| 2011 RTM Annual Climbing Trip
Background info: In 2009, my teenage sons David and Randy decided they’d like to climb the 14ers and centennial peaks. As of the start of our 2011 trip, they’d climbed 22 Colorado 14ers and 28 of the top 100 (“centennial”) peaks, while I’d climbed 193 of Colorado’s bicentennial mountains (all but three of them with my dad between 1970 and 1998 ). I posted a version of this trip report on 14erworld.com in September 2011, but unfortunately that site was taken down earlier this year so I am reposting it here.
August 12, Friday. The three of us left our house in Austin, Texas, at 5:00 a.m. CDT. It’s been a brutally hot, dry summer in Texas, and today was no exception. We drove northwest into Colorado, turning west at Walsenberg and heading toward Gardner and Red Wing. After driving through the Singing River Ranch, we reached the Zapata/Huerfano trailhead in this beautiful remote valley and selected a campsite about 200’ beyond the trailhead. A couple from Wisconsin drove by as we set up our tent.
August 13, Saturday. We hiked up the Zapata trail toward today’s objective, California Peak. When we reached the ridge, we left the trail and turned left (south). On our way up the ridge, we passed by about 15 mountain goats as they grazed only 30’ away.
We reached the summit of California Peak (13,849’) and spent a leisurely hour on the summit. We took a different route on the descent, descending directly toward the Huerfano River valley once we got past a 13,476’ ridge point. We reached a small dry creek and followed it down to the Lily Lake trail, which we then took back to our campsite.
August 14, Sunday. We drove about 1.1 miles to the Upper Huerfano/Lily Lake trailhead and set out on foot toward today’s objective, Mt. Lindsey. We followed the trail out of the Huerfano River Valley to a basin at 12,000’ and up a grassy ramp to the Mt. Lindsey - Iron Nipple (13,500’) saddle on Mt. Lindsey’s northwest ridge. A climber’s trail took us onto Mt. Lindsey’s north face, and we then climbed up a couloir to a red notch. An ascending traverse brought us onto Mt. Lindsey’s upper northwest ridge, and after a short climb southeast, we reached the summit of Mt. Lindsey (14,042’). The summit block scramble was fun.
Nearing the summit of Mt. Lindsey. It’s only 10:30 a.m., but the clouds are rapidly developing.
We had wanted to add Unnamed (UN) 13,828 (“Huerfano Peak”) but it had turned into a cloudy, breezy day, and the threatening clouds convinced us to be satisfied with one summit today. After descending past the red notch, we met the Wisconsin couple (Andy and Chris Mitchell of West Bend, Wisconsin) that we’d seen two days earlier. They were heading up Mt. Lindsey, so we gave them some route information and hoped they’d get there while the weather was still good.
Once back at our campsite, we broke camp and drove to the South Colony Lakes trailhead. In 1987 the jeep road was open to a mine at 11,400’, but sometime in the 1990s the Forest Service closed the road at about 10,800’. In 2009, the Forest Service closed the road just below a creek crossing at 9880’. We set up camp at a campsite near the parking area at this trailhead.
August 15, Monday. The Mitchells drove by while we were getting our backpacks ready, and we chatted with them for a while as we backpacked up the now-closed jeep road. After reaching lower South Colony Lake, we set up camp just below the lake at about 11,660’. We ate lunch and then started up the trail toward upper South Colony Lake and Humboldt Peak. A steady climb brought us to the summit of Humboldt Peak (14,064’).
Approaching Humboldt's summit at 3 PM. We wouldn’t normally start climbing a 14er after noon, but the weather was good today and Humboldt is easy.
We started down after 20 minutes on the summit. As we descended, we were surprised to see two guys on their way up. We’d expected to be the last climbers of the day on Humboldt.
August 16, Tuesday.
Time exposure showing the moon from our campsite near lower South Colony Lake. You can see the light trail from someone’s headlamp as he walked by.
