Courthouse Mountain

Date hiked: 07/26/16

Mileage: 3.6 miles; 2 hrs

Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): 0 groups

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If Courthouse Mountain and Chimney Rock look familiar, just ask John Wayne.

The two unparalleled peaks just outside of Ridgway, CO stand as backdrop to the original 1969 True Grit, along with a number of other location around Montrose and the San Juan mountain towns of Telluride and Ouray.

Interestingly enough, Ridgway is also the Home of the Grammy, as a placard on Highway 50 states when driving in from the south. John Billings and his three-man crew at Billings Artwork handcraft the trophies each and every year.

In the sixties, it was the sheer beauty of the area that drew filmmakers here, and I couldn’t pass up my own first-hand experience of that.

Courthouse Mountain rises to a mere 12,152 feet, which, when compared to the 13 and 14,000 foot monoliths in the area may not seem like much. But, standing guard over Ridgway with over 1,000 feet of vertical prominence, and beaming such a unique face, the mountain is one striking sight to behold.

The trail up to the top offers no warm-up. It starts out steep and holds strong until the summit. But gaining 1,800 feet in under two miles, what else is to be expected?

Tucked beneath an unyielding canopy of high-reaching pine trees, aside from a few passing glimpses at Precipice Peak, the views don’t open up much until the ridgeline. The trail levels briefly as you come to the first and only intersection leading off towards Owl Creek Pass and the Uncompahgre Wilderness. Taking the right for the last mile to the summit, you may be feeling a satisfaction with almost half of the trail behind you, but having only gained about 700 feet, that still leaves with over 1,000 to go.

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Precipice Peak

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Head right at this intersection.

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Otherworldly light cast through the trees.

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The trees thin out to our first peek at the high mountains separating us from Ouray, including the Bridge of Heaven.

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The Horsethief Trail crests the western (right) extremes of the lone ridge on the right hand side of this viewpoint, where it ends at the Bridge of Heaven.

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Courthouse Mountain shows us its bad side. But don’t worry, the trail does’t attempt this face. Composed of volcanic tuff and breccia, the scramble would be more than catastrophic on the ecology. These volcanic vestiges make the landscape very reminiscent of Wheeler Geologic Area.

Honing in on a stubborn hoodoo, Redcliff and Coxcomb Peak slide into view on the far side of the basin. The last scramble to the top grows increasingly challenging, with traction near impossible on the grainy slopes. On a grade this sharp, the trick is in the sidestep, but I was just glad no one was around to see me crabwalking the descent.

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In a true test of balance, the trail traverses this ledge.

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The true summit is the furthest, slightly exposed, rock.

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Panning south across the Uncompahgre Wilderness lays a basin trapped by (from left to right) Dunsinane Mountain, Precipice Peak, Redcliffe and Coxcomb.

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And to the northwest lies the Uncompahgre Valley which I now call home.

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Chimney rock and Silverjack Reservoir.

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I spooked three bucks on the return trip.

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Back at the trailhead.

Trail Map

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Directions

(From Ridgway): At the intersection of Highway 550 and Highway 62, head north on Highway 550 for 1.8 miles, then turn right onto CR-10. After 1 mile, veer left to stay on CR-10. In 3.1 miles, turn right onto CR-8. In 1.4 miles, turn left to stay on CR-8. In 6.9 miles, turn right to stay on CR-8, and drive another 2.6 miles to Owl Creek Pass. With this many turns, well-signed intersections direct you towards Owl Creek Pass at each junction.

At the pass, the road becomes CR-860 and continues for .3 miles where you’ll turn right onto 860A. The trailhead is just 1.6 miles beyond this point. It’s hard to spot, so drive slow and keep your eyes on the right side of the road for the sign. There is a pullout on the left side of the road to park.

While dry, the road all the way to the trailhead is doable in any car. But if it’s muddy, don’t even attempt bringing a 2WD up here. I about got myself stuck after a heavy rain.

18.6 miles; 56 min

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