Thursday, June 28, 2018

Tour de Huron- Climbing Huron Peak and its Neighbors

After climbing Mt Massive last week, I was looking for another 14er to climb.  One that I had some interest in but avoided was Huron Peak.  At 14,003', Huron is the lowest 14er in the Sawatch Range and second lowest overall.  I have read many accounts that have praised the views of Huron as some of the best in the Sawatch Range. The standard route to Huron is a short trail.  Because it has a short route, it tends to be a popular hike.  I don't tend to like busy routes.

I revisited the idea of climbing Huron.  I found an alternative route that seemed to have everything I was looking for in a hike.  Climbing Lulu Gulch and approaching Huron from it's north ridge seemed like a great option.  It offered the chance for even better views that the already highly praised views of Huron.  There was an opportunity to visit several other peaks, including a ranked 13er.  Best of all, it offered the chance for solitude.  After reaching the summit, I could descend the standard route and make a loop out of the hike.  The loop is referred to as the "Tour de Huron".  I was sold.

On Wednesday, June 20th, my dog Choya and I headed for Huron.  Rather than driving to the standard Huron trailhead, we started about a half mile south of Winfield.  There are a few rough spots requiring a high clearance vehicle to reach the standard trailhead.  I parked at the last turnoff before the first high clearance spot on the road.  Any vehicle can make it to this point.  This is also the last spot to pull off the road before the turn for Lulu Gulch.

At 630AM, I started walking.  After only .3 miles, I reached the turn for Lulu Gulch.  The Lulu Gulch Road is an old road leading to mining areas.  A capable four wheel drive vehicle with a decent driver could shorten the route and drive part of the Lulu Gulch Road.  Lulu Gulch Road switchbacks constantly as it gains elevation.  Generally it's easy walking with some sections of loose rock.

The lower part of Lulu Gulch Road
Climbing Lulu Gulch, follow the most obvious road and any junction.  One spot left minor confusion.  At one junction, the obvious road switchbacks at a sign that says "Private Property," at a spot of mining interest.  The actual private property is not on the road.  Continue on the better used road.  Continuing straight leads to a mining property that is well signed to not enter.  This was about 2 miles from the start.

Early views

The road exits the treeline not too far from this junction.  There are nice views towards Browns Peak, one of the peaks climbed later.  There is also a creek that flows above here, which is the last water until the descent on the standard route.  The creek was running shallow enough to step across on rocks.  It was a chilly morning however, and the rocks had a skim of ice on them.

Browns Peak in the morning sun

About a mile past the junction I mentioned earlier, there is a prominent switchback.  From here, there are two route options.  You can continue up the road toward Middle Mountain or divert from the road to the southeast toward Browns Peak.  Going to Middle Mountain is longer, but allows for more time walking the open alpine ridges.  Going toward Browns Peak is shorter, but eliminates some of the tundra and ridge walking.  It also bypasses ranked 13er UN 13,462'.  It also requires a little more route finding to gain Browns Peak's ridge while avoiding talus and scree.

Point 12,622

There are nice views from Lulu Gulch Road

I continued on the road.  I wanted to maximize time hiking on alpine ridges.  After the junction, the road deteriorates quickly with each switchback.  The road was overtaken with rock over the years and basically becomes a trail.  A few spots, the path is completely overrun with rock.  It's not terribly difficult to follow, but you have to pay attention and pick your path in the rockier stretches.
As it nears the northeast ridge of Middle Mountain, it becomes less steep and easier to follow again.

The road fades to a trail

Browns Peak

Choya looking at the route ahead
The road ends on the northeast ridge of Middle Mountain at Point 12,622'.  I continued directly up the ridge.  There is occasional use paths along the way.  As you leave the rocks, there is a more defined use path.  The path dropped off the ridge however.  I regained the ridge and followed it the rest of the way to Middle Mountain.  Along the ridge there are wonderful views toward UN 13,462' and Browns Peak, two peaks I would climb later in the morning.  The area between the peaks features a nice stretch of grassy tundra.  If you stick to use path, you bypass the summit and travel through the tundra toward UN 13,462'

View near the end of the road

Herd path on left side of picture

Faint use trail looking toward UN 13,462'

Huron barely visible behind Browns Peak

The gentle summit of Middle Mountain

Middle Mountain is an unranked peak standing at 13,060'.  The ridge approaching it is quite gradual and mostly grassy, making for easy walking. A cairn marks its summit.  There is a connecting ridge to a bump on the ridge called Cross Mountain that can also be accessed.  With less than 70 feet of prominence, I didn't feel inspired to visit Cross Mountain.

