As mountains make ready for summer, this early-season hike will get you in shape for ever higher and longer treks. Three choices are presented at increasing levels of effort and elevation. They all incorporate a four-mile segment of the Burnt Timber Trail (BTT) beginning at its south end in Transfer Park near Lemon Reservoir.
Revel in large stands of aspen, expansive meadows, far-flung views and historic arborglyphs.
Burnt Timber Trail No. 667From the Burnt Timber Trailhead, elevation 8,520 feet, the old dirt and stone pathway keeps up a steady incline. In springtime, enlivening green is pervasive from forest floor to canopy. The trail register is located at the Weminuche Wilderness boundary. An unusual feature of the trail follows; walk up a sheet of weathered granite.
The idyllic treadway levels briefly as it passes through an evergreen woodland. The Burnt Timber Trail was named for a fire that swept through the region years ago. Trees have since roared back to life.
Cross a west fork of Burnt Timber Creek on stones at one mile. Right now, this ford is easy enough, but I’ve seen it 15 feet across. South Burnt Timber Creek is up next. As you proceed, the aspen surrounding the trail host historic engravings.
Point 11,003’ and Point 11,724’ At 2.1 miles, 9,960 feet, a secondary trail branches left from the main track. The unsigned junction is easy to miss. It is at the top of a rise less than a tenth of a mile before the BTT crosses Burnt Timber Creek. The spur goes up to a hunting camp and then disappears, so if you have doubts about hiking off-trail, stay on the BTT. An old miner’s stove a few yards up the branch will confirm that you made the correct turn.
The faint path climbs through a mature aspen and spruce forest bearing essentially west for a third of a mile. At 10,200 feet, you will encounter some limestone boulders. If you keep going straight on the fading trail, you’ll start losing elevation. Instead, our route turns 90 degrees to the northwest and climbs an open slope. There’s a scrap of trail to start but it vanishes.
You will soon arrive in a high meadow with the south ridge of Point 11,003’ on your left and a stand of aspen on your right. An exemplary display of arborglyphs is in the grove.
Wander through the old herding camp and examine the aspen for carvings attributed to sheepherders whiling away the hours as they tended their flocks. The canvases are archaeological artifacts that preserve the old west but for a short span of time since aspen live at most 150 years.
The skillful artistry demonstrated without injury to the living tree makes one wonder if this collection was the work of a single gifted sheepherder. The carvings provide information we could not find elsewhere. They host images of sheepherders with cowboy hats and bolo ties, and a favorite donkey.
Affection for one’s steed carried over to the sheep; a ewe nuzzles her lamb. There are multiple carts. One features an exceptionally large spoke wheel. Please do not leave images of your own at this unusual historical marker.
Climb 200 feet west to the south ridge of Point 11,003’. Gain the ridge at 2.8 miles, about 10,560 feet. The view is commanding and startling, especially to the northeast where a string of thirteeners boldly rise above the Florida River gorge.
To reach Point 11,003’, climb north. You will soon stumble on a social trail tracking right up the center of the ridge. Top out on the viewpoint at 3.1 miles. Looking south, Lemon Reservoir fills its blue bowl and the San Juan Mountains glide to a full stop on the horizontal Colorado Plateau.
The Lime Mesa Trail passes right through Point 11,003’. From here, you may hop on the trail or climb even higher to Point 11,724’.
Mid-Level Lime Mesa Trail No. 676 Turn right if you’ve had enough vertical for one day. The abandoned road tracks below the rim on the 11,000 foot contour going roughly north. There is no elevation gain and the views are superlative. Mount Eolus, elevation 14,090 feet, takes up the most space on the skyline. It is two miles to the junction with the BTT. I have seen bear prints and a lot of horny toads along this trail.
High-Level to Point 11,724’The climb to the high point is gradual and straightforward. Cross the Lime Mesa Trail and head north staying on the ridge line as it curves around scalloped bowls bearing Burnt Timber and North Burnt Timber creeks.
The rock holding up the ridge is weathered Paleozoic limestone. The exposed limestone found throughout this area is a sedimentary layer tilted by the San Juan uplift. As you approach the crest, peer through an opening in the trees to Pigeon and Turret Peaks in the Needle Mountains. These ragged crags, close to the apex of the uplift, are composed of the Precambrian crystalline core.
The actual high point at 4.7 miles is more subtle than spectacular but is totally worth doing if you are out in BTT country. There isn’t a clear opening to the north and west. But you can see into the southern reaches and any friends on the Lime Mesa Trail.
The ridge splits on the high point. Be sure to make a 90 degree turn to the right and descend on the pleasant southeast ridge. Cut east at about 11,200 feet and make for the Lime Mesa Trail. Walk north to the junction with the BTT, no more than half a mile afar.
Burnt Timber Trail Back to Trailhead There is a large cairn marking the junction at 5.6 miles. (Mileages sync with the high-level hike.) Make a hard right and head south. It is a fast four miles downhill to the trailhead. The meadowlands suspended above the Florida River canyon are big and beautiful and so is the trail.
Dive into a thick aspen forest at 10,100 feet and pitch steeply down to Burnt Timber Creek. Walk a few paces uphill to close the loop.
http://debravanwinegarden.blogspot.com. Debra Van Winegarden is an explorer and freelance writer who lives in Durango.