| Tour de California Pk
California Peak - 13,849 feet
Sangre de Cristo Range
Trailhead: Lower Huerfano - 10,270 feet
Route: Ascent: North Ridge, Descent: South Ridge
Distance: ~11.3 miles
Cumulative elevation gained: ~5,050 feet
Gear: Summer gear was sufficient. We did not need axe/crampons/gaiters (though we brought them...).
I like loops. Even more, I like loops that allow for multiple peak hopping. On Saturday, Bob and I ventured out to the Sangre de Cristo range with California Peak in mind. Originally, we planned on Huerfanito - Iron Nipple – Huerfano - UN 15,555 combo for Saturday and California Pk - UN 13,577 - UN 13,660A on Sunday, but the weather forecast called for a 40% chance of rain and thunderstorms on Saturday so we switched the peaks to do the “short(er)” one (or so we thought) on Saturday.
Looking at the Topo maps for California Peak, we saw the adjacent UN 13,577 and UN 13,660A. Roach mentions them in his Thirteeners book but not as a loop.
We parked just past the Lower Huerfano Trailhead (10,270 ft) on Friday evening with the plan to start up the North Ridge to California Peak, go over UN 13,577, head over UN 13,660A and head back via California Peak’s South Ridge route.
From the TH, we took off on the well defined Zapata trail. The trail thins suddenly by the gated field but you can pick it up again past the opening of the gate.
A cairn or two with sticks indicate the trail.
A large pile of rocks with a stick in it was a good indicator for where to go.
There's the rock pile at the far end of the clearing.
We lost the trail in an open field but our goal (the saddle on the ridge on the right hand side of the picture below) was visible so we just veered off and started on the slope through mostly open areas. On the pile of rocks back there, we thought we saw a cairn, but we ignored it.
After we lost the trail, we just started going up the slope, looking for clearings in the trees.
Trails are commodities these days for us so we were not too bothered not to have one, but it sure helped and speeded us a bit once we caught up again with the trail by the tree line. In retrospect, we (we think) could have stayed straight and gone over/near the rocky pile and we would have found the trail.
Once at the saddle, we knew we had a few ups and downs and false summits so we just started off on the gentle South-West grassy slope.
Image #5 (not yet uploaded)
From the saddle, heading up the gentle grassy slope
Bumps along the way to California Pk.
From this point, almost the entire remaining route is in view but the true summit is still hidden. Nice and gentle was the theme for the rest of the route to California Peak's summit.
Looking at the ridge towards the summit, not visible from here.
If California Peak is your only objective, I highly recommend this approach for a relatively easy stroll with views of 14ers (Mount Lindsey, Blanca Peak, Ellingwood Point, and Little Bear Peak) constantly ahead of you and if you dare to turn around from this view, you will be viewing the Crestones… Sign me up…
Looking back at the bumps and the Northern Sangres with clouds forming along the spine. The Dunes are there as well.
The last series of bumps to the summit.
Looking over at Lindsay
From the Summit of California Peak, the route to UN 13,577 was staring at us.
The route with the Blanca group behind.
The descent of California was pretty uneventful, more rocky than the ascent, but nothing exceeding Class 2. Staying on ridge proper seemed to give us more solid rock. Neither Bob nor I felt overly energized by the idea of climbing a point in-between so we skirted below the ridge proper on a loose scree/talus slope.
We skipped this unranked point to the right.
Everything moves there, big, small, did not matter, if you stepped on it, it moved. Maybe staying ridge proper would yield more solid rock, if you do not mind some elevation drop and regain (about 200 feet gained and lost on this hump).
UN13,577 is on the left in shadow and UN13,660 A is on the right in the sun. Taken from the slope under the point we skipped.
Looking back at California from the summit of UN 13,577.
Standing on top of UN13,577, we had a decision to make: continue or not to UN13,660A. The weather over Mount Lindsey was developing fast but the wind was blowing it away from us. While there were clouds developing over Blanca, they were not advanced yet to cause any immediate concern. We decided to continue.
