| Solitude in the Sangres
Well, it's my first trip report on this site ... a bit lengthy (but I try to make up for no photos with descriptive text ... it's called "old school" 8) ) ... I might at least add the summit photos at some point in time.
The long holiday weekend gave the hubby and I an opportunity to go climb three low unnamed 13ers that have been on our list for awhile. They're located near Rito Alto Lake, and we accessed them from the Rito Alto Trailhead (a trailhead, I might add, that is generally used more by horse outfitters and fishermen than by climbers). The three peaks are Unnamed 13,062, 13,060 and 13,028, and are best accessed from a bushwhacking route beginning at Rito Alto Lake.
We are very familiar with the Rito Alto trail as we've backpacked it on three prior occasions (all of them around this same time of year): once to climb Spread Eagle Peak, another time to do a snow-covered ascent of Rito Alto's west face, and the last time to climb Mt. Owen and it's unnamed neighbor, and Hermit Peak. The Rito Alto trail is a rocky affair that meanders up and down and near and far from Rito Alto Creek. It is representative of approaches from the San Luis Valley into the Sangre's as it begins in a desert arena that makes you feel that any minute a cowboy with a three-day growth, a 10-gallon cowboy hat, and a cigarette hanging from his lips will show up on his horse, spurs a chinking.
Our trip began by leaving Denver a bit early on Friday and having dinner at Amica's in Salida. This delightful little place, adorned with wonderful colors on the walls, an open and vibrant kitchen and chatty, friendly people serves up some pretty good brews and tasty food. We were lucky enough to get two stools at the bar, and be entertained with stories from some locals (it turns out the building was originally a mortuary). In addition to the locals, our bartender Brian, was a fast-tongued, witty sort that had me laughing throughout the meal.
After some food and a few brews (and a growler of IPA to go), we were back on the road to the Rito Alto trailhead. The drive, once off the highway, is typical for the area in that it is a dusty, bumpy ride all the way to the parking area. We quickly re-arranged the back of my truck and settled down for a quiet, slightly breezy, moon-filled night.
We awoke on Saturday in time to see two guys with day packs hiking up the trail. Breakfast was enjoyed and we took a leisurely approach to getting our packs readied for the backpack in … we were in no hurry as we were aiming for a campsite about 6-1/2 miles in that we'd stayed at twice before. Before we could get moving, however, two guys from Florida showed up with large backpacks on and headed up the trail. Well, that ups the ante a bit as we don't want to lose our campsite to Floridians.
Off we go, loaded down with the "unique-to-spring" combination of both a pair of snowshoes and a pair of tevas attached to the back of our packs. The familiar hike along the trail went by rather quickly with some enjoyable, breezy hiking in a mix of sun and shade. We took breaks here and there, relishing the relief of having our heavily ladened packs off our backs if only for a short while. At one break, about 1/3 of the way in, we caught a glimpse of our two Floridians high-tailing it up the trail as they, too, caught a glimpse of us. The chase was on! We continued hiking, sometimes being close enough to the see the creek and its white thundering fury (which we'd been able to listen to for many miles).
About 2/3 of the way in, we finally passed our Floridian trail mates and began to encounter that prevalent spring trail phenomena: the obstacle course. The "course" consisted of many downed trees (some of them very large) that required one to go under, over and around, long stretches of boot sucking mud, large snow patches and water running down the trail. I must interject here that I have somewhat of an obsession with water running down the trail. I've often considered writing a book about it entitled "The River - The Trail" … maybe even a pictorial, but I digress.
We continued on, had an interesting bypass of a large side stream crossing, and soon reached the campsite. There was still quite a bit of snow there (at approximately 11,300 feet), but we were able to put our flashlight tent up in our "same spot" as we had two times before. This campsite is enjoyable in that it is "furnished" with logs around the fire ring, a variety of trees to hang stuff from, and a large downed log that is long enough for 20 people to sit on.
The views from this site are fantastic with Rito Alto's west face looming to the east and Unnamed 13,062 (our first goal tomorrow) staring us in the face to the south. We could even hear the high waterfall on the north face of 13,062 above the gushing of Rito Alto Creek.
After the tent was set up, we busied ourselves gathering firewood, getting water for filtering and burying the fresh food, DPA's and cabernet sauvignon we had brought along in the snow banks nearby. I love camping in the winter/spring as I can take along real food (i.e., perishable). This trip was no exception. Dinner for that evening was chicken kabobs (big chunks of chicken breast, red, green and yellow bell pepper chunks, and Vidalia onion chunks that I brushed with an Asian sesame glaze) along with fresh corn on the cob wrapped with aluminum foil that I cooked in the coals (if you remove the silk, but maintain the integrity of the husks, the corn will steam itself). After dinner, my husband commented that "the dinner alone constituted the need for a trip report". He is a funny man.
