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Tue, Oct. 15

Johnson: A hike to keep you busy this fall: Hesperus Mountain
Hiking Arizona

Hesperus Mountain, Colorado. (Ted Johnson/Courtesy)

Hesperus Mountain, Colorado. (Ted Johnson/Courtesy)

First impressions of Hesperus Mountain, Colorado, are powerful.

The first thing I thought when I spotted Hesperus for the first time was that it was the most beautiful mountain I had ever seen. I will never forget its contrasting bands of color, its perfect shape, its setting with a clear blue sky, patches of snow and wildflowers.


Certainly, its beauty has earned it some bragging rights. However, it is not a politically correct summit to put on your bucket list. Hesperus Mountain stands at just over 13,000 feet in elevation. Like a red-headed step child, it is easily overlooked by the peak grabbers checking off one fourteener after another.

Reaching the summit involves some class three scrambling. Therefore, technical rock climbers would consider it beneath them and trail hikers might consider it beyond them. This “no man’s” middle ground amounts to a large degree of neglect. Yet, how delightful to view the world from its summit, to do some fancy foot work on its rocky ridges or to simply gaze upward at its ideal form. No wonder some people consider it sacred.

Hesperus is for those who seek the real deal, not some flashy show piece of super achievement. Its stature is not in its height but in its character. True, it’s not without some risks. I hiked with someone who was a “trail-hiker.”

Since there is no trail to the top, my friend was sure the outcome would be a twisted ankle. I looked at it as a dance, lightly stepping from one rock to the next in fluid motion.

How do you approach adversity in the wilderness? Is it a welcome experience? Or, do you avoid difficult hiking conditions of any sort, all the time?


No permits are needed to hike here on the San Juan National Forest near Cortez, Colorado. The hike itself is only around five miles round trip, depending on the route you choose. It is mostly cross-country, so you need to pay attention.

It’s easy enough to follow your nose above timberline but trying to find the trail back through the forest on your return is a challenge, depending on the tools at your disposal, e.g. GPS unit or your innate sense of distance and direction.

How are your route finding skills? Nothing will boost your confidence in the wilderness like a high degree of landscape literacy. That is, being able to match up the terrain with a topographic map and using a compass and/or GPS unit competently.

The trailhead is about 11,000 feet, so it’s a pretty steep ascent, once you clear the trees. Small streams and lots of flowers or fall colors make this hike truly enchanted, depending on the season.

If you are lucky enough to hike after a light dusting of snow, you will want to linger since no camera can do this place justice.


Heads up! You may remember Robert and Martha Manning, authors of “Walking Distance” and “Walks of a Lifetime.” They are making a presentation at Peregrine Book Company in Prescott on Saturday, October 6th in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Trail System. Some of these trails are near Prescott, so I am sure their presentation will be enjoyed and a real benefit to all who attend.

Next: Final Ascent in this Series, Hiking above 14,000 feet, Mt. Elbert, Colorado.

Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at

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