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Western Edge of the San Juans: Groundhog Mountain

Saturday & Sunday, August 1-2, 2020

After spending Saturday morning hiking along the Calico Trail in the Rico Mountains I wanted to hike one more quick and easy 12er on Sunday morning before I headed back home. Since I’ve been avoiding the busy high peaks in Colorado this summer, I thought I’d make this the Summer of 12ers! After watching Groundhog Mountain on the horizon over the past couple of weeks, I thought it would be a fun to climb Lone Cone’s closest neighboring peak, especially since I figured it probably doesn’t see too many visitors. So after visiting Colorado’s only geyser on Saturday afternoon I drove further west towards the fringe of the San Juan Mountains and found an excellent campsite at the edge of Black Mesa which offered me a great view of the San Miguel Mountains. I ate my dinner and hoped for another spectacular sunset from this great vantage point. I wasn’t let down as the following photos will attest!

The late afternoon light was looking pretty nice on the Wilson Group from my campsite.

El Diente

Dolores Peak (13,290) was looking good from my perch at the edge of Black Mesa.

Dolores Peak

El Diente Peak (14,159) in moody light.

El Diente & Wilson Peak

Later in the evening some virga showed up in the sky above the peaks just in time for sunset.

Lovely Sky

Dolores Peak Virga

El Diente Virga

San Miguel Sky

San Miguel Sky

Dunn Peak (12,620) & Middle Peak (13,300)

Dunn Peak & Middle Peak

Western Colorado Sky

This was certainly not a bad view from camp!

Black Mesa Camp

Last light on El Diente Peak.

El Diente Sunset

The sky turned magenta as the light began to fade.

Black Mesa Sunset

The color in the sky seemed to last forever. It was a great way to end a pretty awesome day.

Lingering Color

When the color in the sky was finally gone, I climbed into my sleeping bag and got to sleep. I was only camped about three miles from Groundhog Mountain, but I wasn’t exactly sure where the best place to start climbing it was from, so I wanted to get up early so I could figure that out.

I woke up about an hour before sunrise on Sunday morning and continued on down the road to the base of Groundhog Mountain. Lucky for me, there was yet another nice sunrise as I passed through an open area along the road with a view over Groundhog Reservoir. I stopped to take a few photos, of course!

A sunrise view from the flanks of Groundhog Mountain over Groundhog Reservoir.

Groundhog Mountain Morning

Following the road around Groundhog Mountain as I tried to figure out the best place to start hiking from.

Morning Drive

I can’t believe all the amazing sunrises and sunsets I was able to watch this weekend!

Open View

Sunday Morning Clouds

Sunday Morning Clouds

Eventually I settled on hiking up the south ridge. The first part of the hike was through the forest with a lot of downed trees to get around and over, and then it was up talus to the ridge. Although there was a lot of rock-hopping, most of it was pretty stable and easy to climb.

Going Up

Looking back from the south ridge to Groundhog Reservoir and Sleeping Ute Mountain on the horizon.

Groundhog Talus View

My heart sank when I reached the top of the ridge and saw the actual summit. It looked too steep and loose for me and I doubted my ability to make it to the summit at this point. Still, I kept going to see how far I could get and hoped it wasn’t as bad as it looked…

On The Ridge

Groundhog Mountain Top

When I reached the other side of the ridge Lone Cone came into view.

Lone Cone View

Here I am at the base of the final climb to the summit. It looked like there was a route that I might be able to climb, so I took my time and started my way up the unstable pile of rocks.

Final Rockpile

The final stretch to the summit…

The Summit

View from the summit!

Groundhog Mountain Summit View

Looking west to Utah and the Abajo Mountains.

Utah View

Following the ridge back down from the summit.

Groundhog Mountain Summit Ridge

Although I didn’t have much trouble coming up, there was one loose and narrow section with some exposure that gave me a little trouble on the way down, especially when a whole bunch of the loose rocks slid down the edge. Aside from that one sketchy part, the climb up and down from the summit wasn’t too bad.

Rocky Landscape

One last look back at the pile of rocks that makes up the summit of Groundhog Mountain (12,165).

Groundhog Mountain Point

After returning to my Jeep I drove around Groundhog Mountain on some 4×4 roads as I made my way down West Beaver Creek to San Miguel Canyon where I reached the pavement again and headed back home.

Leaving Groundhog Mountain

The clouds were looking nice as I drove below Lone Cone.

Driving Past Lone Cone

>> Groundhog Mountain Photo Gallery


  1. Sue Malone
    Sue Malone August 12, 2020

    Ah, Randy, as always your photos are absolutely incredible. Makes me wish I wasn’t beyond the kind of hike you do, but so grateful for reading about yours. I soak up the photos of your incredible views. Just another random blogger here checking in to know I appreciate your blog and photos.

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