Trip Number: 12156A
Staff: Michael Jensen
- Hike a portion of the Continental Divide Trail in the wildest part of Colorado
- Experience solitude, often on trails above 11,000 feet high
- Share your passion for the outdoors with like-minded people
- Delicious meals and group cooking equipment
- Discussions about our nation's beautiful public lands and wilderness protection
- One layover day for exploring without backpacks
Designated by the U.S. Congress in 1980, the South San Juan Wilderness covers
about 160,000 acres, with 180 miles of trails and elevations from about 8,000
to 13,000+ ft. The San Juan Mountains are one of the largest distinct mountain
systems in the U.S. They stretch from the San Luis Valley on the east side to
beyond Durango and Telluride on the west. Four ecosystems dominate the San Juans:
alpine (above 11,000 ft); volcanic subalpine forest (between 9,000 and 11,000
ft, and on volcanic rock); crystalline subalpine Forest (between 9,000 and 11,000
ft, where the underlying rock is granite and gneiss); volcanic mid-elevation
forest (less common). ColoradoWilderness.com claims that this area is considered
to be Colorado's "wildest corner," and it has "...some of the
most exemplary backpacking in the state." (The last known Colorado grizzly
bear was killed here in 1979; this wilderness area is also considered suitable
for the Canada lynx and the wolverine.) Forty-two miles of our 51-mile hike
will be on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), which goes through the heart
of this wilderness area. Volcanic and glacial activity has sculpted the area
into broad U-shaped valleys, steep slopes, high peaks, cliffs, and jagged ridges.
Because much of our trip will be above 11,000 feet, we should see many open
alpine meadows with numerous wildflowers, sparse and stunted Engleman spruce,
subalpine fir, and limber pine.
Photo: John Everett
Pre-trip: Because this area is not as well known or as used
as other wilderness areas, there is no car shuttle service available. Hence,
we will need to shuttle cars before the trip; this shuttle will be about two
hours one way.
Day 1: We will meet at 1:00 p.m. at the Ponderosa Campground, which is about 15 miles from Cumbres Pass. We will shuttle cars to the Elwood Pass trailhead. When we return, we will have dinner, which will be the first meal of the trip. We will get to know each other, have an orientation about the trip, go over our equipment, refine our packing, arrange tent sharing, weigh our packs, etc.
Day 2: Leaving the trailhead at Cumbres Pass, we will hike
through some forests and past Wolf Creek for about 6 miles to Glacier Lakes.
(+1,900 ft, -1,200 ft)
Day 3: This will be our longest day (to ensure we have water
at camp). We will hike about 9.5 miles to the Dipping Lakes. We will hike near
Flat Peak and should see Conejos and Summit peaks. (+2,500 ft, -2,000 ft)
Day 4: This day will be above treeline, following cairns over
this open plateau. We should see Gunsight Pass as we hike about 8 miles to a
high plateau with scattered small lakes. (+1,500 ft, -800 ft)
Day 5: Lake Ann is our destination today during our 9-mile
hike. (+2,500 ft, -2,500 ft)
Day 6: This will be a layover day at Lake Ann, where you could
dayhike or relax in camp.
Day 7: We will hike to the Adams Fork River, covering about
8.4 miles. (+3,000 ft, -3,500 ft)
Day 8: We will leave the trail at Elwood Pass on a 9-mile
hike. (+2,400 ft, -2,400 ft)
Depending on when we get up and out of camp on the last day, we should get to Elwood Pass by mid-afternoon. Some of us will need to shuttle back to Cumbres pass to pick up cars left there. You should not plan on any air travel on the last day. Wilderness travel can go as planned or unforeseen conditions or circumstances can necessitate a change in plans, so please bring a flexible attitude with you on the trip.
