| A Pristine Peak for a Price
Fog explorers: Darrin (kansas) and I
Route: ~Roach's west ridge
Elevation Gain: 3,737'
The price to pay
Culebra is the only Colorado 14er where you have to directly pay a price to hike the peak. Many others have indirect costs like train fare, fancy gear, gas money, food etc. But most of us forget these "other" costs. So to pay $150 for 2 incredibly pristine peaks, isn't so bad in the grand scheme of things. The bigger price to pay, is that I doubt I will return to this peak again (other than to maybe ski it). It was certainly a lovely hike, but it's no Crestone Needle or Wetterhorn Peak. But is that a bad thing? Culebra is pristine, because it isn't loved to death like some of these other peaks. How many people climb Longs or Pikes a year? Look at the erosion on the easier peaks like Sherman, Grays, Torreys, Belford from all the boots that tread on their slopes. South Colony Lakes is truly loved to death, and is paying a price because of that love.
By having the restrictions on this peak, we are in fact preserving it. I'm currently watching the Ken Burns "The National Parks: America's Greatest Idea", and I can see many of the reasons for fighting to make areas National Parks, as I can see the Cielo Vista Ranch making so many restrictions on hiking. The "public" 14ers are fairly overrun and being abused by many ignorant of LNT. Culebra is being preserved by being private. Of course, the true reason for the access restrictions are the abundant Elk herds on the property, that bring in the big $$$ from hunters. I doubt the money from hikers for the entire season covers what one person pays to hunt elk. Bottom line, Culebra is as close to a "wilderness 14er" anyone will see outside of Alaska. And that is worth experiencing!
We were happy to know that you can vehicle camp at the entrance to the ranch, or tent camp just inside the gate. Outhouse included. Sure makes it less stressful when the 6am start time is marked by the opening & closing of the gate. The whole procedure for entrance is professional and as pleasant as can be, for forking over hard earned $ for a hike. I can only hope other private 13ers can be as painless. The road to the trailhead is well maintained, and not rough at all. A 2WD could make it, if the darn road wasn't so steep or the water run-offs so prominent.
I arrived first at the upper trailhead to find a very large herd of elk grazing just across the stream from the parking lot. Unfortunately, they were quicker than me, and so no photos. The low clouds made the area look like many of my backpacks in Alaska, where GPS route finding is the only way. We were in the second group to start off from the trailhead, about 10min after emcee smiths' crew. I had originally planned on going up the NW ridge, and then coming down the west ridge from Roach's route description. But in this fog, we just ended up going in the same direction as the first crew. It hit me as we reached the top of the road, before it descended, that there was no trail. We would have to navigate ourselves to the top. So after a quick consultation from the paper map and my GPS, I directed those around to go up the west ridge to our left.
From that point the navigation was simple, up. Good thing, as we could not see too far in front of us.
Hiking in the fog
When we reached the top of the ridge, we could see a large cairn through the fog, directing us south to the summit. Around here we met an older gentleman that was traveling alone, without a GPS, and not previously aware that there was no trail. He wanted to turn around, and asked the direction of where the vehicles were. I convinced him that it would be more dangerous to wander alone in the fog, and that it would be better to stick with a group going up the peak. We met up with another couple near the cairn that was traveling slow enough, and he joined with them. We had to get to Red and back, so we couldn't travel too slow.
As we continued south along the ridge, the clouds would occasionally lift slightly, to give us an idea of the route ahead. But as we got closer to the summit ridge, the clouds finally began to lift permanently.
A cairn in the clouds
A faint trail on the ridge
Flowers near the summit
The lifting clouds painted a beautiful canvas on the peaks around us. I can say, that this hike in the clouds was more interesting than if we had had perfect weather. At least from a photography perspective. Of course, I also took quite a few flower photos in lieu of scenery shots.
The clouds lifting, making the scene
Ahh, there's the summit!
We met emcee smith's crew just below the summit, on their return. Too bad they hiked up the peak so quickly, the weather improved dramatically with our arrival to the summit.
Looking back the way we came
The wind was cold, so we didn't stay long on the summit. Just long enough to see the rest of the group we hiked with reach the summit, including the older gentleman. I hope he was glad of his decision to keep going. But Red Mountain was calling us over. Such a short hike to connect the two. There were tons of flowers to photograph along the way. Too bad it takes longer to photograph flowers than it does scenery. So many settings and adjustments. Poor impatient Darrin!
Red Mountain A
What Darrin saw me do, the whole trip. Stupid clouds ;)
We didn't stay long on the summit of Red either. Just long enough for some photos and food. We had a ways to go to get back up Culebra and back before the storms hit. Funny, as it was sunny and bright, and only a few clouds in the sky at this point!
Culebra from Red Mtn saddle
Some interesting rocks for the geologist on this trip. Plenty of schist and gneiss along the ridge. Sparkling in the sun, the darker minerals untouched by thousands of hikers hands and feet.
Some awesome rocks on this trek!
Spanish Peaks, on the to do list...
Seeing the full ridge walk in the sun was interesting, as in the fog, you couldn't see all the twists and turns it makes. We just blindly followed it before.
A look back at Culebra, in the sun
It's just a very long ridge walk
The huge valley floor in front of us
Amazingly a lone elk runs across our path, much closer than normal. Along the west ridge slope it is difficult to avoid the plethora of elk droppings that litter the area. No wonder hiking is restricted, this is a veritable elk preserve!
Elk, the reason for the restricted access
It was a rather pleasant trek back down to the truck in the bright sunlight. Quite the opposite weather from the morning.
The Blanca group
A pretty stream at the trailhead
I thoroughly enjoyed my hiking experience on Culebra and Red. I can only hope that future owners of the property will be good stewards to the pristine land and peak.
Sunday's Peak: Conundrum Couloir
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):