We have recently visited the Vallecito Trail in the Weminuche Wilderness from the trailhead near Kite Lake, across Hunchback Pass, down to where Sunlight Creek comes in, then up the Sunlight drainage. New and/or revised information has been posted for the Kite Lake/Hunchback trailhead and the associated approach segments including field-verified GPS waypoints for key campsites and the stream crossings to reach the upper basin of Sunlight Creek and Sunlight Lake.
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. There are several primitive campsites on both sides of the Pole Creek crossing. Watch out for the steep embankment climb out on the east side if the road is wet from rains. You could easily slip off the edge. After the crossing, continue south for under 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 4 miles (mainly because of potholes) to the former location of Beartown. (There's really nothing left to see there, but just before the road crosses Bear Creek, beyond the old townsite, there is some good camping. 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. Road Notes as of 2018: About half the distance toward Beartown, the road crosses an unnamed creek and at that spot, there are some difficult mud/potholes that have really been dug out. Longer bed vehicles may have some difficulty getting through. Take it slow. Closer to Beartown, the road passes through a fence line. At that point, the road conditions will begin to deteriorate and become more rocky as it begins to gain some elevation.
As the road begins climbing more steeply toward Kite Lake and the Hunchback trailhead, after crossing Bear Creek, it becomes quite a bit more rocky in that stretch as well. For a long section, the road is deeply entrenched in the middle because of runoff and the trench tends to fill with loose rocks. 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". You can find a good camp spot here as well. You can also find some additional camp spots within a few hundred yards of the Hunchback Pass trailhead. One of those spots goes off to the south to an old mining area.
You can find some very limited camping spots in the immediate vicinity of the Hunchback trailhead. 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.
Peak Two combines well with White Dome and Peaks One and Three for a full day of hiking from Kite Lake. Since that's how we did it, this route description for Peak Two begins from the summit of Peak Three. See also White Dome and Peaks One and Three for the remainder of this route description. From the trailhead for Hunchback Pass, you'll need to either drive or walk the remaining half mile to Kite Lake. If driving, this last portion of road will be the roughest. Mileage estimates and total elevation gain provided include going over White Dome, following the ridge SW to Peak One, then heading west to Peak Three. Also included in the estimate is continuing on to Peak Two and then returning to Kite Lake.
There are actually four possible approaches to these peaks. Three of those would involve a backpack trip of several days. The first backpack approach would be to hike in from Molas Lake down to Elk Park and up the Elk Creek/Colorado Trail to Eldorado Lake for a base camp. The second approach would still be from Molas Lake and up Elk Creek, but would turn off at the beaver ponds and head up into Vestal Basin. From the head of Vestal Basin, you could pack over "Trinity Pass" to Trinity Lake for another base camp and could climb White Dome and Peaks One, Two and Three from that location. The third approach could be in from the Highland Mary Lakes or the end of the road in Cunningham Gulch out of Silverton. Passenger cars can make it to a trailhead there where you could either pack up to the lakes and then connect from Verde Lake over to the Continental Divide/Colorado Trail which leads south to Kite Lake, or skip the lakes and hike up directly from the trailhead to the Continental Divide/Colorado Trail and follow to Kite Lake. This third option may be the shortest and easiest backpack option for White Dome and Peaks One, Two and Three. The best map to see all this on is the National Geographic/Trails Illustrated #140, "Weminuche Wilderness." Driving in from either Silverton over Stony Pass and then on to "Beartown" & Kite Lake or up from Rio Grande Reservoir and then "Beartown" to Kite Lake is the only plausible way to do this group as a "day hike."
Continuing north from the summit of Peak Three, follow the gentle but rocky ridge down to a saddle at 12,940 ft. Cross the tundra saddle and walk along the ridge crest to PT.13,392. Along the way, take in the great views of Arrow and Vestal Peaks to the WSW. You'll be on more rocky rubble and boulders most of the way up to the point. A rough section can be avoided on the left side of the ridge, but will make little difference. Lose a small amount of elevation from Pt.13,392 to another saddle, then make the final ascent to Peak Two finishing on more broken rocks that slow your progress. While making this traverse between Peaks Three and Two, make note of the cliffs that seemingly surround much of these summits, especially on the Vestal Basin side. An attempt to climb these summits from either Elk Creek or Vestal Basin by direct ascent would be problematic. Therefore, we would recommend that if you choose to approach from Vestal Creek, that you cross "Trinity Pass" and access from trinity Lake.
For the return trip, drop back south along the ridge, cross back over Pt.13,392 and then a few more hundred yards along the ridge south, drop off the east side of the ridge and descend down into the unnamed basin that sits below Peaks One, Two and Three. There's a small lake in an area of tundra you can head for. On the way down, if you pick the right path, you can find some scree to quickly descend on and save your knees a little. Contour around the lake and then follow a minor drainage with some plants and tundra that make the going easier through a minor cliff band that leads east into a basin between Peak One and Pt.13,453. Once in this minor basin, you'll have a very rocky ascent back to the saddle south of Pt.13,453 and west of White Dome. Higher up, when it becomes steeper, you can try to follow along the base of a sloping rock band for handholds and better footing. In early season, maybe you'll get lucky and find snow to ascend on instead of rocks. From the saddle, go just a little east and then head north down the steep and rock-filled basin toward an unnamed lake SW of Eldorado Lake. If you're early enough in the season or lucky, you'll find some snow to glissade on for several hundred feet. Continue hiking past the unnamed lake following a small drainage down toward the west end of Eldorado Lake on mostly tundra and savor the relief from all the rock. You'll pass a few other small tarns and several good campsites. Follow along the north shore of Eldorado Lake, cross the narrow outlet, hike up to the saddle that separates Eldorado from Kite Lake and return to your vehicle to rest your weary feet. Note: Eldorado Lake is a primo place for high altitude camping.