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A Hike up Headwaters Hill

Brief by Central Staff

Geography – October 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine

Back in our December, 1995, edition, George Sibley of Gunnison wrote about his geographic discovery: Headwaters Hump, a rather ordinary 11,862-foot protuberance south of Marshall Pass between Windy Peak and Antora Peak.

Despite its middling elevation, Headwaters Hump (our name; the USGS has no name for it, and George calls it Headwaters Hill or Madre de la Agua) has a distinction. It is the only mountain on this planet which drains into the three great rivers of the Southwest: Rio Grande, Colorado, and Arkansas.

On its east flank, water flows into Silver Creek and eventually the Arkansas. On the north side, trickles reach Marshall Creek, thence to Tomichi Creek, the Gunnison, and the Colorado. From the southern slopes, water seeps down to Middle Creek, then the Closed Basin in the upper San Luis Valley, and by federal edict, to the Rio Grande.

If you’re interested in seeing this for yourself, George will lead a hike on Saturday, Sept. 27, for his students at Western State College and other interested people, like Colorado Central readers.

“From the top of Marshall Pass, it is about a ten-mile round trip to the hill and back,” George advises. “The terrain is mostly relatively level, with no serious long climbs. It is also mostly dry with no reliable water sources.”

The route follows the Colorado Trail, which is also the Continental Divide Trail on that section, so it’s on or near the Great Divide the whole way.

If you’re interested in this Headwaters Hike, call George at the college during business hours, 970-943-2055, or email him at .

At least three other eminences in the Rockies are similar to Headwaters Hump because they drain into several major rivers.

They’re mentioned (though Headwaters Hump isn’t) in a superlative book, The Great Gates: The Story of the Rocky Mountain Passes, by Marshall Sprague. He calls them “pyramids,” and to quote Sprague further:

“Leadville stood — and stands — near the tip of the tallest of the three Rocky Mountain pyramids. Its altitude is 10,152 feet above sea level. Its windy valley below Tennessee and Frémont passes is an elbow of Mount Elbert, whose supreme summit is ten miles from Harrison Avenue. The South Platte, Arkansas, and Colorado rivers have sources within that ten-mile radius. The Leadville pyramid is three thousand feet higher than the Yellowstone Park pyramid, where the Missouri, Snake, and Green rivers begin. It is a mile higher than Canada’s Banff-Jasper pyramid, which contains glacier sources of the Columbia, Fraser, Athabaska, and Saskatchewan rivers.”