| Was It Worth It?
Culebra Peak (14,047')
Red Mtn. inset by Jen.
August 23, 2008
Tundra stomp to the Northwest Ridge talus hop; plus an electrical jaunt over to Red for six members of the group.
Elevation Gain: ~2,800' (cheaters)
~3,200' (over achievers)
~3,580' (Red Mtn. expedition)
Group: Bob(RenoBob), Leslie, Jen(LuLuLuv), Ian(MtnHiker), Dorthe(MtnHikerette), Jeff, Jim(CrazyDiamond80), Doug(WhistlePig), Lee(GBGuy), Barry, Gene(gene913), Brian(Beaker), Art(Gusher), Tami(codreamgirl), Adam(Avs88fan), Jason(JasonF), James(JamesScott), Jeremy(Whistle Pig), flatlandhiker(Miguel) and friend, Harry(Bresch), Keith(KeithK).
Bob was at the forefront of last year's first 14ers.com Culebra group, but had to change his plans and was unable to make it to Colorado at the time. Once again, he coordinated and organized another gathering for this summer, and I was excited to be a part of it. The only privately owned 14er in Colorado, Culebra Peak stands tall amidst a row of 13ers in the Sangre de Cristo range, south of the Blanca massif, and north of the New Mexico border. The Cielo Vista Ranch surrounds the peak, and a cool hundred dollar bill is required to climb it; tack on $50 more if you want to go over to Red Mtn. Would it really be worth our hard-earned money to climb a big pile of rocks?
Harry and I left Denver shortly after 1:00 p.m. Friday afternoon, and made good time through Walsenburg and on towards Ft. Garland. Stopping to admire the Spanish Peaks seemed to be a necessity.
The impressive Spanish Peaks remind of Mt. Sopris, the way they spring up from the surrounding area…
Arriving in San Luis just after 4:00 p.m., we checked into the very clean San Luis Inn, and were greeted by Bob just minutes thereafter. We gathered for a beer or two, and then made our way over to Claudinia's, one of the several restaurants in town. Jim, Lee and Doug all trickled in, and we enjoyed a nice meal whilst getting to know some new friends.
An electrical storm played its way over the Culebra range through the night, treating the folks that camped at the gate to a show. The entire group gathered at the gate at the crack of 6:00 a.m., and followed the very punctual Carlos up the road to the ranch office, where money would exchange hands.
Milling about, $100-150 poorer…
Waivers signed and payments made, Bob gathered the core members of the group together, and presented us with commemorative Culebra 2008 sunglasses, a very cool and unique gift. Then, it was off to the races, as a caravan of four wheel drive vehicles proceeded up the steep but not particularly rough road; three of which stopped at Fourway, while the remainder went an additional mile to the upper trailhead.
The broad west face of the curving northwest ridge of Culebra Peak, as seen from Fourway…
Hiking from Fourway at 6:45 a.m., Harry and I took our time (and may have accidentally left a message for Adam, Jason and James on the rear window of Adam's Xterra ), while the rest of the group, all much faster, quickly made their way beyond the upper trailhead and onto the tundra slope, draped with hail from the previous evening's storm. You can follow the stream up into the drainage and onto the slope, or continue on the road for a short ways to the top of the broad ridge that will lead to the base of the slope. It seemed like most of the group chose the latter.
A closer look at the slope; we worked upwards just right of center, but an ascending traverse to the right would be a shorter path to the magic cairn…(Image by Harry)
The tundra slope is endless, and the patches of hail became more and more of a nuisance as we climbed higher onto the ridge. Not only did Harry and I start a mile farther away than most of the group, but we knew we'd be slower as well, and by the time we reached the cairn, we could not see most of the group on the ridge, as they had already made it up and over the false summit.
A zoomed look at the kind of terrain on the slope…(Image by Harry)
A look back, with the Blanca Massif towering in the background… (Image by Barry)
Finally, cairn-age! The intimidating false summit towers in anticipation…
Harry and I stopped for a break, soaking in the cool morning air and admiring the majestic Sangres. Looking north at the Blanca Massif, and the jagged evidence of the magical Crestones could never grow old, and it's such a treat to spend time in that part of the state. To the east and south, clouds were building, reminding us that a storm front was moving through, and we were sure to be racing the weather later in the day.
