Date hiked: 04/02/16
Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): 2 cross country skiers at the trailhead
Nuzzled in a valley buried beneath the shadows of Lizard Head Peak, and unmatched in the way of views, Wilson Meadows has far been one of the greatest hidden gems I’ve found thus far in the San Juan Mountains. And I was lucky enough to see her both summer and winter.
Setting off from the trailhead, a level incline gradually pulls you away from the highway. Though there were signs of skiers who must have been here within the last day or two, the trail was indiscernible throughout this open snowfield, so I chose a north-northeast path towards the powerlines at the top of the hill.
From here, intuition may tell you to follow the clearcut below the powerlines, but doing so will only take you back to the highway. Rather, veer northwest, where the route skirts Black Face’s eastern wall.
Confined by pine thickets and aspen groves, the route takes quite a liberal course, oscillating with the earth’s contours. But with less risk of damaging the fragile environment now sheltered beneath five months worth of snow, I found it easier just to orient myself to where I needed to be and forge my own path.
What I remember as an easy jaunt this fall was highly confounded by the snow. I found there to be a fine line between dropping too low and unintentionally loosing all that elevation you’ve already gained, and heading too high into the avalanche chutes which stripe the mountain above its canopy. I never would have made it without my GPS.
As you close in on the northern toe of Black Face, a well defined gully paves the way. Topping out at just below eleven-thousand feet, Sunshine Mountain, San Bernardo Mountain, and Lizard Head soon find their way into view.
The typical track to Wilson Meadow involves one last hard push towards a clay ridge. But again, with the snow, I opted to veer from the breadcrumbs on my GPS and took advantage of scattered gullies to find my way. With only one way to go – downhill – my screaming calves thanked me for it.
Standing at the threshold of Wilson Meadow:
Now on to Black Face.
Just as the route flattens after gaining the gully north of Black Face, the Black Face trail branches off to the left. But having forgotten to mark this point on my GPS, I had one hell of a time trying to find it, and eventually ended up finding my own way up the mountain.
Knowing the point where the trail met with the ridge, I made a beeline, trying to balance distance with incline as much as I could. And though I may have cut the journey in half, gaining seven-hundred feet in less than a mile was no walk in the park.
Finally on the ridge, treeline comes quickly. It’s best to stay as high on the ridgeline as possible, taking care not to tread too close to the cornices.
At the final push, the ridge narrows considerably, with only a third of a mile remaining. But with springtime well under way, the snow was already starting to slush under the noontime sun. Worried about triggering an avalanche under the conditions or loosing my footing in the loose snow (and without an ice axe for a self arrest should I slip), turning back here was the safest option.
(From Telluride): At the roundabout on the western end of town, drive south on CO-145. After 2.9 miles, turn left at the second roundabout to continue onto southbound 145. The trailhead is at Lizard Head Pass 12.2 miles beyond the second roundabout. While you can park at the bathrooms, the true trailhead is the small dirt expanse above them.
15.1 miles; 23 minutes