Pole Creek Mountain
"Tundra Top," as it is identified on LoJ, is an easy, mellow, Class 1 ascent. Without 4WD, the closest way to hike in is from the Cataract Gulch Trail to Cataract Lake. With 4WD, you can drive to the top of Carson Pass, access the Colorado Trail west and then easily climb the peak. We did this peak as part of a 4-day backpack trip in 1992 with our children. An older, unofficial name for this peak is "Meadow Mountain."
Tundra Top South Slopes Route
Medium Day // Take a Lunch
RT From Carson Pass TH:
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.
Wager Gulch/Carson Pass
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.
Carson Primitive Site ›
N 37° 52' 46.78", W 107° 21' 49.41"
Elevation 11,240 ft.
Click thumbnail to view full-size photo + caption
Year Climbed: 1992
From either Carson Pass, or a half mile to the south from the pass, you want to connect with the Colorado Trail and head west. The trail drops down in elevation some toward Lost trail Creek, then easily regains elevation to a non-descript, tundra pass that separates the Lost Trail drainage from the Pole Creek drainage. If you're backpacking in, we found a good campsite location about one mile west of this pass in the open tundra, on a bench not far from an overlook of Cataract Lake. Warning: There may be a large herd of domestic sheep grazing in this area.
From the Pole Creek/Lost Trail Pass, turn north and ascend mostly tundra-covered slopes with some scree higher up to the ridge that connects Carson and Tundra Top. At the ridge, turn west and amble on to the large summit area of Tundra Top, peering occasionally over to the north and looking down the dramatic cliffs. When we climbed this summit in 1992, the summit register identified this as "Meadow Mountain." From Carson Pass, you can probably do this peak alone, easily in a half day, but why stop with one? Cataract Peak is just north, less than a mile away.
Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
Mountain Handbook ›
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