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La Plata Mountains: Centennial Peak

Plus A Failed Attempt at Hesperus Mountain
Friday – Sunday, July 19-21, 2019

I have been looking forward to this weekend since early March when I was able to secure an overnight reservation for the Jersey Jim Fire Lookout Tower on Sunday night, and since I was going to be in the area I decided to spend the weekend peak-bagging in the La Plata Mountains. As usual, I left right after work on Friday and headed south into the San Juan Mountains with a quick stop in Delta for dinner. I drove over Red Mountain Pass to Durango and then headed west to Mancos where I took the West Mancos Road into the San Juan National Forest and found a spot to spend the night in Spruce Mill Park just after dark. It had been a long day and I was planning to get an early start the next morning, so I went right to bed.

On Saturday morning I woke up shortly before sunrise and finished the drive to the Sharkstooth Trailhead so I could hike to the summit of Centennial Peak. It was a beautiful hike and not very difficult and the views from the summit were amazing!

A nice view of the La Plata Mountains just before sunrise on Saturday morning from my campsite.

La Plata Mountains

A closer look at Centennial Peak (13,062) on the left and Hesperus Mountain (13,232) on the right.

Camp Sunrise View

The great views continued as I drove a few miles to the trailhead near the Twin Lakes during sunrise.

Drive To the Trailhead

Hesperus Mountain looked great over one of the Twin Lakes as I drove by. One of my all time favorite photos was taken from this spot a couple years back.

Twin Lakes Morning

The first light of the day strikes Hesperus Mountain as I got ready at the trailhead.

Hesperus Mountain Morning

Ready to start my hike up the Sharkstooth Trail.

Sharkstooth Trailhead

A little waterfall along the trail as I hiked up to Sharkstooth Pass.

Little Trail Waterfall

I made a quick side trip to visit the remains of the Windy Williams Mine.

Windy Williams Mine Ruins

Twisted Lily

Twisted Lily

As I got above treeline there were a lot of Columbines along the trail.

Colorado Columbines

Hesperus Mountain over Sliderock Basin.

Sliderock Basin

One more view of Hesperus Mountain as I left the trail at Sharkstooth Pass.

Upper Hesperus View

Following the ridge to the summit of Centennial Peak.

Centennial Peak

Looking down on Sharkstooth Peak (12,462). I had considered climbing this peak today after Centennial Peak but it looked like it was steeper and looser than I really wanted to try.

Sharkstooth Peak

Looking down on the east side of the ridge into the Bear Creek drainage.

Bear Creek Below

The final trail segment to the summit of Centennial Peak.

Final Trail

From the summit there was an amazing view of Lavender Peak (13,220) and Hesperus Mountain.

Centennial Peak Summit

Looking across the jagged ridge to Lavender Peak and Mount Moss (13,192).

Centennial Peak Summit View

There was still a lot of snow below the north face of Mount Moss.

Mount Moss

While I was on the summit some clouds started moving into the area which made for some nice spotlighting on Hesperus Mountain and the surrounding landscape.

Hesperus Mountain Spotlight

Following the ridge back down to Sharkstooth Pass with Mount Wilson (14,246) on the horizon.

Descent View

Dark clouds continued to build above Hesperus Mountain and I was glad to be on my way back down the trail.

Sudden Sky

After returning to my Jeep at the trailhead, which was packed full of cars by now, I decided to drive into Mancos for lunch and grabbed a burger at Hamburger Haven. Since I was done hiking for the day I decided to go for a scenic drive on the Jersey Jim Lookout Loop and the Gold Run Loop, both of which I had driven back in 2010.

The loop I drove brought me right by the Jersey Jim Fire Lookout Tower, which I was looking forward to spending the following night in!

Jersey Jim Drive-By

A quick stop for a photo op.

The Jersey Jim

When I finished driving the loop I was near Dolores so I decided to head into town for an early dinner at the Montezuma Mexican Restaurant, which was really good! Then I headed back to the Twin Lakes area to find a campsite for the night.

