Peak(s):  Hunts Peak  -  13,071 feet
Bushnell Peak  -  13,105 feet
Red Mountain - 12994
Galena Peak - 12461
Simmons Peak - 12050
Mount Otto - 12865
Methodist Mountain - 11707
Date Posted:  08/03/2015
Modified:  07/26/2018
Date Climbed:   07/31/2015
Author:  Jason Halladay
 Northern Sangres Traverse From Hayden Pass to Salida In a Day   


"You pile up enough tomorrows, and you'll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays. I don't know about you, but I'd like to make today worth remembering." -Harold Hill in Music Man

Countless times I'd driven along highway 285 on the west side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Villa Grove, CO looking at the elegant ridge of the northern Sangre de Cristo range stretching out for many miles. It's been hiked and backpacked by many people but the traverse from Hayden Pass into Salida (or vice versa) hadn't been done in a day (that I knew of) so when I went to give it a solo shot for my birthday I harbored some uncertainty about what I was getting into. I did know that In September 2013, Brendan Leonard and Jim Harris backpacked this ridge, and more, all the way down to near California Peak in a couple weeks. I've since learned my friend Carl Gable and his friend Joel had done all or most of it, to/from Salida, in a day a few years ago so the obvious nature of the traverse has certainly enticed others into a big day.

My friend Bill and I had mapped this route out at least eight years ago but never made it a priority. I was amped for it this summer and made the plan to go solo with my wife graciously driving up to Salida to pick me up when I was done so we could enjoy a night in Salida on the eve of my birthday. I drove up Thursday evening to a car camp just inside the national forest boundary on the west side of the Sangres below the rugged Hayden Pass road. The dirt road in from Villa Grove to the Hayden Pass Creek drainage is in good shape most of the way but gets pretty bumpy in the last mile to the drainage. I setup my tent around 10:30pm in what appeared to a small parking area for an even smaller private cabin right along Hayden Pass Creek at 9,000' elevation. I was a bit too excited for the outing so sleep didn't really work out so when a critter scratched on my tent around 1:30am, I woke up for good, noticed the super bright moon and calm air and decided to start a bit earlier than I had planned. Thus, at 2:00am, I hit the trail with a couple liters of water, some food, rain gear and lots of psych! Here it is on the Strava.

What turned out to be 14 hours, 28 miles and 11,000' of vertical gain would take me over the top of 17 USGS-marked summits along the ridge. Ordered from south to north, the summits are:

Galena Peak - 12,461'
Mount Otto - 12,865'
Point 12,802'
Bushnell Peak - 13,105' (Bonus: Fremont County High point)
Twin Sister South - 12,730'
Twin Sister North - 13,012
Point 12,924'
Red Mountain - 12,994'
Point 12,705'
Hunts Peak - 13,071'
Point 12,593'
Point 12,471'
Point 12,401'
Simmons Peak - 12,050'
Point 11,237'
Communications Towers - 11,695'
Methodist Mountain - 11,707'


I made good time up the Hayden Pass road 2.5 miles to Hayden Pass proper and was now on the ridge I'd be on for the next 20 miles or so.

The hiking up from Hayden Pass started out on an old, faint dirt road and eventually hit treeline where I saw the last of any trails for the next 18 miles. From here on out it would be ridge cruising at its finest with plenty of no-trail rock hopping. The early morning was beautiful with a bright moon illuminating the ridge. The air was completely calm and I enjoyed hiking sans headlamp and in a t-shirt and shorts.

As clouds began to dim the moonlight, the sun started to illuminate the horizon to the east.

As the sun came up, I could now appreciate the distance and awesomeness of the ridge running ahead of me.

And, seriously, it was one of the best mountain sunrises I've ever been witness to.

Between Mount Otto and Bushnell Peak the eastern side of the ridge is pretty rugged and dramatic

Looking back towards Mount Otto and a great view of the San Luis Valley to the west

I like this photo as it shows most of the traverse in shadow profile against the valley

That green area above the Stout Creek Lakes beckons for a wonderful backpacking camp.

The bright reflective spot in the lake is a fish. The lake is teeming with fish. I watched many fish swim around for a couple minutes.

Red Mountain (12,994') is named, I presume, on account of the red streak on it's southeastern slope. The lake below

West Creek Lake would be my only water resupply of the day. I grudgingly descended the 700' down to the lake to filter water from the lake. As I hiked back up to the ridge crest I happened upon a strong water flow just 100' below the ridge. D'oh! But this is good beta to remember.

Red shoes on the summit of Red Mountain (12,994') looking south

The summit register of Hunts Peak (13,071').

I noted Brendan Leonard had been on the summit on 9/4/2013 during he and Jim Harris' two-week backpacking traverse of the entire ridge from Salida to California Peak. I had to fix his comment in the register, though. A few of the summits had registers with most of them being old glass or plastic peanut butter jars.

A look back south at Hunts Peak. Hunts Peak is the northern-most 13er in the Sangres and the 594th highest peak in Colorado

After Hunts Peak, the ridge to the north becomes more gentle, green and runnable. I could now see Salida (the end of the trek

More green and more rolling. Beautiful up there. Simmons Peak (12,050') is in the cloud shade left of center.

