Ascent of Hesperus Mountain on 2019-07-15

Climber: Dennis Stewart

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Monday, July 15, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Hesperus Mountain
    Elevation:13232 ft / 4033 m

Ascent Trip Report

I suppose this climb could have turned into an epic experience for me if I wasn't so experienced and prepared. What should have been a long daylight climb resulted in me not returning to my car until well after dark. My problem began with me not getting started hiking until nearly 8:30 AM, even though I had gotten up at 5:30 AM. I had stayed in a motel in Cortez, Colorado, so it took a long time to drive here. In addition, I was not able to drive to the end of the access point due to too much water in the road; however, I could see the entire summit ridgeline and a good ascent route. I was only 1.76 air miles from the summit here, so I left my car and hiked directly south cross country toward the section of the ridge I decided to climb. Unfortunately, the route lost a lot of elevation and I had one difficult stream crossing after covering .65 mile. At this point I was now only 1.48 air miles from the summit. I crossed a road after covering .71 mile and I decided I should follow this road upon my return in order to avoid the difficult cross country hiking I just finished. I continued up a steep slope toward the west ridgeline of Hesperus Mountain and reached the top of the ridge after covering .9 mile in 1.25 hours from my car. This was a steep climb, but I knew it was not as bad as the talus slope I had to ascend soon. I reached the talus just 10 minutes later and the rocks were fairly consolidated so the travel was not too bad until I reached the steep section, which was slow going. I took my first real rest at 11,570 feet after covering just 1.61 miles in 3 hours. It was now 11:30 AM, so I was not optimistic about summit success, since it was so late, the route looked very steep in the distance and the weather looked like it could get bad in the afternoon, but I was now only 1.08 miles from the summit, so I continued. It was an easy traverse across the west ridge until I reached the steep west slope of Hesperus Mountain where my progress slowed a great deal as expected. From a distance this slope looked technical, but my years of climbing has taught me you can never accurately judge the difficulty of a climb from a distance. Slopes that can look impossible from a distance can turn out to have Class 2 routes with no exposure despite their intimidating appearance. This was the case with this slope. Although I had to use my hands in a few places, the route never reached beyond easy Class 3 and the weather seemed to be holding, so I continued and reached the first rock shelf after covering a total of 2.59 miles in 5 1/3 hours. I continued to be encouraged because I was now only .22 air mile from the summit. Just 13 minutes later I reached the second rock shelf after covering a total of 2.63 miles and I was now only .17 air mile from the summit, but my elevation here was 12,792 feet, so I still had nearly 500 more vertical feet to climb. I was starting to hear distant thunder, but the immediate weather looked okay and there were many rock shelters, so I continued. At 13,071 feet after covering a total of 2.72 miles in 5.5 hours I reached a third or fourth (3rd major) rock shelf. I was now just 208 air feet from the summit and I knew I had to be careful because the hunger for a summit can cause a climber to make poor decisions when they are so close. The weather was still holding for me, however, and just 9 minutes later I was standing on the top of the highest point in Montezuma County after covering 2.74 miles in a slow 5 hours and 38 minutes. I found a summit register in a PVC pipe and, although it was raining all around me, I didn't hear any thunder anymore and I had blue sky above me, so I enjoyed a long 20 minute summit rest before starting my long descent at 2:25 PM. I reached the easier flat ridgeline at 4:03 PM at an elevation of 12,300 feet after covering just 1/2 mile from the summit. Although I am extremely slow at my age now, my descent was made much easier by finding a fairly good path that was not apparent during my ascent. It is located much higher on the ridge than the route I chose to climb up. I did lose this better route several times, but whenever I did I learned it was always above me higher up on the ridge. This would be a much better ascent path than the route I followed. I reached tree line again at 11,600 feet after descending for 2.5 hours and covering 1.32 miles. From here it looked like a long way to the talus field below me and, unfortunately, the mosquitos had rejoined me. I finally got off the talus at 6:45 PM, which was quite slow going, even though I followed the forested areas down as much as possible in order to avoid as much travel on the talus as possible. I had covered 2.08 miles from the summit at this point and I was down to 10,646 feet. My goal now was to find the road I had crossed on the way up, which I hoped to follow back to my car instead of having to go cross country. I found the road at 7:07 PM, but it was not in as good of shape as I had hoped plus I had a difficult stream crossing as I followed it. The elevation at the stream crossing was 10,395 feet and I had covered 2.33 miles from the summit at this point. I was only .57 air mile from my car here, so it was tempting to go that shorter distance, but I worried about having to cross the stream I had trouble crossing on my ascent. I continued on the road which reduced to a trail when I reached a sign that read,"West Marcos Trail #621." I followed this trail until 7:55 PM after covering a total of 3.1 miles from the summit, but I was now over a mile from my car. It did not appear the trail was ever going to turn back toward the car and cross the raging stream that I had been hiking beside on my left hand side. I knew I would eventually have to cross this stream in order to get back to my car. In addition the trail I was on had become obscured with several large snowdrifts, so I turned around and started back down the trail. At my age (70) I always carry a bivy sack with me, since I am so slow anymore and I was beginning to think I would not reach my car before dark, so I considered the possibility of having to bivy for the night. This would allow me to cross the stream in the morning when the snowmelt water would be much lower; however, at 8:25 PM I did find a log that I was able to sit on and scoot across the width of the stream safely. I now headed directly toward the car which involved having to cross another large talus slope, but at 9:37 PM, when I was only .3 mile from the car, I reached a road which I followed back to my car 14 minutes later. It was now 9:51 PM and I had covered a total of 4.32 miles in 7.75 hours from the summit. Despite having to travel in the dark and worrying about the dangerous stream crossing, I had an uneventful adventure partially due to my experience and preparation. I had plenty of food and water, plus water purification capability if needed. I had extra warm clothing, rain gear and a bivy sack. Last, but not least, I had two flashlights and navigation aids. I never reached a point where I was worried about not reaching my car basically because I was well prepared, but I was very glad to end up in a nice motel bed for the night instead of sleeping on the ground.
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Stream Ford, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles

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