Friday, August 10, 2012

West Mancos Trail at Transfer Campground

The west trailhead of the West Mancos Trail begins at the Transfer Campground in the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado, near the town of Mancos. The Transfer Campground is a hub for the trail system in this part of the forest.

The full trail travels 10 miles to the Shark’s Tooth Trailhead. A good destination from Transfer Campground is the old mountain town of Golconda, 4.25 miles away.

The trailhead elevation is about 8900 feet. The trail descends steeply into the West Mancos canyon and heads upstream towards the LaPlata Mountains. After about 0.3 miles the Transfer Trail splits off to the right and travels downstream. 

The trail mostly stays well above the West Mancos River and goes through stands of Aspens and Gambel Oaks with Douglas Fir, Spruce, and Ponderosa Pine mixed in. The Aspens in this valley are particularly big in some places. Mostly the trail stays in deep forest without many view points.

There are many rocks along the trail that require careful stepping. After the initial steep descent the route has ups and downs but no more steep segments before Golconda. After about 0:40 minutes and 1.25 miles there is a view point from the top of a scree slope.

About 0:15 minutes further is Crystal Creek, the name shown on a sign. There is a log across the creek cut to form a primitive bridge that now appears to be cracked. In early August the creek was easy to cross without a bridge.

The West Mancos Canyon has many impressive cliffs but they are mostly obscured by the thick forest.

After about 3.6 miles there is a marked trail junction with an ATV spur trail that descends from the Aspen Loop Trail and allows ATV riders to travel to Golconda. The last 0.7 miles to Golconda is a two track trail with some open meadows and views of 13,232 ft. Mt. Hesperus.  Mt. Hesperus is one of the four mountains considered sacred by the Navajo Indians and marks the north boundary of their traditional area 

At Golconda, there are old fences to view along with more views toward the LaPlata Mountains. The Box Canyon Trail ends and is marked here. It is another of the Transfer Campground trails and takes a longer route to arrive here.

It took me 2:15 hours to arrive. The elevation of Golconda is about 9135 feet, higher than the Transfer Campground trailhead elevation even though the trail descended steeply at the beginning.

There is a large pile of boards that must be the ruins of Golconda. There isn’t any interpretive information here on what the history of this town was.

About 1 mile past Golconda the Owens Basin Trail splits off to the right with the West Mancos Trail staying left and climbing toward the Shark’s Tooth Trail. There is a shorter access to these eastern segments of trail from the Echo Basin area.

I chose to return using the ATV connector trail to climb to the Aspen Loop Trail. The climb is steep from 9135 ft. to about 9650 ft. where there is a good view point of this part of the LaPlatas with Owens Basin to the right.

The return along the Aspen Loop is easy walking and mostly downhill. My return hike took 2:00 hours for a total hike of 4:30 hours for 8.5 miles. It was a 75 F degree early August day and I carried and drank 3 liters of water. I saw 2 other hikers and 6 ATV riders during my hike.

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