Peak(s):  Brown Mountain A  -  13,339 feet
Date Posted:  12/28/2013
Modified:  12/08/2014
Date Climbed:   12/26/2013
Author:  d_baker
 Duco: Red Mtn Pass Series   


*Third Edition to the Red Mountain Pass Series

The summit draws near

*Red Mountain Pass Series

This edition is the third in a series of trips taken over a period of two weeks. The idea of linking my three reports of three different mountains came only recently. The three peaks that we hiked are all along the Hwy 550/Million Dollar Highway/Red Mtn Pass area, and they're a reasonable bunch to do in winter when other peaks may have access issues or avalanche concerns. I hope I have provided enough information and inspiration for others to check them out.
Thank you, and I hope you'll enjoy these reports!
First Edi., A Beating on the Anvil
Second Edi., McMillion Dollar Views
4th Edi., Just One More

December 26, 2013
Hikers: Terri Horvath & Darin Baker

Brown Mountain A (13,339')
a.k.a., Duco BM (Benchmark)
San Juan Mountains

Red Mountain Pass/Ironton Park area, E side of Hwy 550

Scenes from Duco

Trailhead: winter parking at Ironton Park (by tailings pond); Brown Mtn/Gray Copper TH
Route: Tr. #884 --> W face to gain N/S running ridge on Brown Mtn (see map at end of report)
Distance: ~9mi's RT (miles/roundtrip)
Elevation Gain: ~3850'
Difficulty: class 2; snowshoe approach on jeep road leads to a suck ass 1000' slope of shale like talus that provides nothing even close to good footing followed by one mile+ ridge walk to reach summit. Then reverse that to get down. All in all, a great day!
Time to Complete: 10hrs
~1hr 45min to treeline
~1hr 40min on 1000' suck ass slope (on ascent w/trail breaking, snowshoe stash, breathing breaks, etc.); ~1hr for descent of slope later in day
~1hr 30min on one mile+ ridge walk to summit (one way)
~many, many minutes spent taking pictures and saying, "wow!" and, "what's that over there?"

On descent of 1000' of suck ass slope; Ironton Park & Hwy 550 can be seen below in valley; parking is next to big white flat area (i.e., tailings pond)

Gear: daypack w/Essentials, additional winter time conditions gear (e.g., snowshoes, goggles, thermos, etc.); we carried avalanche gear on first attempt but decided it wouldn't be needed on our second day due to our recon of the route

Resources Used For Trip Planning: TOPO!; caltopo's shading feature (to identify avalanche terrain); Joe the Trench Builder (from Ouray Mtn Sports, thanks Joe!); NOAA weather forecast; CAIC website (Colorado Avalanche Information Center); lastly - intel garnered from our failed attempt the day before


Christmas Day dawns and we're huffing it up the Gray Copper trail en route to the SW ridge of Duco BM. Lucky for us, as there has been on our other hikes along the 550/Million Dollar Highway, there's been traffic. But the trench will only take us so far into the drainage; steep & deep trenching awaits us in Gray Copper Gulch.

The idea of hiking Brown Mtn came from Terri's friend, Jennifer. She had mentioned that it can be a good winter option in safe conditions. When I looked at TOPO!, the SW ridge looked like an option to me. Although we had looked up the drainage from the road on our way back from McMillan, and we could see steep terrain above the drainage. Using caltopo shading, it identified several areas of concern. However, perhaps due to a misunderstanding in communication, we were told (in an email) that the SW ridge was the winter route.

Christmas Day and we're snowshoeing up the trench on the Gray Copper trail. The avi terrain that had me concerned was actually not a problem as a lot of the runout was far from the trail with heavily treed areas between us and the runout, or the deposition zones were on the opposite side of the drainage/trail. Well cool! This might go!

But no, once we got the Gray Copper Falls, we found our problem slope. It was even graced with some recent (last 2-3 days?) avalanche debris. The path is wide. Crossing the path was a spooky proposition and would put us in an exposed position with obvious bad consequences. Plus, there was still slopes above that did not run. The snow conditions at treeline did not suggest we would trigger a slide from below and it was unlikely naturals would run. But still, spooky. Why risk it?

The slide path coming off of Pt 12,322' is center of photo, left of strip of trees

The above photo was taken from the W slopes route. The dotted red line is approximately where we went through the trees and the solid is where we entered the runout and turned around. If we had seen a photo like this before attempting, we would have never gone into the drainage!

Now what? We backtracked and went to a turnoff we had seen that morning. Terri had mentioned earlier that maybe the other roads shown on the map led to a good route on the W face. Huh!? Should have listened to the intuition! But what's an extra two miles (RT) and ~1000' of gain to learn some lessons?

In Search of a New Route: The W Face

Christmas Day, tails tucked from the spooky encounter, and we're scouting the new approach to gain the W face. At a rest stop, we meet (again) Joe from Ouray Mtn Sports as he came up behind us. Terri has met him before, and I had recently bought a pair of mountaineering boots from him. He and his wife were out snowshoeing their local workout track. Turns out that every winter - all winter long - he keeps this trench open to treeline on Brown Mountain! We talk for a while, and he confirms that the W face is the way to go in winter. It's a long day he said, but much safer than where we were headed!

