TR: Sayres Benchmark, 13,738’ 6.19.05
Bordering the collegiate peaks wilderness and deep into the southern Sawatch mountain range lays Sayres Peak. The mountain is also known as the Sayres Benchmark. Sayres sits 4.5 miles in the back of La Plata gulch and is one of the more difficult peaks of this range to access since it does not have a trail leading up to its main face. The approach from the western side of this peak is not easy either. A 2.5 mile jaunt up the South Fork Lake Creek drainage, and then another 5 miles up an overgrown mining trail to the summit. The scenery around these parts is jaw-dropping. The magnificent Elks carve the sky to the west, and the massive and sky scraping peaks of the Collegiates dominate to the south. Several miles away lies Colorado’s highest peak, Mt. Elbert, along with the rest of the northern Sawatch Range. Big peaks surround the area and make this 13,738’ mountain seem small.
This trip ended up being another all-nighter. I packed up the truck and left the house shortly after midnight for Twin Lakes. I really enjoy driving in the middle of the night because there’s no traffic to deal with and there’s always a sense of the unknown. I met up with Kya at his campsite up the South Fork Lake Creek 4x4 road. I rolled into camp around 3 AM and we got on the trail shortly after that.
The old mining trail was difficult to find. We took a couple wrong turns and had to backtrack some ways before finding the correct trail. The beginning of the trail is hidden and has an old steel wrought gate blocking the entrance. Glad to finally find the trail, we were then faced with our first challenge of the day, a river crossing with no foot bridge. With very little light and a raging river due to the recent hot spell, we were very weary on crossing. We hiked up river a ways to see if there were any other easy spots to cross, but we had no luck. After poking around a bit we decided to go for it.
Kya wading through the ice cold water:
It ended up not being so bad as the depth of the water only got up to our knees.
We continued to push along and just as we got above tree line the sun began to rise over the eastern horizon.
Kya taking a break:
First sunhit on the mountains:
Along the way we came upon old mining structures and remains of some old equipment.
Some real estate with a view:
Kya hiking up in the shadows with Grizzly Peak in the background:
We made it to the final ridge within a couple of hours and got a glimpse of the upper section of the prize:
Kya hiking along the ridge:
After 3,700’ of elevation gain we made it to the summit shortly after 8 AM.
We had breakfast atop the summit and relaxed for a while for the snow to corn up a little bit before our descent. The views were outstanding on this crystal clear morning. Even with the small heat wave we have been in over the past week, the higher elevations still managed to freeze overnight. However, it was apparent the sun was already baking the top layer at a quick rate. We planned out our route and tested out the snow to see what we were dealing with. I decided to ski the direct summit line and Kya wanted to go for the diagonal couloir coming off just below the summit.
The face was steep and consistent. The upper section of the line had a nice pitch of 48 degrees and then mellowed out to the lower 40s down below. Kya dropped in first off the south side of the peak and swung around to his couloir:
We didn't take many ski pics coming down because the conditions were just too good
I dropped in next and found some very nice corn down the face.
Kya in the couloir:
Even down lower the snow was still firm and corned up nicely. The main face ended up being just over 2,000’ vertical. Not bad for the middle of June.
Kya exiting and pleased:
We skied down part of the valley, before having to take our skis off and bushwhack. I have never seen such thick and tall willows ever. The hike out was a pain. We had a good couple of miles bushwhacking through the willows and stepping over a large boulder field before coming to the La Plata trail. We connected to the trail and followed it back down the gulch to HWY 82. Kya radioed up to his wife and daughter who were patiently waiting for us. They drove down the jeep trail and picked us up and brought us back to camp. Beers were waiting for us and we hung out and took in the beautiful day for a while. Great ending to a fun day.