The colossal summit plateau northeast of Durango’s Missionary Ridge is an arresting curiosity – come along and explore the west half of Mountain View Crest.
Miles fly by while striding over tundrascape; spires of the Needle Mountains mesmerize. The west end of the ridge holds a surprise – a heart-stopping view of the audible Animas River, 4,300 feet below.
Mountain View Crest is a landform that rises steadily from the south and tops out at an abrupt escarpment that runs roughly east and west for almost 10 miles. It extends from Columbine Pass on the eastern side to a definitive end above the Animas River trench on the west. The Needle Creek drainage defines the bottom of the abutment on the north. This tour covers the western half of the vast sublimity.
From two-wheel-drive parking
The last portion of the road to the Lime Mesa trailhead is so demanding that only serious four-wheel-drive vehicles are capable of arriving. We stumbled on the idea of stopping short a few years ago and made our own route to meet up with the Lime Mesa Trail. Others have followed, and the alternate trail is fairly well established.
Park and walk .25 mile up the road until it hooks a sharp right. At the apex of the bend, look for a trail leading off to the left/northeast at 11,040 feet. If you lose the trail, no worries. Just keep Lime Mesa’s west-facing cliffs on your right.
The path rises gently through clearings and woods for 1.9 miles. It becomes less distinct in the tundra. Hold a northeast bearing until you intersect the Lime Mesa Trail at 2.35 miles, 12,000 feet. A large cairn marks this junction at the north end of Lime Mesa.
From Lime Mesa Trailhead (four-wheel drive only)
Starting from the Lime Mesa trailhead at 11,500 feet, head north-northeast on City Reservoir Trail 542 for .4 mile to a large meadow where our track, Lime Mesa Trail 676, branches to the north.
The path stays in the timber, hovering near the border of the Weminuche Wilderness, for the first two miles to Dollar Lake, at 11,880 feet. This pretty little orb is a popular destination for casual hikers. Continue north, and in half a mile, just past the rocky north end of Lime Mesa, the trail meets those who walked in from the lower two-wheel drive trailhead.
With the two paths joined, the route heads due north, staying on the distinct Lime Mesa Trail while climbing through an enchanting amalgamation of tundra and granite, trees but a memory for the remainder of this far-flung hike.
The escarpment’s precipice doesn’t reveal itself until you are standing quite near the edge at 3.6 miles and at elevation of 12,500 feet. Pigeon Peak, Turret Peak, and Mount Eolus, at 14,083 feet, take a mighty big cut out of the sky. An angler’s trail dives off the crest to Ruby Lake nestled in a cirque below.
The next four miles to the west end are off trail. Occasionally there are social and sheep trails, but they are rather unnecessary. The land slopes softly on the south and loses itself to thin air on the north. Walk the edge.
From the Ruby Lake overview, turn left/northwest and climb a welcoming slope. The shifting view is gripping, often compartmentalized by granite walls enclosing couloirs. Point 12,802 is easily won. There are only two tricky places on this journey, and one of them is on the west side of this point. Scamper down a talus field for 150 feet. The crack off the nose is the most fun. If you are uncomfortable with negotiating big chunks of rock, this is your turn-around.
From the saddle, it is a quick climb with no interference to Overlook Point, 12,998 feet, a ranked peak at 4.6 miles. West Silver Mesa’s granite sheets gleam in the distance. Mount Kennedy and Aztec Mountain form the north edge of Mountain View Crest’s east side. Ptarmigans reside on this peak, so keep a sharp eye out for these elusive, camouflaged birds.
The west side of Overlook Point delivers a talus field followed by a steep drop down a grassy slope punctuated by weathered boulders. The next knoll on the ridge is at an elevation of 12,760 feet. It is easily scaled and affords a look at Webb Lake residing on a bench below.
The Mountain View Crest topographical map identifies the next rise as Needleton, 12,719 feet. Most of us think of Needleton as the train stop for the trek to Chicago Basin, level with the Animas River. The walk to upper-story Needleton at 6.4 miles is magical. Weave between weathered granite blocks embedded in a tundra cushion.
From this lofty perch, gaze down on a segment of the Animas River. Or, look east up Needle Creek and find Chicago Basin, a Fourteener basecamp.
Mountain View Crest makes a bend at Needleton, turning true west. It is one mile further to the definitive end of the crest. Be sure to complete this journey, for the walk itself will make your heart skip along with your feet.
Walk over a little hill of talus and onto a peninsula that drops off both sides. Continue .2 mile to the tiny terminus at 12,360 feet, 7.4 miles from the trailhead. From the rocky perch, see a large run of the Animas River, 4,300 feet below. The river speaks loudly enough to hear quite easily. The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad tracks parallel the river. On the other side, the Twilights rise mightily.
There are several ways to approach the return, including going out exactly as you came in. Presumably, most hikers will skirt below the high points. Hold a contour averaging 12,600 feet while returning to the Lime Mesa Trail, and accumulated vertical will tally about 500 feet.
Walk on this boundless immensity only on a day when there is no threat of thunderstorms.