We were off to bed after doing a thorough tick inspection (it is that time of year), sleeping well, and up in the morning at a respectable hour. The weather on Sunday was beautiful (as it was every day of the trip) and we gathered up our gear (food, snowshoes, ice axes, etc.) and made our way up the trail to a large and deep side tributary crossing. Instead of de-booting (it was too deep to wade), we headed up stream through very deep snow in the trees to a large downed tree that provided access to the other side. Fortunately for us, all of the snow we encountered had set up very well overnight and we were able to walk on top of it without snowshoes at this early morning hour. We knew, of course, that those conditions would change dramatically as the day heated up.
When you are taking the summer trail to Rito Alto Lake, the trail crosses Rito Alto Creek from the east side to the west side. As we reached the location of that crossing, it became very apparent that we would be staying on the east side of the creek. We continued on with a mix of tundra and snow, but eventually donned our snowshoes as we gained elevation to the lake. It is not that we were sinking into the snow, but the traction provided was very helpful at the time. We soon reached Rito Alto Lake and the surrounding stunning views … this basin resembles something found in Glacier National Park … at least this time of year with the jagged high mountains and ridges, waterfalls, hanging snowfields, and icy frozen lake.
We crossed the lake at the outlet to the west, removing our boots and bare footing our way through knee deep water. The sun was out and soon enough, we were warmed up, dried off and ready to tackle the bushwhack up to our first peak of the day, Unnamed 13,060. We elected not to put on our snowshoes and made great time through the trees on fairly stable deep snow, passing some cliffy areas, and eventually ending up directly in front of Unnamed 13,060 in a snow covered high basin. We headed to our right and picked out a route up the east face of Unnamed 13,062. This route involved a mix of steep tundra, rocky areas, and snow covered slopes.
Eventually, we were right below the summit block. After negotiating a snow canal that ran the length of the bottom of the block, we each picked our own way up the fun, knobby, 3rd class face. It went rather quickly and before long, my husband was bashing through an existing cornice (that ran the length of the summit ridge) to gain the dry and rocky ridge crest. We turned right and walked about 25 steps to the summit. What a beautiful view of so many summits that we've stood on before … the Blanca group to our south and beyond that the northern peaks of New Mexico … Colony Baldy, Humboldt, Crestone Needle and Peak, Kit Carson, Challenger … to our east Rito Alto looming in front with Hermit Peak … to our north was Mt. Owen, Spread Eagle and many others and further north, the southern Sawatch … and to our west, the colorful fields shaped in circles and squares like the patchwork of a quilt on the valley floor.
But, our eyes were soon drawn to our next objective, Unnamed 13,060 and the connecting ridge. It became very obvious that our day was done … snow was covering the saddle and cliffs that we would need to negotiate (or bypass) to get to Unnamed 13,060 and we did not have the gear (i.e., rope and crampons) for such an endeavor. It was very disheartening as it appeared once we got past that impediment, we would be home free. Oh well … another trip up this valley would not be a bad thing. So, we moved on to signing the register that was housed in a small jar on the summit cairn. It was put up there in 1991 … isn't that cool! Almost 20 years and still room on the various pieces of paper for us to sign. There were many notables that had signed in over the years … Gerry and Jennifer Roach, Ken Nolan, Jean Aschenbrenner, Kirk Mallory to name a few … we were in good company for sure.
We hung out on top for a good hour, soaking in the views and enjoying our Pat's jalapeno cheesesteak that I had packed in. In no time at all, it was time to descend, with us retracing our ascent route down to the high snow covered basin above Rito Alto Lake. It became necessary to put the snowshoes on once we descended the last tundra patch as I sank up to my crotch trying to walk around with just hiking boots and gaiters. The trek down to the lake was fairly uneventful as we headed in the general direction of the lake, keeping the stream that feeds Rito Alto Lake from that high basin near us, and noting landmarks across the way that we'd seen on the way up. Eventually, we were right back where we started in the morning. We re-waded the outlet to the lake and sat around for a good hour enjoying the views, munching on some food, and taking pleasure in the serenity of the moment.
Finally, we gathered up our gear, put the packs back on, put the snowshoes back on and made our way down the valley to our camp. Dinner was another delight having hot dogs (with mustard, dill pickles and jalapenos), baked beans and homemade potato salad along with a couple of DPA's (the only thing missing was a baseball game). It had been a great trip and we had seen no other people after those few on the first day.
Monday brought another bluebird day and we were slow to leave camp as it was such a nice place to be. But, leave we did, making our way back down the trail and through the obstacle course to our lone truck in the parking lot. The block of ice left in the cooler had survived the heat of the days gone by, and our cold beer was a nice accompaniment to the sea salt and vinegar potato chips.
We had wanted to stop at a Quincy's for filet mignon, but unfortunately, they weren't open yet in Salida or Buena Vista. Even taking my time driving to Leadville, we were still an hour early (4:00 pm). We ended up at The Grille enjoying stuffed sopapillas smothered in green chile.
We'll be back … but next time, we want to camp in the high basin above treeline with those peaks and connecting ridges towering above us. Until then, my friends, happy trails!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):