Thursday, December 26

We're back the next day, with a renewed and optimistic attitude for a summit day. It's a cold start, but we warm up quickly as we snowshoed up the familiar trench. The jeep roads have several off shoots to various mines, but we stick to Joe's Super Highway and made decent progress.

We came from the right and continued on #884

The work ahead: 1000' of suck

Rewards given for enduring the Suck

Abrams Mountain (12,801') is the northern most named peak on this massif, and if you've driven S on Hwy 550 to Ouray before, you would see Abrams dominates the skyline over Ouray

Now just hike S for another mile or so, with a few bumps along the way

Photo by Terri

Plenty of eye candy to enjoy and dream about for future endeavors

A wonderful winter bliss

Views that rock like a Hurricane

Hurricane Pk (13,447'), center of photo, w/Hanson Pk (13,454') just behind; Rio Grande Pyramid (13,821') can be seen in the distance - right of center

N face of Pt 13,288' along the Brown Mountain massif

Over and beyond 13,288' and still 1/2 mile to go

For the skiers, I imagine the E face of Pt 13,288' would be sweet

A Handful of peaks on the horizon to the E: Handies, American, Jones, Niagara, & Crown

Terri approaches the summit of Duco

More "wow" time

We had been going without taking care of ourselves, so a much needed rest for drink & snacks were in order.

Terri searching for a reprieve from the cold but mild wind on this beautiful day

Goggles are for fun photos, nothing else

Featured points in the Red Mountain Pass Series

Anvil Mountain, 1st Edi.
McMillan Peak, 2nd Edi.

Fond memories for several of the peaks on the skyline

Pigeon & Turret Peaks, far left of center, two winter summits for me and Steve Gladbach two years ago from the time of this writing
Photo by Terri

Storm Peak (13,487') is in the center of the above photo

Terri retracing our steps

Sniffles, Potatoes, & Tea (l. to r.)
Photo by Terri

Wildhorse Pk (far left) and some other interesting slabby jaggy looking thing right of center
Photo by Terri

To the SW/W

We made the trek back along the ridge and descended the Suck slope, got down that piece of work safely, and then back to the Super Trench Highway by 4pm. A little over an hour later we were back at the vehicle.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you will enjoy the Red Mountain Pass Series!


Hindsight & Personal Notes

My work (golf course construction) takes me away from the mountains, which is my passion in life. For most of this year I was in places that don't have mountains (Louisiana for 7+ months and then Iowa for 2+ months). I left Iowa on December 3, with high hopes and dreams of climbing several different mountains. However, once I got here I realized I would have to scale back on what I wanted to do, mainly because I didn't think I was in good enough shape to attempt my dream peaks.

But that's ok, because thus far my time off has been great just the same!

I'm fortunate to have a friend like Terri, who just so happens to live in Montrose now and she was a great hostess and allowed me to invade her home and stay with her for two weeks! We managed to split our play time with 3 days in the Ouray Ice Park, and 3 days in the mountains. While she worked during the week, I also got to check out the Montrose area, as well as meet my friend Grant in the Ice Park for a day of climbing with him. So thank you Terri for sharing some adventures with me and for letting me stay with you. There's more we need to do for the Red Mountain Pass Series!

Until next time....

Approximate Route:
Blue: successful route on day 2
Red: Christmas Day attempt


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29

Comments or Questions
Beautiful, guys!!
12/28/2013 23:25
Great reports, Darin! Yes, having super friends like Terri makes it so nice! And reading reports like this during the long winter months keeps my sanity healthy! Great job you two!

12/29/2013 00:13
enjoy your trip reports.

You have a real eye for taking pictures (they are all beautiful).

Looks like you made some excellent summits during your time here.

To many more!

on a roll...
12/29/2013 16:16
I just read your glove comment the other day, haha. nice work out there man! ^ many many more.

Slabby Jaggy...
12/31/2013 16:15
Great TR. FYI: ”Slabby Jaggy” Peak is PT13411 aka Heisshorn just north of Wetterhorn. Here is a pic of it taken by Kylie when she, Boggy B and Monster5 climbed it and some other peaks nearby.

Thanks Jedi
01/04/2014 23:57
I was wondering if the slabby jaggy thing was Heisshorn or El Punto, but I wasn't sure. I haven't researched those peaks much so not all that familiar with them (yet).

Summit Lounger
Beautiful peaks
02/04/2014 17:19
Thanks for the 3 trip reports. It was great to read about your travels in southern CO. Sorry things were so busy during December. Looking forward to your next adventures....

03/09/2014 17:31
Not sure how I missed this series, Darin. Great reports and I'd really like to get there someday, with snow.

”Sniffles, Potatoes, & Tea”

Dad Mike
Mountain Terminator
08/12/2014 23:13
Love the picture of you with Storm Peak in the backround. You look like a machine.

Nice job making the best of your time back in Colorado. I'm sure it helps to have Teri by your side for motivation. Hope your next gig keeps you closer to home.

Thanks for the beta!
11/28/2015 17:02
We ended up skinning the road today until we got to the suck ass slope and decided to turn around due to high wind and a desire for beer. Another day, perhaps a Christmas weekend attempt!

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