make do." Perhaps some have developed by now. Better sites may be found south of the crossing in the open meadow area over toward Vallecito Creek.
  • Rock Ck to Rock Lake  Moderate | RT: 8.3 mi / 1,500’

    From Rock Lake, the following summits can be easily reached: Peter's Peak, UN13,222, and UN13,220. Mt. Oso can be easily reached from either Rock or Moon Lakes. From Moon Lake, UN13,310, UN13,340, UN13,417 and Irving Peak are most easily accessible. UN13,302, which barely makes it onto the SE corner of the Storm King quad, can be accessed from a couple miles up the Rock Creek Trail. Read the route description regarding that summit for more detail. We have hiked on this trail twice - once in 1994 and then again in 2004.

     From the Vallecito Trail, the Rock Creek/Lake trail heads ESE, on the north side of Rock Creek, gaining some 900 feet in elevation steadily but not too steeply the first mile and a quarter. It then enters an open valley at about 11,100 ft. still following on the north side of the creek and staying close to but not in the trees. Through this open valley section, the elevation gain is gentle. The trail is well-established and frequently used by pack horse groups. The first meadow section ends soon followed by a longer meadow stretch. Rock Creek meanders its way through this meadow with a few "tree islands" in the middle of the meadow toward its upper end. Granite rocks along the valley floor have been planed off by long-past glacial action leaving large slabs exposed. There are many camping opportunities along the meadow stretches, though we saw few established camps and those we saw were used primarily by the pack horse groups. One of the "tree islands" had a good campsite. Buffalo Peak makes a dramatic, sharp-pointed appearance towards the head of the valley and dominates the view. In 1994, there was a trail fork at 11,480 feet just before a crossing of Rock Creek. Stay right for Rock Lake and cross the creek if that fork is still there. The more recent Trails Illustrated map shows this fork higher up and closer to Rock Lake now. Finish the hike and last elevation gain to Rock Lake on fairly gentle switchbacks. A little before exiting the trees in this switchback section, there was a tree-covered ridge sloping back down toward the valley on the left side of the trail and on the south side of Rock Creek that offered some very attractive campsites. (This is about 10 - 15 minutes walking below the lake.) This would be the last opportunity for tree camping before the lake.

    Rock Lake is a beautiful and large alpine lake that sits nestled in a bowl at the foot of Peters Peak. It is surrounded by willows and grassy meadows which may obscure the trail. The best camping is back down the trail as we described.


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