We got up to clear skies and a full moon and set out on the trail toward the 12,900’ Broken Hand Pass.
Eddie and David on the trail to Broken Hand Pass.
We then followed a climber’s trail northwest on the west side of Crestone Needle’s southeast ridge. At about 13,300’, we decided to climb the eastern of two possible couloirs. The conglomerate rock in the east couloir was quite firm, and we climbed it to the summit of Crestone Needle (14,197’), arriving at 10:15. The climb up the conglomerate rock was great fun, and we were the first climbers to reach the summit today.
The start of the traverse from Crestone Needle to Crestone Peak.
Despite spending 90 minutes on the summit, we returned to our campsite early enough to spend several hours relaxing (okay, napping) in our tent.
August 17, Wednesday. Our plan for today was to climb Crestone Peak (14,294’) via its northwest couloir, which previously was known as the “red couloir” and had been the standard route when my dad and I climbed the peak in 1987 to complete the fourteeners.
Time exposure of the moon over Crestone Needle. This photo was taken at 5:45 a.m.
We started up the trail toward upper South Colony Lake and, when the trail eventually began to fizzle out, climbed northwest up a steep slope to the Humboldt – Bears Playground ridge. From the Bears Playground, a climbing contour southwest along the ridge followed by an airy traverse at 13,400’ brought us to the entrance of the northwest couloir.
Once in the couloir, it seemed much harder than I’d remembered from my 1987 climb, with lots of steep wet rock, and loose rock everywhere. After a rather lengthy philosophical discussion of “risk vs. reward,” we decided that discretion was the better part of valor, especially given that we likely would be the only ones on this route today. Consequently, we elected to abandon ship and headed toward Obstruction Peak (13,799’) and Columbia Point (13,980’). Neither is difficult from the Bears Playground. We reached the summit of Obstruction Peak at 12:30 p.m., ate lunch, and then continued toward Columbia Point.
Crestone Needle (left) and Crestone Peak from Columbia Point. The reddish northwest couloir is clearly visible on Crestone Peak.
Due to threatening weather, we started down after only 20 minutes on the summit. We reached the edge of the Bears Playground as a few hailstones and raindrops fell (but fortunately only lasted about five minutes).
We descended a steep gully directly to the South Colony Lakes basin, going on the north side of the upper lake and the south side of the lower lake on an old trail. We then contoured back to the trail we’d taken this morning and followed it back to our campsite, happy that we were able to salvage the day by climbing Obstruction Peak and Columbia Point.
Our original plan had been to pack out tomorrow morning, but we still needed to climb Crestone Peak. We decided to climb it via a different route tomorrow, but we’d then have to pack out immediately upon our return to camp because we had not budgeted food for another night at South Colony Lakes.
August 18, Thursday. We had clear skies and a beautiful sunrise this morning. Once again we climbed to Broken Hand Pass, but this time we descended to Cottonwood Lake.
We continued following the trail past Cottonwood Lake to 12,600’ in the basin below Crestone Peak’s south face. We then climbed into a couloir on Crestone Peak’s south side that goes up to a 14,180’ notch on the ridge – the same notch that the northwest couloir reaches from the other side of the mountain.
As we climbed the south-facing couloir, a guy named Chuck who was a short distance above us knocked loose a baseball-sized rock that missed Randy’s head by about two feet and bounced down the gully. A climber below us managed to catch the rock in his hand! He wasn’t happy and admonished us for not being more careful, so we explained that we climbed cleanly and that someone above us had knocked the rock loose. Not long after this, Chuck turned back, while we continued to the top of the couloir without further incident. A 250’ scramble to the west (left) brought us to the summit of Crestone Peak (14,294’) at the same time as two other climbers.
After returning to our campsite, we broke camp and began backpacking down the trail. The campsite we’d used on Sunday was now occupied, so we drove about ½ mile down the jeep road and found a nice campsite.
