The Stage 3 fire and access restrictions to the San Juan National Forest have been rolled back to a Stage 2 condition which means access to the forest is once more open to the public. However, fire conditions still remain high and we are currently in the middle of a strong heat wave. Consult current regulations with the San Juan NF before planning any trips. Fines for violations are significant.
The access road to Thirtymile Campground and Rio Grande Reservoir turns off from SH149 either 20.5 miles west from Creede or 32 miles south from Lake City. The turnoff is marked by a road sign. From Lake City, you'll have to drive over Slumgullion Pass and Spring Creek Pass. This remote access for Rio Grande Pyramid and other 13er summits nearby makes these peaks some of the most distant for climbers coming from both the eastern and western slopes of Colorado, requiring multiple hours of driving.
Watch for FR520/CR18 turning off to the west side of highway 149. Initially, the road is paved as it drops down to a small reservoir where it turns NNW and turns to graded dirt. Shortly after that, stay left at an intersection. For the most part, stay on the most well-travelled road to get to Rio Grande Reservoir. Most major intersections are signed. So at about 3.5 miles from the highway, stay left and head south. In the next mile you'll come to Road Canyon Reservoir #1 where there is a National Forest Fee campground along the side of the road at the south end of the reservoir with a vault toilet and a half dozen sites or so. Continue on past the River Hill CG another 3.4 miles SW and then you'll arrive at the Thirtymile CG at 10.8 miles from the highway. Both Thirtymile and River Hill campgrounds are also Forest Service, fee campgrounds with vault toilets, tables, firerings and potable water. Sites can be reserved at www.recreation.gov.
To access the campground, you'll need to drive south across the river on a good bridge. There's a grassy/dirt parking area intended for backpackers and hikers on the north side of the main road into the campground. For the actual trailhead, you'll need to walk south from the parking area, crossing the other side of the road that loops through and then walk a little farther south from there. The trailhead serves as access for both Squaw Creek and Weminuche Creek. There is a kiosk there for registering your activity.
The trailhead for the Weminuche Pass trail is shared by the trailhead for Squaw Creek. There is a kiosk there with the usual Forest Service information and a box to register your hike or backpack. This trailhead is located on the south side of the campground, across the loop, campsite road and more toward the west end of the campground. The trailhead coordinates are for the actual trailhead and not some other spot in the campground. The correct trail number is 818.
When it comes to backpacking, approach hikes, this is one of the easier. A little over five miles of walking with only 1,325 feet of elevation gain places you in great position for five 13er summits that can be done from a very nice base camp. Our last trip here in 2008 still did not show much beetle kill damage to the forest, however, the Squaw Creek trail a little farther east showed at least 60% kill of the forest. We recently re-visited this trail I 2017 and found however, that the beetle kill has hit the Weminuche drainage as well with up to 80% kill in some areas.
For the Weminuche Pass trail, walk west from the kiosk on an old roadbed that shortly becomes trail which stays above the south shore of the reservoir, gaining little elevation for the first 1.25 mile. After that, in the next half mile it gains a few hundred feet and then makes a pronounced turn south, away from the reservoir. At just under 2 miles, you'll come to a major crossing of Weminuche Creek as it cascades down from above. There is a sturdy footbridge here and the location makes a great place for your first break and to take some photos.
Beyond the creek crossing, the trail first heads up along and above the creek on the west side, does a brief switchback north to gain some elevation, then returns to a more southwesterly direction. Not far past the stream crossing, you'll leave the denser forest behind. Much of the trail now follows along the edge of the forest with views of the open, grassy meadow that surrounds Weminuche Creek. The walking gradient is gentle. There is a campsite located on the east side of the trail perhaps a mile up from the bridge. The last mile to the pass, the trail enters more trees. You'll begin to see some possible campsites, but our preferred camping location has been just north of the pass, and just after you have crossed a stream coming in from the west that is a major tributary of Weminuche Creek. There will also be a trail branching off to the west near here. On the east side of the main trail, there are some clusters of trees and several flat places that offer excellent camping with the shelter of the tall trees. This was a very pleasant backcountry campsite, however our 2017 visit here showed that the trees in this location are now mostly dead. Lower growing vegetation is starting to fill in obscuring some of the flatter camp spots, but there are still two very good campsite locations. The tributary stream nearby offers an easy water supply. We should warn, this is primitive country and on our visit on 2008, we spotted an old, somewhat grizzled bear only a few hundred yards form the campsite. Remember this is wilderness and take the usual precautions with food and cooking.