There is not much we could find to describe the ridge between UN 13,577 and UN 13,660A. Roach describes as “rough ridge” but still puts it at Class 2. From looking at it, it did not look like anything that we have not done or be uncomfortable doing. Time to see what “rough” means.
We dropped from UN 13,577 on mainly solid boulders. While faint, a trail here and there could be detected but any route is pretty much the same. We stayed close to the ridge proper and the mostly-solid talus/boulders were a nice reprieve from the loose traverse from California to 13,577. We were also eyeing descent routes - a route down one of the gullies would provide an alternative to regaining UN 13,577. More on the options later.
If the difficulty was to maintain at Class 2 or 2+, slightly below the ridge proper would have been a way to go; however, the rock seemed looser below the ridge crest. I would give the ridge low Class 3 rank, especially towards the summit of UN 13,660A but it was mostly on solid rock. The following few pictures show typical rock and difficulty experienced on the last half of this half-mile long ridge. The first half was mostly just a talus-hop.
Mostly solid scrambling here. The summit isn't far.
We did not stay long on top of UN 13,660A. Watching the developing clouds over Blanca and even darker and angrier clouds over Lindsay made us consider getting off the ridge and off the mountain swiftly.
From UN13,660A looking back at UN13,577.
A closer look at the first part from UN13,660A looking back at UN13,577.
Hiking to UN 13660A, we spotted 3 potential gully descent options. None of them were overly appealing: steep, narrow, and loose. On the way back, we ruled two of them out as we could not see all the way to the bottom and we worried that they cliffed-out, based on the observations of the surrounding terrain.
This is the gully we attempted to take down but it was too loose, narrow, and steep for our liking
We did give one of the gullies, the last one before the ascent back up to UN 13,577, a try. We knew it would be steep and loose and it was. From the saddle, we thought we could see its path all the way to the lake. One of us accidently kicked a small rock into the gully and we watched that thing go and go, taking more rocks with it down the narrow chute. Where were our helmets? In the car, of course...
After descending 150 or so feet in the gully, we decided to call it and went back up to the ridge to re-summit UN 13,577.
From the summit of UN13,577 looking down our descent route towards the lake. The Blanca group is in the background.
I do not know if there is a trail from the summit of UN 13,577, but we just started off on a side-hill descending traverse on a very loose scree slope. We kept trying to find solid rock - no luck. Occasionally, there were fragments of what looked like a trail but it was fairly inconsistent and not much better than any other chosen route. We just kept heading down and towards Lily Lake, a shower of rocks preceding and following us...
About 1/3 the way down to the lake - "BOB! KATE!" What the...? Who knows we're here? We looked up to the summit of UN 13,577 and someone was there. We couldn't recognize him so how would he recognize us? Who would think that we were the people he saw? Then he shouted "This is Greg!" Bob then remembered that he had discussed weekend plans with Papillon who was planning on hiking Twin Peaks and maybe UN 13,660A with Wooderson and SummitLounger the same day as our hike. He had jokingly told Papillon that we'd wave at them on the summit. Turns out, they got closer than we expected:
Papperson on 13,660A, approached from South Zapata Lake.
That's one of the great things about this website - it is a community where we sometimes see each other in random places - REI, in the mountains, at bars. Wait... those aren't really random places for this crowd...
More views of the miserable descent:
Descending loose scree towards the lake.
Once at the lake, we dropped our packs and enjoyed our time. Hey, why not? Some people hike in just to see the lake and we just happen to be here. From the lake, the Upper Huerfano TH is a little less than 4 miles away on a very well defined and travelled trail.
Nicely defined trail all the way from the Lily lake to the trailhead
From the Upper trailhead, it was just over a mile on a mindless road to the Lower Huerfano TH. Thankfully, it went by pretty quickly.
All in all, just over 11 miles and 5000 ft of elevation gain make it a nice loop option with minimal technical difficulties and outstanding vista. Cheers.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):