It is time to hit the dirt. It has been a big, long winter, and the lofty mountains of Southwest Colorado are inaccessible. But there is one open for business, one you probably have not thought of. Barnroof Point is a half-day, early season hike free of snow and mud.
The summit is at the far end of a north trending cuesta spanning the Lightner Creek and Dry Fork drainages just west of town. While it lacks the drama of adjacent Perins Peak and North Perins Peak, it is the highest of the three at 8,723 feet. Compelling features include sandstone rim travel, a vibrant ponderosa woodland, reach-out-and-touch views of the La Plata Mountains from the vertiginous summit and solitude.
The hike is within the Perins Peak State Wildlife Area managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. It is closed to public entry December 1 through April 15 to protect wintering big-game and spring-nesting peregrine falcons. The closure on the east side of Dry Fork Road, including the Perins Peak duo, is extended through July 31. Dogs must be on leash.
The trail to Barnroof leaves from the west side of the parking lot – elevation 6,960 feet – and immediately crosses the Dry Fork. Usually, it lives up to its name, but if you hike during spring runoff, you may get your feet wet.
Ascend an east-facing grassy slope that simply could not get any greener. A friend mused, “Where am I? This is so impossibly green. Is this really Durango?”
Climb steadily and somewhat steeply. A switchback links the footpath with an abandoned roadbed which makes a northerly rising traverse.
[image;2]Look back on the bucolic Lightner Creek bottomlands and Twin Buttes. The track is cut into Mancos Shale, but traction is excellent thanks to shattered sandstone that eroded from the rim above. Some weathered blocks made it down the plunge intact. Gravity never sleeps.
The engineered trail sputters out as it passes a band of rock at 0.6 mile. Hold the trajectory on a secondary trail that very soon turns sharply up the hillside. Footing is good enough when the soil is damp; embedded stones assist when the earth is dry. Trekking poles are helpful up the 80-foot pitch.
Arrive on the broad ridge at 0.7 mile, 7,640 feet. If the usual cairn is absent at this location, make a mental or physical marker for yourself so you don’t blow right by on the return.
The mountain is a classic cuesta, an asymmetrical ridge with an escarpment on three sides and a long and gentle backslope that conforms to the tilted beds of resistant sedimentary strata. Locate a wildcat trail and begin ascending through flourishing, aromatic ponderosa pines.
The social trail shies away from the precipice. I recommend roaming freestyle while hovering on the cliffrock, a linear platform relatively free of brush. The rimrock ringing the cuesta at this elevation is Point Lookout Sandstone, named for the upthrusting prominent point near the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park.
After crossing a dismantled barbed wire fenceline at 1.2 miles, follow the trail away from the rim and over Point 8,154’. On the north side, a springtime patch of bold-yellow mule’s ears precedes an expansive sandstone sheet reminiscent of Southern Utah and Grand Canyon’s Esplanade. After copious rain, the water pockets are brimful.
Gaining elevation, the coal-rich Menefee Formation, the middle layer in the Mesa Verde Group, overlies the sandstone sidewalk. The yellow hued blocks seen floating on the surface further up and comprising the summit are Cliffhouse Sandstone.
Leave the rim and climb a second roller at 2.2 miles, 8,600 feet. As you move into the interior, weave through scrub oak and snowberry on game trails. While Barnroof has a maligned reputation for being a brushy affair, much of this can be avoided with careful route selection. Still, you will be grateful for long pants.
The western vista opens as the ridge narrows. Closing in on the northern terminus of the mountain, boulders reside on the ridgecrest in a linear jumble. There are three caves, maybe more, possibly a neighborhood of bear dens. Here, beasts may slumber under the watch of old growth ponderosa.
Don’t get your speed up. The summit comes unexpectedly and culminates in a serious drop at 2½ miles. There’s not a lot of room, and the Cliffhouse boulders are assembled rather precariously. The peak register was placed by legendary climber Mark Ott of Mancos in October 2016.
The La Plata Mountains, Durango’s backyard range, are only a few miles distant in the west. The peregrine we saw gliding and calling over the summit could dart over in moments. The centerpiece in the east block is the peak we see from College Rim, Silver Mountain.
Most hikers are advised to retrace their steps on the standard route to the trailhead. If you would like more adventure, remain on the backslope.
The ridge narrows 0.3 mile past the standard bailout at the southernmost point of the cuesta. Look around for the safest drop through the cliff band. Your line need not exceed Class 2-plus. Plow steeply down the south ridge and intersect the upcoming footpath just above the verdant hillside.
http://debravanwinegarden.blogspot.com. Debra Van Winegarden is an explorer and freelance writer who lives in Durango.