Walk on top of the world across gently rolling and expansive tundra. Sheridan Mountain resides at the northern end of Endlich Mesa which straddles the Florida River and Vallecito Creek drainages. Uninterrupted views of the disordered and acicular Needle Mountains are superlative. Return on the crenelated east rim of the mesa to Crevasse whose limestone caprock is breaking apart. Work around a maze of cracks up to 20 feet deep to escape the peak. It is a sterling day except for the 11 miles on jarring East Florida Road which will leave you feeling like a bobblehead doll.
Endlich Mesa Trail to Sheridan Mountain, elevation 12,795 feetSpur 534 takes off from the trailhead at elevation 11,280 feet and heads east to intersect the Endlich Mesa Trail (EMT) coming up from the south in 0.6 mile. The track is eroded and braided, so watch for cairns. If you have confidence in your navigation abilities, just shy of 0.4 mile, leave the spur and go northeast through a well-spaced forest to intersect the trail at 0.9 mile.
Heading north the ridge is broad and treed. Orange sneezeweed is the predominant flower in July. At a rise in 1.4 miles, the San Juan Mountain’s startling jagged horizon becomes a constant companion.
Drop down a limestone outcrop. Lining the path are lilac Colorado tansy asters, an uncommon plant on the species-of-concern list. Follow the trail carefully through willow patches. It is easy to get drawn off onto a wildcat trail. The EMT heads northeast toward open tundra country. Look afar for stone boys (very large cairns) that mark the correct path.
The hike crosses five miles of uninterrupted tundra. Limestone transitions to granite. The smooth trail is a linear sculpture as it meanders through spheroidal boulders. Great slabs mound up from the grass. Ascend gradually to Pass 12,300’ at four miles.
This vantage point affords the first view of Sheridan Mountain, a double prominence. From the pass, the trail drops 300 feet. At 4.7 miles, there is an unsigned junction. The formal Endlich Mesa Trail descends left/north to City Reservoir in Upper Park. From there backpackers trek over Columbine Pass into Chicago Basin, basecamp for remote monumental mountains.
To reach the peak, continue straight on the “Sheridan Mountain Spur Trail.” This elk, sheep and human multi-thread contours around Point 12,442’ to the Sheridan saddle. Leave the trail and climb the somewhat steep south ridge on crushed granite.
There is a false summit after 500 feet of climbing. Either go around it on the west or through the top boulders. Drop to a saddle and climb again to a second inconsequential bump before seeing the actual peak. Sheridan has a welcoming stone stairway that leads directly to the zenith at six miles.
Like so many of Colorado’s finest peaks that don’t top 13,000 feet, Sheridan Mountain is rarely visited. So, a couple of weeks ago I was especially pleased to find Tom and Ciran Miller with their dog Spock hanging out on the summit. Ciran, a 7th grader at Escalante Middle School, has been all over the La Plata Mountains with his dad and has climbed some of Colorado’s 53 sky peaks. Healthy kids should be able to hike their age in miles, and, on this day, Ciran was doing exactly that.
The unexpected greets you. North of the crest are glaciated sheets of granite interspersed with water pockets. In the northwest the mind-numbing Needle Mountain lineup is closing in and calling. The wooded east slope of Sheridan Mountain plummets more than 4,000 feet to Vallecito Creek.
East Rim of Endlich Mesa to Crevasse, elevation 12,311 feetIf there is not a threat of electrical storms, seize the opportunity to travel along the very edge of Endlich Mesa. It adds only 1.5 miles and 600 feet of elevation gain. You could throw a rock from here and hit the EMT. Yet, from the path there is no indication of the wonders at the rim.
From the summit, retrace your steps for two miles back to Pass 12,300’. Leave the trail 0.2 mile south of the pass and climb the northwest ridge of Point 12,490’. There is a fine view of Sheridan from this first and highest roller, a ranked summit.
Stay close to the edge and you will discover reason enough for the extra effort. The dark and severe north face of Point 12,450’ contrasts with weathered fins and spires on the mesa’s east rim. There is a short knife ridge out to this optional highpoint.
Talus blocks lead to Point 12,305’. Then the ground is calm and uniform, covered in small tan plates. Climb the short broken wall to Crevasse. It is one of the most unusual and wildest places in Colorado – and well named. The entire summit block is breaking apart leaving a puzzle-like maze of cracks.
The deepest and widest fissures are toward the south. Jump the narrow slashes and zigzag around wide gashes. Eventually, work your way to the west side of the mountain.
There are multiple ways to return to the EMT. A good option is to stay above the willow line while moving north. Descend west into a lush basin filled with alpine buttercups and rejoin the trail at the Weminuche Wilderness sign.
http://debravanwinegarden.blogspot.com. Debra Van Winegarden is an explorer and freelance writer who lives in Durango.