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Half Peak is an interestingly shaped summit located on the Pole Creek Mountain quad. Our suggested route has a brief Class 3 section, the remainder of the hike being easy Class 2. The trailhead we use is Carson Pass, south of Lake San Cristobal and Lake City. 4WD is required. However, the peak can also be approached from Cuba Gulch or Cataract Gulch. Cuba Gulch would require 4WD while Cataract Gulch would not necessarily.
Most of the 13er summits on the Pole Creek Mountain quad and the Finger Mesa quad can be most easily accessed from one of two trailheads, both off of County Road 3, south of Lake City and Lake San Cristobal. The first TH is Carson Pass at the head of Wager Gulch. This access requires 4WD with good clearance. The drive in is followed by walking the Colorado/Continental Divide Trail west. There is minor elevation gain and loss and no more than 4 miles of hiking/backpacking. The other trailhead is accessible to passenger cars, but requires more elevation gain (2,500 ft.) on foot. That access utilizes the Cataract Gulch Trail from near "Sherman." It's about a 4.5 mile hike/backpack up to Cataract Lake for a base camp. We used the Wager Gulch/Carson Pass access, hence our trip reports will be based on that as the start point. Peaks accessed in this manner include: Coney BM; UN13,260 D; Bent Peak; Carson Peak; "Tundra Top;" Cataract Peak; Half Peak; UN13,674(Quarter Peak); UN13,581; UN13,580 A; UN13,660; and Pole Creek Mtn. For information regarding the Cataract Gulch TH, you can find that by searching for that trailhead. We have never actually hiked that trail except in the vicinity of Cataract Lake. Our route descriptions for many of these peaks should be usable regardless of which TH you choose with the exception perhaps of Bent, Coney BM and UN 13,260 D.
From the Town of Lake City, drive south on SH149 and then turn right onto CR3 (BLM 3306) to Lake San Cristobal. Trails Illustrated labels this road as CR30. The road is paved past the lake then turns to graded dirt, passable for all passenger cars. About 2 miles past the Williams Creek campground, watch for a road turning off to the left (south) for the old townsite of Carson. This road is identified on maps as either BLM3308 or FS568. it's also called the "Wager Gulch" road. From this point on, 4WD is advisable.
Head up the road through aspen and conifer forest. At times, the road climbs steeply, but generally is not too rocky or in very poor condition. Along the drive up, there are a few primitive campsites. See coordinates below for what we consider to be the best primitive camp area. The road is fairly easy driving to the old townsite of Carson. Beyond there, it works its way up to Carson Pass through areas of willows and becomes quite rocky in stretches. We drove this summer of 2018 and found that a lot of the willows had been cleared away and though rocky in stretches, the road was easily passable in our Toyota Tundra. If you're not comfortable with driving this last part, park down near Carson and walk this last mile. From the summit of the pass and the coordinates provided above, you can begin your hike or backpack. In previous years, it was possible to continue driving south on a 4WD track for another half mile to where you would actually connect with the Colorado trail. Those coordinates are: N 37° 50' 52.67 W 107° 22' 06.06". Elevation here is 12,150 ft. so you've dropped down from the pass a little.
There are designated, Forest Service campgrounds at Lake San Cristobal, Williams Creek and Mill Creek (which is past the Wager Gulch turnoff). On the drive up Wager Gulch, we observed a few nice, primitive sites at some level locations. The best location was just a little before reaching the road that turns off for Carson. There is some open meadow on either side of the road and a good cam area on the west side. Be advised though that the beetle kill all through here is heavy and there are numerous dead trees around this camping location. See coordinates below.
From the summit of Carson Pass, drive south just a little to a multiple track intersection. This is a good place to park and leave your vehicle, but if you wish to save another .6 mile of carrying a pack, a 4WD vehicle can drive down the road that heads SW to another location where the better road ends at a promontory overlooking the valley below. Park here. Along the drive down, you will pass the turnoff on the right for the Continental Divide/Colorado Trail # 787. At this point, you've lost some altitude and will be about 12,100 ft. The trail is marked by a typical post. It heads off to the west and contours for a distance at a little above 12,000 feet before beginning to gain some elevation for a pass at 12,900 ft. The 3.9 miles to the pass (measuring from the first car park near the summit of Carson Pass) are all relatively easy hiking. The trail is easy to follow and stays clear of the abundant willows in the valley below. It's almost all tundra terrain. The gradient is very easy. This section of trail my actually be mountain biked if you care to travel that way.
From the anticlimatic pass at 12,900 ft., the trail turns more to the SW and drops down a broad tundra slope to intersect the trail coming up from Cataract Gulch and the West Lost Creek Trail. From the pass to the trail intersection is about 1.2 mile.
We recommend camping in the tundra on the broad tundra ridge above Cataract Lake. This offer expansive views in every direction and is very centrally located for climbing every 13er located in this area. The down side is the exposure since there are no trees. Cataract Lake offers a little better location and certainly beautiful. Obtaining water will be easier. Because of it's lower elevation, it will necessitate more elevation gain on the hikes to most of the other 13ers.