Some additional trail information for those wanting to continue south: It's about one mile south to the intersection for the Rincon La Vaca Trail. Before reaching La Vaca Creek, there's a marked, trail intersection. Take the left fork that crosses an old diversion ditch for continuing down valley. Maps do not show it, but the right fork veers into the La Vaca drainage to then join the main trail there. The actual crossing of La Vaca Creek can be a little difficult as there is no bridge and no logs to use. Either plan on a wade or take your chances on a running splash through. Beyond there, the Pine River trail is easy to follow on down to the Rincon La Osa Trail. Shortly before reaching the La Osa Creek, you'll notice some trails heading off to the right after a steeper downhill section on the main trail. These lead over to a horse-packers campsite located on a knoll. They had several large tents set up there, but we found the camp unoccupied at the time. The following coordinates are for a good campsite, just off the main trail on the west side, and located about 50 yards from the horse-packers campsite. This camp comes just after crossing a small creek that originates a short distance west of the trail. N 37° 38' 47.3" W 107° 19' 56.4". When you reach these coordinates, just look west off the trail and you should see a good area among some beetle-kill trees.
From this campsite, in 2017, we followed the Rincon La Osa trail west for three miles up valley. We found this trail to be rather boggy in numerous places and highly damaged by a horse-packing group or multiple groups making walking on the trail very difficult at times. The forest through here also has a high percentage of beetle-kill. Our main motive in supplying this additional trail information is for those who might be interested in climbing Mesa Lato - one of the top five highest 12ers. From three miles up the Rincon La Osa trail, you can turn off the trail to cross a large, wide open meadow and begin the main part of the ascent to Mesa Lato. In general, getting off the boggy, horse-trodden trail will lead to easier terrain to handle. Coordinates for the summit of Mesa Lato are: N 37° 36' 01.5" W 107° 23' 58.6". These are field validated.
From our suggested base camp at Weminuche Pass, there are two trail options to reach UN13,157 (Window Peak) and UN13,017. The first option is to head south from the pass on the main trail #818 about 1.1 mile and intersect the Continental Divide Trail #813. Before that designation was made, the section of trail to the west of this trail intersection was named the Rincon La Vaca Trail, #714. This trail heads upstream to the west, at first gaining elevation gradually, then after 1.25 miles gaining more steeply as it heads westward and northwestward in direction. After about 1.75 more miles, it intersects another trail called "The Skyline Trail," coming from the north and the base of Rio Grande Pyramid. Where the two trails intersect, you're just a little NE of The Window and Window Peak. See directions below for the remainder of the route.
The other trail option begins at Weminuche Pass, near the suggested campsite. The "Skyline Trail" heads off to the west, marked by an old post with that name carved on it. G&JR refer to this as the "Opal Lake Trail." We're not sure where or what Opal Lake is unless it is the small pond/lake at 12,260 ft. SSE of the Rio Grande summit. Initially the trail gains elevation up along a wide ridge through open forest. At about 11,900 feet, the trail begins to break out of the trees and maintains a course below the ridge crest on the south face and begins a long contour in the direction of Rio Grande Pyramid which will come into clear view along with "The Window," a famous cleft formation in a volcanic dike south of the peak. This particular trail does show on the National Forest map, but is not numbered. It does not show on the original 1964 USGS map. On the Trails Illustrated map, it shows as a brown, dashed line, indicating lesser use and little if any maintenance.
As the trail continues its high contouring path, there will be some minor ups and downs and passage through taller willows. If the willows are wet, expect a good drenching in places. The willows provide some excellent elk habitat. In our 1994 trip, we flushed out a resting young bull who was equally surprised by our approach (probably less than 30 feet from us) and who bolted and fled by bounding and crashing through the willows a half mile before slowing just long enough to make sure we were not in pursuit, then continued on at a slower clip until out of site. This section of trail that contours well above the Rincon La Vaca does not follow the Continental Divide ridge crest as the Trails Illustrated map suggests, but stays well below the ridge crest as it heads west. The CalTopo map we provide gives better detail regarding this route.