On my way back to Twin Lakes I stopped at the West Mancos Overlook which is where I took this favorite fall colors photo a few years back.

West Mancos Overlook

There wasn’t much of a view from my campsite this evening and I was tired and going to bed early, but the sky was nice enough at sunset for me to take this quick shot through the trees.

Camp Sunset

On Sunday morning I woke up before sunrise and headed back to the Sharkstooth Trailhead. Instead of following the Sharkstooth Trail again, this time I took the West Mancos Trail that crossed the North Fork of the West Mancos River and brought me near the base of Hesperus Mountain, which I had hoped to climb this morning. Right away the climb started off a bit difficult as I left the trail and had to pick my way through a lot of avalanche debris and snow. It really slowed me down, not to mention that the mosquitoes in this area were horrendous and I couldn’t move fast enough to get away and I had forgot my bug spray in the Jeep. After climbing a rocky slope I came across a couple large snowfields that I needed to cross. The first ones were not too steep and easy to cross with microspikes, but the final one made me consider turning around and giving up. After slowly kicking in some steps and a trail across the snow I did finally get across. Now I just needed to climb up a rocky slope to the ridge that didn’t look that bad, however it was steeper than it looked and it felt like the whole mountainside was sliding down with every step I took. It was not a lot of fun for me, but I did carefully make it up to the top of the ridge.

From the ridge it was only another 1,000 feet of elevation to reach the summit, but so far the climb was not going my way and I had exerted way more energy that I thought I was going to and mentally I was not feeling like pushing on any further. I decided to call it a day here since I didn’t want to go back down the way I had come up and hoped to follow the ridge back down and take a longer way back to the trailhead. Out of all the peaks I’ve climbed I think this is only the third one (Missouri Mountain & Hanson Peak) that I have attempted and not made it to the summit on the first try, so I’d say that’s still a pretty good average.

Another morning at the base of Hesperus Mountain as I started my hike along the West Mancos Trail.

Hesperus Morning

The unusual thing about this trail was that there were at least eight nice wooden signs like this over a couple of miles, yet there were no intersections with other trails…

West Mancos Trail Sign

Hiking up the rocky slope to the low point on the ridge above the trees.

Climbing To The Ridge

The almost-full moon sitting just above the ridge as I crossed another snowfield.

Moon On The Ridge

After climbing the loose and steep slope I finally arrived on top of the grassy ridge.

Grassy Ridge

There was a nice view of Owen Basin and Spiller Peak (13,123) on the other side.

Owen Basin

Unfortunately, at this point I wasn’t feeling like I could make it to the summit and had had enough for today, so I started hiking down the ridge and hoped to catch the West Mancos Trail again at the bottom.

The Way Down

Spiller Peak and Burwell Peak (12,664)

Spiller Peak

One last look at Hesperus Mountain as I hiked down the ridge. Maybe one day I will try again from the other side of the ridge…

Looking Back

Following the easy ridge back down for a ways.

The Ridge Down

There was a big rock glacier below.

Rock Glacier

After nearing the end of the ridge it entered the trees and got steeper, but this route was still much easier than the way I had come up. I ended up hiking across the lower portion of the rock glacier on my way back to meet up with the West Mancos Trail.

‘No ATV’ carved into the log along the trail which was strange since it doesn’t appear there has been a road anywhere near here for a long time.


One more of the many signs I saw along the West Mancos Trail on my way back to the trailhead.

Another Sign!

When I returned to my Jeep my legs were shot and I knew I had made the right choice to turn around when I did. Now it was time to head back into Mancos so I could pickup the keys to the Jersey Jim Fire Lookout Tower and spend the rest of the evening there. I was really looking forward to that!

>> Centennial Peak Photo Gallery

One Comment

  1. Danne
    Danne August 6, 2019

    Nice capture of beautiful mountains and clouds. Amazing to see no people. You really have tenacity to take off on your own and go really “back country.”

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