LoJ: #145 (G & M: #146) / 13,700' Grizzly Peak Grizzly Peak C

Range › San Juan Range
Quadrangle › Columbine Pass
Summit Location › Peak Route Icon N 37° 36' 27.57", W 107° 34' 54.57" (Not Field Checked)

Peak Summary

Grizzly Peak C is a rugged Weminuche Class 3 climb from our suggested campsite below Sunlight Lake. The closest trailhead is the Beartown/Kite Lake north of Hunchback Pass. 4WD with good clearance is required. For most, a multi-day backpack is required that includes a difficult pack up to the vicinity of Sunlight Lake, but from a suggested base camp, numerous 13ers can be climbed while enjoying one of the most remote and isolated locations in the Weminuche Wilderness. Excellent fishing opportunities here.

Grizzly Peak C Gulch & NW Ridge Route

Class 3
backpacker icon + Peak Icon
Backpack + Long Day
RT From Bear Creek/Hunchback Pass/Kite Lake: 28.7 mi / 9,800'
RT From Sunlight Creek Campsite @ 11,550: 6.5 mi / 3,575'
  • Trailhead
    • Bear Creek/Hunchback Pass/Kite Lake Trailhead

      WARNING: This trail head approach REQUIRES 4WD with good ground clearance. The drive as described below from Silverton may take up to 2.5 hours.

      From the Town of Silverton, and where the main road splits at the NE end of town, drive 4.2 miles NE up along the Animas River on blue-signed County Road 2 to Howardsville. Turn right onto FR589 up Cunningham Gulch and stay right at the turn for the "Old Mine Tour" (4.4 miles) but do take the left fork toward Stony Pass (FR737) at 5.9miles. Once on the Stony Pass Road, expect 4W conditions. The road climbs steeply to the pass. Abundant wildflowers as you approach the pass may delay you. Once across the pass, the road becomes FR520 and eventually leads to Rio Grande Reservoir, but you will not drive that far. The road eventually descends down the valley to a low water crossing of Pole Creek. Watch out for the steep embankment climb out on the other side if the road is wet from rains. You could easily slip off the edge. After the crossing, continue south for about a mile to another fork where you'll turn right (west). Another long, low water crossing is found here across the Rio Grande River. This crossing is usually more shallow than the Pole Creek, but the closer you are to runoff season, the more difficult these crossings will be.

      It is also possible to come into this area from either Creede or Lake City over Slumgullion and Spring Pass to Rio Grande Reservoir. From state highway 149 either about 20.5 miles from Creede or 32 miles from Lake City, turn west onto FS520 and drive all the way to the reservoir on the well-signed, graded dirt road. Passenger cars can make it all the way to the "Lost Trail Campground" at the far west end of the reservoir. Beyond that point, FR520 continues west and crosses some rugged sections before connecting with the other section of FR520 coming down from Stony Pass and the low-water crossing of the Rio Grande. We have never driven in all the way on this section and from those we know who have, they have complained about one particularly difficult stretch.

      From the Rio Grande crossing, continue up what is now, the Beartown Road for a slow 7 miles (mainly because of potholes). The road goes all the way to Kite Lake at about 12,100 ft., but the Hunchback Pass trailhead is about 1/2 mile below the lake. There's a trail sign there and some very limited parking is available. Note: There was a fairly difficult section of road around the Beartown site due to muddy potholes.

      As the road begins climbing more steeply toward Kite Lake and the Hunchback trailhead, it becomes quite a bit more rocky in that stretch as well.  If you have driven in here to do the Ute Ridge group of summits, camp in the vicinity of where the road crosses Bear Creek just past the old Beartown site. See coordinates below. From that creek crossing, it's not quite .3 mile to the trailhead for Ute Ridge, which is a jeep track that turns off to the left and drops down to cross another lesser fork of Bear Creek. Park somewhere along this track if heading for Ute Ridge. On the Caltopo map, this trail is called the "Bear Town Trail" and designated FR869. On trails Illustrated Map #140, it does not appear to have a designation.  Coordinates for this road & trailhead are: N 37° 42' 54.53"  W 107° 30' 35.00"


      Camping

      You can find some very limited camping spots in the immediate vicinity of the Hunchback trail head. There's one particularly good spot back down the road a fairly short distance on the south side. There's also some good camping back toward the Beartown site. See coordinates provided.