The trail will turn south along the eastern flank of Rio Grande Pyramid. Follow it as it makes this turn to the south and at about the 12,200 foot level, a spur trail for Rio Grande heads off to the right. Continue south on the Skyline Trail until you are nearly east of The Window. Walk up towards The Window on steeper, but a mostly grassy, tundra slope with abundant wildflowers and perhaps a fainter trail and take a stop at The Window for the unique view and perhaps a photo or two. Then, contour south on the east side of the volcanic dike that forms The Window and associated ridge. Go far enough south to find an easy walk up way to the ridge and then likely turn back north some to find the high point of Window Peak. The rock that forms the dike is a colorful conglomerate of some sort with additional color added by various lichens. Enjoy the amazing view of Rio Grande Pyramid and even more impressive, the Grenadier and Needle Mountains to the west. (See photo stitch)
UN13,017 is sequenced with UN13,157 (Window Peak) for a medium to long hiking day from Weminuche Pass. One-way mileage and elevation gain are measured from the summit of UN13,157. Round-trip mileage and elevation gain assume completion of both summits. Helmets are highly advised for this peak. On another note, this summit does not measure above 13,000 ft. using Google Earth. According to that program, the highest point on this ridge is toward the north end and still only reads about 12,956 ft. at best. The southeastern end where the USGS indicates the highest point should be measures even lower. Therefore, finding summit coordinates were difficult using Google Earth. We went instead with what CalTopo shows on the USGS map. Use these coordinates with some caution.
From the summit of Window Peak hike south along the mostly tundra covered ridge to a broad pass that separates you from the next peak. Along the way you will pass some interesting conglomerate spires that some may want to photograph. From the saddle, you will see that there is a problem that becomes more evident as you drop down on the east side of UN13,017. This next summit has a fairly long summit ridge that appears to be very jumbled and broken. We felt for sure that there would be a great deal of slow scrambling if we attempted the summit ridge from the north, so we decided to try it from the southeast end. This requires a drop in elevation by at least a couple hundred feet below the saddle to avoid some of the rock and boulder fields that lay below UN13,017. Skirt some of these but eventually commit to scrambling through at one point to obtain the saddle on the southeast end of the peak. At this saddle, standing an estimated 200 feet below the summit, the ridge is nothing more than a very narrow stack of loose blocks and boulders. This is going to require some caution.
Head directly up the ridge toward the summit, at first walking carefully up piles of rocking boulders. This will bring you to the bottom of a more vertical section that requires route finding through a maze of choices and clambering around on great blocks of rock. Not too far up, we hit a critical section that required some 3rd and even 4th class maneuvering. At one point we had to back track a little to get a better route. It was a little exposed too, but trying to protect would have been difficult. Above this difficult section, we still had to cautiously climb toward the summit over more blocks. The summit itself is no more than the highest rocky spire along the extraordinarily narrow ridge. We came to one high point and looked north and felt that the next high point was the higher of the two, so we crossed over to it and tagged it as well. Both little summits can only accommodate one person at a time and you have to carefully and cautiously ascend them. See our photo of Carrie crawling to the summit.
West of you stretches the magnificent heart of the Weminuche Wilderness peaks, most of which are identifiable. One thing that may catch your attention is a prominent peak to the south that from either of your two summits appears to be higher. That peak is Mesa Lato and is measured at 12,988 ft., a little short of 13er ranking. (Whew! For a while we thought we were missing an important 13er summit located in the middle of nowhere.)
To descend retrace your ascent route as best you can. Going down is perhaps even more complicated than going up. Once off the steep section of ridge, you can make a decision regarding how you may want to return to the Weminuche Pass campsite. (Or you could bag a couple of 12ers close by before calling it a day. UN12,724 and "Ute" BM at 12,892 ft.) If heading back to Weminuche Pass, walk north, dropping down some into the Rincon La Vaca basin and contouring over a little above 12,200 ft. Regain a little elevation and then connect with the Continental Divide Trail. Here you can decide whether to return on the CD trail to Weminuche Pass or on the Skyline Trail. The Skyline trail will be a total of 6.25 miles from the summit of UN13,017 and about an additional 400 feet in overall elevation gain, and the CD trail will be 6.75 miles with only about 100 feet in elevation regain. Either way, you have a lot of walking to do. Pick your poison. To reach the Skyline Trail, you'll need to walk uphill a little more and to the NE walking past a small pond. The Skyline trail will be about a half mile beyond the pond.
For an alternative route description, see the link to a report by Ryan Kowalski on LoJ.