Tom (with his 2 kiddos Tommy and Katie), Mike and I left Denver on Saturday June 26 to head south on I-25 towards Walsenburg and eventually San Luis – Colorado's claimed oldest town. The goal was to hit the Culebra TH at the gate to the Cielo Vista Ranch before sundown to set up camp. We were the second group to arrive so we had are choice of primo sites just inside the gate – kindly allowed by the ranch folk. The drag was that we had to schlep all our gear over or through the fence. Since it's relatively easy to get in and over the fence a simple small opening in the fence would be helpful (take note Cielo Vista).
Just inside the ranch gate
After chowing on some dinner, and tailgating with beers we hit the sack in anticipation of a good next day.
Tom, Tommy and Katie tailgaiting before bed
Sun rise came early (by 5am – 6 days after the official start of summer) which gave us time to break down the tents and eat breakfast before the infamous ranch hand Carlos arrived. Like clockwork Carlos was there at 6am sharp to open the gate and allow the posse of vehicles into the ranch. After turning in waivers and paying our $100 per person fee we proceeded to the ranch HQ for "orientation".
Carlos at the gate taking waivers and payments
Carlos quickly ran down the list of do's and don'ts (has this down to a T for doing it so long) and sent the vehicle train up the road to either "Four Way" or the last TH. This was actually a challenge. The road climbed directly into the sun plus was over 10% grade in spots which made driving very tricky. One of our vehicles, and Acura AWD couldn't climb the grade and was forced to park some 2 miles below "Four Way". Take note – make sure you have 4WD!
Vehicle train up to the TH
We chose to park at "Four Way" to make sure we obtained the 3,000ft vertical minimum. We were on our way at 7:00am – much later than typically used to because of all the ranch semantics.
Mike and Eric ready to set out from Four Way
Hiking up road to upper parking area after Four Way
Upper parking area
The hike was pretty straight forward, but unlike most fourteeners which see 10x the traffic there was no established trail up the gulch. This part of the hike was very pristine and preserved.
Beginning of the gradual ascent up the drainage
Mike's route up the southside of the drainage to gain the SW ridge
We all took different routes to the "cairn ridge" which yielded dissimilar travel times. Mike followed Roach's route up the south ridge around the 1st hump past the great cairn to speed the ascent. Since, he chose to hike Red Mtn as well taking the express route was priority.
Mike gaining the ridge just past the great cairn
Looking back up the slope at the great cairn location
I chose to hike straight up the drainage and hit the low part of the ridge as Bill Middlebrook describes. Once on the ridge the climb was fairly straight forward though disheartening because of the false summits.
Approaching 1st false summit
Next false summit - clouds building!
Finally the true summit ahead.
Mike was a about 45 minutes ahead of me summitting by 9:30 before departing for Red.
Mike on top of Culebra
Register - tribute to Adam Curry and "No Agenda" podcast.
Heading to Red Mtn
I hit the top about 10:15 and waited for Mike to return to the Culebra so we could snap summit shots (my camera battery was dead).
Eric on Culebra Summit
By this time Tom and kiddos were just getting over the false summit when a storm hit. Heavy clouds, hail, wind and lighting were thrust upon us. The rocks were charged all around us making for an unnerving experience. We were forced to take shelter in the rocks just below the summit ridge for almost an hour while we allowed the storm to pass.
Just below the summit heading back down in the storm
Hiding out from the storm in the rocks below the summit ridge
Scary stuff but were out of harms way for the time being. This allowed Tom to run ahead and summit while Mike and I began descending with the kids.
After the storm going back down the mountain with kiddos in tow
Hiking is tiring
We chose the more gradual route through the rocks and around the great cairn ridge and down the grassy slopes of the south side of the drainage.
Down the grassy slope before the next batch of rain
We all hit the upper parking lot by 3, retrieved our vehicles and exited the ranch – last group out.
Damn Acura stranded on steep slope of road
All in all it was a good day except for the kids missing their shot to summit some 150 feet away because of the storm. Not worth the risk with younger ones but I'm sure will get another shot later in life.