August 19, Friday. Our climb of Crestone Peak yesterday had put us a day behind schedule, but we had a bigger problem to address: the sole of one of Randy’s boots was coming loose. Getting it repaired in the middle of our trip was impractical, so we would need to buy Randy a new pair of boots that needed no (or minimal) break-in.
After buying a new pair of boots in Salida, we drove through Poncha Springs and Villa Grove to San Luis Valley Campground. The trees had grown noticeably since the last time we’d camped here about a dozen years ago. It was nice to have a much-needed and well-deserved rest day.
August 20, Saturday. After sleeping in until 7:30 a.m., we drove to Crestone and then 2.3 more miles to the South Crestone trailhead. The parking lot was full, so we parked along the road just below the parking lot.
We ate lunch and then started backpacking up the trail. After a few hundred feet, we turned onto the Willow Creek trail. It was already hot and dusty, and as a result the first mile went slowly. Eventually we had some cloud cover but felt like we were dragging, and the trail to Willow Creek Lakes seemed much longer than four miles.
The trail to Willow Creek Lakes. Aiming the camera straight into the sun never stopped Randy from taking a photo...
A couple of miles from the trailhead, we met two day hikers from Crestone -- unusual because the town population is only 74. At lower Willow Creek Lake, we were surprised to see a guy canoeing and wondered how the canoe had been transported to such a remote lake.
Arriving at Willow Creek Lakes on a weekend is never a good idea, and it took us a while to find a suitable campsite. The prohibition on camping within 300’ of the lake limited our options, but eventually we found a site above the lake at about 11,600’ that was adjacent to the trail that we’d take toward Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak tomorrow morning.
We’d seen surveyor’s tape at various places along the trail and learned that it was there as guidance for a search and rescue operation that was taking place for a climber who’d fallen the previous day between Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak. The climber, who apparently was climbing alone, was helicoptered off the mountain as we ate dinner.
August 21, Sunday. We followed the trail as it climbed above the waterfall at the east end of lower Willow Creek Lake. When the trail ended, we climbed south up a long grassy slope and gully that led to Challenger Point’s northwest ridge.
The view of Kit Carson Peak as we climbed to Challenger Point’s northwest ridge. It’s not too cloudy yet, but that’s about to change.
Fog and clouds blew in as we reached the ridge, but it was a straightforward climb southeast to the summit of Challenger Point (14,081’). Two guys arrived on the summit of Challenger Point about a minute before we continued on toward Kit Carson Peak in the thickening fog.
We descended east to a 13,800’ saddle between Challenger and Kit Carson and then climbed onto a fairly wide ledge known as “Kit Carson Avenue” that runs south along the side of Kit Carson. The ledge climbs to about 13,960’ and then descends to about 13,700’ where it is necessary to turn left (north) into a wide, shallow gully that heads toward the summit.
Kit Carson Avenue. (This photo was taken on our descent but is included here because we didn’t take a Kit Carson Avenue photo on our ascent.)
From here, we scrambled about 450’ up the left side and center of the gully to the summit of Kit Carson Peak (14,165’). This route seemed much easier than the former standard route via South Colony Lakes and the Bears Playground that my dad, brother, and I had taken in 1984. As we ate lunch on the summit, the two climbers we’d seen briefly on Challenger arrived. One of them had oysters for lunch. They smelled awful!
Randy, David, and Eddie on the summit of Kit Carson Peak. The fog limited our photo opportunities.
At noon we started down. It was nice to get off Kit Carson Avenue and back onto Challenger Point. We continued back the way we’d come in the morning and then headed down from Challenger Point’s northwest ridge. As we descended, hail began and later turned into rain, but the rain ended before we reached our campsite.
The view toward San Luis Valley from above Willow Creek Lake.
August 22, Monday. Today’s objectives were Mt. Adams (13,931’) and UN 13580B. We bushwhacked steeply north from our campsite until we were above the trees and continued on grass into the cirque southwest of Mt. Adams. After finding and following a climber’s trail toward Mt. Adams, we decided to add a climb of UN 13546 so that we could do a three-peak “Tour de Adams” today.
