Beginning Elevation: 9000’
Peak Elevation: 13,334’
The Group: Dan, Jeff, Jim W, Lisa, Marty, Steph, Terry, JimR
Distance: about 13.5 miles
Total Elevation Gain: about 4400’
Despite having been on this site for some time, this is my first trip report. I haven’t written one in the past because for the most part I climbed standard mountains by standard routes, and I didn’t see any real need for a report. Now that I’m sometimes climbing a less common peak, I suppose some of the information could be of some use or interest, so I guess I’ll try to post an occasional report. The first two cover a couple hikes done while at the CMC “In State Outing” (ISO), which this year was at the Alvarado Campground, a little southwest of Westcliffe, at the (eastern) foot of the Sangre de Christo Range. The ISO is a week of car camping, with meals provided, and a selection of hikes each day. This report covers the Venable Peak hike, and a companion report will recount a hike up Marble Mountain. The hike was originally planned as a loop linking the Venable and Comanche Trails, with no peak ascent. However, a few of us were able to convince the leader (Dan) to include an optional side trip up Venable Peak, since we’d be passing right by it, and since it was only about 400’ extra elevation gain.
We started at about 7:30 from the Venable/Comanche Trailhead, at about 9000’. The TH is easily accessible to virtually any car. From Westcliffe, one takes CO 69 south to Schoolfield Rd (140) and turns right (west) on 140. Follow 140 west toward the Alvarado CG. As you approach the CG, the turnoff for the TH is on the right, just before reaching the campground.
We started hiking at about 7:30, uphill for ½ mile to the Rainbow Trail, which runs for about 100 miles along the eastern side of the Sangres, from just south of Salida to a bit south of Music Pass. We turned right and hiked north for about a mile on the Rainbow Trail to reach the Venable Trail (#1347), also called the Venable Lake Trail. We turned left (west) and began a long, gradual ascent on the Venable Trail, which is quite clear and easy to follow the entire way.
Clear trail up the valley
We proceeded at a good, steady pace, since we knew we had a long way to go, and rain was forecast for the afternoon. As the trees got more sparse, we got nice views back down the valley and across to the Wet Mountains.
Looking back down the drainage, across to the Wet Mountains
We soon got our first view of Venable Peak, and the overcast skies suggested that the weather forecast might be correct.
At this point, we were approaching tree line and the lowest of the Venable Lakes, and were about to head up a series of switchbacks that would take us past the upper lakes. We took a short break for a snack and a chance to get the group back together. While we were waiting for the entire group to collect, Lisa saw what she said was either a dog or a bear go behind a small rise about 30 yards away. Shortly after that, what was definitely a bear emerged from some willows and poked over the rise. I remember thinking that I could either look at him or dive into my pack for my camera and probably miss seeing him at all, so I just watched him watch us for a short time, after which he disappeared back into the willows. We shouted down to warn the final two members of our group, who were coming up the trail and would pass by the bear on their way to our position. They stopped to look, and there he was. By then, I had my camera out, so I went down and managed to get a couple shots before he disappeared back into the willows. Throughout the brief episode, the bear seemed as disinterested as we were excited (though I may not be the best judge of bears' moods). This was the closest sighting of a bear that I’ve ever had in the wild and was definitely a highlight of the week.
After we settled down and collected our gear (and wits), we started up the switchbacks, rising above lower Venable Lake,
Lower Venable Lake
and continuing past the upper lakes.
Upper Venable Lake
This was the peak of the wildflower season, and although this trail was not as spectacular as some of the other hikes we did, there were some nice wildflowers.
Queen's Crown (I think).
On the map, the trail runs across the eastern face of Venable Peak, across what is called the “Phantom Terrace.” It apparently gets its name from the fact that as you approach the peak, it is not at all clear that there is a path across the face, (In the photo, it runs from the first low point left of center, down and to the right.)
South shoulder of Venable Peak, with not-so-obvious Phantom Terrace (hence the name).
but when you get there, it appears.
Heading up the Phantom Terrace
Final two group members coming up Phantom Terrace
Once we reached the saddle at the top of Phantom Terrace, we were rewarded with nice views back down the Venable Creek drainage,
From the (unnamed) pass, looking back down the Venable drainage.
and especially south toward the Crestone/Kit Carson group.
Kit Carson & Challenger in distance.
Zoom on Kit Carson
After a brief stop for photos (and to catch our breath), most of us headed up Venable Peak, where we found even better views, in all directions.
From Venable Peak, looking down on the pass and at Pt 13,244.
Kit Carson with cloud, from Venable Pk.
Looking north from Venable Pk.
We didn’t spend much time on the Venable summit, and were soon back at the saddle with Spring Mtn (13244). We followed a clear path that contoured south around Spring Mtn.
Trail contouring around Spring Mtn (13244).
Young marmot and mother (or maybe just the babysitter).
Once around Spring Mtn, the path splits; it is important to take the branch that goes up and to the left (it’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it). That takes you to the Comanche Trail and down the Comanche Valley.
Looking down on Comanche Lakes.
We proceeded down the trail at a comfortable pace, with sightings of deer, elk, and numerous marmots. When we were still above the trees, and about 4 miles from the trailhead, the weather caught up to us.
Weather moving in.
It started slowly, but in a short time we were being pelted with driving rain, then heavy hail, accompanied by lightning and thunder. Fortunately, by the time the lightning got close, we were back in the trees, where it had plenty of other targets, but it still gave us a few thrills. The trail quickly turned into a stream, and we splashed along as rapidly as we could—or perhaps a bit faster. This went on for about an hour before it let up. By then we were just reaching the junction of the Comanche Trail with the Rainbow Trail. Everyone was thoroughly soaked, Gore-Tex notwithstanding. However, the hike had gone so well that, rather than dampening our spirits (as well as our skins), the storm just served to make the day a little more memorable. We were soon back at the TH and heading for some refreshment before dinner at the Alpine Lodge. All in all, a great day.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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