ilanarama: a mountain (mountain)
[personal profile] ilanarama
We always get out of town for the long Labor Day weekend, since there are several motorcycle rallies in the area which attract the kind of rider who likes to make his or her bike as loud as possible. Next weekend I'm running the high-altitude Imogene Pass Run (more on that in another post), so I wanted to go backpacking at relatively high elevation. We decided to head for Endlich Mesa, sort of on the southwest end of the Weminuche Wilderness. We've done a number of hikes there; this time, we hoped to climb Sheridan Mountain and get to an unnamed lake on the flank of Emerson Mountain, which Britt had visited many years ago.

Ilana hiking

We jokingly call it "Endless Mesa" not just because it's a long, high plateau, but because the trailhead takes forever to get to, even though it's only about 30 miles away. The first 20 miles takes half an hour, on a paved road to Lemon Reservoir and then around the good gravel road to the reservoir's upper end; but then comes ten miles of rocky, rutted, bumpy, four-wheel-drive HELL, and it takes NINETY MINUTES to drive that ten miles. Two hours to get to a trailhead 30 miles away!

On the other hand, this miserable drive gets you to a trailhead at 11,350 feet. It doesn't take long before you're above timberline, hiking along a high ridge towards a sawtooth of Really Big Mountains. To the northwest, the mesa slopes gently down to timbered land and the deep plunge into the Florida River; to the east, it falls off steeply into a series of creeks which feed the Vallecito River.

It's very pretty - until the thunder starts rumbling. Then it's kind of scary to be up on the exposed ridge. It rained twice and hailed once on us, but we didn't hear thunder or see lightning. Still, we opted to quit early for the day and set up camp in a relatively protected spot. We went over the ridge between two of the bumps to camp just below the mesa on the east side, by a small unnamed lake right at treeline (around 11,500).

unnamed lake

I was happy to stop hiking since I'd had little sleep the night before and had come down with a migraine on the jeep road to the trailhead. After we set up our tent in the protection of the trees (which was a good move, as it stormed quite a bit in the night), I put my chair by the lake and napped, then read for a bit. I also crawled into bed shortly after dinner; the nice cool mountain air was so much easier to sleep in than our hot bedroom!

The next morning we got up, as is our custom, when the sun hit our tent. After breakfast we packed up and hiked back up to Endlich Mesa and then through the notch on the south side of Sheridan, to contour along to the saddle where we'd leave our gear and bag the summit. There's a small lake at that saddle, and we'd originally planned to camp there; we were very glad we didn't, as the whole draw on the south side of Sheridan, and on the saddle to its east, were filled with sheep.

(Our State Representative, J. Paul Brown, who we do not like very much, has a permit to run his sheep in this area. They are loud and stinky and drive off the wild game, and the sheepdogs came running and barking at us even while we were quite some distance off and clearly moving off to the side, not toward the sheep. It was really unpleasant and I thought we were going to have to hit this one persistent bitch-dog in the face with our hiking poles, she was that obnoxious.)

At 12,750 feet, Sheridan is not a Really Big Mountain, but it's the highest point on the ridge of small bumps that forms Endlich Mesa. We scrambled up the steep grassy slopes on its west to the summit, where we got excellent views of the big mountains to the north, the foothills (and a bit of Vallecito Reservoir) to the southeast, the amazing granite slabs and benches we'd be hiking out on to the east, and...New Mexico to the southwest! (We could just make out Shiprock poking out of the ground haze.)

View N from Sheridan

View S from Sheridan

View E from Sheridan

And directly to the east, J Paul Brown's STUPID SHEEP:

Sheep dip pond

Shortly after we began our descent, five high-country bucks with really big racks came trotting across Sheridan's flank. Unfortunately they saw or smelled us before we saw them, and they accelerated, bounding across and down the side of the mountain. It was quite impressive - no way could we move that fast!

We went back down to the saddle to retrieve our packs (and get barked at by the stupid dog, who came chasing after us, grr) and then started hiking east up the granite slabs. We turned around to get this shot of the peak we'd just climbed:

Mt. Sheridan

Then we worked our way across the granite slabs, which were much more impressive and blocky close up. (The lovely gray-and-pink rock would have been perfect for monumental buildings in capitol cities!) For the most part we were always able to thread our way through them, but we did have a few short downclimbs where we had to take off our backpacks and pass them down, and a few places where we needed to make big detours to find a way past a cliff. We crossed the head of the shallow valley just above a very nifty slot down which the creek ran:


Then we found a nice spot by another creek to have lunch. While we did so, we looked up on the ridge to our north - we'd be heading up there and then over its top to find our destination lake - and saw a bighorn ewe meandering among the rocks! She went right up to the skyline and made a very nice pose, which we looked at through our binoculars; our photo, alas, was not good enough to post, as our camera's telephoto was not nearly good enough to capture more than a vaguely animal-shaped bump on the ridge.

We climbed up to the ridge on a grassy ramp, then made our way basically along a contour line at 12,400 feet towards the northeast. Over a block of granite and boom, there was the lake, nestled in a granite basin - and it was beautiful. We set up our tent on a grassy bench, and then Britt caught dinner.

Emerson Lake camp Dinner!

Sunset brought an amazing alpenglow:


Again it stormed overnight, but the morning was clear and dry.

breaking camp

We spread out our things and let them bake in the sun, then packed up and headed down to the creek coming out of the Castilleja Lakes, which we followed to City Reservoir - Durango's water supply, and the lowest point of our hike at just under 11,000 feet. There we had a snack, and Britt tortured a few trout; then we climbed up the steep hillside to rejoin the Endlich Mesa trail and hike back to the trailhead.
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ilanarama: me, The Other Half, Moab UT 2009 (Default)

August 2017

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My running PRs:

5K: 21:03 (downhill) 21:43 (loop)
10K: 43:06 (downhill)
10M: 1:12:59
13.1M: 1:35:55
26.2M: 3:23:31

You can reach me by email at heyheyilana @


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