After a archetypal winter and by mid-June, the La Plata Mountains are chargeless of snow, barbaric are activity crazy, snow buttercups are bright chicken and columbine are aloof about accessible to dominate. Not yet this year. Ridges are loaded with cornices, aerial aerial basins are solid white, and north-facing slopes are post-holing traps.
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Now is the optimal time to acknowledge Helmet Aiguille – acclivity 11,969 anxiety – the westernmost abundance in the La Plata range. Baby in ability with a sun-drenched south backbone approach, it is accessible to climb. Aloof one mile and 1,000 anxiety of ascendance acreage you on the summit. Helmet is the barrage point assimilate a 2½-mile ridgeline bisect to Rush Basin, a hidden cirque.
Helmet Aiguille ClimbThere are assorted routes up the mountain; this one is absolute and safe. It begins aloof south of the coulee amid The Hogback and Helmet Peak. From the parking belvedere at acclivity 10,960 feet, great angle abandon into the dejected distance. The boondocks of Mancos is 4,000 anxiety beneath on the basin floor. Helmet Aiguille is due east, but a acropolis acreage and amazing west-face cliffs prohibit a absolute approach. Aloof above the platform, the alley does a amateur split. Take the high larboard annex through a acropolis field.
In 0.1 mile, leave the alley and barrage east-southeast up a abruptness with a constant pitch. Chase the glades in the spruce-fir backwoods befitting the arresting bedrock berg rolling off Helmet Aiguille aloof to the left/north. There is a bewilderment of roadways on the west-facing slope, and you will cantankerous alone advance several times. Ability the treed saddle – acclivity 11,580 anxiety – in 0.7 mile. There is a baby aperture absolute the western massif of the La Plata range.
The acme is aloof 0.3 mile distant with 400 anxiety of aggressive remaining. Ascend the Class 2 south ridge, a mix of clay and well-seated talus. A amusing aisle comes and goes; aloof break abreast the ridgetop to the crest.
The American West is home and, in this moment, the faculty of alveolate amplitude overwhelms. The Colorado Plateau extends south and west until it avalanche off the ambit of the world. Helmet Aiguille provides a different angle on the westerly faces of our bounded mountains. The activity is affectionate as fingers brush the crestline of alveolate Hesperus Mountain, the building of Lavender Peak, and august Spiller Aiguille looming over Rush Basin.
Spinning, Lone Cone is a aloof advance to the northwest; the San Miguel Mountains are a amateur threat; El Diente Peak, Mt. Wilson, and Wilson Aiguille anatomy a beefy array of fourteeners; and Lizard Head juts radically.
Mark Ott and his family, the Mancos HillBillies, placed a new aiguille annals three canicule above-mentioned to our visit. I batten with Ott by phone. He was aloft on Mancos Hill and has fabricated anniversary pilgrimages to Helmet Aiguille aback 1970 when, at age 11, he climbed with his dad. That’s 47 trips.
Ott started befitting aggressive annal aback he was 10 and, by age 14, he’d climbed every aiguille in the La Plata Mountains. This year, his ancestors climbed Helmet via the accepted avenue while Ott scaled a aisle on the vertical west face.
Colorado’s fourteeners baffled continued ago, Ott has climbed all 309 thirteeners in the San Juan Mountains. He readily admits he’s absorbed – he has to ascend a abundance every distinct day.
Rush Basin TraverseThe ridgetop cantankerous over to Rush Basin adds 4.8 afar and 1,750 anxiety of climbing. As of mid-June, the backbone and basin were covered in deep, bendable snow. You ability appetite to accord it addition week.
To ability the basin, artlessly chase the backbone from Helmet to the northeast. Bead off the acme on a blooming slope, bridge an old wagon road. From the accessory saddle at 11,420 feet, ascend acclaim and tag Point 11,490’. Continue accomplished Point 11,522’ and go over the accomplished bulge of the day, Point 12,201’ at 3.1 miles.
The abrupt and bright backbone is mostly unobstructed. There are a brace of accessible scrambles on the aback and the 260 bottom coast to the Spiller Aiguille saddle. From there, bead addition 100 anxiety into the basin at 3.4 miles, acclivity 11,840 feet. In the centermost of the cirque sits a admirable tundra-bound lake, headwaters of the East Mancos River.
To return, airing southwest on the adorable and adorable bench, a tableland that rests amid the out-going backbone and the river coulee able-bodied below. Resist bank blot and ascend aback to the backbone in about 0.9 mile aback the bank is aloof starting to bead off the contour. Further on, the gravel-covered adamantine pan abruptness is ultra steep. Avoid it. Aback on the ridge, amend your accomplish over the top of Helmet Peak.
Debra Van Winegarden is an charlatan and freelance biographer who lives in Durango. http://debravanwinegarden.blogspot.com.
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