| Little Horn & Fluted (Sangres)
Little Horn Peak (13,143) & Fluted Peak (13,554)
From Horn Creek TH: ~11 mi, 5000 ft
Plans for this hike didn't materialize until late Saturday night. After climbing Twin Peaks in the southern Sangres we drove to Salida for dinner and a warm place to sleep. The initial plan was to do another hike on the west side of the Sangres on Sunday. UN 13,054 was our peak of choice since it looked like it would be the easiest 13er that neither Dwight nor I had climbed. But 10+ miles and 5000+ feet isn't exactly what I'd classify as an easy winter hike. In our tired state, some mysterious logic prompted us to change our minds and settle on driving around to the east side of the Sangres in the morning to attempt Little Horn Peak and Fluted Peak. Stats for the hike were very similar to our original plan, and I really cannot recall why we thought this would be a better option.
Although I'd been to the Horn Creek TH before, the snow gave it a completely foreign look and I was almost certain we were at the wrong place. Where was the bathroom I remember? Buried in the snow? After some screwing around, we missed our planned 6:30 start time by nearly an hour. No big deal, just increases our chances of finishing the hike by headlamp.
Snowshoes were necessary right from the start. There was considerably more snow here than we encountered on the west side of the range the day before. From the parking lot we followed some tracks southwest for a few tenths of a mile until we came upon the well trodden Rainbow Trail. From here we headed south for another few tenths of a mile until we reached the intersection with the Horn Creek Trail. It looked like we'd be breaking trail from here. Although the snow was deep, it was fairly consolidated in most places.
We continued along the gentle Horn Creek Trail for about half a mile until we had to bite the bullet and make the big decision. There were basically two options: 1) continue to follow the Horn Creek Trail high into the basin and then climb to the saddle between Little Horn and Fluted or 2) gain Little Horn's northeast ridge very early on and follow it the entire way to Little Horn. There was much debate. The gentle grade of the Horn Creek Trail was nice, but there was some concern that the steep slopes leading to the saddle could be dangerous. Jason Moore's Sangre de Cristo book indicates that this south facing slope is usually wind blown enough to be safe, but the fact that this seems to be a big snow year in the Sangres was worrying. On the other hand, from our views of Little Horn's northeast ridge from afar it looked like the ridge could get interesting near the top. Would the route even go? An interesting ridge, huh? Haven't been on one of those in a while! The deal was sealed.
We left the trail around 9,700 ft and climbed west to gain the ridge. The trees weren't too dense and the snow was decent so we made good time. Near treeline we began to get our first glimpses of Little Horn and Fluted and they looked pretty impressive. Off went the snowshoes as we began to climb the initially gentle ridge above treeline toward Little Horn. Since we were hoping there was a chance to make a loop out of the hike by descending into Horn Creek Basin from the Little Horn – Fluted saddle, caching our snowshoes wasn't an option.
The ridge got rockier the higher we went, and there was some fun scrambling to be had near the end. Now this is what we came for! Happy that our route decision had panned out and that we got to sneak in some scrambling fun in January, we topped out on the summit of Little Horn Peak around 12:40. The views of Humboldt, Colony Baldy, the Crestones, Kit Carson, Challenger, Columbia Point, Mt. Adams, etc. were amazing. My attention though was on Fluted Peak. It is really a striking mountain, especially with snow cover… and we were about to climb it!
After a short break, we continued on along the ridge. Although Fluted Peak was less than a mile away, it would take us several hours to reach the summit. The descent from Little Horn to the saddle was quick and easy and we decided to stash our snowshoes and trekking poles there. I was relieved to see that the slopes below the saddle were looking very promising for a quick and safe descent on the way back.
The ridge to Fluted has many little ups and downs and offered some more fun scrambling. We climbed most of the towers and bypassed a couple on the south side of the ridge. The snow in some sections was fairly hard and our ice axes were very useful. With snow I would rate this ridge as 3rd class with a few 4th class moves that could be avoided. Although we had bluebird weather all day, the wind was starting to pick up once we neared the summit. Fluted Peak has several little sub-summits but, wouldn't ya know, the true summit is the one furthest along the ridge. I have no idea what time we got there because it was getting kind of late and I didn't want to think about how long we'd be hiking back in the dark. I wanted to enjoy the moment! Peaking over the cornice down the east face was quite exhilarating. We took no real break here on account of the wind, just stood around long enough to take a bunch of pictures.
We retraced our steps back along the ridge until we found a suitable place out of the wind for a real break - just a short one though as we had many miles to cover to get back to civilization. We retrieved our snowshoes and hiking poles at the saddle and prepared for a quick descent. Although the slope was kind of steep (Dwight measured around 30 degrees at one point, but it was steeper in sections) the snow was well consolidated and safe. We got in two glissades and Dominic and I got some much needed self arrest practice here.
Once back down in the basin, we headed in the general direction of the Horn Creek Trail even though it was snow covered and not discernible. After a while we were able to pick it out and follow it for the most part, although we lost it several times. With GPS help, we made sure to cross Horn Creek in the right spot. The miles went by and the sun went down. The headlamps went on. It took a little effort to break trail the whole way back, but not too much. We arrived back at the TH around 7:15, pretty exhausted. The fact that we were still very far from home was not pleasant, but we stopped for some good pizza in Westcliffe and made it home pretty painlessly.