La Plata in the distance

Erwin is the prominent peak in the middle

From Middle Mountain, I descended directly to the saddle between Middle and UN 13,462'.  I stayed along the ridge.   The views are quite impressive as the east side drops steeply.  From the ridge you can see the route to UN 13,462' with Browns Peak just to its right.  Huron's summit pokes out above in the distance.  The drop off of the ridge to the east is dramatic with 14er Missouri Mountain just a few miles across the deep valley.  There are a few visible herd paths along the way.

The route ahead with 13,462', Browns Peak,
and Huron in the distance


Choya below Middle Mountain

Self portrait

Browns with Huron in the distance

Approaching UN 13,462'

Huron and Browns
The route leading to UN 13,462' is pretty straightforward.  There is minor route finding through the rocks on the ascent, but nothing too difficult.  I reached UN 13,462 quickly as it's only .6 miles from Middle's summit.  It's possible to stick to the tundra below the summit and bypass the peak.  If you are using this route, it doesn't make much sense to skip the summit however.

UN 13,462'

Looking back toward Middle Mountain

Huron in the distance

The rugged east face of UN 13,462'

Cliff on UN 13,462'

East face of Huron with Three Apostles
in the distance

Huron's East Face

Missouri, Iowa, and Emerald
with Harvard in the background

After dropping off of UN 13,462', the next target is Browns Peak.  There is just over a half mile of travel between the peaks.  The route is direct and pretty easy travel through the tundra.  After dropping 300' off of UN 13,462', you reach a small saddle and climb another 300'+ to Browns on a nice grassy slope.  From the saddle, I could see some white movement near the summit.  It quickly disappeared  and I never saw it again.  It may have been a mountain goat, but I couldn't make a positive ID.  There was some scat near the summit but it wasn't fresh.  Browns can also be bypassed, but its views are worth the 300+ feet of relatively easy climbing.

Three Apostles

La Plata in the distance

Browns Peak stands at 13,523'.  This is 61' higher than UN 13,462'.  Despite its higher elevation, Browns doesn't have enough prominence to be a ranked 13er, while UN 13,462' is ranked.  This has to do with its straight line distance from the closest, higher ranked peak- in this case Huron for both, and the elevation gain between the peaks.

Choya eyeing Huron

The route to Browns and Huron

Huron's east face

The switchbacks on Lulu Gulch Road

Looking back toward UN 13,462'

Despite being unranked, Browns is a worthwhile summit to visit.  It offers good views into Lulu Gulch including a nice vantage point of the switchbacks on the road that I hiked in on.  It also gives you a good look at the standard route for Huron, which was my descent route.  The next leg of the route that follows the north ridge of Huron over Point 13,518' is the most challenging section.  I got a good look at this route from Browns as well.  I took a short break on Browns for a snack for Choya and myself.

Choya looking toward Huron

Huron's east face

Looking at the north ridge from Browns

Unnamed 13ers south of Huron

Choya enjoying the scenery

The route ahead

The north ridge of Huron is the final stretch of off trail travel on the Tour de Huron.  The ridge can be bypassed by dropping below it and intersecting the standard route.  There seemed to be a lot of talus with this option as well as less scenery.  I followed the ridge directly.

A good look at the north ridge's terrain

Taking a break to enjoy the scenery

I followed close to the ridge crest

Looking back toward Browns

Iowa, Emerald, and Columbia in the
distance between them

A close up look at the terrain we crossed

Rugged ridge extending off of Huron

The north ridge is quite impressive.  To the east is a dramatic drop.  Ahead, there are awesome views of Huron's rugged east face.  While the ridge itself looks menacing from Browns Peak, it never exceeds class 2+ and probably can be kept to a simple class 2 if you take your time picking your path.  The route is a spine of rock, but you can avoid exposure by staying on the more gradual west side of the ridge proper.  The east side is often a sheer drop  The rock is generally solid on the ridge.  Even with Choya, I was never too concerned.  He did have to think through a couple spots where larger rocks impeded his progress.  By now though he is a pretty skilled mountain dog and didn't have any real issues.  The high point along the ridge is Point 13,518'.  After the crux of the ridge, the terrain mellows.  It intersects the Huron standard route about a 1/4 mile and 500 vertical feet below the summit.  The last 1/4 mile of the trail is somewhat braided with several paths through the rocks.  Pick one, they will all lead to the summit.

Jagged point along the ridge

A look back at the terrain we covered on the ridge
with Browns in the background

Another jagged section of ridge

Not much ridge left

Huron's east face

Browns and UN 13,472' with Middle Mtn in the background

Huron is fairly popular.  I passed a pair with two dogs in the homestretch before reaching the summit.  There was one other pair on the summit and we were soon joined by the pair with the two dogs. This was a Wednesday.  Three dogs and five people is probably the best you could hope for on a nice day in the peak hiking season here.

