Alpine Loop Adventure

 In Trip Reports

With lots of requests for itinerary options around the San Juan Mtns, just north of Durango, we decided to take a few days to explore some new territory.

After a long day of chores and finally a stop at the grocery, we departed town about 6pm in our Sportmobile “Tonto”, hoping to find some worthy territory off Old Lime Kiln Rd – only 30min from home. Wow! A site next to extensive beaver ponds with high mountains in the background was more than we had hoped for! Pesto pasta with chicken and asparagus for dinner with a beautiful sunset made it one of those spectacular Colorado nights.

The next morning we rolled through Silverton and headed up the road towards Stony Pass. At 12,650ft it seemed the perfect place to make lunch. As an early June snow squall whipped by outside we were able to “pop our top” and make soup, sandwich, and coffee. Warm inside – Julie declared “ahhhh…. Tonto provides!” for the 100th time.

Kite Lake is located at the border of the Weminuche Wilderness Area which houses parts of the Continental Divide Trail.As we descended on the other side of the pass, the sun came out and we decided to take a side road towards Kite Lake – a 6mile out and back. The last 1/4mi was blocked by snow, but we found a boondock site for the night with a high alpine meadow surrounded by beautiful mountain views, a flowing creek, and privacy. That makes it a 5-star boondock site in our book! After a short hike around we settled in for grilled potatoes, hamburgers, and salad for dinner.

Kite Lake is located at the border of the Weminuche Wilderness Area which houses parts of the Continental Divide Trail. The next morning we were able to day hike from our camp spot into the foot-travel-only Wilderness area. We came across a VERY well preserved mine site. The bunk house still stands with tin cans full of mining tools nailed to the walls among the heavy machinery relics.

After a short bit of “you run, I drive” trade off back out the 6 mile road we continued down the rest of Stony Creek Pass Rd, which turned very narrow and steep with loose rocks for the surface. Narrow, but nothing un-doable for the Sportsmobile. In 4WD and low range, the compression braking of the big diesel engine allowed us to simply crawl down the steep declines, rarely having to touch the brakes. “Ahhh… Tonto” says Julie.

We rolled into Lake City, Colorado about 5pm and marveled at the “cuteness”. After a light re-supply and a long hot shower at the local hostel ($5), we pointed the wheels up Engineer Pass Rd. An easy 8mi up the road (29mi total length) we turned right up the Matterhorn Road to find a campsite for the night. Picturesque sites are found a-plenty for the first couple of miles of the road and we settled into one halfway between two trailheads and had delicious jumobalaya and salad for dinner.

The next morning we geared up for a loop hike that wend its way through some high alpine territory. We entered in the Matterhorn access trail and came out the Wetterhorn access. The scenery was worth all the effort. A couple of snow field crossings were required as well as some raging creek crossings since it was still early season. The whole loop took us three hours and thirty minutes to complete.

Back at camp we rinsed off in the river, lunched some sandwiches, and made ready to head to Ouray via Engineer Pass. The road was mellow driving, which allowed us to take in some of the spectacular scenery! On the way down two sections turn to VERY technical driving – especially for a rig as big as Tonto (a Sportsmobile). Julie assumed her role as head scout – running ahead of the van to identify tricky maneuvers.
We emerged from the wilderness just in time to catch the Ouray Town Park Summer Concert featuring the always zany March Forth Marching Band. What a change of pace after living in the mountains for days. These uber hip Marching Band holdouts wear costumes, walk on stilts, and hula hoop while keeping the crowd dancing for hours. Go see them.

That night we boondocked about 2 miles out of town up a 4-wheel drive road. A beautiful wooded spot was still available when we rolled in well after dark. The next morning we drove the short 90min route back to Durango.

We captured coordinates of dozens of high quality boondock sites to share with our clients. The beauty and scale of the San Juan mountains, within site of the town of Durango, put another nail in the coffins of all other towns vying for “best overland launch site”. We’re confident this version of the Alpine loop will be a favorite of many clients!

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