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Vallecito Trail Update

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. 

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LoJ: #390 (G & M: #389) / 13,302' UN 13302 P 2

Range › San Juan Range
Quadrangle › Storm King Peak
Summit Location › Peak Route Icon N 37° 37' 33.66", W 107° 30' 48.95" (Not Field Checked)
Neighboring Peaks › Peak Icon "P 3/UN13300 D"

Peak Summary

With 3,600 feet of straight up gain, UN13,302 is a Class 3, strenuous ascent from Vallecito Creek, near the crossing to Sunlight Creek in the heart of the Weminuche Wilderness. Closest vehicle access is to drive into Beartown (old ghost town site) below Kite Lake and hike in from the trailhead north of Hunchback Pass. 4WD is required for that approach and a backpack. Otherwise, you can also backpack in from Needleton, up Chicago Basin, over Columbine Pass, down Johnson Creek to Vallecito Creek, then pack upstream to the start of this route. You can also approach from Vallecito Reservoir and backpack up Vallecito Creek to the start of this route.

UN 13,302 West Couloir to North Ridge Route

Class 3
backpacker icon + Peak Icon
Backpack + Medium Day
RT From Bear Creek/Hunchback Pass/Kite Lake: 19.2 mi / 7,475'
RT From Sunlight Creek Crossing: 3.5 mi / 3,675'
  • 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. 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. 


      Camping

      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.


      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 Crossing

      • 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 (or could perhaps be considered an unnamed fork of Nebo Creek.)  The trail cuts trough plenty of willows in this section and stays on the west side of the drainage until a little 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 Campsite sits near the intersection of the Vallecito Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. This camp site is not to be confused with another located about a mile farther down the trail where Nebo Creek is actually crossed. The elevation is appx. 11,400 ft. Coordinates are below. These coordinates have been field checked. The campsite is right off the main trail. Because of the beetle kill damage to the old growth trees here, the original camp area has seen some ground vegetation moving back in. There is still one, good, main tent site with fire ring as of 2018, a smaller but usable tent site just off to the NW from the fire ring and 50 yards south, there is a potential camp site located on the grassy knoll. Water may be obtained from Nebo Creek which will lie east of and downhill from the campsite. 


        Campsite Locations

        Nebo Campsite N 37° 41' 10.9", W 107° 31' 14.7"
        11,400 appx. elevation

        Open This Approach in a New Window
      • 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, then SW down the Vallecito Trail. The trail swings to the west through forest, staying above Nebo Creek and then makes an abrupt turn back to the north to cross the unnamed fork of Vallecito Creek that originates near Hunchback Pass. Watch carefully for this minor crossing. Then, the trail continues down and generally west to SW. Along this next stretch there is one small campsite we've noticed on the south side of the trail that has some slope and could accommodate one tent. This is what we would call a "do-in-a-pinch" type of site. Continue down trail to the WSW to a switchback that will drop you to Nebo Creek (which by this point has been joined by the aforementioned unnamed fork and now carries a lot more water). Just below this switchback, there is a not-too-noticeable trail that heads off to the SW which we believe to be an alternate route into Stormy Gulch. When you arrive at the crossing of 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 and other times, there's little help. You may have to wade. You can also explore upstream where you may find a better crossing place with rocks that allow hopping over the stream. In our July, 2018 visit, the water was so low, crossing anywhere was easy. Before crossing, if you follow the stream up, there are some good campsites with as many as four possible tent sites. Beyond the last tent site there is a picturesque waterfall. 

        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 by heading up Stormy Gulch. 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. The trail that leads west across the meadow can be rather faint. The best campsite will be a few yards north of that trail (see field checked coordinates), and there's another campsite in some younger trees 50 yards south of the trail. 


        Campsite Locations

        Trinity Creek N 37° 40' 33.01", W 107° 31' 30.7"
        Elevation 10,560 ft.

        Open This Approach in a New Window
      • 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. As of 2018, because of all the beetle-kill damage, the undergrowth is becoming quite lush in places and at a few points, the trail becomes a little obscured. Some of the delphinium along here grows as much as 5 feet tall! We have never found any useful logs at Rock Creek 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

        Over the years, the Rock Creek crossing has never seen the development of any really nice campsites. The flattest with the fewest rocks is right off the trail, on the north side of Rock Creek, where the Rock Creek/Lake trail turns off. See coordinates below. 


        Campsite Locations

        Rock Creek N 37° 39' 17.2", W 107° 31' 12.9"
        Elevation 9,970 ft.