We left the climber’s trail and climbed directly toward the ridge south of the summit of UN 13546 and then followed the ridge to the summit. The summit register was wet from the canister being left upside down and had only two other signatures this year.
Mt. Adams from the summit of UN 13546. The ridge is straightforward, but Mt. Adams’ summit block is a fun Class 3 scramble.
After spending 35 minutes on UN 13546 and doing our best to dry the register, we headed down the ridge toward Mt. Adams, reaching its small summit at 11:15.
Climbing the summit block on Mt. Adams.
After eating lunch, we continued toward UN 13580B. While downclimbing a steep section on the ridge, my daypack was getting caught on rocks so I took it off and tossed it to Randy, who’d already climbed down. My throw was a little high, and the daypack bounced off Randy’s raised hands, rolled down the slope, off a small cliff, and out of sight, although we could hear it bouncing down the mountainside toward the valley below. Some 750’ of descent later, we found the daypack, and the only damage was a dent in a water bottle. Decision time: do we climb all the way back up to get UN 13580B, or do we skip it? The clouds were building, but Randy lobbied for completing the “Tour de Adams.” We decided to hustle and climb back up.
After reaching the summit of UN 13580B, we wasted no time in descending to the valley due to the threatening weather. Light rain and then hail began as we hiked down the valley. As soon as possible, we descended directly toward our campsite and immediately retreated into our tent. Less than 5 minutes later, an extremely hard hailstorm began and continued for a half hour before turning into rain for another half hour. It was as though someone unloaded a dumptruck full of ¼” hail onto our heads. The hail was deep enough that some of it was still there the next morning.
Hail at our campsite. It piled up quite a bit after coming down heavily for a half hour.
August 23, Tuesday. We broke camp and started the backpack out under clear skies. The red canoe we’d seen three days ago was still in the lake, tied up near where we’d seen it on Saturday. The trail was much more pleasant going downhill than it had been on the way in.
From the trailhead, we drove through Pagosa Springs to Vallecito Campground north of Vallecito Reservoir. After dinner, we got our backpacks ready for an eight-day excursion into the Weminuche Wilderness. Our plan was to backpack north nine miles on the Vallecito Creek trail to the intersection with the Johnson Creek trail and then take that trail over Columbine Pass to Chicago Basin, where we would climb several fourteeners and hopefully two high thirteeners. We would then return to the Vallecito Creek - Johnson Creek trail intersection and continue north five miles on the Vallecito Creek trail and then follow the Rock Creek trail another two miles to the very remote Rock Lake, some 18 miles from the trailhead, where we planned to climb Mt. Oso, the most remote bicentennial thirteener.
August 24, Wednesday. We set out on foot under clear skies up the Vallecito Creek trail. Just a couple hundred feet before the third creek crossing (where the bridge had been destroyed by an avalanche in 2008 ), we met two forest rangers who informed us that the bridge would not be replaced due to the cost (approximately $500,000). Fortunately, we had known that the bridge was out and brought water shoes, which made fording the creek much easier. Early in the summer, the crossing could be treacherous due to high water, but in late August we were able to cross easily.
Vallecito Creek. The Weminuche Wilderness is definitely a scenic area.
We continued north on the Vallecito Creek trail to the intersection with the Johnson Creek trail. Skies were now threatening. We cached our smaller bear canister here, as there was no point in hauling the food for the Rock Lake segment of our trip all the way to Chicago Basin and back.
Rain began shortly after we started up the Johnson Creek trail and continued for four hours. We selected a campsite near timberline, set up camp in a hurry, and quickly retreated into the tent. Skies cleared up by 11 p.m.
August 25, Thursday.
