Peak(s):  Mt. Herard  -  13,340 feet
"Medano Peak"  -  13,153 feet
Point 12,925
Point 12,883
Date Posted:  11/30/2020
Date Climbed:   06/15/2020
Author:  supranihilest
Additional Members:   whileyh
 Peaks of Stone, Peaks of Sand   

Taken the morning prior, this view shows three of the four peaks. The big one on the left is Point 12,925, Mount Herard is hidden behind, the one in shadow is "Medano Peak" and across the wide saddle to the right is Point 12,883.

The high peaks of Great Sand Dunes are little known, overshadowed by their much smaller mountains - dunes - of sand to the southwest. As part of the fantastic Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve this isn't surprising. Most are attracted to the park itself, not the preserve where the peaks are, and I'd surmise most traffic in the area is four wheeling enthusiasts going over Medano Pass. The high peaks, of which there are only a few, are worth an investigation for their interesting rock (Crestone conglomerate, and so far south!), fantastic views, and of course, because they are there.

Whiley and I camped the night before on the eastern side of Medano Pass. I was able to drive my Civic a few miles from Medano Pass, and Whiley drove the rest of the way to the pass and then to the trailhead. We climbed on a Monday which meant no run-ins with traffic, thankfully. Medano Pass Road is quite rough and the final bit to the trailhead is incredibly washed out, with what seemed like a foot-deep cut along one side of the road that really tilted Whiley's truck driving through. We drove past several official campsites, only one of which was occupied, and arrived at the Medano Lake Trailhead, the only two people there.

The trail took us west and immediately across Medano Creek; if you've ever been to the sand dunes part of the park you know Medano Creek as the ankle deep trickle that circles around under the dunes.

Rockity hoppity. Photo: Whiley H.

The trail was completely dry and easy to follow despite it fading in and out at times. Not much traffic up here. Through thick forest and lush grassland we hiked.

The Sangre's never been so green.

The trail took us across an official log bridge, then to a very unofficial log we used to cross the Medano. We wanted to pick off a couple of ranked twelvers today, in addition to our 13ers, and Point 12,925 was first on the list. Getting to it required crossing the creek and ascending steeply southwest up 12,925's east ridge.

Nope, that's not a bridge alright. Wet and slippery but it worked!

When I say 12,925's east ridge is steep I mean it is steep. I'm not sure a fall would be dangerous and unstoppable, but we were still very careful ascending the pine needle covered hillside.


...and down. Photo: Whiley H.
...and down. Photo: Whiley H.

A GPX track was helpful in determining where to cross and ascend, since there were some cliffs hidden in the trees. We didn't encounter any, but did pass right by them and might have had to cross under or over them without the track. A couple thousand feet through the forest in a generally southwest direction and we topped out on the ridge.

There's some air on the other side of this one.
Looking down an unnamed valley to the southeast.

The ridge mellowed dramatically here and we continued up to treeline, passing one of the only snow banks we saw all day. It was looking quite sad, but we didn't care, the ridge was easy now!

The gentle east ridge at treeline.
"Medano Peak" and Point 12,883. Some possibly interesting rock on the connecting ridge.
Remaining ridge up 12,925.

The ridge to the summit consisted of nothing more than grass and Class 2 talus, mostly embedded in said grass. We scoped out two areas across the valley; the Herard/"Medano" saddle, which had a trail going down to the lakes and would have been our ascent route if those were our only two peaks for the day, and the descent off of Point 12,883, which appeared steep and possibly guarded by a cliff on the upper eastern flank and many near the bottom. Our descent route would have to be carefully chosen.

Herard/"Medano" saddle. There's a trail up and down it.
Point 12,883. The cliff above treeline on the right looked avoidable from our vantage, and we wanted to continue past it and descend the steep slope farther right, since it didn't look like there were obstacles at the bottom. Note the gully where the ridge splits; we'd go down near there.

We continued our remaining hike to the summit of Point 12,925, about 3.8 miles and 3,300 vertical feet from the trailhead.

Bobbin' and weavin' through the talus.
Rocky summit of 12,925. Photo: Whiley H.

Mount Herard continued westward and the dunes and Sierra Blanca were visible in the distance.

Mount Herard looking like a gentle giant.
Sierra Blanca, Sand Dunes, and Herard.

We spent a few minutes on the summit then headed towards Herard, which was looking like a piece of cake.

Yawn. Snooze. Snore.
Neat walls, ridge that's made for granny and grandpa.

The hike up Herard was overall pretty unexciting, with 12,925 proving to be more interesting than it first seemed.

The northwest face of 12,925.
Now them's some neat rocks!

A short but wide strip of snow blocked easy access to the summit so Whiley just kicked steps straight up it and I followed behind.

The photo looks insanely exposed but it was pretty chill. Ha. Get it? Photo: Whiley H.
Sierra Blanca and the dunes again.
Four fourteeners and numerous thirteeners.
The route over from 12,925.

Next up was "Medano Peak", which was a bit of an unknown. There is a route description for Herard where the author claims they "crawled approximately 50 yards" which seemed odd to Whiley and I given the route's "Easy Class 3" rating. We figured it was probably easier than that, since crawling on Easy Class 3 isn't really something we'd ever done. We headed north down initially easy, grassy slopes.

Crawling for dear life!

At the rollover we found steep slopes but not what we had expected. There was possibly some Easy Class 3 - those reading this for beta and who struggle on Class 3 take note - but we considered this area to be just steep Class 2+. The rock was very solid (Crestone conglomerate, and so far south!) and we only made one or two harder moves in this section which lasted a few hundred feet tops before returning to purely Class 2 terrain.

