Peak(s):  Hunts Peak  -  13,071 feet
Date Posted:  07/16/2022
Date Climbed:   07/12/2022
Author:  brianr56
 Up, Over and Down - Hunts Peak 13,071   

I can see Hunt's Peak from Salida's mountain biking trails, and also every time I cross Poncha Pass into the San Luis Valley. It looked like a worthy challenge! Somehow I got the bright idea to try a traverse over Hunt's from the Rock Creek trailhead to the Rainbow Trail, instead of an out and back via the West Slopes route. I tried to make this happen from the east back in May, but the snow up near Hunt's Lake stopped me (after I found myself ten steps onto the lake's outlet creek, which was covered by very questionable ice).

Storms were in the forecast (again), so my wonderful wife Margaret (sidelined by ACL replacement surgery) agreed to get up and drive me to Rock Creek trailhead before the sun came up. Anticipation turned to irritation (at myself, not at her!) for not scouting out the road to the TH beforehand - I gave out bad directions that put her on the more southerly 4WD road. She's a reluctant off-roader anyway, and trying to tackle this road in an AWD Outback had her saying some things to me that I'm sure she didn't really mean (especially when she had to back down the road for a few hundred yards). After getting back on the proper route (stay to the left!), we arrived at the TH - about an hour later than I wanted, but what ya gonna do? Except maybe plan better. She dropped me off and headed down.

A quick and easy half a mile got me to the road up into the forest. Left turn, then an easy-enough uphill walk through a ton of overgrowth that left my shoes and shins dripping (it had rained overnight). Lots of wildflowers - the wild roses were especially pretty. Trail was easy to follow despite the weediness.

Wild rose on the way up.
Gratuitous Columbine pic. Because what Coloradan doesn't love these?

Arriving at the sharp left turn about a mile and a half up, the climb really starts. A short distance from the left turn, the trail basically ends at a steep dirt embankment. After checking my nav aids (Gaia and AllTrails), I elected to climb up the bank and work my way up and across the side of the ridge into the burned area, and eventually gain the ridge. No real trail through all this, but with the apps I was able to keep a fairly straight and efficient line to reach the ridge top. Visibility through the burned forest is pretty good as well (sad).

I can't imagine how this must have looked right after the burn (2013).

Once reaching the crest, the route is apparent - and mostly up.

Let the fun begin!
San Luis Valley from the ridgeline.

Followed the alternately grassy/rocky ridge to a small knob, descended a few feet, then started up the mostly grass slope to the summit.


This was my first high altitude work of the year, so I spent a lot of time in "dash and gasp" mode. Eventually made it to the summit, which was as advertised - 360 degree views of the Sangres, the San Luis Valley, and the southern and central Sawatch range. Good looks into beautiful downtown Howard, and over to S Mountain in Salida.

Gratuitous summit selfie.

Also in view - building storm clouds. I didn't spend much time on the summit, because the unknown part of the day was ahead - descending into the Hunt's Lake basin, and I didn't want to do that in a rainstorm. On my abortive May trip, I had gotten close enough to see that the very wide gully leading from the saddle southeast of the Hunt's summit looked like a doable descent route, so I headed in that general direction. Footing was good as I began angling down the slope towards the east side of the gully - lots of scralus (not quite scree, not quite talus - is that a thing?) along with some grassy areas. As I reached the center of the gully, the footing became sketchier - worked across some steep and loose ground, carefully watching each step, still heading across.

Looking back towards the summit.
Hunt's Lake at the base of the gully.

There was some vegetation along the east side of the gully, so I headed for that and was rewarded with better footing that allowed a more direct descent. I was doing this hike without poles, which in retrospect would have been helpful on the looser sections - I slid out several times, which hurt my pride and nothing else fortunately (BTW I saw no other humans on the entire hike).

Once finally out of the gully I motored through the rock field to the lake, and worked through talus around the southeast corner to get to the Hunt's Lake Trail (1405). Rain had started by then, along with some thunder, so I was grateful to be at treeline, where I stopped for a lunch break. I was pretty worn out by this point (3,800 vertical isn't nothing, and I am no longer young), so the 50 or so downed trees (all at inconvenient heights) were not appreciated. If not for my hat (a sweet Filson trucker model), I'd have a nasty scar on my forehead from raising up too quickly after ducking under one.

For about a mile of the walk down, the ground was covered with what I thought were flower petals - turns out I'd missed a massive hail dump by a few minutes. Kinda makes one look at the delays at the start in a different light, no?

All things being equal, I'm glad I wasn't around when all this fell.

Turned left onto the Rainbow Trail, went a bit over a mile, then turned right onto Rainbow Branch. This trail meets Fremont County Road 4 after a mile plus, where my ever-patient wife picked me up and took me home to a well-deserved beer and a few ibuprofen.

Total distance was a touch under 12 miles, 3,890 feet climbed, and approximately 5,000 feet of descent. It would have been more enjoyable on a better weather day, but you take what you get, when you can get it. As I write this 3 days later, the quads still hurt a little, but everything else is ready for the next go.

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

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25

Comments or Questions
07/17/2022 08:52
Neat way of doing Hunts. Hadn't ever really thought of doing Sangre peaks like this, as a point to point over the spine (vs a point to point returning to the same side and making a short shuttle). Cool way of seeing multiple valleys at once!

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