The Spanish Peaks to the northeast, with Miranda Peak jutting up on the right…
Looking over the next obstacle on the route, the saddle and its 150' elevation loss. Vermejo and Purgatoire Peaks provide the backdrop. (Image by Harry)
We could see a few folks still working along the ridge towards the false summit, and started to make our own way down the discouraging drop onto the saddle. Fortunately, being slow has its advantages, as we have more time to spot things like this!
Sasquatch explores the talus slopes, searching for delicious insects! (Image by Harry)
I've seen more than one account of black bears frequenting the rocky slopes of Culebra Peak, and it was a great treat to see it in person. Unfortunately, I was so excited that I didn't think clearly, and tried to take pictures using my digital zoom, and they all came out as black blobs, useless at best. Oh well, more time must be spent out hiking, so I can practice my photography.
Bob and Leslie ascend to the ridgeline proper… (Image by Barry)
As we began our way up the first of two challenging talus slopes, Adam, Jason and James met us, already on their way down. See Jason's account here. Those guys made it look easy, as I was laboring already on this short stretch of class 2 talus hopping. We chatted for a few, and then resumed the daunting task of breathing and walking at the same time. Meanwhile, ahead of us, the rest of the group were celebrating…
The bulk of the group on the summit of Culebra Peak! (Image by Barry)
I hope my finisher is a lot like his!!! (Image by Art)
Summit libations… (Image by Art)
A toast to Art and Miguel… (Image by Jen)
Bob and Leslie look to be ready for the traverse over to Red… (Image by Art)
The Red Mtn. group began their traverse, while the remainder would work their way back down the ridge. Harry and I would meet them just before the large false summit. "Great job, Harry! You're the man!" Gene exclaimed as we all began to congregate for an exchange of stories and to catch our breath. It really was nice to meet most everyone on this hike. In a group this large it's hard to meet everyone, and I regret that I didn't have time to chat more with some of the folks, but I suppose that's the nature of the hobby.
Gene, Harry and I chatting on the ridge… (Image by Barry)
We could now see the Red group making their way across, and began to climb to the false summit in earnest, knowing that this was the crux of the route. Boulder hopping became an art form, with the challenge of picking stable rocks over teeter-totters at the center of our concentration. Instead of going straight to the highest point, we contoured slightly and were soon greeted with the tundra bench below the true summit!
The final push to the summit, with Red Mtn. warding off the storms to the south…
A welcome change of pace, the summit of Culebra Peak! Harry enjoys his first "summit soda" of the summer!(Image by Harry)
In a remarkable stroke of good fortune, The Great Camillo joins me for a congratulatory summit shot!
We could feel the storm building off to the south, and thunder soon began to rumble across the sky. We could see the Red group on the summit, and knew they would have a tale to tell…
I now turn it over to Jen, as she tells the story of the Red group's journey.
Red Mountain - 13,908'
August 23, 2008
Route – Northwest ridge (from Culebra)
Written by LuLuLuv
Red Mountain is Colorado's southernmost and easternmost centennial thirteener. It lies .7 miles southeast of Culebra Peak. After the celebration of Art's grand slam on the summit of Culebra, and feeling like we had all had enough wine. Six members of the group headed towards Red Mountain. We found a definitive trail but there seemed to be more hail that had fallen between the two peaks, the trail was like an ice skating rink and made for a slippery ascent.
Trail conditions on the way to Red Mtn…. (Image by Jen)
Forty-five minutes after leaving Culebra we arrived on the summit of Red Mountain. Mountainhikerette, who strategically carried half a glass of wine from the summit of Culebra made a toast and polished off her red wine on the top of Red Mountain.
Bob and Leslie enjoying their all too short vacation to Colorado… (Image by Jen)
It was 11:30 and we could see a storm brewing in the southern sky. After spending only 15 minutes on the summit we decided we had better head down. The thunder started to rumble! This was one of the quickest moving storms I have seen. As we approached the Ridge of Culebra we noticed that all of our hair was standing on end, there was definitely electricity in the air. We started down the valley without any rain and made it back to the trailhead at 2:30. The sun was shining and the storm had completely dissipated. Typical Colorado weather.
