Peak(s):  Hunts Peak  -  13,071 feet
Date Posted:  07/23/2018
Modified:  07/24/2018
Date Climbed:   07/21/2018
Author:  JQDivide
Additional Members:   Maverick6981, bmcqueen
 Fireweed Walk   

Hunts Peak

Fireweed: Chamaenerion

Brad asked about hiking some 13ers in the Sangres near Westcliffe. After looking at weather we made changes. Turns out we probably would have been OK with the original plans. But I was very happy with the hike up Hunts Peak.

Hunts is one of the peaks I can see from our house in Divide. I can only see the summit, but that was enough to make it a great choice to hike. I’d been thinking about this one mountain for a while. Every time I’d drive Hwy 285 south in the San Luis Valley, I’d be all, “I can see that peak from our house.”

Chad and I were talking about weekend plans and he joined us for the hike.

Dead trees everywhere
Near the end of the road

We met in Poncha Springs, then drove to the road where we climbed in the Jeep for the ride to the TH. I downloaded the GPX file from luckyzsquirrel’s TR, which had the road and trail on it.

The road wasn’t bad, but there were a few washed out ruts down low that would make it difficult for a 2wd normal clearance vehicle. We parked in a pull-off just before the creek and gate. The trail follows an old over-grown mining road from the gate at 9,640 to about 10,840. Someone had driven up the road recently as the tall grass was pushed over.

The trail starts in a typical overgrown forest filled with both live and dead trees. The route was fairly gradual and we made good time. I didn’t notice the transition. But when I finally realized what we were walking in, I had to take a moment to stop and look around.

A fire had burned through this place. The TRs I’d read didn’t mention this.

Fireweed was abundant
Fireweed on the slope

All the trees were the honey color of lumber. Whatever fire burned here, was probably fast and hot, but didn’t linger. The fire had burned all of the trees from bottom to top, but did not completely destroy them. The burnt bark eventually fell off, leaving the bare pine wood exposed. It looked almost like a golden aspen forest. There were numerous trees that were still black where the fire had burned into the wood. And there were other trees, both standing and fallen that had been burned deep, but the wind and rain had washed the charcoal from them, leaving a brownish wavy texture.

I love dead trees. I love the lines. I love the contours of the colors. I was in a happy place.

Yes, it is sad our forests burn. But there is beauty in the ashes.

The ground cover was growing back. Fireweed flowers were abundant especially along the creek. (I’ve seen so many Fireweed flowers this summer, all over the state.) I knew this wasn’t an old fire, too many trees were still standing. I began looking for new aspen trees, and eventually found some.

We kept walking and kept taking photos. I knew as soon as I got to home and into internet coverage I’d have to find out about the fire.

Nearing treeine
The rocky ridge portion is just ahead
Rocky ridge
First view of the grassy slope

The Ox Cart Fire

The Ox Cart fire, southeast of Poncha Pass in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, started on June 6, 2013, due to lightning, but wasn’t reported until June 8. No structures were burned in the fire, which scorched 1,152 acres. As it started originally in steep terrain in a wilderness area, it was allowed to burn per forest service management plan, and grew slowly. About 10 acres on June 10. And grew from 28 to 150 acres from June 21 to 23, due to persistent hot, dry and windy weather. When it began spreading to the north, and spot fires started on the east side of the range, forest officials decided to contain the fire. Hot shot and hand crews plus helicopters were called in to fight the fire. The fire was contained on July 3, 2013.

Colorado State Patrol photo from Mountain Mail
Photo by Jacob Connors, seen on forest service page and the Crestone Eagle site
Ox Cart Fire map

Back on the trail....

We followed the road up the basin to a switchback. We could go up or take the easy road. We took the road. But it didn’t last long. There is a large rock formation where the road stops near 10,800. I wonder if they didn’t need the road to go farther, or if whatever they were using to build the road could not get through the rocks. Before the road stops there is a curve to it. Just above the curve is a mining hole which we didn’t see until the hike down.

We climbed the rock formation and began hiking up the steep slope. This is where the real work began and didn’t end until the summit. This route is short and steep.

This entire time we are walking in the dead trees. Given the time since the fire, 5 years, I would not want to be in this place during a strong wind storm. Too many trees are nearing the time where they will easily begin to fall over.

The slope was rocky and loose in places, but not like a gully. We were still in the trees. As we moved up we began seeing more Fireweed flowers, and eventually the slope was covered with them.

Rocky ridge
The grassy slope for 1,000 feet
Looking at the views
The slope
In the mountains, he's as radiant as a bride on her wedding day

Near 12,000 the trees dissipated and the ground became extremely rocky. We got our first clear look at the grassy ridge to the summit. The rocky ridge narrowed for a short bit, then a short drop and we were on the grassy slope for the next 1,000 feet. There were occasionally rocky patches here and there. Before long, we were on the summit ridge and the top of the northern most ranked 13er in the Sangre de Cristo Range. Took us about 2 hr, 45 min, to reach the summit.

We had great views of the Sangres to the south, though it was a bit hazy the farther south you could see.

Brad asked about hitting Red Mountain too. I thought about it. Would be great to hit another summit. But to be honest, it was just nice to be on a summit and relax. I wasn’t on the summit dealing with the tension of the ascent route, like the last several peaks I’d climbed. I didn’t have to worry about the weather, the route down, or anything else. It was great just to be, to sit and stare at the mountains and the sky.

We talked about possible hikes for the next day as we looked over at Antora Peak as a possibility. We talked about eating lunch at the Boathouse in Salida. Summit time was probably near 30 minutes. We did notice clouds building to the west, but nothing that posed any threat to us.

Chad moving up the slope: dead trees on the south side, live trees on the north side
Brad hit the summit first and found a good seat
Heading down after a very relaxing summit
Back into the trees
Wide shot pano
the slope
The slope
Back on the road
In the thick of it
Road was overgrown in sections

I texted my wife and asked her if I should wave at her. She doesn’t think I’m funny.

The hike down was uneventful, but I was able to enjoy the trees a second time.

We made it back to the road and I was happy to report we were making great time, as it had only taken us 3:07:54 to this point. They both looked at me like I was crazy. No, it says so right here…

Somehow, I managed to stop my GAIA recording while taking photos. And this became the joke of the day, as everything took 3 hrs, 7 mins and 54 seconds to complete, including the drive to Salida and lunch. And hiking Sherman the next day.

Hiking out, I watched for the transition from the fire damage to the live forest. It was near 10,400 and was pretty obvious if you looked for it.

The unburned portion of the route below 10,400
Almost back to the gate

So after the hike, I googled the fire and couldn’t find anything. I guess I was using the wrong terms. Ryan provided the answer. Then I read Otina’s TR… she hiked it shortly after the fire and her photos are mostly of the black landscape. Cool imagery.

More Photos

Unburned spot on the tree

Reminds me of a topo map
Through the eye
I am Groot
Fireweed and the summit
Fireweed on the slope

Fireweed on the slope
Fireweed on the slope
Dead tree and Fireweed

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 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43

Comments or Questions
07/23/2018 22:32
Has not logged in here since 2014. What a shame. He did some unique peaks and posted TRs that I both used and referenced in my own TRs.
I hiked Hunt's before the fire. Wow, what a difference!
That peak's a gem. Good choice.

07/24/2018 10:48
Pretty cool to see the transformation after 5 years of healing! Love the shots of the waxy burned trees, especially #30,33,35,37

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