Adventure Stories: Climbing One Peak Per Week in Summer 2023


, by Greg Heil

Engineer Mountain, Durango, CO. Photo: Greg Heil

As the snows of winter slowly melted and the beginning of summer 2023 approached, I decided to set a new goal physical goal to push myself out of my comfort zone this year. And so, I set out to climb at least one peak every week for the entirety of astronomical summer—roughly 14 weeks, if you include the partial weeks on either end just to be on the safe side.

The difficulty inherent in the goal wasn't necessarily climbing a total of 14 peaks—it was trying to climb a peak every week without fail. It's easy to batch a bunch of climbs into a single expedition, but trying to carve out time to get out into the mountains and stand on top of something tall every single week for 14 weeks straight proved to be tough. Even, so, I worked diligently to plan my schedule in advance to prioritize this goal, but on some occasions I still had to try to figure out ways to shoehorn in a new peak around all of the other obligations of daily life.

If #onepeakaweek had been my only goal for the summer, it would have been much easier... but I still had lengthy mountain bike work trips to complete and backpacking loops that didn't involve peak climbing, plus—of course—trying to get the rest of work and chores and daily life taken care of.

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Nevertheless, in spite of the scheduling challenges, I persevered and managed to stand on top of 19 total summits (16 unique peaks) ranging in height from 7,550 ft to 14,150 ft—including one every single week. Here are all the peaks I climbed this summer, organized from shortest to tallest, with some brief thoughts from my experience on each of them.

S-Mountain - 7,550 ft

S "Mountain" is actually more of a "hill" and was simply a bonus jaunt to a beautiful overlook of my old hometown of Salida. While it wasn't my main peak of the week, it is a named mountain, and the view from the top is pretty damn incredible. So, on the list it goes!

Pautskey Point - 7,689 ft

My mountain bike ride up Pautskey Point was definitely one of the weeks where I had to find a way to cram a peak into a packed mountain biking schedule. I had plenty of riding and camping plans on the weekend that didn't involve a peak climb, so I rode to one of the high points accessible directly from my house in Durango. Despite being fairly low, it's a bit of a slog to get up there, and the view from the summit is downright beautiful.

Smelter Mountain - 7,725 ft

Smelter Mountain is another in-town Durango trail, but I hiked this mountain early in the season when the high country was still buried in deep snow following an impressive winter. The option of hiking short but steep mountains down low, even when the snow lingers on the high peaks well into the summer, is one of the things that makes Durango (and many towns in Colorado) so special.

Animas City Mountain - 8,171 ft

Yet another from-the-house mountain bike ride, no matter how often I do it, Animas City Mountain never seems to get any easier. The climb to the top is grueling, and unfortunately, and I unfortunately chose a poor path back down that didn't really reward me for the work that I put in. Well, that's all a part of trying to ride every trail in town—you have to ride the shitty ones as well as the fantastic ones.

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Strand Hill - 10,358 ft

While Crested Butte is ringed by stunning mountain peaks, riding to the top of Strand Hill was yet another peak squeezed into a big week of mountain biking. But it proved to be an unexpectedly fun adventure—I hadn't ridden this far up the Strand Hill road before (most riders turn off at the singletrack trail junction), and the upper reaches of the aspen grove proved to be stunningly beautiful! I also had to wander around in the woods for a bit to find the actual top of the mountain since, apparently, almost nobody sets off to bike or hike to the top of Strand Hill.

Castle Rock - 10,441 ft x2

Castle Rock was the first peak of my challenge since it—like Smelter, my second peak—was mostly free of snow in late June. Despite rising to just 10,441 feet, I still had to hike over a few snow drifts to reach the top. Castle Rock was also one of only two mountains that I completed multiple times during the summer.

Full Article: "Peak of the Week: Hiking Castle Rock"

Pajarito Mountain - 10,441 ft

I took a break from some long days of downhill mountain biking to go exploring and find the peak of Pajarito Mountain. The top isn't directly accessible from a lift, so I had to pedal up a combination of ski runs, gravel roads, and faint singletrack trails to find the summit. From a clearing on top, I enjoyed an impressive view off the backside of Northern New Mexico!