      Campsite Locations

      Beartown Campsite › N 37° 43' 05.02", W 107° 30' 35.47"
    Approach Maps Photos
    • From Bear Creek/Hunchback Pass/Kite Lake TH via Sunlight Creek Campsite @ 11,550

      • 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"

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      • 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"

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      • 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.

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      • Rock Ck to Sunlight Crossing  Easy | RT: 4.2 mi / 500’

        The Vallecito Trail from the Rock Creek crossing to the location where you can wade across Vallecito Creek to access the Sunlight Creek drainage is an easy two mile descent with a loss of 500 feet in elevation. The trail passes through a mix of forest and open meadow areas. Aspen trees begin to join the conifers. By now, the elevation loss from Hunchback Pass has left the hiker entrenched in this deep valley with mountain peaks soaring impressively above on either side of the valley. The trail will exit the forest into an open meadow just before arriving at the Sunlight Crossing location. You'll likely see more than one fainter trail heading off to the right (west) toward Vallecito Creek. There are several, excellent campsites located near the creek along the east bank and this could make a good base camp location for day excursions. As mentioned on the Trinity Creek to Rock Creek approach, stream fishing opportunities abound all along the Vallecito to this location.

        To reach Sunlight Creek from here: The approximate camp and crossing coordinates provided will put you well south of where Sunlight Creek actually comes into the Vallecito. Below that intersection, the Vallecito splits briefly and then below where the two branches come back together, the stream widens out a bit and offers a crossing possibility. Trying to wade across before the spring/summer runoff has subsided by mid-July can be tricky if not dangerous. A long ice axe in one hand and a solid, long stick in the other will prove very useful. Loosen the straps/buckles on your pack in case you fall in so you can quickly free yourself from the pack. On at least one of our trips across, we found an old rope and strung it up across the Vallecito at the crossing that provided a solid hand line. IF you check closely on Google Earth, someone has posted a photo at what we believe to be the actual crossing location we have used. From the east side of the Vallecito, you can look across and spot a trail over on the west bank. The times we've crossed here, water has ranged from knee to upper thigh deep. The current is challenging.



        Camping

        As mentioned above, there are numerous campsites along the east bank of Vallecito Creek in the vicinity of the crossing. Use our coordinates as a general reference point and go find your preferred spot. The area shows evidence of being popular with horse-packing groups.


        Campsite Locations

        Vallecito crossing to Sunlight Ck. N 37° 37' 52.44", W 107° 32' 21.60"

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      • Sunlight Creek Approach  Difficult | RT: 6.5 mi / 2,425’

        The trick to finding the Sunlight Lake trail is to find a way to ford Vallecito Creek. Be sure and read the Rock Creek to Sunlight Crossing Approach for more detail. We have succeeded twice at a location about 150 - 200 yards down from where on the USGS map, Vallecito Creek has split and then come back together and then levels and spreads out a little. Try these coordinates from Google Earth: N 37° 37' 52.44" W 107° 32' 21.60". There will be a good trail on the other side if you're in the right location. Wade on across in water that may reach mid to upper thighs and can be fairly swift, earlier in the season. Once across, leave your boots off or on loosely and head upstream on the trail and cross to the NORTH side of Sunlight Creek. You'll probably have to wade this one as well. It's best to just go ahead and cross right where the trail meets Sunlight Creek. We've never found a better location by looking upstream on three separate trips.

