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Looking for a easy midweek adventure, I settled on Sayres Benchmark. As always, I read previous trip reports to find a route that looked good. The most helpful ones for me were supranihilests, Hoots, and Wildwanderers, If nothing else, for things not to do. It seems like everybody previously had hit the peaks from different routes, and I was hoping to combine the best of them. Hoping is the operative word.
As always though, I looked for ways to simplify and make the route as easy as possible. Also, since I like loops so much, I tried to incorporate a loop route. However, I discovered that these three peaks don't have a slam dunk loop, and that the mess of roads can really mess with you.
So I tried to combine Hoots road shortcut to Sayres BM, Wildwanderers route route between Sayres and UN 13460, and avoid supranihilests bushwhacking deadfall hell descent.
Starting with the drive in, drive to the La Plata TH off indy pass, then take FR 391 about 2.5 miles to where it splits with FR 382 and FR 392. The trailhead is unmarked and kind of tucked away, but look for a well built footbridge over the South fork lake creek. Along with several lean tos, huts, and teepees made of avalanche debris logs. Somebody really spent some time working on them.
There is tons of flat camping spots along the road, and near the trailhead. Note the road is 4WD, but I think it was fairly tame, but some clearance is needed. Mostly over dried up mud holes.
Also note, I wouldn't get water from this creek. Even on the section below the worst of the acid mine drainage, the water had a white blue tinge, and had bleached the rocks. Not water you'd want to drink.
So starting out just before sunrise, I crossed the bridge and headed up the road.
Immediately, there is tons of social trails that go to the creek and various campsites. Also, an unmarked road that splits off to the right. I continued on what I thought was FR 382, and I was correct. However, then I missed the turnoff for FR 392 in the predawn gloom, as I understand many have. The sign is tiny, and the road hasn't been used in so long that there is no real path to it. Its just a gate stuck in the woods. So I continued upwards on FR 382 for about half a mile before I figured it out. Rather then retrace my steps, I dropped down into the creek drainage, rockhopped the creek, reclimbed about 100 feet, and then rejoined FR 392.
The FR 392 road switchbacks up through the forest on a very steady angle slope. Its actually quite pleasant. But there are several unmarked social/game trails, and what appears to be old roads that lead off of it. In addition, people have made quite a few cairns on some of these side routes. I'm not sure what they were supposed to indicate. In any case, I followed whatever looked the most traveled, and it worked well.
The road is frequently overgrown, but its not hard to stay on route.
Once the road begins breaking treeline, you get your first views of UN 13460's west side. This is the slope I was hoping to traverse, then come down.
The road system became confusing again, with unmarked roads splitting off and heading various directions. I stayed on the main road, that would eventually go to unnamed, unranked pt 13430. (NOT UN 13460)
Originally, I was planning on following Hoots return route from Sayres, minimizing regain to pt 13460. But whatever game trail he took is much too hard to differentiate from other game trails, so I stayed on the main road until I hit another unmarked road that heads southeast-ish. Here is where I split off, at about 12,600 elevation.
The downside to taking this road is that you have to lose about 200 feet as it heads southeast, BUT it means you don't have to go all the way to the ridge on the main road.
Sayres BM finally get in sight as you head along the road, slowly losing elevation. You pass around a corner, and get to see the saddle between pt 13430 and Sayres BM.
So here I took the red route, so I wouldn't lose another 50 feet of elevation on the road. I would recommend the blue route, as my route wasn't as grassy and stable as I had hoped.
From the saddle, its fairly easy hiking up to the false summit, then the real summit. Although the last 50 feet to the real summit is loose.
From the summit, I surveyed the weather and the surprising amount of cloudiness. Using several weather models, I thought it would be clear until 3 pm. But at the summit I got some mist and some very brief snow. However, within an hour it cleared up and it got warm.
So I headed down Sayres towards pt 13430. The colors of the rocks were amazing. I thought it looked like if someone dumped paint all over Mt Bross. Theres even roads that crisscross the summit like Bross.
From pt 13430, I headed along the ridge to UN 13460.
Despite looking rough, the ridge goes at difficult class 2 at most.
The summit has a register from 2004, but its mostly shredded at this point. I'd say about a dozen people a year climb it.
From the summit, I headed over to UN 13300, keeping a close eye on my planned descent route to the west.
The ridge is very class 1, with some class 2 or optional class 3 at the summit. I thought the summit looked like the Lost creek wilderness rock.
From UN 13300, I scoped out my decent options. Either down from the low point in the saddle, to what looked like a dirt/grass mixture, or reclimb about 200 feet to above a notch, and then descend down a grassier looking ramp. I went with the first option.
Of course, I could have reclimbed UN 13460, pt 13430, then descended back down the road. But wheres the fun in that? Plus, it would have meant an additional 500 feet of regain.
It started grassy, then went trashy. There were a few cliffs that were easily bypassed, but plenty of loose scree. I had to stop a couple times to dump scree out of my shoes. The good news is, its only about 300 feet of really bad stuff. At the bottom is a small talus field, and then its nice smooth grass.
After traversing around the west ridge of UN 13460, I was able to scope out my descent route back to the road. It actually went pretty well. While steep in some places, the grass was continuous, and there were large game trails through any willows or trees. Very minimal deadfall, and so I didn't have to repeat supranihilists bushwhacking from his descent. I did have to cross a creek, and then regain about 50 feet of elevation to catch the road. I caught the road at about 11,500.
So then I followed the road down, and near the bottom, crossed the creek thats behind the FR 392 gate. Its pretty heavily contaminated with acid mine water, so if you go early in the year when its deeper and you have to ford it, I'd wash my legs off with clean water afterwords.
Hope this helps someone in the future.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
I did this one on Monday, if you were there you would have been able to let me know that I hadn't actually sumitted 13,460! Didn't do my reasearch well enough, now I'll have to enjoy that road again sometime in the future... Some cool mountains for sure, but chossy enough to not be all that excited to return to. Great report, very cohesive information on this approach in summertime.
I will add, for those wondering, that unmarked road that veers right after you cross the footbridge is actually the Sayres Gulch road. Right before the TH, there's a 3-way fork: leftmost is the TH, rightmost leads to McNasser and Peakboo gulches, and middle continues to a creek crossing that fords the S Fork, then continues up Sayres Gulch to the wilderness boundary. Not useful if you're hiking the abandoned road, but mabe useful if you're searching for a remote car camping spot.
If you did want to use that road to get up some peaks; Eskermo & I went up that road to the boundary last fall to get 13,232, 13,295, & Lake Fork Peak. At that time of year the creek crossing was fairly low & is immediately followed by the steepest, roughest section of road. After that there are a few sections that would require high clearance & possibly 4WD depending on how muddy the road was. The route we took followed some game trails up into the basin NW of 232. We gained the ridge via a loose gully (views directly east into Alan Lake upon topping out). The ridge had some fun slab scrambles to 232 & our route was similar to most that bail off the ridge to the south between the numbered peaks. After LFP we dropped SE into that basin & met back up with the 1465 trail back to my truck. In any case... nice work & TR Trotter! We will have to get out hiking again soon!
I think yall are right, that unmarked road fords the creek, then can put you onto FR 382. The unmarked roads back there drove me crazy. I also noticed some fresh looking ATV tracks up high on FR 392. Either the forest service guys unlocked the gate to use them, or theres another unmarked road that gets around the gate.
I remember looking at that cabin and being amazed the windows had screens. Maybe that qualifies as glamping in the early 1900's? Nice report, Trotter!
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