Ian's flowing locks, flowing in the wrong direction! (Image by Jen)
Celebration of Art's grand slam…
It was about 9:45 when Art a.k.a. Gusher arrived on the summit of Culebra. This was the last mountain summit for his 14er Grand Slam. There were many congratulations and then Art pulled out not one, but four bottles of wine. The wine couldn't have been more perfectly named….It was a wine from Australia called "Climbing" (Defined by altitude, Climbing wine is one of Australia's highest and coolest wine regions starting at 600 meters above sea level. Not quite as high as a 14 thousand foot peak…but a great wine!) We all toasted to Art's Success and also congratulated Miguel on his first summit.
A closer look at the summit kool-aid…(Image by Jen)
Perfect summit symmetry, Miguel's first, and Art's "last"! (Image by Art)
Meanwhile, on a ridge to the north, two hikers descend as quickly as possible to the ominous, eerie tone of thundering skies…
Harry and I did not spend much time on the summit, as TGC encouraged us to move along, with the impending storms engulfing the Red Mtn. group. Flashes of lightning to the southwest reminded us that a ridgeline above 13,000' is a poor place to linger, and we began the work of dropping down through the talus. Negotiating the false summit was difficult, with fatigue setting in, but we made our way over and around the talus, reaching relative relief once we gained the flatter ridgeline. Still, there was much hiking ahead, and the boisterous storm that was consuming everything to the south kept us motivated.
A look back at what was Red Mtn. as the group descends Culebra… (Image by Jen)
A slip on a rock left Harry with a sore backside, but he absorbed the pain and continued to follow me down the ridge. This was his first real brush with a storm, face to face, so high above tree line, and I did my best to alleviate his anxiety. Thunderstorms are an unfortunate risk of climbing 14ers for those of us that are more tortoise than hare. An early start is mandatory, but on this hike, was not possible. I explained my philosophy to Harry; you either want to do it, or you don't, and accept the risks involved. I would love to be off of every summit at 9 a.m., but that kind of fitness doesn't happen overnight, so I just keep giving it all I have, and that's all there is to it. Still, we had a safe, uneventful down climb after that, and soon arrived at the dreaded saddle, with that 150' of elevation gain staring us dead on. I could not remember if a contouring descent would put us where we wanted to be, so I erred to staying high on the ridge, while Harry took a more descending angle, anticipating tundra slopes and the easy track back to the trailhead.
My loose, blocky line through the talus. At one point, nearly every rock I stepped on moved beneath me…
Our plan payed off, and we were soon negotiating grass instead of rock. Harry's line actually took him well down the slope, and I had to make up a lot of ground to catch him. Once I spotted the fabled cairn, I felt better about our route finding, though, and knew that it was just a matter of time and effort before we'd be back at the trailhead.
I make my way down across gentler terrain, as we can hear Gene, Art and the crew enjoying more relaxing activities down at the trailhead… (Image by Harry)
Two and a half hours after leaving the summit of Culebra Peak, I strolled back to the trailhead, greeted by the group and relieved to drop my pack. Art encouraged me to drink some "Gatorade", which tasted very strange, more like fermented grapes or something! Harry joined us a couple of minutes later and we all chatted and relaxed. Miguel and his friend had actually just made it down minutes earlier, as they had chosen a creative route down the mountain, descending into the drainage south of the trailhead. Oops! Oh well, they came all the way in from Oklahoma for this trip, so why not spice it up a bit? See their report here. A short while later, the rest of the team arrived, and everyone was now accounted for.
Post climb relaxation… (Image by Art)
After a half an hour or so, it was time to go our separate ways. We had a great group of people, and it was a fun day for everyone. Gene came in from Kansas, while Bob and Leslie had been home in Reno just 48 hours earlier. Putting faces to screen names always changes perception and I think everyone enjoyed that aspect of the endeavor. Not only was it a great day with new friends, but I even received a free car wash on the way home, courtesy of mother nature. How can you beat that? But, was it worth it? I can only speak for myself, but I would say the answer lies somewhere between yes and HELL YES!
Geesh, is this I-70 or something? I didn't expect a traffic stoppage on the way out!
A final look at the Blanca Massif approaching Ft. Garland…