Three Apostles

Taylor Park in the distance beyond Lake Ann Pass

Harvard between Iowa and Emerald

Yale with Princeton in the distance

Both Choya and I ate a little while I enjoyed the views.  Like I said before, Huron is known for having some of the best views in the Sawatch Range.  I can't argue.  The views are quite impressive and far reaching.  What catches your eye the most is the Three Apostles just to the south.  The length of the Sawatch Range is visible with several 14ers and other peaks easily identifiable.  Just across the valley to the east is an impressive collection of high peaks with Missouri Mountain, Oxford, Iowa, and Emerald.  Towering just behind them is Colorado's 3rd highest peak, Mt Harvard.  The spine of the Continental Divide extends from the Three Apostles and follows the peaks across the valley to the west with numerous ponds dotting the landscape.  Beyond the Continental Divide, the Elk Range is visible with Castle, the Maroon Bells, Snowmass, and Capitol all easy to see.  To the north is the rest of the Sawatch Range, dominated by the peaks in the Twin Lakes area particularly, Ervin Peak.  My  entire route from Middle Mountain was also easy to see.

The mutt and me on the summit

I think this looking west

A good look at the terrain we traveled
The view south into the heart of the
Collegiate Peaks Wilderness

After 20-30 minutes on the summit, I headed back down.  After passing the north ridge, I continued down the standard route- Northwest Slopes.  I didn't have very high expectations for the trail.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The trail was quite nice and in decent shape.  It was a fairly pleasant trail through the tundra.  The marmots seemed to enjoy the tundra with just enough rocks to hide.  After getting through the bulk of elevation loss above treeline, the trail passes through a nice basin surrounded by cliffs and a nice tarn.

Looking down the standard route to Huron

The upper trail of Huron

Obligatory marmot photo
Looking up Huron's northwest slopes

Nice alpine basin with tarn

Hiking through the basin

Reflection in the tarn

After passing the tarn, the trail drops below treeline.  Just before entering the woods, there is an impressive view of the Three Apostles.  The remaining hike switchbacks its way below treeline before eventually reaching the main trailhead.

Good views continue throughout the descent

Granite Mountain just out of frame, Sheep Rock Mtn in the middle,
West Virginia and Virginia Peaks on right

View just before entering treeline

The Three Apostles

Looking back at Huron for the last time

Heading back below treeline

From the trail head, I had to return back to my car.  This is road walk from the trailhead, back toward Winfield.  It's an easy walk along the four wheel drive road and is less than two miles.  The road walk is fairly enjoyable.  There are great views as you walk down the road.  Make sure to look back down the road as well, because the views are just as good.  The road follows the South Fork of Clear Creek.  The creek is always nearby and a nice stream.  I reached my car at 1215PM.

Blaurock and Ervin Peak from the road

Granite Mtn when looking back the road

South Fork Clear Creek

In addition to the scenery, the wildflowers were starting to bloom.  Throughout the hike, there were numerous species of flowers.  Below is a sampling of some of the wildflowers I saw.

My route covered around 11 miles over 5 hours 45 minutes including breaks.  This included hiking up the switchbacks of Lulu Gulch Road and climbing Middle Mountain, UN 13,462', Browns Peak, and traversing the crest of the North Ridge.  The route can be shortened by skipping the switchbacks and hiking direct toward Browns Peak.  Doing so, you will miss out on some excellent tundra hiking and views.  Adding the extra distance and peaks doesn't add too much difficulty.  I didn't see anybody else on this part of my hike.  Once on the standard route, I saw another 5-6 groups in addition to the two groups on the summit.

Choya with Huron in the distance

The standard route from the trailhead is less than 7 miles roundtrip.  Hiking the standard Northwest Slopes route is definitely quicker if you just want to "knock off" a 14er.  If you are looking to extend your experience, increase your scenery, and escape crowds for at least part of the hike, I recommend the route I followed.  Of the 30+ summits, I have climbed in the Sawatch Range, this route definitely had some of the best scenery. For those wanting the shorter option, the road to the trailhead has a couple of rough sections that require a high clearance vehicle.  Most truck or SUVs should be fine to reach the trailhead. Without high clearance, it will add up to four miles round trip if you park in Winfield.  At this point, you might as well hike the "Tour de Huron," since it's similar mileage.

Along Huron's north ridge

The Three Apostles

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  1. Thanks for sharing your experience. I think I want to do the Tour de Huron instead of the standard route.

  2. Good job! We are arriving late in the day, and need camp spots. Are there flat spots with water just after you get above the tree line (just before the major switchbacks up middle mtn)?

    1. Thanks for reading. There are flat spots above treeline but I don't recall any water. The last water I remember is along the road that climbs above Lulu Gulch, just below treeline before the road turns more into a talus trail . There was one solid creek. I'm sure you could probably find a spot near that creek.