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North Cone - 12,060 ft

I did much more downhill mountain biking in 2023 than I usual, which honestly quite often directly conflicted with my #onepeakaweek challenge. During a long week of DH riding at the best bike park in Colorado—Trestle—I put together an adventure day, setting out to ride to the top of the closest peak to the bike park. Despite a lift bump, it turned out to be a true adventure, with thousands of feet of climbing up steep singletrack and rutted doubletrack, including plenty of hike-a-bike. Still, the view from the summit was rewarding, and the physical challenge of the ascent was a welcome break from the constant downhill shredding.

Point 12,700 ft

One of the biggest adventures that my wife and I shared this year was backpacking the Four Pass Loop, which crosses four steep mountain passes, all just above 12,500 feet. To fit an actual "peak" into the trip, I hiked up and off West Maroon Pass to hit a high point. From there, I was able to catch glimpses of Gothic near Crested Butte—a true treat!

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Engineer Mountain - 12,968 ft

Now things start to get really interesting, with one of the most technical summits of the summer. Despite not even hitting 13,000 feet, Engineer Mountain is one of the most aesthetic peaks in the San Juans, and the scramble up the summit ridge is high consequence! Engineer proved to be my second favorite mountain of the year.

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Spencer Peak - 13,087 ft x3

Spencer Peak was my first high alpine summit of the year, and despite wanting to hike all the way to Sultan on the first hike in early July, I ended up stopping short at Spencer. But for my final climb of the summer, I went back for redemption, trekking all the way to Sultan and tagging Spencer on both the way there and the way back.

Full Article: "How Not to Prepare for a Peak Climb: Illustrated by Spencer Peak and Sultan Mountain"

Hassell Peak - 13,208 ft

Hassell Peak marked the highest point that I rode my mountain bike during Summer 2023. The epic Continental Divide Trail segment from Jones Pass to Herman Gulch might not be long, but it is one of the highest-elevation mountain bike-legal singletrack traverses in North America. Ok, that's quite a few qualifiers, but nevertheless this was an absolutely stellar mountain bike adventure with stupendous views and surprisingly rideable singletrack.

Full Article: Riding one of the Highest-Elevation MTB Trails in North America: Jones Pass

Sultan Mountain - 13,368 ft

As mentioned above, I was so pleased to gain some redemption by making it all the way to Sultan on my final peak climb of the #onepeakaweek challenge! As my final climb of the season, snow was already beginning to return to the high mountains. It was wild to think that in early July I had to cross massive snowfields to reach the top of Spencer, and in mid-September the north faces of the mountains were already holding a dusting of snow and slick ice from the first snowfalls of the year. The high country season is short, but it's so worth the effort to make the most of it! As an added bonus, I was the only person on the mountain for the entire five and a half hours that I was climbing

Point 13,600 ft

Point 13,600 feet was actually a mistake. This might be the first time I've made a wrong turn (at least this big of a wrong turn) while climbing a mountain. I thought I knew which peak I was aiming for when I hit the saddle below Mount Sneffels, so I didn't check my map. As I was partway up what looked like the obvious pitch, I turned around and saw all the people climbing what was easily a much taller mountain peak. So, I just decided to finish what I started and scramble to the top of a narrow summit block for a photo, then boogie back down and head to my main objective.

Golden Horn - 13,780 ft

Golden Horn was unequivocally my favorite peak of the year! This jagged spire requires a long, sustained scramble to reach the saddle. From there, we scaled an exposed ridge to reach a tiny summit block with absolutely unbelievable views! Be sure to catch my full trip report article for all the superlatives and accolades that I can level at this mountain.

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Mount Sneffels - 14,150 ft

Mount Sneffels is known as the "Queen of the San Juans," and it truly is a spectacular mountain! From the summit, you enjoy a unique vantage, with views of the San Juan mountains to the south and east and views of the high desert and Colorado Plateau to the north and west. From the summit, the mountain slopes drop precipitously to the desert far, far below.

While Sneffels was a fantastic climb, this was far and away the most crowded mountain I climbed all year—simply because it's a 14er. The suffocating crowds is one of the main reasons why Sneffels was the only 14er I climbed this year. Instead, I had an absolute ball spending so much time on numerous 13ers and even several 12ers where I was often the only person on the mountain. To each their own, but this year's experiment in climbing obscure peaks proved to be so enjoyable that I plan to continue climbing 13ers and other lesser-traveled mountains into 2024 and beyond.

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