| Winter Culebra - Too good to be true
Saturday, Feb. 18th, 2012
Group: 20 people total, mostly from 14ers.com, as well as legend Ken Nolan and his crew
Start: Ranch North HQ building, 9080’
Mileage: Culebra = 15.1 miles, Culebra + Red = 16.6 miles
Elevation Gain: Culebra = 5,370’, Culebra + Red = 6,400’
If you’ve ever considered hiking Culebra Peak, you may have secretly whined about the ranch fee. In winter, it’s currently $200. But let me tell you, that $200 was WORTH IT!
After speaking to the ranch folks, and after one inclement-weather reschedule, we got a date set for Saturday, Feb. 18. Most of us car-camped at the gate, some stayed at the San Luis Inn, a couple camped in their tent. The ranch was kind enough to grant my request for a 4:00am start (as opposed to their usual 6:00am start), and didn’t budge on our 6:00pm curfew. 14 hours… those of us not-so-fast hikers might have a chance at Red Mountain, too!
At about 3:15am, a few of us started our cars to get ‘em warmed up for a luxurious winter morning start. 4:00am came, Carlos cruised up in his sick Jeep and let us in the gate. And because he had plowed the road to the HQ building, we were able to drive there. AWESOME!
We then turned in our waivers and moolah, and were informed by Carlos that he had spent lots of his time the past few days packing the trail on his snowmobile, and was able to get all the way to the summer TH, for the first time ever! AWESOME!! Talk about first class service. Carlos rocks!
With a group of 20, it was unrealistic to stay together as one large group, especially since we didn’t hafta break trail like we’d thought. So, at our own paces, we set off from the HQ building around 4:30am.
Before we knew it, we were at “Four Way", and light filled the sky.
Four Way… more like Two Way today
(From here on out, I’ll state what time I hit certain points along the hike, as we were split up and some people were way faster, some slower)
I hit the end of the packed trail (the Summer TH) at 7:20am, and finally put on the snowshoes. Derek (Furthermore) was leading the group, I believe, at an inhuman rate. He decided to aim left (North East) and hit the ridge early, so we all followed his 'shoe tracks, making a couple small switchbacks up this slightly steeper angle.
Going Up! Photo: fepic1
I found myself gravitating towards following Ken Nolan, Dave “Crestoner”, and Russel “RWSchaffer”. We pushed on towards Pt 13,436’, our first “summit” goal, which offered a fantastic view of Culebra.
Honored to trudge behind Ken Nolan, heading up to Pt 13,436’
A cairn at the top of 13,436’
The summit is the more distant point to the left of what looks like the highest point
We headed over to the infamous Super Cairn, and I arrived at it at 9:20am. This cairn is no joke!
Heading over to the Super Cairn
Classic shot, less commonly seen snow-crusted!
After snapping some pics, we were excited to drop just over 100’ to the saddle, and get started on the push up to Culebra’s false summit. I ditched my snowshoes at the saddle, and a little behind Ken & friends at this point, used them as motivation to keep-a-movin’!
Aiming toward Culebra’s false summit. Ken & friends are about 2/3 up the initial slope.
Today was turning out to be a BEAUTIFUL day. I didn’t know that perfect weather was included in the $200 fee. Thanks, Cielo Vista Ranch! ;)
Almost to the false summit…
Ahh, the true summit! Rock ‘n roll, baby.
Culebra’s true summit, and Red Mtn on the right
I topped out on the “harmless snake” at 11:00am. Sweet! I was feelin’ good and ready to continue on to Red Mountain.
I didn't take a summit shot, but here’s a pic of a John (fepic1) and his friend Molly on the summit:
John & Molly on the summit! Photo: fepic1
It’s only .75 miles to Red, but with a 6:00pm curfew and just over 1,000’ of elevation gain to get over & back, I didn’t want to dilly dally.
The trip to Red, with a little bump in the middle of the ridge
Oh, and on my way down Culebra, one of the other faster hikers who was returning from Red told me between deep breaths, “This climb back up Culebra is a b**ch!”
The little bump and Red
Still behind Ken & friends… why am I the youngest and slowest??
The push up Red was over before I could say “Centennial,” and having just passed Ken & buddies towards the top, I had the summit all to myself, the last one on Red that day at 12:10pm.
Looking back at Culebra from the summit of Red
I thought of that returning hiker's elegant words; the final push back up to today’s 14er summit definitely took some gas.
Back up Culebra, taken from the little bump in the saddle
At 1:15pm, I was there, and snapped my required pic on the summit of one Colorado’s tallest… Which Wich!!
Free sandwich, comin’ right up!
I enjoyed the summit this time for about 10 minutes, fueled back up, and soaked in the gorgeous weather. Seriously, this was too easy.
Looking back to the high point of our perfect Saturday, now empty
The Super Cairn
The snake’s shadow made reclimbing Pt 13,436’ well worth it!
Hiking alone here, barely seeing my fellow hikers about half an hour ahead of me, I took advantage of some bodacious views.
Looking back up at 13,436’
Little Bear, Blanca, and Lindsey wave "congratulations!"
Following our defiled path back down to the summer TH, the trees show off some pretty shadows
I hadn’t needed my snowshoes again since before today’s peaks (thankfully), and was enjoying playing in the snow a little as I broke my own trail to the summer TH. Carlos was hanging out there with his daughter, checking up on the last of the group (me and one other hiker still coming back from Culebra). He is so nice, and really cared about our well-being. We chatted for a few minutes, and I started my hike back down the packed trail.
Thanks for your snowmobile work, Carlos! And sorry you got stuck so many times clearing the way for us!
About 2 miles before the HQ building, I somehow caught up to John (fepic1) and his friend Molly (a soon-to-be 14ers.com member!), and enjoyed their company back to the cars.
Catching up to John and Molly
Carlos drove his daughter back to the buildings, and then headed back up again to catch the last hiker of today’s successful group.
Carlos enjoying his machine
We made it back to the cars at 5:45pm, right when Carlos and the final hiker arrived as well. Awesome, dude! 15 minutes to spare
First class service on Colorado’s southern-most fourteener. I will never complain about the ranch’s fee again, as I realized step after step that it went to good use!
And to cap off the perfect day, John took Molly and me out to the tasty Mexican restaurant in San Luis for some chicken enchiladas that totally hit the spot. Thanks John!
A huge CONGRATULATIONS to several 14er finishers on this trip: Marmot72, ortegajv, and Furthermore!!
And thanks to all of you who came along and made this day memorable!!
Here’s a basic map of our route. Zoom in for more detail!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):