        Once across Sunlight Creek, the trail begins the arduous journey up the Sunlight drainage. The incredible beauty and remoteness of the upper Sunlight Basin will compensate for the difficulty in getting there, or at least keep telling yourself that as you struggle up. The 2,400 feet in elevation gain will be one of the most difficult you'll encounter in the central Weminuche. WARNING: Do not be misled by either G&M or Rosenbrough's book (if you still have them), that the trail is on the south side of Sunlight Creek. Both are wrong. As you head up the trail, you will soon come to two avalanche swaths that have left copious quantities of uprooted aspens piled up like pick-up sticks. We last visited this trail the summer immediately following the avalanche in 2005. Getting through this section was an incredible pain. From what we understand, the unmaintained Sunlight trail has been somewhat re-established through this section. Be careful. It may still be easy to lose the trail. If you do lose it, be aware that the trail does pull away from the creek to the north some at two locations in order to gain elevation at steeper sections of the valley. It then crosses to the south side of the creek at about 10,880 ft. by means of a large log. (May or may not still be there.) This is a critical crossing to make if you want to stay on the trail. It occurs where the valley constricts and leaves little choice as to where to go. The trail takes you right to this crossing. (These coordinates MAY be close to the crossing, but are approximated from Google Earth and are not field validated: (N 37° 37' 53.80"  W 107° 33' 41.22") The trail then stays on the south side of the creek for about 3/4 mile, switchbacking up a steep, open, but heavily vegetated slope and swinging away from the creek to the south. Then the trail drops you back to the creek heading more WNW and crossing to the north side again around a willowy area where things have again flattened out and the stream meanders some. The trail may be difficult to spot in the willows. Just beyond this crossing, you'll be in the last good trees before the trail ascends to Sunlight Lake. There's an excellent campsite here, but if you're not entirely beat up yet, continue another .6 mile on to the lake where some more open sites exist. If you made it this far, congratulations! On the way on up to the lake, and before the trail begins to head more SW, you may observe a trail heading off to the right. This is the trail that goes up into the basin on the north side of Jagged. Coordinates for where this trail turns off are: N 37° 38' 19.31"  W 107° 34' 44.56".

        The following 13ers may be accessed as "day hikes" from the tree camp or a campsite by Sunlight Lake: McCauley Peak, Grizzly Peak, Greylock Mountain, possibly Jupiter Mtn., UN13,121, Peak Eleven, Knife Point, Peak Ten, Jagged Mtn., Leviathan Peak and Vallecito. Quite a spectacular and varied collection!


        It should be noted that the trail route drawn on this map is an approximation at best and should not be taken too literally except at a few critical junctures that are noted in the approach description. GPS plotting was not used.

        Camping

        The last good campsite that has the shelter of trees is at 11,550 ft. and the coordinates provided below. This is an excellent camp location with room for several tents and close access to water. It makes a good base camp for a number of 13ers in the surrounding area. You may also continue to Sunlight Lake where several sites exist but at the lake you'll be more exposed to the weather since there are only a few low trees.

        Campsite Locations

        Sunlight Tree Camp N 37° 38' 12.86", W 107° 34' 26.60"

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    Peak Icon Route Map

    Route Info Grizzly Peak C Gulch & NW Ridge

    Route Description

    Year Climbed: 1994

    Mileage and elevation for Grizzly Peak are measured from a suggested campsite at 11,550 feet in the last group of good trees before finishing the hike to Sunlight Lake.

    From the campsite location at 11,550 ft in the last trees along Sunlight Creek, follow the trail on up to the beautiful Sunlight Lake. If you're into photography, you may want to pause here and take some photos of the spectacular Jagged Mountain to the north. Then, proceed east and cross the outlet of the lake where convenient and about a quarter mile east of the lake, begin an ascent on a broad ridge toward the upper lake at 12,545 ft. You will likely find a cairn-marked trail leading up this way through mostly open tundra, rocks and slabs. Just north of the 12,620 knoll, skirt around the east side about 200 feet below and drop south on steeper tundra into the drainage and the waterfall below the upper lake. From this flower-strewn flatter area, continue generally south aiming for the saddle just west of Pt.13,229. This easier walk will be over tundra giving way to more broken rock and scree. Before mid-July, you may also encounter snowfields.

