| Sangre Centennial Weekend
About a month ago my friend Lance suggested that we get the old gang together for a hike. The old gang in this case is Lance (rocrunnerII), Craig (CRAIGO) and me (mountainjam). The three of us hadn’t hiked together since the 4th of July last year when we had an awesome trip into Chicago Basin and then climbed El Diente on the way home. Since that time life has been busy – which it tends to be – Craig and his wife had their first baby and Lance has been working and going to school. So I was definitely happy when Lance said he was finishing school and wanted to get out for a hike and Craig was able to line-up a family member to watch their daughter for the day.
After the usual debate about which peaks everyone wants to do, snow conditions, weather, driving and all the fun stuff that you discuss when planning a trip we decided on California Peak. I would drive down on Friday night and sleep in my truck near the trailhead and Craig and Lance would drive down in the morning and meet me around 6. Craig would head back home after our hike and then Lance and I would climb something together on Sunday, our first choice being Cathedral Peak in the Elk Range. Plans however, can and do change.
Saturday, May 19 – California Peak
My alarm went off at 5:30 and I started getting my gear together for the day, expecting the guys around 6. When 6 came and went I figured they were just running a bit late as can happen when you are planning on leaving at 3 in the morning. But when it started to get close to 7 I had a bad feeling that something had gone wrong. I didn’t have cell service where I was and so I had to drive almost back to Gardner to get a signal. As soon as my phone got one bar of service a text message and voicemail came through that they had hit an elk on I25 and that they were not hurt but that Craig’s car was likely totaled. Crazy! I was bummed that they weren’t going to make it and that Craig would have to deal with a wrecked car but mostly I was relieved that no one was hurt.
At that point I decided since I was I was already down there I might as well go for California. Many of the 14ers and 13ers I have done have been solo so it wasn’t going to be anything new. On the drive back to the trailhead I saw my first bear in Colorado, awesome! It was a big bear, to me it looked more brown in color than black, and as soon as it saw me it turned and ran into the woods - and fast! It definitely confirmed for me that if I ever see a bear on the trail that I won’t be trying to out-run it
I started the hike sometime after 8 with perfect weather. You start by following the Zapata Trail through a nice aspen forest.
Once you come out of this section of trees you pass through a fence. It's pretty easy to see the trail at this point but I wanted to post this photo to show the spot on the ridge you are aiming for. The low spot on the ridge in the center of the photo is where the trail will take you. I, however, did not know this at the time. I ended up loosing the trail in the trees due to snow. Instead of gaining the ridge at the low point pictured I bushwacked through the trees and gained the ridge probably 800 feet higher. The good part about this is I only had to go up and over about 3 false summits on the ridge, not the usual 5.
Little did I know that I would be seeing these guys up close and personal tomorrow...
Up on the ridge looking towards the summit. The ridge was just easy tundra walking all the way to the summit. Almost all the snow can be avoided.
Looking back at the Sand Dunes with the Crestones behind.
Happy to be on the summit. It took about 3.5 hours up and I stayed on the summit for an hour. Since I had cell service I decided to call Lance and make sure they were doing alright. He confirmed they were both okay and that he was still wanting to hike tomorrow! Since I was already in the area and the weather was great I suggested that he drive down and meet me and we could go for Huerfano Peak on Sunday. He liked the idea and a new plan was in place.
California's summit has excellent views of Blanca, Ellingwood and Little Bear.
The way down the ridge was very straightforward. A few ups along the way but not too bad. When I got to the bottom of the ridge I saw the Wilderness Boundary sign and realized how much higher I had gained the ridge in the morning. From here I was able to follow the trail all the way back to my truck. There are still some patches of snow in the trees but most of them can be avoided by walking around or just through them. I brought my snowshoes but never put them on. I would say just leave them at home.
Here is a good shot of California from the summit of Iron Nipple. It shows just how long the ridge is.
After the hike I drove the extra mile up the road to the Huerafno/Lily Lake trailhead. I wanted to make sure the road was passable all the way to the upper parking area. I can report the road is in summer condition and I didn’t have any problems making it up there.
Blanca Peak from near the upper parking area.