We backpacked past Columbine Lake to Columbine Pass, descended to the intersection of the Columbine Pass and Needle Creek trails at 11,000’ in Chicago Basin, and set up camp before eating lunch. Our initial plan had been to climb Jupiter Mountain today, but we were discouraged from doing so by clouds and the late start on the mountain that we would have had. Our revised plan would have us climbing Jupiter Mountain on the way out in two days, meaning that we would have to scratch that day’s planned climb of Grizzly Peak (13,700’).
We rested in the tent and reviewed the routes for the neighboring fourteeners. When my dad and I climbed these peaks from Twin Lakes in 1982, we started with Windom Peak, traversed to Sunlight Peak, and finished with Mt. Eolus. Randy suggested reversing that order so that the least difficult mountain (Windom Peak) would be last, when the weather would be less of a concern, and we all agreed that this was a good idea. Because camping is no longer allowed at Twin Lakes, we’d need to get an early start that would get us to Twin Lakes at about the same time that we would have been starting out if we’d camped there. As a result, we went to bed early.
August 26, Friday. At 4:15 a.m. we started up the trail toward the Twin Lakes basin. Once at the south end of Twin Lakes at about 12,500’, we turned left (west) and followed a trail across the grassy slope toward Mt. Eolus. After climbing to about 13,400’, we turned right onto a ramp that climbs northeast.
The approach to Mt. Eolus from Twin Lakes takes you to an obvious ramp that climbs northeast (to the right).
A closer look at the ramp on Mt. Eolus.
From the top of the ramp, we continued north to a flat area east of the ridge between Mt. Eolus and the non-separate North Eolus. As we approached the ridge, we linked up with three climbers from Houston. At a narrow and exposed section of the ridge called the Catwalk in the Sky (or Sidewalk in the Sky), one of the Houston climbers turned back, expressing concern about the exposure (and the Catwalk definitely has exposure). We suggested that he climb North Eolus, which he later did.
The other two climbers, Adam Baker and Mike ______, initially were hesitant about crossing the Catwalk. After we crossed safely, however, they came across as well. Here’s a link to a photo that Adam Baker took of us on the Catwalk: http://www.flickr.com/photos/atbaker/6125287541. Our group of five continued along the ridge to the base of the main summit block. From here, we contoured a couple hundred feet onto the east face of Mt. Eolus and climbed the complicated ledge system to the summit of Mt. Eolus (14,084’). The benchmark identifies the peak as “Aeolus” (the original Greek spelling). We took the obligatory summit photos of each other’s groups, and then headed down after a few minutes on the summit. Once we were back across the Catwalk in the Sky, our two groups separated.
After returning to the south end of Twin Lakes, we followed a trail around the southern lake and up the headwall between the Twin Lakes basin and the upper basin between Sunlight Peak and Windom Peak. After climbing northeast up scree to the ridge between Sunlight Peak and Sunlight Spire, we realized that we actually should have stopped short of the ridge and contoured northwest (left). After getting back on course, we climbed into a notch, traversed under some cliffs, and scrambled up toward the ridge. After climbing a small chimney with a hole at the top, we scrambled through the hole and onto ledges on the east side of the ridge. From here, we continued climbing a short distance to the summit of Sunlight Peak (14,059’).
Threatening clouds from the summit of Sunlight Peak. They weren’t just making empty threats, either.
The weather was a bit threatening now, but that’s why we were doing the easiest mountain (Windom Peak) last. After descending partway toward the upper basin between Sunlight Peak and Windom Peak, we contoured toward Windom Peak at about 13,200’ as light rain began. We then climbed steeply up loose rock to Windom’s west ridge, reaching the summit of Windom Peak (14,087’) in light rain and hail. We quickly headed down after only five minutes on the summit, and the rain stopped before we reached Twin Lakes. This was a tiring day, but we were glad to have gotten all three fourteeners.
