LoJ: #389 (Pre-LiDAR #385) / 13,311' Aztec Mountain

Range › San Juan Range
Quadrangle › Columbine Pass
Summit Location › Peak Route Icon N 37° 35' 29.80", W 107° 36' 57.45" (Not Field Checked)
Neighboring Peaks › Peak Icon Mount Valois

Peak Summary

Aztec Mountain by our route and approach from the City of Durango watershed lakes is an easy, barely Class 2 ascent along its west ridge. Our proposed route requires a backpack trip of about seven miles one way, two days of climbing six, ranked 13ers and another day to backpack out. Vehicle access requires at least a vehicle with good ground clearance. 4WD with good clearance will assure success in reaching the trailhead which is out of Durango. There are numerous opportunities to observe sizable elk herds on this trip.

Aztec Mtn. West Ridge Route

Class 2
Short Day // A Wee Little Climb
Climbed with Mount Valois
RT From Endlich Mesa Trailhead: 24.5 mi / 3,675'
RT From City Reservoir #1 : 10.5 mi / 2,675'
From City Reservoir #1: 5.25 mi / 2,675' (One-Way)
  • Trailhead
    • Endlich Mesa Trailhead

      This trailhead description will begin from downtown Durango. If coming from the north of town on US550, drive south until 550 (aka: Main Street) crosses the Animas River. Less than 2 blocks after that crossing, turn east (left) onto 15th St. In a few blocks, this road turns NE and becomes Florida Rd., which in turn is CR240. Follow this paved road through mostly residential areas as it gains elevation for just under 12 miles to an intersection. Turn left onto CR243 and drive north to Lemon Reservoir. It's just over 4 miles to the reservoir where the road turns to graded gravel. Now drive 5.4 miles along the east shore of the reservoir and past the north end of it to a turnoff for the Florida Campground. Do not turn, but continue straight onto what will become FR597, aka: "East Florida Road" on the Trails Illustrated map. The road soon degenerates and heads generally NE, climbing up the mountainside on numerous switchbacks. The long and winding road continues from the Florida Campground turnoff for nearly 10 miles to the trailhead. There will be several at-large camping opportunities along the way as well as in the vicinity of the trailhead. The road is basically "single-lane," and though you really don't need 4WD, extra clearance is of help because the road is arduously rocky. You can never go very fast unless you want to rattle your vehicle to death. It took us about an hour and a half from Durango. Along FR597, there are numerous meadows with abundant yellow wildflowers. There were some potholes toward the end, but nothing challenging. We drove this road in 2006. Be aware that during our 2006 visit, we saw clear indications that a large group of domestic sheep are moved up this road and trail for summer grazing. You may encounter large trucks as a result.

      Update 2020: We received this update from a site user. As with many Forest Service roads, apparently budget constraints restrict the amount of grading and other work that can be done on FS roads so most roads tend to fall into neglect and worsen in condition over the years. This road has apparently become one of those casualties. We were advised that the road has become even rockier, requiring slower driving and more time from Durango. The site user suggests that it may now take a minimum of two hours to 2.5 hours to make this drive. He also strongly advises that AWD or 4WD vehicles should be used with higher clearance. He did report seeing a RAV4 at the trailhead with apparent undercarriage damage from the drive. Please take this information into consideration when planning your trip.

    Approach Map Photos
    • From Endlich Mesa TH via City Reservoir #1

      From the trailhead parking area, the trail (#534) heads NE on a switchback path of an old, highly rutted roadbed toward Endlich Mesa. We found a trail that ran somewhat parallel but which avoided the half dozen switchbacks by taking a more direct route upward. A steady but fairly gentle climb for a mile brings you to treeline. When we hiked this, the trail was covered with sheep prints and numerous smelly deposits. Once on the open ridge, there will be several miles (about 5) of open, tundra hiking with distant, spectacular vistas in most every direction except east. Take the opportunity at times to walk off the trail to the east and gaze down into the basins where we spotted elk on more than one occasion. The trail remains easy to walk and just as easy to follow, cresting out at about 12,200 ft.

      After about 5 miles the trail crossed a small ridge and there was a fork to the left. Take this fork that heads down to City Reservoir #1 in the City of Durango watershed. Unlike the City of Boulder watershed in the Indian Peaks, you can legally enter here and even camp without threat of prosecution. The trail drops steeply down initially for a knee-bashing descent of 1,400 vertical feet to the reservoir. Remember that when you leave this area, you may have to pack back up this section of trail. You may observe some nice wildflowers along the way. The Trails Illustrated map shows the trail branching down near the reservoir. Either fork will get you there, but the right fork, may be a little shorter if the trail is still visible. Cross the dam at the south end and walk along the west shore toward the NE and the upper end of the reservoir. There is a nice campsite at that NE end on the edge of the trees with easy access to the lake. Streams are nearby for fresh water. The largest campsite can accommodate several tents easily, while nearby are several other smaller campsites. It took us about 4.5 hours to make this backpack in.

      Campsite Locations

      City Reservoir #1 Camp N 37° 32' 39.18", W 107° 35' 04.52"

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    Peak Icon Route Map Photos

    Route Info Aztec Mtn. West Ridge

    Route Description

    Year Climbed: 2006

    This route description begins from the end of the Endlich Mesa trail approach which terminates at the NE end of City Reservoir #1 at our suggested camp location. From that campsite, follow trail #534 north as it climbs steeply up the valley toward Lake Marie. Shortly before arriving at that lake, the trail switchbacks to the south, rounds a ridge to the west, then climbs on up onto Silver Mesa. Once atop the mesa, you'll be above timberline. After a while, the trail will tend to fade amidst granite outcrops and was identified at times, only by cairns. We found it easy to wander off it, but would usually find it again. The trial heads mostly north and takes you by the Pittsburg Mine. From there, walk another 3/4 mile NNW to where you can easily overlook the basin south of Aztec. In the lush, green grass below, you may have the opportunity to spot a herd of elk.

    From this vantage point, south of the peak, it ma be difficult to determine which "bump" is Aztec Mtn. A GPS could be useful in doing so. We decided the easiest thing to do was to lose about 300 feet I elevation and angle NNW, then west into the basin below and cross the head of it over to a saddle at 12,860 ft. This will be the saddle between Aztec and Mt. Kennedy to the west. Follow mostly grassy slopes to that saddle and if your seasonal timing is right, enjoy some beautiful, blue columbine along the way. At the saddle, you may want to first turn left and make the quick and easy trip up along the ridge to bag Mt. Kennedy. If not, turn right (east) and walk up to the Aztec summit. There will be a minor false summit to bypass and a finish on scree-like rock. The hike from the lakeside campsite may take up to 4 hours.

    The most redeeming aspect of climbing Aztec Mountain is the bird's-eye view of Chicago Basin and the three 14ers. The view is quite impressive. From the summit, either return as you came, or head down the east ridge and decide if you want to return to camp or head on for Mount Valois, which could also include a trip over Bullion Mtn. and Florida Mtn, both unranked summits.

    Additional BETA

    Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
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