Montezuma Peak is a Class 2 peak in the South San Juan Wilderness, with a trailhead accessible to most passenger vehicles. This peak combines easily with UN 13,020 (The Unicorn) and Summit Peak for a pleasant, mostly tundra-stroll, half-day venture in a beautiful part of southern Colorado that's not overrun with tourists or weekend warriors.
From the intersection of US160 and CO15 in the middle of Monte Vista, drive south on CO15 for approximately 15.7 miles through and past the Monte Vista National Wildlife Area to where CO15 intersects CR125 (to the east side of CO15) and County Road Ff on the west side. Go west on CRFf. The road heads due straight west, then begins to turn more to the SW as it heads out of the valley and into the hills. Follow it for about 10.7 miles to an intersection on the north shore of Terrace Reservoir. Turn right (west) and follow along the Alamosa River on FR250. Follow this road for many miles as it first generally heads NW, then gradually turns to the SW. At these coordinates: N 37° 23" 04.65" W 106° 34' 00.31" stay right. Go another 2,100 feet to yet another intersection. Bear right again unless you're planning on camping at the Stunner CG which is the road that bears right. To continue to the trailhead, keep heading SW on what has now become FR380. Follow it uphill through four quick switchbacks, cross Iron Creek and arrive at De Nolde and Annella Lakes. The proper road stays on the north side of the lakes. The FR380 turns off to the right and climbs in 4 miles to Elwood Pass. Don't take that road. Stay left and continue west on FR243 past Lake Annella. The road will deteriorate some but is still passable in 2010 to most passenger vehicles. In 3 more miles, the road ends at Treasure Creek. This is the trailhead.
One could vehicle camp at the trailhead. A short distance back is a track that heads down toward the creek on the left where there's some camping possibilities. There's a couple other tracks that lead off to primitive campsites at these coordinates: N 37° 22' 25.05" W 106° 38' 08.27". There's also primitive camping back at the two lakes - De Nolde and Annella. The closest National Forest CG is the Stunner CG which is very small and has minimal facilities. This informal campground has five sites for tent camping, no water and a vault toilet. Stream water is close by. The site is very flat. There is no fee charged and no reservations are taken.
At the trailhead parking, you really have two good options. Your choice will be based primarily what you prefer - a longer trail hike or a steeper bushwhack of sorts. The Guide to the Colorado Mountains had the directions that we basically followed. Option 1 will take you from the trailhead down toward the main south fork of Treasure Creek, following Trail # 710. This trail heads south, staying above the creek on its west bank, then it switchbacks to the NNW and makes a broad arc to the west to intercept the Continental Divide trail # 813 near the bottom of the east ridge of Summit Peak. The advantage of this approach is that it utilizes trail the entire way to the east ridge and ascends more gradually. The disadvantage is that it adds significant mileage. Option 2, suggested in the book above, is more direct, has more vague trail to follow thus requiring some route finding skill and starts out much steeper.
For Option 2, look for a trail heading up alongside the western fork of Treasure Creek that drains the basin below Summit, The Unicorn and Montezuma. The trail climbs very, very steeply, staying just on the north side of the creek. Initially, after a few hundred yards, it passes by an attractive waterfall and pool that's difficult to reach but easy to view. The trail tended towards being faint in 2010. Above this waterfall, the trail eventually crosses the creek as the book indicates somewhere above 11,400 ft. On the other side of the creek, we found one pink ribbon tied to a nearby tree affirming our route. (Likely no longer there.) Once across the creek, the forest begins to open up. Continue hiking west and contouring south until Summit Peak comes into view (rather unmistakable). As you round a broad tundra ridge, you should encounter the well-used trail #710 and begin following it south. This trail will lead past the west side of the 12,400 ft. closed contour and then will intersect the Continental Divide trail coming in from the south of Summit Peak, and near where the steep part of the east ridge begins. In the tundra-filled basin below Summit, we spotted a nice group of cow elk and their newborn.
The eastern ridge of the peak drops off through some rocky outcrops with a couple of penetrating gullies that lead up toward easier terrain above. You can take a more direct approach heading directly up one of these two gullies or swing around to the south side of the east ridge and contour your way up along the ridge on largely tundra slopes that steepen. On the east ridge, higher up, you may want to take numerous photos because of the spectacular shots that keep presenting themselves. The remainder of the hike up this peak is steep but negotiable, tundra-covered terrain with some embedded rock. From the summit, the north ridge that connects to The Unicorn and ultimately Montezuma appears problematic, but it's not. The views of this stunning southern Colorado landscape are stunning with vast, tundra and forest-covered vistas stretching out in all directions. With our visit in 2010, the forest here was still quite healthy. We would not be surprised to learn however that by this point, much of it has been beetle destroyed because the infestation in southern areas of Colorado is so great.
UN 13,020 (The Unicorn), is sequenced with Summit Peak and Montezuma Peak. One-way mileage and elevation gain are measured from the top of Summit Peak. Round-trip mileage and elevation gain assume completion of the sequence.
At the summit of Summit Peak, a decision must be made. The most direct route to The Unicorn, is to descend the north ridge of Summit. This has a somewhat intimidating appearance, but the only other alternative is to descend the east ridge, drop into the basin north of Summit Peak and work your way uphill back toward The Unicorn. This will consume a lot of time and the north ridge doesn't look that bad, so we struck out along it and found it not too unreasonable. For the first part, there is some steep descending on loose rock & rubble, but we picked our way through and in under a half hour, we arrived at a small, snow-melt tarn at the first saddle. Since the north ridge drops precipitously on the east side, descending always kept us on the west side of the ridge crest. By the time we arrived at the saddle, enough clouds were gathering to impel us onward with all haste. Things were building rapidly. So in 20 minutes, we walked up the easy tundra slopes to the barely 13,000 foot south summit of The Unicorn. The northern summit doesn’t crack the 13,000 foot barrier. On Google Earth, the summit of The Unicorn comes in at 13,002 ft. The figure of 13,020 used is an interpolated elevation.
Montezuma Peak is sequenced with Summit Peak and The Unicorn (UN13,020). One-way mileage and elevation gain is measured from The Unicorn. Round-trip mileage and elevation gain assume completion of the sequence.
From The Unicorn, head north along the ridge and either walk on over the northern, lower summit or contour past on the east side, then drop easily contouring down toward the Unicorn-Montezuma saddle. The terrain was all tundra so you should make rapid progress. You may pick up a trail that follows along here but then leave it as you begin the ascent to Montezuma. You will need to gain about 570 feet and the bulk of that is going to be on steeper, rockier, rubbly ground. Impelled by distant rumbles, we hiked rapidly upward surging through the rocks and arriving at the summit at about a half hour from The Unicorn.
To conclude the hike, we followed the east ridge of the peak down to a large, tundra-covered flat area and then dropped south through some rocky cliffs heading directly for the west fork of Treasure Creek that lay below us. The descent was fairly easy and went fast. Along the way, we found some irresistible flowers to photograph and we also flushed out a young, lone elk. Back at the creek, we crossed through tall stands of corn lilies and hiked over to the south side of the creek. Then we walked east alongside and above the creek until we came to the place where we had crossed it in the morning. Crossing on over, we began the very steep final descent back to our vehicle. The upper basin is very open and there's any number of ways you can descend besides what we used.