This 50.5-mile hike runs south-to-north across Endlich Mesa, Silver Mesa, the Needle Mountains, the Grenadier Range, the Highland Mary Plateau, and Arrastra and Spencer Basins before plunging straight into downtown Silverton. Along the way, you’ll encounter spectacular plateaus of rolling tundra, ripsaw ridges, cliff-ringed lakes, and lush midsummer wildflowers, but it’s not a route for the lazy or unacclimatized. For most of its length, you’ll wander up and down through a succession of steep passes, with long stretches above 12,000 feet. Budget at least seven days; peakbagging and side hikes beg for more time. About half of the route requires off-trail routefinding. We recommend downloading the author’s track log and waypoints for map-plotting or GPS use. Despite often steep terrain, there’s no exposed scrambling that requires ropes—unless you go in spring, when an ice axe and/or crampons would also be useful for steep snow.
Maps: Trails Illustrated 140 Weminuche Wilderness, and USGS topos Columbine Pass, Storm King Peak, Howardsville, and Silverton
–Mapped by Steve Howe
- Distance: 81.3
Location: 37.4772605895996, -107.631538391113
Endlich Mesa Trailhead Kiosk
Location: 37.4909553527832, -107.610694885254
Weminuche Wilderness Boundary
Location: 37.5189819335938, -107.602226257324
Pass begins descent to Lower Park
Location: 37.5260276794434, -107.598281860352
Trail junction; stay left
Location: 37.5348701477051, -107.608558654785
Trail junction; turn right/NE
Location: 37.539737701416, -107.600387573242
Location: 37.5449333190918, -107.592422485352
Trail junction; stay left
Location: 37.5521697998047, -107.59268951416
Good watering site. Follow developing trail N. as it curves West up onto Silver Mesa
Location: 37.5710792541504, -107.605400085449
Pittsburgh Mine. Beware of dangerous vertical shafts.
Location: 37.5801544189453, -107.597633361816
Trimble Pass: Excellent views northward to main Needles group
Location: 37.5971031188965, -107.59928894043
Location: 37.6018257141113, -107.591941833496
Unnamed pass to Hazel Lake. Descent trail East is exposed; use caution.
Location: 37.6047592163086, -107.588371276855
Hazel Lake; scenic campsite
Location: 37.5918846130371, -107.593269348145
We rejoined Johnson Creek Trail. More efficient route is to descend directly from Columbine Lake.
Location: 37.5889129638672, -107.534629821777
Ford Johnson Creek. Could be tough in spring.
Location: 37.5842819213867, -107.531150817871
Pack bridge across Vallecito Creek
Location: 37.6298332214356, -107.538513183594
Turn Left at small cairn. Follow sketchy trails NW across meadows.
Location: 37.6311454772949, -107.53938293457
Ford Vallecito Creek. 100 feet across. Knee deep or deeper. Probably impossible in high run-off.
Location: 37.6336059570312, -107.540245056152
Huge avalanche debris pile. Clamber over logs as needed for 1/4- to 1/2 -mile.
Location: 37.6358451843262, -107.55249786377
Rejoin solid trail
Location: 37.6335639953613, -107.56494140625
Jaw-dropping views enroute to Sunlight Lake
Location: 37.6341552734375, -107.581108093262
Location: 37.6386947631836, -107.578788757324
Turn North off-trail. Climb steep tundra gullies to ridgeline pass.
Location: 37.6461639404297, -107.578636169434
Unnamed pass into broad tundra basin
Location: 37.6509170532227, -107.579551696777
Unnamed pass; may need ice axe for descent down snowfields to north
Location: 37.6603927612305, -107.573539733887
Best route actually climbs straight north from tarn, crosses pass, and drops to basin South of Peak Seven.
Location: 37.6624336242676, -107.567398071289
Sketchy scrambles across steep slab band. Best route is further west
Location: 37.6655654907227, -107.568710327148
Location: 37.6701240539551, -107.57006072998
Location: 37.6713981628418, -107.570236206055
Critical descent gully from pass between Peaks Seven and Eight
Location: 37.6731796264648, -107.561828613281
Unnamed Pass. Begin boulderfield descent toward, but not down to, Lake Silex.
Location: 37.6930809020996, -107.569671630859
Pass begins descent to Elk Creek Valley
Location: 37.7129669189453, -107.566337585449
Strike user trail. Avoid logpile tangles visible below. Persevere until striking Elk Creek.
Location: 37.7173271179199, -107.563484191895
More user trail leads to Colorado Trail
Location: 37.726619720459, -107.576721191406
Small bridge across side creek. Begin looking for game trails climbing north.
Location: 37.7408180236816, -107.579498291016
Hidden hunter’s camp on small bench above and east of gully
Location: 37.7447547912598, -107.577560424805
Strike user trail; turn ENE
Location: 37.746166229248, -107.575538635254
Strike maintained trail; continue north
Location: 37.7490730285644, -107.576522827148
Verde Lake: Good watering point
Location: 37.7667541503906, -107.582481384277
Leave major track. Follow faint user trail around corner and across sidehill. Soon becomes XC travel. Follow natural “trench” traversing sidehill to NW.
Location: 37.7702140808106, -107.593933105469
Unnamed pass reached after skittery, steep talus climb thru conglomerate cliff bands.
Location: 37.7779083251953, -107.607849121094
Location: 37.7808303833008, -107.608276367188
Very high unnamed pass. Look for airy mountain goat trail traversing west across face of Point 13,409.
Location: 37.7941856384277, -107.613861083984
Another spectacular pass
Location: 37.7975997924805, -107.625175476074
Last pass. May involve rotten cliff scramble up and around mine tunnel entrance that blocks easy pass crossing. Watch those handholds.
Location: 37.8053741455078, -107.627510070801
Faint trail avoids cliffband descending Blair Gulch
Location: 37.8075370788574, -107.627876281738
Very loose, unpleasant talus descent down to valley floor
Location: 37.8113098144531, -107.633102416992
Summer cabin under construction. Follow access roads down to road network.Turn left at first major crossroad.
Location: 37.8077621459961, -107.642433166504
Actual road intersection. Note: Roads on this maps in this area are inaccurately shown.
Location: 37.8115615844727, -107.663032531738
End of route
Location: 37.6344261169434, -107.580657958984
Dawn does a doubletake on Sunlight Lake. © Steve Howe