August 27, Saturday. After breaking camp, we started backpacking toward Columbine Pass, stopping at a camping area at 11,700’ next to a small creek directly below Jupiter Mountain. We set up our tent’s rainfly, left our gear on the ground cloth under the rainfly, and began climbing northeast toward Jupiter Mountain. We were able to follow a climber’s trail for a while and then climbed up the grassy and rocky slopes to Jupiter Mountain’s west ridge at about 13,400’.
Jupiter Mountain’s west ridge.
A bit of scrambling on the summit block brought us to the summit of Jupiter Mountain (13,830’). Clouds were forming as we ate lunch on the summit, and rain began about 10 minutes before we returned to the camping area. We ducked under the rainfly and worked on getting our backpacks ready and about a half hour later started backpacking toward Columbine Pass. Light rain fell during much of our trek this afternoon, but the rain stopped about an hour before we reached the bridge over Vallecito Creek. We set up camp a few hundred feet up the Vallecito Creek trail from its intersection with the Johnson Creek trail.
August 28, Sunday. At about 7 a.m. we were on our way under clear skies to Rock Lake, some nine miles away. When we reached the intersection with the Rock Creek trail, a friendly couple hiking down the Vallecito Creek trail stopped to chat for a bit before they crossed Rock Creek and continued down the trail.
Upon arriving at Rock Lake, we were not at all surprised to have the lake to ourselves, given the remoteness of the area. We set up camp in the treeless area near the lake.
The peak above Rock Lake is “Weminuche Peak” (UN 13220A). The trail to Half Moon Lake climbs above the left side of the lake to the pass.
August 29, Monday. Skies were clear and many stars were visible when we got up. We were able to find a trail east of Rock Lake that climbed south to a 12,420’ pass and stayed on the trail as it followed the ridge west of the pass. When the trail turned south and began descending to Half Moon Lake, we left the trail and headed southwest over a 12,620’ ridge.
We continued southwest over grassy slopes and descended 400 vertical feet southwest into the valley. We then climbed west directly up steep grass and tedious scree to Mt. Oso’s southeast ridge. Once on the ridge, an easy climb to the northwest brought us to the summit of Mt. Oso (13,684') at 9:50 a.m.
It’s an easy stroll up Mt. Oso’s southeast ridge to its summit, but the climb to the ridge was tedious.
It was cloudy now, so we headed down after only 15 minutes on the summit. Once in the valley, we stopped for lunch. Rain began just as we finished eating and continued most of the way back to our campsite, where we were surprised to see that another group had arrived at Rock Lake. We reached our tent at 1:25 p.m., packed up quickly during a break in the rain, and at 3:10 were on our way down the Rock Creek trail. After reaching the Vallecito Creek trail, we considered backpacking another five miles to the intersection with the Johnson Creek trail but decided that it would be better to stop about halfway there.
August 30, Tuesday. At 7:30 a.m. we started backpacking toward the Vallecito Creek trailhead. Upon reaching the intersection with the Johnson Creek trail, we retrieved the bear canister that we’d cached two days ago. Only nine more miles of level or downhill trail to go! At the Vallecito Creek crossing where the bridge had been destroyed by an avalanche, we once again put on our water shoes and waded across the creek.
After reaching the Vallecito Creek trailhead, we drove through Durango to Silverton, where we were looking forward to a dinner of real food after a week of freeze-dried dinners. Our original plan was to drive to Ouray and climb Mt. Sneffels the day after getting out from our backpack, but we decided that tomorrow should be a rest day.
August 31, Wednesday. We took a tour of the Old Hundred Mine, where our tour guide looked a bit like Pete Bilcher from “Home Improvement.”
“Pete Bilcher” was our tour guide at the Old Hundred Mine near Silverton.
After having pizza for lunch at Stellar Bakery & Pizzeria in Silverton, we drove over Red Mountain Pass to Ouray and toward Yankee Boy Basin, setting up camp at Thistledown CG.
