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Spencer Basin to Sugarloaf

Friday & Saturday, July 23-24, 2021

This weekend I needed to stay closer to home since Diane and I had another concert to go to on Saturday night and I wanted to be home early enough in the afternoon so I could rest for a little bit first. I was originally trying to find an easier summit close to Ouray since I was a little worried about all the mudslides we’ve been having in the mountains lately, and I really didn’t want to get stuck anywhere and miss out on the concert, but in the end I decided to head over Red Mountain Pass to Silverton so I could hike to the summit of Sugarloaf from Spencer Basin. Here’s a fun fact: There are at least 28 different Sugarloafs in Colorado (including peaks, mountains, rocks, etc…), but the one located above Spencer Basin along the edge of the Weminuche Wilderness is the highest one in the state at 12,754 feet.

As usual, I was planning on leaving right after work on Friday, but earlier in the day I found out that I’d be getting out of work two hours earlier, so I got my hopes up that I might be able to squeeze in another hike this evening for sunset. When I left work in the early afternoon I headed down to Montrose for a quick dinner and then continued over Red Mountain Pass to Silverton. Just before reaching Silverton it started to rain pretty heavily, but I had hopes that it would not last very long, so I followed the Animas River and drove up into Minnie Gulch. I stopped at the end of the road to see if I could wait out the thunderstorms, but after a while I could tell that the rain was not going to stop for a while and headed back down. I guess hiking just wasn’t going to be in the cards this evening…

This is a new sign along the road that I spotted shortly after leaving Silverton.

Entering Remote Area

A stormy evening view from Minnie Gulch.

Stormy Evening

Minnie Gulch Waterfall

Minnie Gulch Waterfall

After giving up on my hopes for hiking this evening I headed back over to Cunningham Gulch to find a place to spend the night.

Driving in the Rain

The heavy rain created this muddy-colored waterfall along the way.

Muddy Water

I found a place to camp below the Highland Mary Mine and spent the rest of the evening listening to the rain, rumbles of thunder, and podcasts. Then I went to bed early so I could get an early start on Saturday morning. I was expecting the rain to stop shortly after sunset, so I was surprised when it pretty much rained for all of the night. As the morning approached, I was worried that I might not be able to hike at all, but it did finally stop raining about an hour before my alarm got me up at 5:30am. I didn’t waste any time and was on the trail by 5:45am.

Alpenglow on Mountaineer Peak as I followed the old mining track above Mountaineer Creek into Spencer Basin.

Mountaineer Peak Alpenglow

The first light of the day strikes Sugarloaf, which towered above me the entire way.

Sugarloaf Morning

Following a trail through wildflowers in Spencer Basin.

Trail Through Spencer Basin

After hiking though a patch of willows and getting absolutely soaked from the waist down, I looked over to my left just as this head popped out from another patch of willows.

Head in the Willows

Then there were two deer!

Deer in the Willows

Spencer Basin Trail

Spencer Basin Trail

Overlooking a tarn in Spencer Basin as I climbed to the ridge above.

Spencer Basin Tarn

On top of the ridge.

On The Ridge

There was a great overview of Spencer Basin from the ridge.

Spencer Basin Overview

When I reached the summit of Sugarloaf I had a good view across the ridge to Mount Rhoda and Whitehead Peak, both of which I had climbed last August.

Sugarloaf Summit

The Grenadier Range was hiding in the clouds this morning.

Beneath The Clouds

There was also a hazy view over the Highland Mary Lakes from the summit.

Highland Mary Lakes

Light on a grassy ridge below…

Ridge Below

After I walked around the perimeter of the broad grassy summit it was time to start heading back down.

Down The Ridge

There was a fun-but-easy rocky section of the ridge along the way.

Rocky Ridge Descent

Dappled light across Spencer Basin.

Spencer Basin

Trail Across Spencer Basin

Trail Across Spencer Basin

Creek Crossing

Creek Crossing

Looking up to the summit of Mount Rhoda.

Spencer Basin to Mount Rhoda

Cliff Face

Cliff Face

A blanket of wildflowers below Mountaineer Peak.

Wildflowers & Mountaineer Peak

Following Mountaineer Creek back down into Cunningham Gulch.

Gulch Descent

Hazy Gulch View

Hazy Gulch View

The trail below Sugarloaf.

Mountaineer Creek Trail

I even had a nice view of Sugarloaf from my parking spot.

Sugarloaf View

The round trip hike had only taken me about three hours, which was perfect timing, so I hopped back into my Jeep and started driving home. Even though it was a pretty short day in the mountains, any amount of time spent hiking above treeline is worth it to me!

Highland Mary Mine Road

>> Spencer Basin to Sugarloaf Photo Gallery

One Comment

  1. Dianne
    Dianne July 30, 2021

    Minnie Gulch waterfall is beautiful.
    Amazing that you hike into that area and we see no evidence of
    another human being anywhere. Lucky you.

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