This route description assumes a start for this climb from the intersection of the Cataract Gulch Trail with the Continental Divide/Colorado Trail and a campsite nearby. Adjust for mileage and elevation gain accordingly based on how you choose to access this summit.
Take the Cataract Gulch Trail back down to the lake. Depart the Cataract Gulch trail at the first of two small lakes NW of Cataract Lake and saunter by those two smaller lakes. A few hundred yards beyond the second lake, climb uphill a short distance through willows on a vague trail and then turn north heading for a grassy gully coming down on the right side of a prominent cliff. Once atop the gully, continue north on mostly grassy/tundra terrain, sometimes steep, gaining elevation until you come to a drop off into a large basin on the east side of Quarter Peak. Descend a steep talus slope and contour in a westerly direction losing about 400 feet elevation. (This pretty much follows the route suggested by G&M.) Once in the basin at about 12,800 feet elevation, continue north across boulder-talus and begin to climb out onto less rocky terrain. Gradually head in a more westerly direction. gaining elevation to intersect the north ridge of Quarter Peak at about 13,300 ft.
Once on the north ridge, turn south and head up the final ridge to the summit. Things will become increasingly rocky. As you approach the summit, some places will become very steep and loose which will slow your ascent. Grind it out and you'll reach the summit soon enough. On the final section, there is a false summit of 13,620 ft. that is best bypassed on the right (west) side. This summit offers a nice view of Sunshine and Redcloud to the north and the Grenadier range to the south on a good clear day. Return as you came and be careful about dropping low too soon and finding yourself in a mire of willows. Best to stay high.
Some alternate notes: We actually combined Quarter Peak with Half Peak this day. The problem with making a direct ridge connection, which on the USGS map looks plausible, is a narrow neck section with difficult rock spires just a little south of the Quarter summit to navigate before reaching the broader ridge. The outcome is that most persons opt to take a traverse on the east side of Quarter Peak, mush as we have described to avoid that ridge section.
Another way to access Quarter Peak is from Square Gulch which would require driving farther up the 4WD road that heads west then SW up Cottonwood Creek. A faint trail leads up the gulch, then you can get out onto the broad west ridge of Quarter and ultimately finish on talus.
Half Peak is sequenced with Quarter Peak to the north. One-way mileage and elevation gain are measured from the summit of Quarter peak. Round-trip mileage and elevation gain assume completion of the sequence.
From the summit of Quarter Peak 13,674, head back down the north ridge and drop back into the bowl/basin on the east side of Quarter Peak, below the summit at an elevation of about 12,800 ft. Traverse the boulder talus to the south side of the basin, (If you drop to about 12,600 ft., you can avoid a lot of the talus, walking just past the end of a couple of rock glacier tongues) then ascend back up out of the basin to the SW regaining elevation to around the 13,200 foot level or a minimum of 13,000 ft. (Probably best to stay higher.) Continue hiking SW over mostly tundra terrain laced with sheep trails and drop to the saddle between Half Pk and Quarter Pk at 12,940 ft, NW of Half Peaks summit.
Walk on up the steepening NW ridge of Half Peak, still mostly on tundra/grass and small rubble. Footing remains secure even though the slope becomes very steep. At about 13,650 ft., the east facing slope and ridge come to a rocky point. For the next 100 feet of hiking, you'll need to search for a route through some spires and breaks in the cliffs in order to reach the tilted summit plateau. This is what we regarded as the 3rd class section. We came up to the first cliff on the ridge and moved south a few yards towards a cairn that marked a route through a small saddle onto the SE side of the peak. We then turned right and worked our way through one steep couloir and around to another following some cairns - all this without gaining or losing any significant amount of elevation. In the second couloir, we climbed/scrambled upward until it crested back out on the NW ridge. Just below the top of the couloir, we turned left and climbed up a "V" shaped crack through the remaining cliff band and found ourselves standing on now easier ground. This last maneuver required a short amount of hand-over-hand scrambling in order to get through. Our kids managed it fine with no rope or protection but there's about 30 feet of climbing that was somewhat exposed. Some inexperienced persons may desire some protection here. Walk on to the large, flat, sloping summit of small scree and sporadic tundra. The actual summit will be toward the NW end.
Enjoy the Half Peak summit and take some time to peer over the sheer north face. There's still a nice view of Sunshine/Redcloud to the north and the Grenadier Range to the south. To descend, you can retrace your path back down the NW ridge to the saddle at 12,940 ft. If you do so, keep in mind that descending an exposed down climb can be more frightening than going up. Another route down would be to follow the south ridge of the peak all the way down past the narrow bottleneck and rocky section, onto the broad south-facing slope. The bottleneck section is short with some entertaining scrambling and modest exposure in points. Stay either on the ridge or the west side where you may find some trail to navigate through. Continue down the slope and follow the drainage that begins to form. At about 12,450 ft. elevation, you should intercept the Continental Divide/Colorado Trail. Follow it back to Cataract Lake and or your campsite up above the lake.