XL Mountain (or whatever you want to call it)
Also Known As: Mt. Herard, Mt.
Solo Hiker: Gary Swing
- Elevation: 13,350 feet
- Revised Standard Rank: 353
- Zenith Rank: 87
- Starting Elevation: 9,160 feet
- Elevation Gain: 5,100 feet plus 120 more for Point
- Round Trip Distance: 15 miles
- Difficulty: Class 2, Classic Hike
- USGS Quad: Medano Pass 7.5 minute
I have contributed a fair number of trip reports
to Steve Parker's Colorado Rocky Mountain Trip Reports
website (http://www.parkerpress.com/CRMTR/Links.html). His website
lists hikes alphabetically. At the time I did this
hike, Steve had trip reports listed for every letter
of the alphabet except for X. So, I set out on a
whimsical effort to fill this gap.
The obvious question, of course, was "are there
any peaks in Colorado starting with the letter X?"
After extensive research at the Denver Public Library,
I think I can confidently answer this question with an
I found two possible candidates. X Rock is the
only natural geographic feature in Colorado that the
U.S. Geological Survey officially recognizes as
beginning with the letter X. X Rock is a pillar low on
the south ridge of 12,164 foot Mount McCurdy in the
Tarryall Range. However, it doesn't qualify as a
summit in any meaningful sense of the word.
I also found two sources identifying an XL
Mountain in the Sangre de Cristo Range. Joseph
Milligan's "Roadside Guide to the Colorado Mountains:
Interstate 25 Skylines" mentions it and refers back to
Robert Ormes' series titled "Colorado Skylines." Ormes
wrote that the name XL Mountain was given to him as
the locally used name for this highpoint by Billy
Garritson, a resident of Westcliffe. The name XL
Mountain is apparently derived from a stock brand.
The validity of this peak name is somewhat
questionable, to be sure. The U.S. Geological Survey
lists the peak's official name as Mount Herard. I
didn't find the origin of this name. Others have
called the summit Mount Seven. Ormes stated that the
name Mount Seven refers to the entire massif with
seven distinct summits (of which XL is the highest).
I figure that if centennial peakbagger Chris
Wetherill can use Ormes' original name Three Corner
Table for Half Peak, then
I can use the name XL Mountain for Herard, Seven, or
whatever else the peak's name may be this week.
I chose to use the most obvious approach to XL
Mountain from Medano Pass east of the massif. I left
my home in Denver about 3:50 am and drove down I-25 to
Colorado Springs. From there, I took state highways
115, 67, and 96 southwest to the town of Westcliffe. I
believe that the turnoff for the Medano Pass Road was
about 24 miles southeast of Westcliffe, but I forgot
to write down the milage at the time.
As I drove toward the trailhead, I regretted
choosing this day for my hike. The early morning sky
was filled with dark, ominous clouds as far as the eye
could see. Not a very auspicious way to start out. I
expected to be stopped by thunderstorms long before
reaching the summit. Nonetheless, I resolved to give
it a try.
I drove 7.9 miles west on the marked dirt road
for Medano Pass. I stopped at the first pullout after
a sign indicating that the road ahead was for
four-wheel drive vehicles only. The road was in
terrible condition, especially for the first four
miles where it passes through ranch land. It was
deeply rutted and in great need of maintenance. I
would not recommend driving on it without a high
I inhaled my morning dosage of asthma medicine,
put on my hiking boots, and headed west up the road on
foot, beginning at 7:35 am. The sign I had just passed
indicated another 2.5 miles to the pass, but I covered
the distance in less than 40 minutes. From my parking
spot, the road climbed steeply at first, followed by a
surprisingly long, nearly level stretch of terrain
before reaching the pass.
Medano Pass was marked with a sign indicating six
more miles to the Great Sand Dunes. The name Medano is
Spanish for "sand hill." The pass was previously known
as Pike's Gap from Captain Zebulon Pike's winter
crossing in 1807.