"Where's the Class 3?" Photo: Whiley H.
Most of the ridge down was like this.
Very little if any Class 3. We struggled to even take pictures of where the Class 3 would be.

At the saddle we wondered if we had possibly taken an easier route down, but ultimately just shrugged our shoulders and continued up "Medano Peak", which was another easy, if steep, Class 2 slope.

Looking up "Medano Peak"'s south ridge.
Herard's west ridge, which looks gnar from this side and grassy on the other.

Like the two peaks prior "Medano" was pretty unexciting, but the rock we noticed earlier on 12,883's southwest ridge looked like it could be the highlight of the day.

Looking back at the ridge around the cirque.

There's a massive wall of rock we won't be getting too close to, while the odd rocks visible from across the valley aren't quite visible here.

The descent down "Medano" was like an in-between version of the descents off Herard and 12,925; rocky like the former, and rather steep, but more moderate like the latter.

"Medano"'s north ridge, just a bunch of Class 2 talus.
The rocks on the ridge begin to appear.

We strolled closer to the rocks and got our first good views. Nice conglomerate all over the place here!

Totally random blobs of funky rock.
What happens when a uh... rock... gets an STD and lets it fester for millions of years.
Conglomerate knife.

I decided to scramble each random piece of rock despite easy Class 2 bypasses for all of them. They were the only scrambling I'd get all day, so why not?

Action shot. Photo: Whiley H.
Only eleventy billion holds everywhere. Photo: Whiley H.
That's a whole lotta rock, most of which I'm sure has never been touched before.

When the opportunities for scrambling ran out we made the final push to the extremely flat summit of Point 12,883, our final peak for the day.

No more scrambles, womp womp.
So devoid of any features there's barely enough rock to make a cairn.
Fascinating geology everywhere.

Our descent down 12,883's east ridge would take us only part way before we descended down a steep slope and back to the Medano Lake trail. We knew we had to go about half way along the ridge in order to avoid cliffs, only some of which were visible from across the valley.

Point 12,883's east ridge.
Unnamed lakes that feed Hudson Branch, so I suppose these are Hudson Lakes.

The big chunk of exposed rock visible part way down the ridge proved to not be a concern, we just walked around the backside of it on a grass ramp and avoided it entirely. This put us near the top of the gully mentioned above, the one visible on our ascent of 12,925.

Steep but no cliffs!

We didn't descend the gully directly, since it was a bit eroded and loose and had water flowing in it lower down. Instead we stuck to descender's left of it the entire time and basically just bombed down the extremely steep slope, which consisted of a crummy mix of scree, grass, and pine needles. Still, it wasn't particularly difficult (I only fell on my butt one time, go me!) and we made it down lightning fast.

Looking down the gully itself, which we stayed left of.

We didn't encounter any dangerous terrain on our descent, which took us directly back to the trail very near where we began our ascent up 12,925 making a near perfect circle around the peaks. The two or so miles back to the trailhead was speedy, which was good because it was absolutely sweltering in the valley, and the drive back over Medano Pass to my car was uneventful, which was good because I had a bag of dark chocolate covered pretzels to eat. Don't pretend you aren't jealous. Yes, they were delicious.

Overall these were some interesting peaks not for the hiking themselves, but for their interesting geology, which Whiley and I both commented on numerous times. This loop including the twelvers is probably best done the way we did it, since ascending 12,925's steeper ridge and descending 12,883's more moderate ridge is probably better than reversing that order. If twelvers aren't your thing then you get to go to Medano Lake en route to the thirteeners, which is an added bonus we didn't get to partake in (though we did get to see Hudson Lakes, which aren't visible from either of the thirteeners), so no matter how you do these peaks there's something fun for everyone.


Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself), Whiley H.
Trailhead: Medano Lake
Total distance: 10.98 miles
Total elevation gain: 5,491 feet
Total time: 6:24:36
Peaks: Two ranked thirteeners, two ranked twelvers

  • Point 12,925
  • Mount Herard, 13,340'
  • "Medano Peak", 13,153'
  • Point 12,883


Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Medano Lake Trailhead Point 12,925 2:18:24 2:18:24 8:49
Point 12,925 Mount Herard 0:38:37 3:05:50 9:30
Mount Herard "Medano Peak" 0:42:27 3:57:47 8:01
"Medano Peak" Point 12,883 0:47:22 4:53:09 6:34
Point 12,883 Medano Lake Trailhead 1:24:53 6:24:36 Trip End

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

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Great report
11/30/2020 20:04
When are the San Juan TRs coming?

11/30/2020 20:49
Thanks Yusuf! I've got some San Juan reports coming soon, probably in a week or two. Big Wemi backpack to start with. ;) Stay tuned!

12/02/2020 05:29
Sometimes there is beauty in the simple peaks and easy days like this and reminds me of how I used to make things hard just to prove that I can i.e., driving over Medano Pass from east to west in a 4 cylinder non 4WD Forester after a day in the Crestones wanting to get the the La Garitas on the same day. Although driving in the sand afterward was a hoot, your TR here shows what I missed. Thanks for the highlights.

12/07/2020 09:56
Well said, Amy. These are definitely good peaks to return to beautiful simplicity.

Agree with you
07/12/2021 11:57
The terrible "official" route description for these peaks which is mostly photos of people, definitely has it wrong. No class 3 and theres a trail almost the entire way if you go by the lakes, which is what we did. The lake is pretty, but you didn't miss anything amazing.

Route description
07/12/2021 12:33
The route description linked is so bad it's almost useless. These peaks are great though, so I hope the poor quality route description doesn't deter people from hiking them. It would be a real shame if that were to happen!

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