Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Shark's Tooth Trail and Sacred Mount Hesperus

The Shark's Tooth trail is in the LaPlata range of the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado and is a continuation of the West Mancos trail that starts at the Transfer Campground near Mancos. It gets its name from the jagged mountain called Shark's Tooth just north of the famous and sacred Mt. Hesperus.

I parked at the scenic Twin Lakes, about a half mile before the official trail head. The forest here is mostly Engelmann spruce trees. The road up here is a narrow gravel Forest Service road, with lots of twist and turns.
Mt. Hesperus at 13,232 ft. is the highest mountain in this range and is one of the four sacred peaks, the sacred peak of the north, that the Navajo use to mark their traditional territory.

This is a trail where I have seen a population of pikas, a small rabbit relative that is noted for its industrious activity of gathering hay during the late summer for food and warm bedding during the cold winters.

The small mammals hide and burrow under the broken rocks in the scree fields here. The pikas are thought to be endangered by global warming disruption of the snow fields that provide them some insulation from the cold high elevation temperatures.

The trail climbs steeply above the tree line to a tundra area, mostly grasses and flowers and some short shrubs. The Shark's Tooth pass is at 11,396 ft and is very rocky with scree. The trail continues over the saddle and hooks up to the Bear Creek Trail that comes up from the Dolores River to the west.

It always seems to be windy up at this pass, even when it seems calm everywhere else. I went over the saddle and found a seat sheltered from the wind, enjoyed the view, with the ominous Shark's Tooth looking over my shoulder.

From where I started it was 2.2 miles to the pass and took me about 1.5 hours going up. There is an historic mining loop along the way, but there was some snow in the way and I skipped that part. My hike was in June when there were still patches of snow on the trail and too early for many wildflowers.

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