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Vallecito Trail Update

We have recently visited the Vallecito Trail in the Weminuche Wilderness from the trailhead near Kite Lake, across Hunchback Pass, down to where Sunlight Creek comes in, then up the Sunlight drainage. New and/or revised information has been posted for the Kite Lake/Hunchback trailhead and the associated approach segments including field-verified GPS waypoints for key campsites and the stream crossings to reach the upper basin of Sunlight Creek and Sunlight Lake. 

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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 (or could perhaps be considered an unnamed fork of Nebo Creek.)  The trail cuts trough plenty of willows in this section and stays on the west side of the drainage until a little 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 Campsite sits near the intersection of the Vallecito Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. This camp site is not to be confused with another located about a mile farther down the trail where Nebo Creek is actually crossed. The elevation is appx. 11,400 ft. Coordinates are below. These coordinates have been field checked. The campsite is right off the main trail. Because of the beetle kill damage to the old growth trees here, the original camp area has seen some ground vegetation moving back in. There is still one, good, main tent site with fire ring as of 2018, a smaller but usable tent site just off to the NW from the fire ring and 50 yards south, there is a potential camp site located on the grassy knoll. Water may be obtained from Nebo Creek which will lie east of and downhill from the campsite. 


    Campsite Locations

    Nebo Campsite N 37° 41' 10.9", W 107° 31' 14.7"
    11,400 appx. elevation
  • 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, then SW down the Vallecito Trail. The trail swings to the west through forest, staying above Nebo Creek and then makes an abrupt turn back to the north to cross the unnamed fork of Vallecito Creek that originates near Hunchback Pass. Watch carefully for this minor crossing. Then, the trail continues down and generally west to SW. Along this next stretch there is one small campsite we've noticed on the south side of the trail that has some slope and could accommodate one tent. This is what we would call a "do-in-a-pinch" type of site. Continue down trail to the WSW to a switchback that will drop you to Nebo Creek (which by this point has been joined by the aforementioned unnamed fork and now carries a lot more water). Just below this switchback, there is a not-too-noticeable trail that heads off to the SW which we believe to be an alternate route into Stormy Gulch. When you arrive at the crossing of 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 and other times, there's little help. You may have to wade. You can also explore upstream where you may find a better crossing place with rocks that allow hopping over the stream. In our July, 2018 visit, the water was so low, crossing anywhere was easy. Before crossing, if you follow the stream up, there are some good campsites with as many as four possible tent sites. Beyond the last tent site there is a picturesque waterfall. 

    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 by heading up Stormy Gulch. 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. The trail that leads west across the meadow can be rather faint. The best campsite will be a few yards north of that trail (see field checked coordinates), and there's another campsite in some younger trees 50 yards south of the trail. 


    Campsite Locations

    Trinity Creek N 37° 40' 33.01", W 107° 31' 30.7"
    Elevation 10,560 ft.
  • 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. As of 2018, because of all the beetle-kill damage, the undergrowth is becoming quite lush in places and at a few points, the trail becomes a little obscured. Some of the delphinium along here grows as much as 5 feet tall! We have never found any useful logs at Rock Creek 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

    Over the years, the Rock Creek crossing has never seen the development of any really nice campsites. The flattest with the fewest rocks is right off the trail, on the north side of Rock Creek, where the Rock Creek/Lake trail turns off. See coordinates below. 


    Campsite Locations

    Rock Creek N 37° 39' 17.2", W 107° 31' 12.9"
    Elevation 9,970 ft.
  • 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.


  • Rock Lake to Moon Lake  Moderate | RT: 4 mi / 1,500’

    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 trail to Moon Lake continues on the east side of Rock Lake and passes a small tarn at 12,100 ft., then continues climbing more steeply on short switchbacks through some talus bringing you to a pass at 12,420 ft. We found that section to be cairned. The trail then goes west gaining a little more elevation before beginning a descent to Half Moon Lake, trapped in a rocky crater below. The descent to Half Moon Lake is steep. Keep that in mind for the hike back out. The remainder of the two mile hike from Rock to Moon Lakes is relatively easy. At Moon Lake, a level, grassy peninsula that juts out into the lake some makes a fantastic campsite with a few low trees. This makes a great base camp for the summits of Irving, UN13,417, UN13,310 and UN13,340, and perhaps Mt. Oso as well.



    Camping

    As mentioned before, there is a very nice campsite location on a peninsula that juts out into Moon Lake. Right after crossing the outlet stream for Moo Lake, follow a trail back to the NW that will loop around to the campsite location. See coordinates below.

    Campsite Locations

    Moon Lake N 37° 35' 59.25", W 107° 28' 23.41"
    Elevation 11,670 ft.
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