Located a mile southeast of White and White Rock Mountains, on the eastern edge of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area, Teocalli Mountain (13,208 feet) is a hidden gem in the Elk Mountain Range.
Named by the Hayden survey party of 1873, William Henry Jackson (who first photographed the peak), states that the name comes from "...the Aztec teocalli, or sacrificial mound, that were always built in a pyramidal form, and which this mountain closely resembles…"
He goes on to add that "…Its upper portion is of beautifully-stratified sandstone, rising by steps and broken into many little sharp pinnacles and towers."
Indeed, Teocalli seems to have inherited the same rotten rock that makes up it's more famous neighbors (the Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak), and sitting on the summit viewing these peaks, one can begin to imagine the volcanic events that occurred to create these great mountains.
An 1873 photo of Teocalli Mountain (taken by the famous Colorado photographer William Henry Jackson)
Our route on Teocalli followed much of Gerry Roach's Southwest Ridge route described on his website www.climb.mountains.com and is indeed a "classic" peak.
As it had been raining steadily for several hours as we drove over McClure and Kebler Passes to Crested Butte, getting to the trailhead proved to be the hardest part of the climb. While the West Brush Creek road isn't that rough (although medium to high clearance 2WD/4WD is recommended), by the time we arrived the road was wet and slowly turning into a slippery mud pit. As a result we were forced to stop about a mile from the trailhead just as it was getting dark.
Not sure we were going to be able to summit the following day, we camped out in the back of the truck and were lulled to sleep by the sound of continuous rain.
At 5 AM the alarm went off and we looked outside to see gray overcast skies, but no sign of rain or thunder/lighting. It looked like this might be our "climbing window", so after a quick breakfast and hot tea we hit the trail.
Early morning light hits the West Brush Creek Valley (White and White Rock Mountains can be seen at the head of the drainage)
For the first mile of our climb we followed the West Brush Creek road as it wound up the valley towards the trailhead. Stopping briefly, we watched elk cows and their calves cross the road in front of us on their way back from the creek. Just before reaching the trail we hiked a steep side-hill section of the road that would have probably caused us to get stuck the night before and were thankful we decided to stop when we did.
Teocalli Mountain comes into view from the West Brush Creek Road
Hiking the 4WD road to reach the start of the Teocalli Mountain Trail
A look back down the West Brush Creek drainage from near the trailhead
The beginning of the Teocalli Mountain Trail
From the trailhead we followed the easy, well-defined trail as it climbed steadily, traversing across a large grassy hillside towards Teocalli's southeastern ridge. Soon we entered the trees and continued climbing through stands of pine and spruce and small flower-filled meadows to reach a signed trail junction after 1.25 miles. It appeared that the weather was going to hold for us, so we decided to continue.
Hiking accross the long grassy traverse below the ridge on Teocalli Mountain
Reaching the junction of the Teocalli Mountain and Teocalli Ridge Trails (we followed an unmarked trail to the northwest directly opposite this sign)
Here we left both the Teocalli Mountain and Teocalli Ridge Trails and followed a unmarked trail directly northwest through the trees along the top of the ridge. After about .25 miles on the still well-defined trail, we reached treeline and we were greeted by views of Teocalli's steepening upper slopes.
Following the unmarked trail northwest along the ridge
Breaking out of the trees (the northeast shoulder of Teocalli Mountain can be seen in the distance)
Another view of the upper portion of the route on Teocalli Mountain from just above treeline
As we continued to hike up the ridge, the route rapidly began to get steeper and less defined. After about .5 miles the trail became faint and soon disappeared into the tundra. Here we continued to zigzag up the dirt and grass covered slope, switchbacking as neccessary to prevent too much wear on our legs and lungs and avoid setting off rock-fall in loose areas as we continued steeply up a rocky section towards the cliffs above.
Soon we reached the base of the cliffs below Teocalli's summit ridge and did an ascending traverse to the southwest on a ledge around a blind corner to reach the summit ridge proper.
Teocalli Mountain's eastern ramparts as seen from the steep grassy slope below
Looking back down Teocalli's northeast ridge from about 2/3 of the way up
Reaching the cliffy area below Teocalli's summit ridge
Following the ledges to reach Teocalli Mountain's summit ridge
A look back at the start of the ledge
Here we followed a faint climbers trial as it climbed through a wide section of the ridge zigzagging over talus and across small grassy areas.
Soon the ridge narrowed and we again traversed along a ledge on the south side of the ridge to reach the ridge crux. This section required about 20 feet of light Class 2 scampering/scrambling to reach a small plateau just below the summit.
Teocalli's lower summit ridge
A look back at the lower portion of the summit ridge
Traversing the second ledge on Teocalli's summit ridge
Scampering up a steep blocky section on the summit ridge
From here it was a short hike up a small talus covered slope to reach the summit. We topped out a little after 10 AM and spent about a half-hour snacking on the summit taking in the outstanding views of mountains in every direction.
The heart of the Elk Mountains comes into view as we reach the summit
Some photos from the summit:
The Pyramid ridge from the southeast (from left to right: Lightning Pyramid, Thunder Pyramid, and Pyramid Peak)
Snowmass Mountain, Capitol Peak, and the Maroon Bells in the distance
Castlaebra, Castle and Conundrum Peaks rise over the Twin Lakes and Cumberland Basin
Pearl and Star Mountains, and Taylor Peak rise over the Middle and East Brush Creek drainages
Mount Crested Butte and Whetstone Mountain to the south
Our descent was relatively uneventful and we were back at the truck by 1 PM. However, not far below the summit we ran into one of these hunting Ptarmigan in the rocks:
Fantastic Mrs. Fox on Teocalli's summit ridge
Unfortunately I think our loud voices and boots scared away her lunch - sorry Mrs. Fox
Some parting shots:
Purple Columbine - Aquilegia coerulea
Goldenglow Coneflower - Rudbeckia laciniata
All in all this was a great day. With about 7 miles round-trip and 3000 feet elevation gain, Teocalli gives climbers not only a good work-out, but a chance to enjoy a infrequently visited Brush Creek area in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness and have unique views of the incredible Elk/West Elk, Anthracite, and Ruby Mountain Ranges. This is also an incredibly beautiful valley, and the wildflowers and wildlife in this area are spectacular. I highly recommend it.
Note: Although Gerry Roach's description gives this climb a rating of "Class 1+", hiking the steep sections of southeast ridge (below the upper cliffs) and scampering/scrambling up the 20 foot blocky section (on the summit ridge) elevate this to a Class 2 climb in my opinion.