The view back towards Hunts Peak as I continued along the ridge towards Simmons Peak. Hunts Peak is very recognizable.

From the summit of Simmons Peak I had a view towards my last two peaks of the day...the communications tower peak and Methodi

Along the ridge between Simmons and Methodist one has to do a lot of blown-down, dead tree avoidance. This bit of blowdown is

One major bummer of this ridge traverse is the years-old, major tree blowdown area along the ridge north of Simmons Peak. It makes progress slow even when it's navigated well. I felt I did a pretty good job of getting around it but eventually had to end up doing some hopping over and crawling under gnarly downed trees.

I think I did a pretty good job of working around most of the blowdown but eventually had to start the tree hopping and crawl

Finally I made it to the communications tower summit. I managed to frame Hunts Peak between the two buildings.

On the top of Methodist Mountain (11,707'), the last summit of the day for the big traverse. The communications tower pe

The descent off Methodist Mountain down to Salida follows CR108 for a few miles & passes by one of the trailheads for the

Because I think this would make for a good fastest know time (FKT) challenge, I timed the 22.5 mile segment from Hayden Pass sign at the pass to the Rainbow Trail parking/trailhead sign on Chaffee Country Road CR108 at 12:52:11. Low hanging fruit for sure and I'd love to see someone else crush this traverse.

Slowest marathon ever. Without trails for almost all of the ridge, the going was slow

Dirt turned to pavement and I found myself rolling down into Salida a little after 4pm making for a 14 hour, 28 mile day with

In the end, this birthday adventure turned out to be a perfect day starting with a nearly-full blue moon, a brilliant sunrise, perfect weather all day and miles of off-trail ridge cruising. I couldn't have asked for a better experience. I'm now excited to try it in the reverse direction. Map:

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

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

Comments or Questions
08/03/2015 16:48
A few weeks ago, I attempted to go from Bushnell to Hunts from the Hayden Creek TH, but instead of taking the Rainbow trail, I got confused and took some unnamed road that quickly petered out and had me bushwhacking up Mt Otto instead. I was gonna start a stupid thread about being the first ascender of the East Ridge of Mt Otto, but I’m sure that’s not true. Ended up just tagging: Otto, 12802, Bushnell, and Twin Sisters North and descended Stout Creek to the Rainbow trail.

Fortunately, I didn’t make it all the way to Hunts because that would’ve been a Looooooong way back on the Rainbow trail.

Great idea for a long traverse, and congrats about tagging all those points! I’ll try to get back up there and tag 12924 to Salida sometime. Appreciate the beta on the rest of the traverse.

Yup, nice!
08/03/2015 20:00
I love that area. Hey, I see my name in that register ("Bill and Jim")!
Great photos

I like how you didn’t even mention that you had to drop 800’ to get water (I assume) at West Creek Lake and climb back to the ridge.

08/04/2015 08:44
what a cool way to hit the Sangres! Well done and great TR. A lot of big names in that Hunts register, including Bill

Jason Halladay
08/04/2015 14:03
I appreciate the comments. It was a very rewarding outing where I had to overcome some bit of doubt about doing it in a single push. Bill M., I did add the fact about dropping down to West Creek Lake for water. The best part about that was coming back up to the ridge and finding a strong flow of water a mere 100’ below the saddle but closer to Red Mountain. D’oh!

Northern Sangres
08/08/2015 06:23
I have been eyeing up a similar trip. I live just below Bushnell and Twin Sisters on the Howard side and look at this area everyday and its looks appealing. I have climbed up from Stouts and Bushnell but at some point to do a traverse of at least the alpine summits. Good to see the details and I’m not the only one that thought of this.

Steve Knapp
08/09/2015 17:10
Nice day out Jason! That’s a long way down from the Methodist summit to Salida. Did you see any vehicles on that road? I tried to drive up the north side a few weeks ago but encountered a locked gate near the Rainbow trail. Maybe it is permanently locked? I had to drive around to the south side and hike in from near the Dorsey Creek TH. Many blowdowns in there too this year.

Mike, Brian, and I did this ridge run a few years back (excluding Methodist). We hiked in June and found water and plenty of snow so we could stay on the ridge. Shuttled cars from Hayden Pass to Dorsey Creek. I now wish we had added Methodist that day, but we were pretty beat by then and that blowdown would have sucked. That is one of my favorite long days.

Well done, and it’s great to see a report from you!

Jason Halladay
08/16/2015 09:06
I appreciate the comments all. Steve, great to see your name again. I did run into some workers on the top of Methodist. They didn’t say anything to me and drove past me on the road as I descended. There’s still a locked gate about 1.5 miles from the top of the road that says "private property" but the USGS maps shows the area as national forest so I think it’s legit to hike the road and go across the top of Methodist and the radio towers summit.
I had scouted the road into Dorsey Creek the weekend prior but that would have been logistically tough for me to use that approach and you’re right about the blowdowns...plenty of them. Someone had cut and removed the blowdowns on the road almost all the way to the Dorsey Creek TH recently so that helps a lot. The blowdown along the ridge from Dorsey TH to Simmons Peak sure is annoying!

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