September 1, Thursday. We broke camp and drove to the Mt. Sneffels trailhead, setting out at 6:20 a.m. on a trail that headed northwest across talus. After a few switchbacks, the trail angled toward a broad gully southeast of Mt. Sneffels. The trail ended at the bottom of the gully, so from here we climbed north on scree to a col at the top of the gully.
From the col, we turned left (northwest) and climbed a steeper gully to just over 14,000’ (approximately 30’ below the top of the gully), where we turned left and climbed through a small “V” notch. We then scrambled up to the summit of Mt. Sneffels (14,150’), arriving at 8:30. A fierce wind had followed us all the way up the mountain.
We were the first climbers to reach the summit today, just ahead of three guys in shorts who must have been freezing. It certainly was beginning to feel like September! Thankfully, the wind let up as we descended. After returning to the trailhead, we drove through Ouray and on toward Montrose. Heavy rain fell as we approached Saguache.
We continued toward Villa Grove, arriving at San Luis Valley CG at 4:15 p.m. We chose the same campsite that we’d had on August 19th. After dinner, we got our backpacks ready for tomorrow’s trek to Lake Como for the final three climbs of this trip. Several coyotes howled in the distance as the sun went down.
Evening clouds in the San Luis Valley from our campsite as coyotes howled mournfully in the distance.
September 2, Friday. We drove south to Alamosa, east 14 miles toward Blanca, and then drove up the Lake Como jeep road to about 9870’, where we parked at a switchback just below a particularly rough, steep section of “road.” The Lake Como jeep road has a well-earned reputation as one of the worst jeep roads in Colorado.
We questioned the wisdom of backpacking to Lake Como on a three-day holiday weekend, but that’s how our schedule worked out. It was warm when we started backpacking and only got hotter as we went. At one particularly nasty section of road we saw a plaque honoring someone who apparently died there, and we wondered if his vehicle rolled over down the steep hillside after an attempt to drive up and over the large rocks there.
We chatted with a group of three (Jeff Zuercher, Rick Acheson, and his brother David) as we backpacked up the jeep road. When we reached Lake Como, we set up camp just below the lake at 11,750’. While we ate lunch, a mini-bear (chipmunk) made a pest of himself, at one point running across my foot as I was walking. We napped in the tent from 1:00 - 4:30 p.m., when rain awakened us. We cooked dinner after the rain finally stopped after two hours.
September 3, Saturday. We hiked up the jeep road past Lake Como. Near the Blue Lakes at 12,200’, the road ended and a trail began that took us through a grassy area until we were below a waterfall. To the left of the waterfall, we climbed up talus, small ledges, and grass to Crater Lake at 12,700’.
We’d thought of doing Ellingwood Peak before Blanca Peak to avoid the crowds but missed the turn and so continued on toward Blanca Peak. Above Crater Lake, we continued east on the left side of the basin toward ledges near 13,000’ and followed a vague trail northeast to Blanca’s northwest ridge. From here, we climbed directly up the ridge to the summit of Blanca Peak (14,345’), arriving at its summit at 9:30 with a guy from The Netherlands who now lives in Evergreen. Sixteen other climbers were on the summit. There were great views of the San Luis Valley to the west and of Mt. Lindsey and its neighbors to the east.
Little Bear Peak and the Little Bear–Blanca ridge from Blanca Peak's summit. Lake Como is visible near the trees just right of the photo’s center.
After a half hour on the summit we started down the ridge toward Ellingwood Peak. From just below Blanca Peak’s summit, Randy took a zoomed photo of several climbers on the summit of Ellingwood. One of them was wearing a green climbing helmet, which would make him easy to identify if our paths crossed.
We mostly stayed on the ridge to Ellingwood, dropping below it where the going was obviously easier, and then climbed back to the ridge. Just below the summit, we met the group of three that we’d talked to yesterday morning on the Lake Como road. The guy in the green helmet, Jeff Zuercher of Salinas, Kansas, gave us his email address, and we later emailed the photo to him.
