Monumental Peak is a Class 2 hike located south of St. Elmo with a trailhead easily accessible to most passenger vehicles. Hancock Peak (13,111) may be easily combined with Monumental Peak, which lies south a couple miles along a ridge that also includes a "soft-rank" summit called Van Wirt Mountain. The three summits may be completed in a single day. The terrain is very typical of the southern Sawatch Range with an above average amount of rubble, talus, etc.
From The intersection od US285 and US24 just west of Johnson Village, drive south about 5.6 miles and turn right (west) onto Chaffee County Road 162. IF coming from Poncha Springs and the US 285/US50 interchange, drive north 15.4 miles and turn left (west) onto CR162. Once on CR162, drive west to St. Elmo, appx. 16.4 miles. Just before the turnoff for St. Elmo, there's a large pullout area on the south side of the road with a vault toilet. Just beyond there is the turnoff for St. Elmo. The road into the town veers off to the right. Veer left to stay on the road to hancock, whch changes from CR162 to CR 295. It is not necessary to take the road down into St. Elmo. Continue on what becomes CR295, aka: "The Hancock Road" for an additional 5.8 miles to the ghost town site of Hancock. There is limited parking at an area where the road makes a turn to the west. The drive from St. Elmo to Hancock is generally a 2WD, graded, gravel road, but it has frequent potholes and bumps that drivers will have to slow down for. There is also one rougher section where the road had to be re-routed around a damaged section that can be rough as well. Carefully driven passenger cars can make the drive, but an SUV type vehicle with better ground clearance would be safer.
A few hints for climbers trying to access other areas: 1. The 4WD road up to Hancock Lake was a very rough road in 2004 and is now much worse. From the trailhead parking, the road immediately becomes a pile of small rubble which also serves as a small stream which has carried away any and all dirt. We would recommend this road only for short bed, high clearance 4WD or ATV's of some sort. 2. The Grizzly Gulch Road #296, that leaves out from just a little south of the turnoff for St. Elmo is basically no more than an ATV track now. We took one look at it and quickly decided this was not the place for out Toyota Tundra. 3. The Pomeroy Lakes Road #297, we did drive in 2019 in the same vehicle, but did not make it all the way to the lower lake. We ended up parking at a location in the road where there was something of a primitive camping area, probably about a half mile down from the lower lake at about 10,640 ft. The road was slow and rocky enough to this point and only got considerably worse as you approached the lake. We were glad we parked where we did and walked the remainder. The driving had slowed to the point where we could walkabout as fast.
There are several Forest Service campgrounds on the way up CR162. These include: Boot Leg, Mt. Princeton, Chalk Lake, and Cascade - all within San Isabel National Forest. The last NF campground will be Iron City, which is a right turn off the short road that takes you into St. Elmo. As with all the others listed, there is an overnight fee. We stayed at this campground summer of 2019 and found it to be only about half occupied on a weekday, but expect all of these to fill on summer weekends. All but Boot Leg have water available and vault toilets. Boot Leg does have a toilet.
Additional camping may be found at Hancock. Just before arriving at the trailhead, there's a nice pullout on the west side of the road before it turns west for the parking area. Also, if you drive past the trailhead parking on the road/trail for the Alpine Tunnel #298, just a short distance on that road, there's a 4WD track that turns off on the right and heads north into a large open area with multiple, primitive camp spots. 4WD is required to reach this location. It can be seen on Google Earth.
This climb was completed Labor Day weekend 2004 after a night of snow, so there was about 2 - 3inches of snow that covered much of the terrain we hiked on.
Walk south up the road toward Hancock Lake. About a half mile short of the lake, at an elevation of appx. 11,600 ft., veer off the road heading toward the SW and cut through some of the last forest near timberline toward the NE facing slopes of Hancock. The correct trajectory will bring you to a level bench area just beyond the forest. Begin ascending from here. On this day, because of the snow that tended to lay heavily on the grasses and soaked our boots, we tended to follow more rocky areas. Of course, walking on slick rocks is really no better so even though the ascent up the NE slope is not all that steep, the snow & wetness made the entire hike up much more treacherous than it would normally be. Overall, with better conditions, there's plenty of a grass/tundra mix to keep this hike up from becoming too tedious.
An hour and a half of hiking up should bring most fir peakbaggers to the summit ridge. We emerged on it a little north of the summit. Where we came out, there appeared to be two possible summits in opposite directions. After turning the wrong way, we corrected ourselves and quickly come to the true summit that had a large rock cairn and a stick protruding from the cairn. Once on this ridge, the going is almost all on rubble, which if wet, as it was for us, will slow progress. Unfortunately, we can't say too much regarding the view here. Clouds were swirling all about us, but on a good say, you should enjoy an excellent view looking down on Hancock Lake.
Monumental Peak is sequenced with the lower Hancock (13,111) Peak. One-way mileage and elevation gain are measured from the summit of Hancock. Round-trip mileage and elevation gain assume completion of the entire sequence.
From the summit of Hancock Peak, proceed south along the ridge crest. At first, there is some fairly easy terrain with some tundra for a few hundred yards. Then the ridge passes into an area of rock ribs and gullies that drop off to the east. Things become progressively rocky here. As you ascend up to Van Wirt Mtn., the final approach will be on all rubble/talus. The day we did this hike, as explained on the Hancock Peak route description, it had snowed and the tedium of navigating wet, slippery rocks was taking a toll on us mentally. We decided that to avoid all the rock up to the summit of Van Wirt, it might be better to drop off on the east side of the ridge and contour south, below the summit of Van Wirt, then regain the ridge to Monumental further on. This was clearly a mistake in judgment. We dropped down a couloir on the east side of the ridge which was a little tricky, then found ourselves forced down much more than anticipated. This contour effort took us through just as much, if not more rock, all of which was wet and slickened by the snow. Then we still had to regain nearly 400 feet elevation back to a saddle on the south side of Van Wirt. Moral of this story - just go on over Van Wirt. At least you'll be tagging a "soft-count" summit, which we were unaware of at the time.
From the summit of Van Wirt, there's a good drop to a saddle followed by an ascent to the false summit of Monumental Peak. (13,254) Past the false summit, the terrain levels out some making handling all the rock a little more manageable. There is then one more saddle, followed by the final, rocky ascent to the summit of Monumental. All along this section, steady winds were blowing snow into our faces. Funny how what can be a fairly simple hike on a nice summer day can suddenly become something more like a winter expedition with life-threatening conditions. Huddle with all our spare clothing on, we finally gained this summit, but with the weather, there was no view to enjoy. If you climb this on a better day, there will be nice views down into the Middle Fork of the Arkansas.
For the return trip, our goal was to get off of the exposed ridge with the wind and snow, so after dropping back north to the first saddle, we headed down into a boulder-filled basin and contoured through the relentless boulders toward the NE ridge of Van Wirt. This also required traversing across a very steep slope to reach the ridge. We hit that ridge at about 12,600 ft. We assumed that things would get easier on the ridge, following it down to the NE, but we were wrong. We did follow the ridge all the way down to Chalk Creek Pass, but it would have been better to have dropped north off the ridge toward the upper Hancock Lake by way of a steep, rocky gully and get down to tundra. All along the NE ridge, we found ourselves scrambling over large-sized boulders on several occasions. Once you reach the pass, the rocky struggle is mostly over. Pick your poison. From the pass, just follow the trail back to the 4WD road and hike back to the trailhead.