Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lookout and Signal Mountain from Dunraven

I've been below treeline for too long, it seems, so anxiously got out to Montana Mirador y Cerro Senal (aka Lookout and Signal Mountains).

Good writeup at Senor Nick's place as well as Rob's, so no need to re-hash all of it. Glad to save some trouble and get some beta from there. This report is mostly to give you an idea what condition the conditions are in...and a surprise sighting on Signal.

I had been up to Donner Pass as a duathlon, but didn't have enough energy or time to check out the surrounding peaks. I wimped out and drove this time, but then was able to complete the loop, slowly.

I followed went counterclockwise from Dunraven and followed all Donner Pass signs, and also agree with Nick that the "2 mile" and "2.5 miles" signs are off by 2 miles. Last time I was up there, I was thinking I must be going reeeallly slow.

I tagged Lookout for the first time. Luckily, I think the "1 Mile" sign from Donner Pass junction is a bit of an overestimate. The first "1/2 mile" (there is another sign) is probably just over a quarter, and then the trail gets rocky as it heads up and then just disappears, so it's more of a bushwhack and then a scramble up a rock outcropping, with great views:

The advantage here is checking out the remaining route, which rolls along ridges through thick trees. Then, head back down to Donner Pass. I should've paid attention to my exact route up, but instead bushwhacked south and southwest. Since it was near noon, following my shadow for direction was no longer working very well, so I was glad to have brought my compass. I lucked out and essentially hit right at the half mile sign.

Next is a few miles of rollers, and then finally, glorious tundra!
Finally, my favourite sort of terrain, melting out from the summer. Then, at the top, even more glorious views:

In the previous picture, you can see the only real spots of snow on the trail. The trail descends and then curves to the left (Southeast) on Bulwark Ridge. At treeline, for maybe ~1 mile, there are a few short snowfields to cross or avoid.

Easy enough to find the trail after each snowfield -- I can imagine how difficult routefinding can be here with consistent snow coverage. The next half mile is snowmelt running straight down the trail. All of it is manageable and at least the snow here provides some needed drinking water ("hydration," in the parlance of our times). No need for extra gear -- the trails are ready, just a bit of extra time for the snow.

After the snow and chunky-monkey stuff for a few miles, the trail surprisingly opens up for a few miles of straight, fun downhill. Otherwise, in monsoon/storm season, I might suggest a clockwise route. That puts you on Signal first (which is prettier, anyway), and marginally closer to where most storms start (every little bit counts!), then leaves you to duck into the trees for the remainder and consideration of Lookout as optional.

The Sound and Fury

Lastly, I saw something new on a hike/run like this: motorcycles on the top of Signal! You don't see this every day (zoom way in, top left of center):

...because it's illegal! The summit is most definitely in Comanche Peak Wilderness, which doesn't even allow bikes (or hangliders, in case you were wondering). Much of the trail is not in the Wilderness area, so even an inspired peakbagger could have stashed the bikes a mile or two lower. Luckily I was already down or it would have severely spoiled my mood. But, I heard them as they hooted when they got to the top. Congratulations, guys -- you are able to sit on a seat and turn your wrist accordingly!

Anyway, 'tis the season to get up to the peaks...on foot!


  1. Nice shots !

    Somewhat (or more) OT ... I'm 95+% sure it WAS Nick who I saw run by me, while I stood by my touring bike, and checked out a potential rental (5016 South Sandstone).

    Nick: next time, I'll say "Hey !"

    Good ride, today. Good to have you local, again :-)

  2. A little research shows that no one's done a really thorough job of locating all the 2000 foot peaks in Minnesota... I've found two more already. The list is getting long!

  3. The food at the Donner Pass aid station tasted a little gamey.

  4. I wondered how extensive the MN peaks list is, very cool.

    Yeah, for Donner Pass, I was immediately intrigued by the name! It's funny, though, it's very obscure out here and a less popular trail (not even sure why *this* one in Colorado got the name) -- I bet ~95% of residents in town don't know about this trail.