The west side of the pass drops steeply, with
some rough spots that would definitely require high
clearance four-wheel drive vehicles. About a half mile
beyond the pass, I turned sharply to the right on
another jeep road marked with a sign to the Medano
Lake Trailhead. My map showed this jeep road
continuing west to Medano Lake at 11,500 feet, so I
was quite surprised when it ended abruptly a few
Three guys were camped at the end of the road
where a trail continues up to the lake. They asked me
where I was camped, and I told them I had just driven
down from Denver. They invited me to join them for
breakfast, but I thanked them and declined. I asked
them if this was the trail to Medano Lake. They
confirmed that it was. They said they had hiked up
there the day before and cautioned me to be prepared
to get very wet.
I crossed a log over Medano Creek and started up
the good trail. It began as an old road now closed to
vehicles, but if the road ever went as far as Medano
Lake, the vegetation would suggest that it has been
closed for several decades. This is now part of the
roadless Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area.
Below treeline, everything along the trail was
soaking wet. It had obviously rained a lot here the
night before. The lower part of the trail passed
through some nice stands of aspen. There were abundant
wildflowers, including columbine along the trail, as
well as approximately 700 trillion flies. The trail
crossed Medano Creek two more times. At the second
crossing, I just plodded through the shallow water as
there was no convenient dry crossing.
The trail was overgrown by some willows near a
small pond, immediately before Medano Lake. As the
trail passed the lake, it moved to the right of the
willows at treeline, ascending west up a broad grassy
ramp to a higher basin. This ramp was on my far right
side, just below cliffs on the southeast side of
13,153 foot "Mount Medano" and to the right of a high,
thin waterfall. The Medano Lake Basin was surrounded
by impressive cliffs.
From the upper basin, I had originally planned to
hike up to the 12,500 foot saddle between XL Mountain
and Mt. Medano, but this route would have been a
little longer than necessary and it looked like there
would be some loose rubble to contend with. Instead, I
climbed southwest up steep grass to reach XL's north
ridge about 150 to 200 vertical feet above the saddle.
Then I followed the ridge south up into the clouds,
which were now fluffy and white, rather than dark and
ominous. There was near-zero visibility as I climbed
up into the clouds.
I reached XL's broad, flat summit at 11:35 am.
There were several rock cairns in the area. A homemade
summit register was stashed inside one of them in a
vitamin jar. It listed the peak's name as Mount Seven
and incorrectly gave the elevation as 13,297 feet.
(Point 13,297 is on the ridge southeast of XL's
summit.) Garratt and Martin give an interpolated
elevation of 13,340 feet for the summit (Colorado's
High Thirteeners), while the USGS Geographic Names
Information System lists it at 13,350 feet.
XL Mountain was a beautiful peak with a nice
route. The route above treeline reminded me once again
that some of the these thirteeners just have way too
many wildflowers on them. On the one hand, it was nice
to be up in the clouds; but on the other hand, I was
disappointed that I couldn't see the Great Sand Dunes.
I had considered climbing the easy ridge up to
Mt. Medano along with XL, but I decided I just didn't
feel like it. I didn't get enough sleep the night
before, the hike was long enough already, and
visibility remained poor. I took a little stroll along
the narrow ridge to Point 13,297 and relaxed there for
a while. I ate lunch and took a few pictures while I
waited to see if I could get a view of the dunes.
Sections of the clouds lifted occasionally, but not in
the right direction.
After my rest, I headed back up to the summit and
began to descend at 12:45 p.m. I saw just two other
hikers at Medano Lake when I passed by. As I
approached Medano Pass again, I had a nice view of
12,006 foot Mount Zwischen to the south. (Clouds had
hidden the mountain earlier.)
Mt. Zwischen is the last
alphabetical summit in Colorado recognized by the U.S.
Geological Survey. The word "zwischen" is German for
"between." Mount Zwischen is halfway between Mosca and
Inevitably, storms did chase me down from the
mountains. Thunder and lightning began as I rounded
Medano Pass. It started raining a few minutes before I
reached my car at 3:55 p.m., and soon it was pouring
outside. The drive back down the muddy road in heavy
rain was much worse than the drive up, but somehow I
managed to reach the highway without being washed away
in a flood. I got back on the road to Colorado Springs
where I was able to join the approximately 700
trillion other people parked on Interstate 25.