        Open This Approach in a New Window
      • 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. Beetle-kill has destroyed most of the old growth 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, but as of July, 2018, a small cairn marked the turnoff to head for both campsites and the crossing. Coordinates for this turnoff are: N 37° 37' 48.5"  W 107° 32' 17.2".  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 field-checked 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 which 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. Coordinates are: N 37° 37' 52.1"  W 107° 32' 21.7".  If you are on the main Vallecito trail (which is farther east away from Vallecito Ck. than the USGS map would have you believe), watch for the small cairn and follow the faint trail generally west bypassing some taller willows and crossing a nice open meadow. The trail will fade some, but look for it becoming defined again just before it drops down an embankment and crosses a small, marshy, muddy area. The now more defined trail will lead directly to the Vallecito crossing point. 

        Just before that trail drops off the embankment, there is a good camping area located in some mixed trees (aspen & conifer) north of the trail and on a low rise. There is also another good campsite after you drop down the embankment. A fainter trail will head off north and in about 100 yards will go up onto another low, open rise. Make a hard turn to the left and walk to another well-established camp location surrounded by a mix of aspen and conifers. 



        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' 52.1", W 107° 32' 21.7
        Vallecito/Sunlight Camp N 37° 37' 51.6", W 107° 32' 17.4"
        9,722 feet elevation

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    Peak Icon Route Map Photos

    Route Info UN 13,302 West Couloir to North Ridge

    Route Description

    Year Climbed: 2005

    This route description will begin from a campsite located near the crossing point of Vallecito Creek to access Sunlight Creek. For the backpack approach, you need to read the approaches from the trailhead that takes you over Hunchback Pass, down to Nebo Creek, across Rock Creek and then to the campsite at the Sunlight crossing. If climbing other 13ers in this area, you may want to consider climbing UN13,121 first (up the Sunlight drainage) because the view from its summit offers a great chance to scout out the route to UN 13,302.

    There is a pronounced avalanche chute/gully that sweeps down from the ridge just north of the UN13,302 summit. The bottom of this gully is a little difficult to locate because of trees at the lower end. It will be just a little south of the crossing site for Sunlight Creek and the campsites near there. These coordinates should help you identify the start: N 37° 37' 42.47"  W 107° 32' 19.15". You'll need to walk from Vallecito Creek, back across the Vallecito trail to locate this start on the east side of the trail. Hike into the trees aiming for the chute/gully. The lowest point at which the trees open up in the chute is: N 37° 37' 37.79"  W 107° 32' 10.53". You will encounter a lot of debris in the chute itself, so stay on the north side in the forest and head up for several hundred feet following game trails where they assist. Eventually you'll come to a section of the chute that widens out where you may want to enter it. There will still be fallen and uprooted trees, but fewer and more manageable now. A low ridge in the middle of the chute helps deflect debris to either side and you can hike more easily on the ridge crest through small aspens.

    Looking up the chute, you'll see a tighter section with a likely waterfall (except later in the season). Exit the chute below that waterfall on the left and then re-enter the chute above it. The going is steep but mostly secure. Higher up, the chute appears to divide into two gullies with an island of trees in the middle. That's about 11,400 ft. We decided to follow the apparent path of least resistance by heading up the left fork, lured by greenish, tundra slopes amid the increasing rubble. Having scouted this route out from UN13,121 the previous day, we knew the right fork had snow and might not only require ice axe, but crampons or micro spikes, which we had not brought.

    The two chutes/gullies become clearly divided by a rock rib. Continue in the left chute where after a few more hundred feet, you'll lose all tundra and will be hiking on steep boulder rubble. Higher up, this left hand chute begins to fragment into several minor gullies, defined by the angle of the metamorphic rock ledges. Several times we worked our way left somewhat in order to gain a higher ledge or ramp, but always working our way east and south, in the direction of the summit. As you near the north summit ridge, you'll find yourself scrambling at times to search out a route amid the ribs and boulders. This is where you'll most likely encounter some 3rd class work, which is not too exposed or insecure. Finally, gain the summit ridge and walk south over broken rubble and boulders to the summit, not too far away. There's some more minor scrambling, but no more serious obstacles.

    The summit offers an expansive view of the numerous peaks all about. The most stunning view will be to the west, up the Sunlight drainage where the view of Jagged will mesmerize you. UN13,302 has a false summit to the south. Coming from that direction offers an interesting problem. Read about that approach on UN13,300 D (P3). To descend, you're best off just heading back the way you came for a knee-bashing descent back to the Sunlight/Vallecito camp.


    Additional BETA

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