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North Perins Peak hike offers a solitary world

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Saturday, Aug. 18, 2018 7:12 PM
Perins Peak is a distinctive natural landmark rising west of Durango. North Perins Peak is to its right.
North Perins Peak is at the far end of a gently rising cuesta. Hikers see the summit from the west ridge of Perins Peak but few have made the journey to the taller of the companion mountains.
From the Rockridge Trailhead walk southwest on the Perins Peak Trail for two miles, the black-line route. To reach North Perins Peak, turn right on the blue-line route and walk north off-trail to the summit. Visiting the stone boy on the return is an optional side trip.

Perins Peak is the distinctive natural landmark rising west of Durango.

Three years ago, The Durango Herald featured the enchanting hike to the upthrusting promontory. Two miles north of this skyscraper scarp is Peak 8,682’, unofficially named North Perins Peak. It is 300 feet taller than its companion and, despite its celebratory features, it is typically overlooked.

The North Perins cuesta is big empty country and illustrates the enormity of the American West just steps from home. The hike begins on the standard Perins Peak Trail and then diverts north. Walk freestyle over open grassland while taking in engaging views. Brave scramblers can drop onto a sandstone blade. Extend the hike if you wish and visit a 9-foot-tall cairn monument, a stone boy, erected by sheepherders long ago.

The hike is contained within the 13,442 acre Perins Peak State Wildlife Area managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife to maintain animal and habitat conservation. The preserve is open to the public for four months annually, from the first of August until the end of November. Dogs must be on leash.

Perins Peak TrailPass the informative placards at the Perins Peak Trailhead, elevation 6,880 feet, and immediately cross Dry Gulch. The well-established, southwest-bearing trail skirts the Rockridge subdivision in a grassy field framed with piñon-juniper.

Travel is easy up the North Perins backslope. Arthur Howard and Janna Ranson converse while walking on the gently rising tabletop last autumn.
Debra Van Winegarden/Special to the Herald

On north-facing slopes and along the banks of a tributary of Dry Gulch are cottonwood, Douglas fir and soaring ponderosa pine. Watch for deer, elk, piles of black bear scat and the rare cougar. Keep an eye out for peregrine and possibly prairie falcons circling above.

At 1.3 miles, the track begins climbing in earnest up a steep hillside crowded with Gamble oak, mountain mahogany and chokecherry. Look north, and the horizon is spiked with the Needle Mountains, including the inseparable Pigeon and Turret Peaks.

The path soon comes to a welcome patch of pine, aspen and snowberry. The pitch softens as the trail emerges from the woods and plows through tall grasses.

North Perins PeakAt 2.2 miles, elevation 8,000 feet, the trail splits. The juncture may be marked with a cairn. The trail to Perins Peak branches left. Turn right on an old road. In June, 2017, the Lightner Creek Fire burned 412 acres in this area. The passage was widened to allow for firefighting equipment.

In just 0.1 mile, the road divides. The left fork, the more obvious track, goes to the Perins City mining camp ruins. Bear right on a two-track. It is pretty clear at first but soon becomes hard to follow. Just stay west of a large ravine; the peak is located at the far north end of the cuesta. The backslope is sparsely forested with ponderosa. Toward the west side is a cluster of unusual, magnificent pines with multiple trunks.

Climbers perch on the airy and exposed tip of the sandstone blade.
Debra Van Winegarden/Special to the Herald

The broad platform rises gently for two miles, constrained by encircling cliffs. The tabletop is so massive it feels like a world unto itself. The most distinctive characteristic of the summit is its location at an abrupt fall-away escarpment. The peak register was placed by Mark, Logan and Courtney Ott of Mancos in 2014. According to the log, this peak of solitude is visited but once or twice a year.

Views are absolutely unique. Immediately west, Barnroof Point is slightly higher. Swinging clockwise, the La Plata Mountains make a signature statement throughout the hike. Mount Eolus dominates in the San Juan Mountains. Nearby are Missionary Ridge, Animas City Mountain and Turtle Lake. Durango is visually wide-open. Perins Peak has a subdued shape from this location.

Most hikers will call the summit good enough. It is possible for scramblers to continue out the north ridge, dropping 200 feet to a stone promontory. There is a faint social trail slightly off the east side of the precipice. The oak brush is thick and annoying but affords some safety. Wear long pants. Get right back on the ridge and do a Class 3 drop onto a mid-level platform.

A seemingly bottomless crack severs the sandstone promontory. John Bregar and Lynn Coburn hover on the precipice.
Debra Van Winegarden/Special to the Herald

To reach the very end of the point, back up a few paces and plunge down a shale slope for 40 feet on the east side of the ridge. Skirt along the base of a small cliff band and then return to the spine. The stone blade is severed by a crack so deep the bottom is impossible to see. There are big drops on three sides creating a spectacular vantage point. Be mindful – it is airy and exposed.

After clawing your way out, either retrace steps to the trailhead or extend the hike by visiting the cairn monument.

Stone BoyFrom North Perins, walk east along the escarpment and look back upon the suspended peninsula. The ring of rock that flows out to the blade is Point Lookout Sandstone. Overlying it is the Menefee Formation. While the Menefee is primarily shale and coal, there are sandstone beds, the short cliffs you scooted beneath. The cuesta top is upheld by Cliffhouse Sandstone. Look about and you will see yellow rocks on the surface that are characteristic of this formation.

John Bregar admires the nine-foot-tall cairn monument erected by sheepherders. The yellow rock is characteristic of Cliffhouse Sandstone.
Debra Van Winegarden/Special to the Herald

From the eastern viewpoint, analyze the landscape to the south. The cuesta is divided by two ravines. To find the stone boy, walk down a broad ridge between the drainageways for a little under a mile. You will find him out on a point. The impressive cairn monument was crafted by sheepherders, possibly to mark this specific location or perhaps simply to while away the time while tending their flocks. It is a stunning yellow edifice built with Cliffhouse Sandstone.

To return to the trailhead, weave your way west without getting too tangled in brush. Even in the thickest thickets, plants are well spaced. Descend into a ravine and climb back out to rejoin the incoming route on the cuesta top.

http://debravanwinegarden.blogspot.com. Debra Van Winegarden is an explorer and freelance writer who lives in Durango.

Travel basics

Travel: From Main Avenue and 25th Street in Durango, go west. Pass Miller Middle School and in two blocks turn left on Clovis Drive. Go up the hill and enter the Rockridge subdivision. Drive just under a mile and turn right on Tanglewood Drive. Cross a small bridge and take an immediate left. The parking area is on the right.

Distance and Elevation Gain: Roundtrip to North Perins Peak is 8.4 miles with 2,000 feet of vertical. A visit to the stone boy adds one mile and 200 feet of climbing.

Total Time: 4½ to 6 hours

Difficulty: Perins Peak Trail for the first two miles, then off-trail; navigation moderate; scrambling and precipitous exposure on the optional cliff platforms.

Map: Durango West, Colorado 7.5’ USGS Quad or Apogee Mapping

Open Aug. 1 - Nov. 30: Seasonal closure in the Perins Peak State Wildlife Area provides winter shelter for deer and elk. The closure is extended through July to safeguard peregrine falcons nesting and raising their young.

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