Now it was time to get back into town so I could call Lance to confirm plans and also call my wife. Down the road…again. Back in Gardner it was still just early afternoon and I discovered there was no gas station or restaurant. I really didn’t want to drive all the way to Walsenburg but there wasn’t much happening in Gardner and I didn’t have much food – so Walsenburg it was. I wanted to try one of the local Mexican places for dinner. Corine’s was the only place that was open and that took a credit card. I really wanted to like the place but unfortunately I don’t have anything positive to report. The food was mediocre and gave me an upset stomach that night. The atmosphere was just plain weird. I would suggest finding another place to eat if you ever find yourself hungry in Walsenburg.
After dinner I stopped at a gas station and re-packed my gear for Sunday’s hike. On the way back to Gardner it started to rain pretty hard and I knew this was a bad sign for my sleeping situation. The topper on my truck tends to leak when it rains hard. When I got back to the trailhead I found the topper had leaked and some of my stuff was wet. Thankfully it wasn’t too bad though and nothing critical got wet so no damage done. Lance rolled in around 10 with a 6-pack of IPA. That’s a good hiking partner. We stayed up drinking beer and catching up until after midnight when we were both tired and the beer was gone.
Sunday, May 20 – Huerfano Peak & Iron Nipple
Not being in a big rush we hit the trail just after 7. Lance brought his tripod so we stopped in the meadow for some photo opportunities. Below are just a few of the great shots he took.
Photo by Lance
Photo by Lance
Photo by Lance
When we arrived at the river crossing we could see it was going to be interesting. The water wasn't very deep but the river was wide and there was no way to cross it without getting wet. Crazy-man Lance decided to take his boots off and go barefoot! I wanted no part of that so I just got my boots a little wet.
Looking back at the river crossing.
The next section had us going up this boulder field. The rocks were dry.
In this section instead of following the summer trail (which is to the left) we just walked up the firm snow. You could hear the stream flowing underneath but the snow felt solid.
Iron Nipple and Lindsey.
The basin. Again, no need for snowshoes.
Photo by Lance
A look to Huerafno from the Lindsey/Iron Nipple saddle.
This is the 30-foot-wide slot you pass through to bypass Iron Nipple that Gerry Roach mentions in his route description.
Lance (left side of photo) is about to top out on Huerfano. With the different stops that we took for pictures I can't really recall how long it took us to summit. I would say though that Huerfano felt a bit harder than California. That said both hikes are class 2 and don't pose any major difficulties.
Two-thirds of the old gang. You'll be there next time Craig!
We had been planning on heading up Iron Nipple on the way back from Huerfano. It's right there calling you, how can you not go? Here is a good shot showing most of the route up Iron Nipple. It's mostly class 2 with a few 2+ or easy class 3 moves near the top.
Photo by Lance
Lance coming up Iron Nipple with Lindsey behind.
Back near the saddle.
I had to get one postholing shot in here! Seriously though this was probably the biggest (and softest) patch of snow we had to cross all day. I was happy with our decision to leave the snowshoes in the truck.
Most of the hike back to the trailhead was uneventful. When I got back in my truck the “Check Tire Pressure” light came on. My front passenger-side tire was low. I figured it was because I had parked on a down-slope at the trailhead and that I would just need to fill up the tire in Walsenburg. But before I could get to Gardner the tire was flat! I hadn’t had a flat in my truck before so it took me a while to figure out how to change it. After that mess was done and I was back on the road I got caught in a huge hail storm near Pueblo. At one point I almost hydroplaned off the road and had to pull over to let the storm pass. My drive back was not going very well. I did eventually make it back to Denver in one piece, just a lot later than I had hoped for.
All in all it was a really good weekend. Yes, some bad stuff did happen, particularly around driving and vehicles. But in the end everyone made it home safe which is the most important thing. The hiking was excellent and I couldn’t have asked for better weather. As added bonuses I got to catch up with a friend I hadn't seen in a while (Sunday) and have a lot of solitude (Saturday). I never saw another vehicle or person (besides Lance of course) above the Aspen River Ranch all weekend. What a treat to have the mountains to yourself on a beautiful weekend! Thanks for reading.
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