Thursday, July 16, 2009

Major Trail Run in Major Creek: Running Electric Peak

Major Trail Run In Major Creek: Running Electric Peak

One of my favorite places to run is in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. With numerous trails above 8,000 feet, grand vistas of the Rio Grande River and tributaries, as well as the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountains, running trails in the San Luis Valley is always a great experience. A bonus is that there are usually few - if any - people out on the trails. Of course there are always parties up in Como Basin trying the Little Bear-Blanca-Ellingwood link-up (a spectacular climbing traverse of three 14ers), or some around the Crestones, the rest of the valley and trails see little traffic. Last year we ran Simmons Peak for example, a little known 12,000 foot mountain in the north end of the valley; only five other people had signed the summit register since 2003!

Moon shot over the San Juans...

I grew up spending lots of time in the Valley, especially around Valley View Hot Springs, as my parents used to have memberships there (back when it was private and the only way you could soak was if you were a member). Now, I try and get down there a couple times per year. In the winter, the trail running on the lower trails is excellent, and the climbing and bouldering is some of the best in the state. However, on this run Tara and I wanted to run Electric Peak (13,598 feet) via Major Creek.

Tara running through the thick growth in Major Creek

Major Creek is a large drainage coming out of the Sangres that offers some of the best wilderness in the Valley: aspen groves, desert scrub, alpine tundra, evergreen forests, beaver ponds, and more. In fact, from the beginning of the trail head to the summit of the peak one travels through no less then 4 different ecosystems! Running through this country is always a pleasure.

One of the spectacular meadows on the way to Electric Peak (Lakes Peak is on the left)

Attempting Electric Peak (and its neighbors Lakes Peak and Thirsty Peak) from the Major Creek trail head is a long day, with over ~5,600 feet of elevation gain. We camped at the trail head among the Gamble Oak, as it is too far from anywhere to drive there in the morning.

Moths on the flowers...

The trail is fairly straight forward for the first 5 miles, at which point one needs some good route finding skills to get through the giant mud slide that came through in the Spring of 2009. This mud slide originated on the west slopes of Electric Peak and inundated most of the trail down past treeline.

Blissful aspen running...

Run the trail as it skirts along in the desert scrub, quickly dropping you into Major Creek proper. From here, the trail crosses Major Creek only twice (it used to cross it more, but was re-routed in 2006 because of the beaver ponds causing flooding on the trail), staying on the north side through flowers, meadows, aspen forests, and more. It eventually disappears in a large meadow, at which point the mud slide takes over. Trying to find your way through here can be difficult; - here is the beta: run up the main mud slide path for a couple hundred yards, then quickly angle north and east across the slide until you find the trail again.

The mud slide...

Keep running up the trail as it begins to gain some elevation, until again it disappears in the mud slide. Follow the mud slide, staying directly in/on it until above treeline. Continue on the slide until you almost (note: almost) reach the true west side of Electric Peak. Look left for cairns, taking the trail as it steeply switchbacks up to the pass between Lakes Peak and Electric Peak. From the pass, one simply has to head south along the ridge to the top, enjoying the amazing vistas of the San Luis Valley to the west and the Wet Mountain Valley to the east.

The numbers for those who care.... 
Beginning Elevation: ~8,600 feet 
High Point: 13,598 feet 
Total Elevation (ascending and descending): ~10,000 feet 
Mileage: ~13 miles, but it feels like a lot more 
Time: 4-6 hours 
People Factor: None

Mountain thistle!!!

Running up to the pass...

Beautiful views (wind anyone?)


Looking down Major Creek and into the San Luis Valley...

The view into the Wet Mountain Valley...

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