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Purgatoire Peak (13,676') – 160th Highest
"Alamosito" (13,466') – 276th Highest
Vermejo Peak (13,723') – 135th Highest
PT 12754 (12,764') – 817th Highest
Sarah, Dominic, Pete, Ryan, Brian, Tim, Jim and Mike
Approximately 8 miles
Most climbers are familiar with at least part of the history surrounding the property around Culebra Peak. They know its private, and they know that until recently the peaks had been closed by the then owner of the land. The new owners, Bobby Hill and family out of Texas, have worked to re-establish climbing access, even going as far as to rename the property Cielo Vista Ranch to break ties with the previous owners and their policies. For a fee, climbers can now climb Culebra and legally and legitimately finish the Fourteeners. For an extra fee, Red Mountain can be added for those wishing to complete the Centennial list as well. But what about the other peaks that are on Cielo Vista Ranch property? Vermejo and Purgatoire are Bi-Centennial Thirteeners, the 135th and 160th ranked peaks in Colorado respectively, and anyone with aspirations for finishing that list has one question: Can those be legally climbed as well? It was worth looking into.
I initially contacted Carole at the ranch to try and secure reservations for Culebra and Red one day, and Vermejo and Purgatoire the next. I was told that she had a group interested in July 12th already, and that they would also consider a second group on July 19th if I could find partners. I was having trouble finding anyone to climb Culebra with me, and decided to alter my plans join Lance's (comin2getcha) group on June 28th for Culebra and Red. I then was invited through SarahT to join a group of Fourteenerworld members that were climbing on July 12th. The fee was going to be $150, and we would be able to climb the "Bi's" and neighboring "Alamosito", an unnamed "Tri". It was a good thing I had received my "Economic Stimulus Refund" check, half of it was already spent…
View of these peaks from Fourway
I drove down after work Friday and camped at the gate to the ranch. Having just been there two weeks prior, the drive was quite familiar. So was the morning drill, wake up at 5am and be ready a 6am when Carlos from the ranch would let us in and lead us to Ranch HQ. There our money and waivers were collected and the Culebra climbers were released on up the road. Carlos then led our group back out through the gate, and through a few roads to the small town of San Francisco and the South Gate. Here he opened the gate and led us to the 2WD parking area and gave us directions to the upper trailhead.
The road is 4WD, and while not as serious as some 4WD roads, you really do need 4WD. AWD will not cut it, and low clearance will not cut it. If you have any interest in these peaks make sure you have access to a proper 4WD vehicle before embarking, or it may be a waste of $150.
The road forked with a gate on the right and we took the left fork up a hill. Beyond this point Carlos had told us to veer right at all of the junctions, but when we took the first right the road did not seem right and the GPS told us we should have gone left. In actuality, either road works, but we were happy with our choice to go left. This road followed along the north side of Alamosito Creek and was pretty much a straight shot. There were some forks, but the "main road" was clear. The road was rough and very old. Most of it had grown over and we were driving on rocky grass more so than dirt. A few sections had some ruts, some had some larger rocks. Soon we passed the other road on our right and were stopped by a downed tree. With such a large group, we made quick work and continued on up through the roughest part of the road to a large clearing surrounded by cut down trees. There are apparently some local timber rights in the area, and this was evidence of those. From here we could see the beginning part of our route and started our hike.
It was 7.50 am, a VERY late start by all of our standards, especially in monsoon season. There were some thin clouds and we hoped that the cool morning and light veil of clouds would keep the storms at bay. Because the ranch does not open the gates until 6am, and the long, roundabout drive to the trailhead, it is a very difficult mountain to get a reasonable start on, needless to say we were all on edge and set out at a fast pace. Luckily with the high start (11,600'), Purgatoire is a short hike. From the trailhead to the summit it is approximately 1 3/4 miles and 2100' of gain.
Looking back at Purgatoire and most of the route from PT 12754
The first part is very gentle, as you pass through an open tree stand, along the creek, and through a gentle meadow. Then the terrain rises about 500' to the 12,827' Purgatoire-"Alamosito" saddle.
