With all the talk of postholing, wet slide activity, and cornices of late, I decided to hit the Sangre De Cristos again, as they seemed to have the best conditions. And since, I'd done Horn Peak and Marble in the weeks prior, I at least had an idea of what to expect...or did I?
Looking at my options, I hit up one of my partners with the idea of taking the Gibson Creek Trail to roughly 10 or 10.5K, then ascending the ridge to Spread Eagle Peak. From Spread Eagle, we'd continue on to 13524 (aka "Peak of the Clouds") and Rito Alto then descend via the North Taylor Creek drainage (I like loops). He just smiled, humored me and said, "Sure...we can try that."
By looking at the topo and reading Brian Kalet's and other reports it would be 2-3 mi shorter to do an out and back (and could skirt 13524 on the way back). However...I like loops.
So my humorable (and prompt) partner, John, showed up at my house at 3:15a in Colorado Springs on Saturday and we headed out. We were at the TH and hiking by 5:22a. We headed up the Gibson Creek Trail and having a leashed dog (Lily) along, left the trail at ~10k and headed up to the ridge as the forest didn't look too thick at that point and the there was neglible snow to deal with.
Not too bad of a bushwack to the ridge
We made the ridge in good time and John or I were able to thwart the majority of Lily's attempts to get tangled up on each and every tree or bush. Every now and then I'd get a whiff of smoke from one of the wildfires and when I looked back our views were obscured by the sobering, tell tale, haze.
Haze from the wildfires
There was little snow along the way and I was beginning to regret packing in my snowshoes and ice axe. However, we couldn't stash them...as we were doing a loop....
We only hit 2 significant patches of snow near treeline, but we were able to walk on top. The wind was light and we were on the summit of Spread Eagle at ~9:40a.
Summit of Spread Eagle Peak. POTC (13524) and rito Alto in the background.
We only stayed on the summit for 10 or 15 mins as the wind was supposed to pick up by 11a and I really wanted to attempt the other 2 peaks. "Peak of the Clouds" looked feasible, but Rito Alto sure looked far, far, away...and very tall.
We headed down Spread Eagle’s S/SW ridge and towards POTC and soon hit "the notch". I was worried about how my dog would do as I'd heard it might be class 3 and I wasn't sure how the whole leash thing would work if it was indeed class 3 and longer than her leash. Piper14er told me we'd probably be fine if we stayed on the ridge proper and he was right. Only 1, easy, class 3 move (that I recall), not a lot of exposure, fairly solid, and quite short. Lily only got stumped on one move, which she would have figured out, but John just lifted her down and she was good to go.
Guiding Lily down the notch
View of the notch from near 13,524. It isn't bad at all. (Photo by John Hart)
Other than skirting 1 or 2 bumps, we remained on the ridge the whole way to POTC (95% snow free the entire way...thank goodness I’m carrying these snowshoes). The wind picked up a little, but not bad and it was a very pleasant hike on a gorgeous day. The views were incredible and the haze from the fires cleared up a little and improved our sightseeing opps.
We made the summit of 13,524 by 11a, stayed on the summit for 10-15 min to refuel, feed and check out the dog, and discuss our options. We were feeling great and even though the wind had picked up and started gusting a little, the weather was still gorgeous. We looked at Rito Alto and decided to give it a go and then descend the east ridge down contouring left (to avoid cliff bands) as it looked like a reasonable option. So, after one more quick check of the dogs pads, we were off towards Rito Alto.
Summit 13,524 (photo by John Hart)
All was going swell, but then the wind continued to pick up...and we hit the talus. I now know that my dog does not like wobbly talus. She kept stopping and I kept pointing where she should go, but she wasn't happy. She didn't seem to like the combination of the wind, steepness, and tippy rocks. I moved towards a snowline to our right that she could ascend while I stayed on the rocks. That worked for awhile, but after a bit, she just layed down in the snow and refused to do anymore "up".
We only had 0.12 mi to go (per my GPS), but I wasn't going to push her. So, I checked her out, she was good, just not interested. I relaxed with her, we ate and drank, while John headed onto the summit. She got up once, took a few steps towards the summit, and laid back down. I let her rest some more then started taking her down. She seemed very happy to go down and was far more peppy.
John soon yelled down to us and offered to take Lily down to the saddle from whence we came, while I headed for the summit. The dog was fine, just wanted back on stable ground so, I took him up on his offer and headed to the summit of Rito Alto. Rito Alto had a good sized snow field and a bit of a cornice near the summit. I pulled out my ice axe and proceeded cautiously. The snow seemed stable and I veered away from the cornice. I soon saw the stick of wood that marks the summit, took a quick picture, looked around, and headed down.
Summit stick on Rito Alto
I joined John and Lily at the saddle (~1:10p), and we looked at the basin and picked our lines. I was hoping to glissade down one of the snowfields, but the options were either too soft, too steep with a rocky runout, or had a cornice.
Steep snow slope with a cornice that was breaking off above it.
We picked some lines without snow and headed down. Made great time down and the wind was almost nonexistent in the basin.
I knew the trail was at Megan lake, just need to get there. Sure, it might be a bit of a willow bash, may have to cross some short snow fields, but the scenery was pretty. Three…3.5 hours tops back to the car...oh this is going to be awesome...glad I picked this loop!
And that's where my elation ended....
Three of the 7 or so miles back to the car involved quite a bit of frustration that involved: postholing, willow wading, bushwacking, losing the trail, backtracking, descending and reascending slopes, walking through muck, sliding and falling, getting tangled in branches, and having my dog carried across 2 high creeks. The usual spring conditions stuff.
If I'm not post holing, then I'm falling...enough with the snow already! (photo by John Hart)
The last few miles (fortunately) were great and we ended by walking on this well maintained road back to the Gibson Creek TH.
Road back to Gibson Creek Trail - Wow, could that picture be a little more crooked?
We made it to the car at 7:22p.
This was a beautiful sight!
Exactly 14 hours since leaving my car and over 6 hours since leaving the saddle (so much for my 3-3.5 hour estimate on the descent).
We sped off towards Silvercliffe and dined on pizza, beer, and wine. After all that, I didn't have the heart to just give Lily her dry food so, I bought her a small bowl of hamburger and she was quite grateful. Arrived back to Colorado Springs at 10:30p.
All in all, it was a great day. The ascent to the 3 peaks was nearly perfect. I just hadn't counted on it taking us so long on the descent.
Hind sight, with these conditions, I would have gone back over Spread Eagle and back the way we came in. But under dry conditions, I would do this loop again. I like loops!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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