Nearing the summit of Ellingwood Peak.
We reached the summit of Ellingwood Peak (14,042’) and started down after about a half hour, returning to our campsite at 2:50 p.m. amid the sound of a chainsaw and the sight of highly-modified four-wheel drive vehicles that were parked off-road right next to our campsite. Clearly, our new neighbors were there to party, most likely until long after we intended to be asleep tonight.
It didn’t take us long to decide to move to a higher campsite at 11,900’ just below timberline. This would also put us right across from the start of the climber’s trail that we’d take for tomorrow morning’s climb of Little Bear Peak. We enjoyed the peace and quiet of our new campsite and were glad that we’d moved.
Sunset from our campsite near the start of the Little Bear trail.
September 4, Sunday. We got up at 5:00 a.m. to foggy, overcast skies. As we ate breakfast, we could see the headlamps of climbers ascending the slope toward Little Bear Peak’s west ridge. At 5:45 we set out toward Little Bear, crossing a small creek next to the jeep road by our campsite and then following cairns up a rocky slope south of the road. After a tedious climb up a gully, we reached the top of the gully near 12,600’ at a notch in Little Bear’s west ridge.
We turned left (east), climbed out of the notch, and begin heading up the ridge on firm rock. We were able to follow a small, cairned trail that traversed across the right side of the ridge to Little Bear’s southwest face and the bottom of a gully known as the “Hourglass.” Here, any rocks knocked loose from above will funnel down to this point. There were two groups ahead of us, with everyone else staying off Little Bear today due to the fog/low clouds. The first group traversed to Blanca Peak, so we didn’t have to worry about their rockfall, and the second group (including an eight-year old boy) thankfully were clean climbers.
We climbed up a lower 5th class section to avoid wet rock in the middle of the Hourglass and continued on easier terrain (though still quite steep and full of loose rock) to the summit of Little Bear Peak (14,037’), arriving at 9:20. Because of the fog, the view from the summit was essentially non-existent, but David and Randy were quite fired up about successfully climbing their hardest peak so far.
West Little Bear from the summit of Little Bear. The heavy fog kept most climbers off Little Bear today and certainly limited our view from the summit
On our descent, we carefully inspected a fixed rope just above the Hourglass and then made use of it as an easier alternative to descending the same way we’d climbed. We returned to the notch in Little Bear’s west ridge at noon and stopped for lunch. After returning to our campsite, we broke camp and began backpacking out. Along the way, we were chatting with a man and his son when we realized that we’d met them on the summit of West Spanish Peak on 9/5/09. It’s a small world!
Not too far above where we’d parked, the driver of a Toyota 4-Runner had gotten his vehicle center-hung and turned sideways in the jeep road when he’d tried to drive up a very steep, rocky section. The 4-Runner could have easily rolled over down the hill. As we backpacked past, the owners of two other vehicles (one being a Jeep with a winch) were attempting to figure out how to get the 4-Runner off the rocks. We resisted the urge to take a photo out of consideration for the unhappy and undoubtedly chagrined 4 Runner owner.
We returned to our car to find a Nissan Xterra blocking us in! Luckily, the owner of the truck next to us had arrived and left after a few minutes, which enabled us to get our car out. If he hadn’t been there to move his truck, we would have had to use a tow strap in conjunction with our tow hook and a nearby tree to drag the offending Xterra out of the way.
Once back to pavement, we drove to Walsenburg and then south and southeast to Clayton, NM, where we stopped for the night at 9:15 p.m.
September 5, Monday. Lots of trains had come through Clayton during the night -- perhaps one every 30 minutes or so. We left at 7:10 a.m. (8:10 CDT) and arrived home at 6:50 p.m. CDT. On this trip, we climbed 21 mountains in 14 climbing days, including:
- 13 fourteeners
- 4 thirteeners in the 100 highest in Colorado
- 3 thirteeners in the second 100
- 1 thirteener in the third 100
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):