View towards saddle from basin
From here the route rises up the steep north ridge of Purgatiore to its lofty summit. Purgatoire has the distinction of being the farthest south 13er in Colorado, and is barely 5 miles from the New Mexican border.
Looking down the steep ridge on Purgatoire
Our lead group made the summit at 9.10am and was joined shortly there after by Brian, Tim and Jim. We took a short break and then began the descent back to the saddle where we passed Mike on his way up.
"Alamosito" is just under a mile away from the summit of Purgatoire. From the saddle, "Alamosito" was about 640' of climbing and went quickly as we reached the summit just after 10am.
Ridge to "Alamosito"
The ridge was gentler than that of Purgatoire. Vermejo is a bit farther, about a mile and a half away and with a few false summits along the way. Initially we descended a steep step on the north side of "Alamosito" that was a little loose. From there the slopes became more gentle and led to the first of a few bumps along the ridge near the saddle.
Route to Vermejo viewed from "Alamosito" with Red and Culebra beyond
The saddle is 12,909' and on the backside of the last bump. From here a moderate ridge leads to false summit to the southwest of the main 13,723' summit of Vermejo. With false summits/bumps we estimated about 950' of elevation gain. The peak's name translates to "Vermillion", and the peak has similar red scree to that of Red Mountain to its north. We reached the summit around quarter after 11 and enjoyed good views of the surrounding peaks.
View back towards "Alamosito" and Purgatoire
We didn't stay too long, though as the clouds were sort of building and we had to reclimb "Alamosito" in order to get back to the cars. There are actually two drainages between "Alamosito" and Vermejo, so escape off the ridge puts you a long way from the car, and we weren't sure how to get back if we did have to drop!
We did not have to climb all the way back up to the summit, but traversing too early would lead to side sloping some miserable scree (as we had heard in a previous TR). We ascended to a bench around 13,200', and traversed high above the steep loose scree and a few cliffy ribs to reach the ridge between "Alamosito" and PT 12754. Here we began to feel a few drizzles but so far the weather was holding steady for us. It was after noon, and we were going to try and add PT 12754 to our day if allowed. It was around 12.30 when we reached the saddle and according to Sarah's GPS it was .4 miles to the summit from the 12,300' saddle. The drizzle now had stopped, and the clouds to the west of the summit were actually breaking up and exposing some blue sky. We decided to go for it.
Looking back at "Alamosito" from PT 12754
This peak was surprising; there was a rugged section of ridge near the middle with even a small optional knife edge.
Optional knife edge
Near the summit there was a little bit of scrambling and the summit itself was a small, towerlike point.
Summit area of PT 12754
There were very few names in the register, but the list was filled with famous peak nerds like Mike Garratt, Gerry and Jennifer Roach, Kirk Mallory and Teresa Gergen. We all enjoyed this little side trip and were glad to have added this interesting little peak to our day. We descended back to the saddle and down gentle slopes back to the car.
Vermejo, "Alamosito" and Purgatoire seen from Red Mtn
The Wrap Up:
We met back up with Tim and Brian at the trailhead as they had skipped the traverse to PT 12754. We then all drove back down together and signed out at the gate. We almost missed our turn back to Chama, but otherwise had no problems finding our way from the trailhead all the way back to San Luis. We then enjoyed dinner together at Claudinia's, which has some great enchiladas, highly recommended! From there we parted ways with Ryan, Tim and Brian and our group reduced to four to head towards Medano Pass where Sarah, Dominic, Pete and I climbed Herard, "Medano" and their two neighboring unnamed 12ers on Sunday to wrap up a nice weekend of climbing in the Sangres.
I also want to add my thanks to Cielo Vista Ranch, its owners and employees, for making the mountains on their property accessible to climbers once again. It is great to know that they are open to not just Culebra and Red, and I imagine as long as they own the ranch people with aspirations for climbing these peaks have hope. There are about 5 other ranked thirteeners to the north of Culebra that are on their property as well, looks like they may be getting my tax refund again next year...
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):