    At the saddle, begin a descent SSW down toward the two small lakes in Grizzly Gulch. The drop down this wide couloir starts out on talus & rock, but may turn into snow earlier season. The initial 200 feet are very steep, then the angle lessons. A descending bench on the west side of the middle of the gully can be used if the snow angle is too steep. Lower down, the angle lessons and you can enjoy a nice glissade if snow is still present. (Grizzly Gulch may also be accessed from the upper Sunlight Lake by walking SW along the south side of the lake, then continuing SW up a drainage, turning south and continuing to ascent to an unnamed lake at 13,100 ft. directly east of the Windom summit. We thought there might be some good high altitude camping here, but it was nothing but rocks. From that high lake you can descend into Grizzly Gulch by following the creek that drains the lake on the east side, working your way down on steep, grassy, tundra ledges.) Once down into Grizzly Gulch, enjoy the lush vegetation and flowers in an isolated setting surrounded by towering peaks, then begin the arduous and more difficult part of the day by starting up toward the saddle between Grizzly and Jupiter at 13,260 ft. Well below that saddle, you will see a steep tundra and rock covered slope that forms a triangular wedge that points down into the valley. The wedge is divided by a prominent cleft. To gain it, walk up steepening talus about 200 feet. After that, we headed up a snow-filled gully above the talus on the right for a short while before crossing left onto the wedge. Ice axe could be handy. Once on this wedge area, it climbs very steeply so that at points, you're literally climbing on tundra with embedded rocks at an angle so steep, you'll feel exposed. There are also exposed rock outcrops. About 400 feet up, the angle will lesson. We rate this 3rd Class. The tundra gives way to sand, gravel and talus with difficult footing at times. Head for the main couloir that drops from the 13,260 ft. saddle.

    Before gaining that saddle between Jupiter and Grizzly, turn eastward about 100 vertical feet below it by climbing out of the couloir and contouring upward, following a wide band of pink, broken granite, clearly visible from below in the valley. This section will be somewhat of a relief from the steeper ascending below. The contour along the pink granite band will lead to another break in the Grizzly NW ridge at 13,600 ft. At that point, we began to intercept a route marked with cairns that comes in from the SW above Hazel Lake. The route then contours some below the summit before heading almost straight up on good footing amid large blocks of rock toward the summit. We found ourselves at a low point between two possible summits. Exploring both, we found them to be of nearly equal height and found a register on the eastern summit. Congratulate yourself on having obtained a difficult and worthy summit.

    As you can always expect in this area, the views are staggering. Many parties will want to continue over to McCauley Peak from Grizzly. At the time we climbed Grizzly, our only goal was to climb the top 200 summits, so continuing onto McCauley didn't cross our minds. By 2001, we were thinking differently so had to return to this route to head on to McCauley. If coming from Grizzly Gulch like us, most parties will likely return to the saddle at 13,260 ft. and drop down toward Hazel Lake, then contour SE to the Grizzly-McCauley saddle to finish on the NW ridge. However, "Furthermore" on LoJ has a report of a direct ascent of Grizzly from McCauley by way of the connecting ridge. He rated this ascent as mostly 3rd & 4th class with a brief section of low 5th class.

    If you have no other ambition than to climb Grizzly this day, then return to Sunlight Lake as you came, taking great care on the descent back into Grizzly Gulch. You will gain an additional 1,000 ft. in elevation on the return, so save some energy & food. We highly recommend that either on the way to Grizzly or on the return trip you tag Greylock Mountain. From the pass below and west of Pt. 13,229, you can easily hike over to Greylock and return in under an hour.


    Additional BETA

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