| Huerfano - North Slopes Route
Rank – 93
Route – North Slope
Stats – 12.3 miles, 4200 ft
This hike is a mixture of beautiful views, challenging route finding and frustrating bushwhacking. On Wednesday night I started up the long dirt road with the intention of car camping at the trailhead for the Huerfano and Zapata trails. Unfortunately a fallen tree stopped me about 0.75 miles from reaching the trailhead. I was still on private property but I decided to park and hope for the best.
Started about 5:15am in first light by walking along the road to the start of the Huerfano trail. In Roach's route description he mentions that there is a "sturdy foot bridge" crossing the creek but unfortunately it was under water. I spent about 30 minutes looking for a place to cross before finally settling on the sketchy logs that were place across near where the bridge is. Crossing the first log leading to a small island went smoothly but the second log was covered in a thin coat of ice. I tried to use my ice axe to chip it off but it didn't make much of a difference. After a comical effort of trying to cross, the inevitable finally happened and my right leg went knee-deep into the drink. I wrung out my sock and started up the the well defined trail. The trail switchbacks steeply up to about 11k but you are rewarded with some fantastic views of Blanca and California's inviting north ridge.
California‘s north ridge
Around 11.1k the trail levels out and passes though some really nice pack-in sites complete with fire pits. After the trail started to turn north I left the trail and started to angle my way south towards the Dutch creek drainage. Roach's route has you angle east-south east towards the creek but I choose to head more directly south to save from losing some elevation. At first this seemed like a great decision but eventually you end up in some dense pine with a lot of deadfall. There were a lot of snow patches that at 7:30am I was easily post holing through. After 45 minutes of extremely annoying bush whacking I finally found Dutch creek.
Looking up Dutch creek
The snow in the drainage was surprising solid and it was a pleasant hike to top out of the gully and I finally got to see the end goal.
Glimpse of the summit
Crestones and Kit Carson makes an appearence after breaking tree line
From here there are several options to gain the ridge ahead. In the picture below, the red line represents what Roach describes. The green is my ascent line. The north slope was surprisingly stable talus and boulders and was class 2 stuff that reminded me of the route up Princeton. If you're comfortable with that stuff you can bee-line it straight up to the ridge pretty easily. However, based on my descent route if you angle south east (blue line) you'll drop into a really pretty basin and then be able to gain the NE ridge at the very beginning and be rewarded with a very mellow ridge walk with great views of Lindsey and the route ahead of you. It will also keep the route a class 1 until about 13.4k.
Once I topped out on the ridge at 13.4k I finally saw the remainder of the route. As you approach the summit, the ridge narrows and had some decent exposure that I was not expecting. Also, with the snow on the east side of the ridge, it forces you to stay high on the ridge and make a few low level class 3 moves. Without the snow it may be possible to drop to the east a little to avoid some of the harder moves, but the rock is solid and provided an unexpected and fun scramble so I was happy to stay on the ridge crest.
Looking up to the summit from 13.4k
Looking at the final pitch to the summit
Looking the final stretch of the ridge
After a short break to refuel and soak in the view of Lindsey it was time to head down. Not really enjoying my ascent route I decided I would stay on the ridge as long as possible since it looked like there was a very mellow grassy slope into a basin that would lead me back to the start of Dutch creek. This turned out to be very pleasant alternative to going straight down the talus. By staying on the ridge and then dropping into the basin you get some great views of the valley below. It does cause you to lose a little too much elevation that you'll have to regain to get to the start of the drainage, but still worth it in my opinion.
Looking down the length of the ridge
The descent down the creek went quickly as I was able to string together a couple decent glissades
Laying down some fresh butt tracks
Based on my experience on the way up, I decided to try to follow the route I loaded into the GPS based on what I got out of the 13ers book. Unfortunately, my GPS was having a real hard time getting a signal in all that pine and I wasn't getting very reliable readings. So unfortunately I headed too far north causing me to lose 200 ft of elevation that I eventually had to regain. Again the bush whacking was annoying with tons of deadfall to trip over and soft snow to go waist deep in. After 50 minutes (which felt like two hours) I was finally back on the Huerfano trail for an uneventful exit out.
Once you get above tree line, this hike offers a beautiful and relatively easy ridge hike up to the summit. Judging by the registry at the start, any time of year this route will offer plenty of solitude as well. Don't take the bush whacking section lightly though as its ripe with dead fall just waiting to turn an ankle. It will also test your patients with route finding. On the ascent it may be tempting to angle south so that you don't have to lose elevation but this only causes you to stay in the woods longer instead of hitting the creek where it opens up nicely. On the descent, its easy to stay north near the creek but this causes you to lose too much elevation that you'll just have to regain when you have to turn west to hit the Huerfano trail.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):