Lifes Adventures

San Juan Mountains

The unique and impressive San Juan Mountains span across 12,000 sq miles of wilderness, nearly 1/8th of the state!  The ancestral Colorado Rockies of the San Juan Valley were called the Uncompahgria and were formed some 300 million years ago; 65 million years ago they were changed by heavy volcanic activity and tectonic plate uplift.  During this time the San Juan Mountains were maybe twice as high due to an elevated plateau; however, they eventually eroded and essentially disappeared.  Around 30 million years ago there was more volcanic activity that formed the present day mountains from its ash and lava.  The impressive valleys of the area were also formed in this time period due to the emptying of magma from the underground pools and the subsequent collapse of the earths crust.  This style of formation is the reason for the San Juan Mountains characteristic rotten rock, sharp knife-like ridges, and loose scree. 

In more modern times the San Juan’s have been home to gold and silver mining with famous mining towns such as of Telluride and Silverton.  They have been home to several great ski resorts with Purgatory, Telluride, Wolf Creek, and Silverton leading the pack.  They have been home to world class hiking, camping, fishing, biking, white-water rafting, kayaking, and climbing.  They have also been home to some of the world’s most unique flora and fauna.  In short, the San Juan Mountains are an incredible and challenging range for the outdoor enthusiast, including the aspiring peakbagger.   

6. Uncompahgre Peak – 14,309’ – As the tallest peak in the San Juan Mountain Range Uncompahgre Peak is one of the easiest to climb.  The easiest route is from Nellie Creek and is a long, slow class 1 climb.  Another popular route allows Uncompahgre Peak and Wetterhorn Peak to be climbed together and is a 14 mile, class 2 climb.  The peak and its surrounding wilderness are named in honor of the Ancestral Rockies that once dominated southwestern Colorado, the Uncompahgria,  

16. Mount Wilson – 14,246 – Mount Wilson or “king of the high court” is the tallest peak in the San Juan sub range known as the San Miguel Mountains.  In its regality Mount Wilson is ranked among the top ten hardest 14’ers to climb.  The standard route to the summit is mostly a class 2 climb with class 3 moves towards the top and one final class 4 move.  The summit can also be reached across a ridge from El Diente Peak, which is a controversial 14’er, and this traverse is considered one of Colorado’s four classic climbs.  The peak is named for A.D. Wilson a topographer with the Hayden Survey, which is credited with the first ascent in 1874.  After this time the area boomed with Silver mining in the 1880’s particularly at the Silver Pick Mine.

27. Mount Sneffels – Affectionately known as the “queen of the San Juans” Mount Sneffels is in all probability the most beautiful mountain in Colorado.  It is the second most photographed peak in Colorado next to the Maroon Bells in the Elk Mountain Range, and is featured in two Western films.  The majestic peak is named after the Icelandic volcano Snaefells which is featured in the famous Jules Verne novel Journey to the Center of the Earth.  Yankee Boy Basin is the easiest route to the summit with a class 2+ rating.  All other routes are class 3, class 4, or class 5 technical creating a haven for experienced climbers.  There is also excellent ice climbing available in the winter.

32. Mount Eolus – 14,083’ – The Needle Mountains sub range of the San Juan Mountains is home to the three most remote 14’ers in Colorado, Mount Eolus, Windom Peak, and Sunlight Peak.  The three mountains are often climbed together with class 3 climbing dominating the route.  Mount Eolus has two summits with the southern being the tallest by about 44’.  The mountain receives its unique name from the ruler of the winds Aeolus from Greek mythology. 

33. Windom Peak – 14,082’ - Despite its remoteness Windom Peak is very popular due its relatively easy summit to climb.  The most difficult route is only a class 3 climb and its easiest route is a class 1 with only a little class 2 mixed in.  The ease of the peak makes it well-liked for a multi-peak adventure with Eolus and Sunlight.

39. Sunlight Peak – 14,059’ – The shortest of the Needle Mountains Sunlight Peak is also known for its remote character and fairly easy summits with the exception of a more difficult move at the very end.  The exposed summit block at the tip of Sunlight Peak requires what is known as the single hardest move on a 14’er by its easiest route.  Sunlight Peak is most often climbed in the same day as its neighbors Windom and Eolus. 

40. Handies Peak – 14,048’ – Handies Peak is a relatively remote 14’er and it is said that you cannot see a single sign of civilization from its peak.  This non-technical mountain is typically climbed with its neighbors, Windom and Sunlight.  It is also a popular mountain for backcountry skiing and snowboarding in the winter.

46. Redcloud Peak – 14,034 – Redcloud Peak is named for its unmistakable red color dominating its peak.  The climb to the summit is not considered difficult by 14’er standards, but it is considered to be beautiful by any standards.  The common route is mostly class 1 turning into a class 2 towards the latter part due to some loose scree. 

48. Wilson Peak – 14,017’ – Wilsons Peak is a hallmark peak in the state of Colorado due to its overall splendor.  You may recognize Wilsons Peak because it is the Rocky Mountain commonly “tapped” in the popular Coors commercials of the last fifteen years.  Its pop culture fame is rivaled by its climbing culture fame as it offers many routes with varying difficulty levels.  The peak can be summated in either summer or winter, and is a very popular mountain for backcountry skiing and snowboarding.  The easiest route is a class 3 and the more difficult routes range from class 4 to class 5 technical climbs.  As did Mount Wilson, Wilsons Peak earned its name from A.D. Wilson of the Hayden Survey.

49. Wetterhorn Peak – 14,015’ - Wetterhorn Peak and Matterhorn Peak, its neighbor and Colorado 13’er, are named after their famous like-named peaks of the Swiss Alps.  It is most likely that the peaks characteristic pointed rock spires are the reason for the connection to their European siblings.  Wetterhorn means “weather peak” in German and should be taken as a hint to the unpredictable nature of the mountain.  The most common route is a class 3 climb and can be combined with Uncompahgre Peak for a more challenging day.  Wetterhorn Peak is also home to winter snow climbs and advanced ski descents.  The peak was first climbed in 1906 by George Barnard, C. Smedley, W.P. Smedley, and D. Utter, and Albert Ellingwood was the first to climb the east arete in 1920.

50. San Luis Peak – 14,014’ – Climbing San Luis Peak is beautiful and trouble-free with class 1 climbs dominating its 12 mile round trip trail.  Getting to the peak can be a little more tedious as it is located two hours from the nearest paved road, but its beauty is worth the drive.     

53. Sunshine Peak – 14,001’ – Sunshine peak barely pokes its summit above 14,000’, but it there is no question it qualifies with its 500’ topographical prominence.  Sunshine is located only a mile from Redcloud peak and is usually climbed at the same time by a connecting class 2 trail. 


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