For flying in, Denver is about 300 miles, Albuquerque is about 200 miles, and Durango, CO is about 135 miles from the Ponderosa Campground. Detailed information on the campground will be sent in a future bulletin. Ride sharing is strongly encouraged on Sierra Club outings, and a roster of trip members will be provided ahead of time to facilitate this. Our first night's campground is at an elevation of 10,000 feet; much of the trip and camping sites will be above 11,000 ft. It is highly recommended you arrive a day or two before the trip to acclimatize.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: John Everett
The trip price includes meals from dinner on day one through lunch on the last
day, as well as use of cooking gear, stoves, fuel, first-aid kit, and scale.
All group gear will be weighed and distributed each morning to ensure that everyone
carries his or her fair share.
A nutritious, high-energy diet is planned. Any food allergies or limitations should be indicated on your trip application. There will be chicken and fish on the menu, and summer sausage/beef jerky may be included in a couple of lunches. Vegetarians can be accommodated. Trip members will be divided into cook crews so everyone will have a chance to prepare meals during the trip.
This trip is rated a 5 based on a rating scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being most
difficult. There will be six moving days of six to nine miles each and one layover
day. The elevation is generally high (often above 11,000 ft), and a couple of
days have significant elevation gain and loss. It will be a strenuous trip.
Backpacking at elevation will also seem more tiring until you are acclimatized,
so arriving a couple of days early to get in some hikes before our trip begins
will be especially helpful. Our toughest hiking day (day six) will be after
a layover day. You will need to be in good physical condition to carry 25 pounds
of your own gear plus up to about 15 pounds of group food and commissary. Proper
preparation will enhance your wilderness experience as well as being considerate
of your fellow hikers.
Equipment and Clothing
A detailed equipment list will be sent to all registered trip members in a future bulletin. Participants are expected to furnish their own backpack and camping gear, as well as good raingear (including backpack cover), layers of clothing to keep you comfortable between 30-75 degrees, broken-in medium-weight waterproof boots, and other personal gear, eating utensils, toiletries, etc. Your personal backpack gear should come to no more than 25 pounds as we will give you up to about 15 pounds of commissary gear. You may also find hiking poles helpful for stream crossings, steep downhills, and difficult terrain.
Our hike is described in Hiking Colorado's Weminuche & South San Juan
Wilderness Areas by Donna Ikenberry. Plants of the Rocky Mountains
by Linda J. Kershaw, Andy MacKinnon, and Jim Pojar; Rocky Mountain
Wildflowers by David Dahms (a pocket guide); and Birds of Colorado
by Stan Tekiela provide information on possible flora and fauna in the
We will be using the following 7.5-minute USGS topographic maps: Cumbres, Archuleta,
Victoria Lake, Elephant Head Rock, Summit Peak, and Elwood Pass. These are available
by download or purchase at http://store.usgs.gov.
Both leaders will be carrying these maps (or parts of them), so it would not
be necessary to bring these except for your own interest and curiosity.
We will discuss the Sierra Club's role in protection of wild and wondrous places,
the Wilderness Act that set aside areas such as the South San Juan Wilderness
area, and some of the dangers and assaults on our natural environment, particularly
as it relates to Colorado (since this is where we are recreating). Participants
are urged to share their experiences from their local activities, so we call
all learn about new areas. An advocacy group, the San Juan Citizen Alliance
provides some information about threats to this area.
We will travel lightly upon the land by learning and practicing Leave No Trace
principles throughout the trip. Reducing our camp footprint by sharing tents,
camping in designated campsites to limit impact, and packing out all that we
pack in (including food scraps) will help keep the wilderness as pristine as
before so that those who come after us will have the same sense of discovery
that we're sure to have.
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Rio Grande National Forest.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
Michael Jensen has been hooked on backpacking since his first backpack trip in the Wind River Range in 1980. He has backpacked on Sierra Club and personal trips in twelve states and Canada. Sharing glorious vistas with interesting new people makes these trips a wonderful experience. While his job at a university keeps him indoors too much, in his spare time his outdoor activities with family and friends include day hikes, backpacking, telemark skiing, and an occasional canoe trip. Michael also enjoys reading, writing fiction, and photography.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips