| Tijeras Peak - Northeast Face
Meteor and I had wanted to climb one of the peaks around the upper Sand Creek valley since a snowshoe trip up to Music Pass earlier in the year. After reading how nice the weather forecast was expected to be in the Crestone-Westcliffe area on Saturday, we decided it was time, and picked Tijeras Peak as the destination for our climb.
It felt a little odd to be turning left toward Music Pass in the dark, instead of the usual right hand turn toward South Colony Lakes, but the road up to the upper trailhead turned out to be much nicer than that old, familiar road. Only the last quarter mile or so to the upper trailhead came anywhere close to as rough as South Colony. We hadn't been able to see the road under the snow earlier in the year, and this was a welcome surprise.
The trail through the forest up to Music Pass was well-traveled and easy to follow in the early dawn light, and only the last section nearing treeline below Music Pass was mildly steep. Apparently, this trail used to be a 4WD trail right up to the summit, and even though you can't tell that to look at it now, it's still very smooth for foot traffic. We made good time up the initial 750-800 feet, and reached an overlook at the pass about one minute before sunrise.
Tijeras Peak at sunrise
The Sand Creek valley below is gorgeous and the trails were very pleasant to hike on early in the morning.
Northern Sand Creek Valley
Looking south down the valley
We climbed down into the meadows below, enjoying the views of the peaks all around us.
Heading northwest from Music Pass
We eventually reached a junction in the trail, with a choice for each of the two Sand Creek Lakes; our path took us left toward the Lower Sand Creek Lake.
Trail Junction sign (taken later in the day)
A small creek crossing with a footbridge made of several fallen branches and tree trunks led us back into the forest, and we followed a smooth trail with a few switchbacks about a mile up to the lake. The Lower Sand Creek Lake is a popular destination for fishing, and we could see many fish through the clear water. However, our attention was drawn by our destination, looming impossibly high above us. An inadequate wide-angle lens shot really doesn't do the neck-craning sight justice. The clear water and sheer cliff faces dominating the view were definitely worth the trip, even if we hadn't intended to climb anything.
Tijeras Peak over Lower Sand Creek Lake
Reflection of Tijeras Peak high over the lake
After crossing around the north side of the lake, the trail ended. For the rest of the hike, any hint of an actual hiking trail was illusory. It was definitely pick-your-own-path over pristine terrain. At the northwest corner of the lake, the most annoying obstacle of the day presented itself: bushwhacking southwest up the steep slopes through willow trees to gain the basin below the cliff band protecting Tijeras' northeast slopes.
Willow-covered slopes above the lake
We did the best we could to avoid the willow trees, hopping up boulders as much as the opportunity presented itself, but eventually we had no choice but to crash and pull and curse our way through the thick willow trees, scraping ourselves up a bit in the process. In retrospect, a jacket would have been good to wear here.
Once above the willows, the hike was pretty smooth but unmarked. We headed up in the general direction of the cliff band, looking for the large ramp that we knew was the best weakness up the cliffs. However, we soon found one of the smaller weaknesses in the cliff, just above what could be mistaken for a rocky footpath heading in almost a straight line up the grassy slope.
Smaller weaknesses in cliff face (taken later in the day)
Even though it was obviously not the large ramp we had been looking for, it looked like a fun scramble, and we headed up. About the only challenge was the slippery rock where small amounts of water flowed down the face from above; this turned some of the scrambling into more challenging moves, but once we were above the water, the rest of the route was a solid, dry, narrow ramp, with a turn to the right at the top of the ramp to reach the grassy slope above.
Meteor near the top of the narrow ramp
We contoured our way up the steep, grassy slopes to the talus-strewn ridge above. There is one very large point on the ridge, and we aimed for the saddle to the right (north) of it.
Steeper grass slopes up to ridge
Once on the ridge, we crossed left (east) of the point and Tijeras' northwest ridge stretched up before us.
Tijeras' northwest ridge
There are several smaller points on the ridge, and we skirted around them to the left. Eventually, it became easier to head right across the western face and then scramble up to the summit on the face instead of sticking to the ridge proper.
The views from the summit were everything we'd hope they would be, especially on a day as nice as this one.
Looking north from the summit
After a brief rest at the top, it was time to begin the talus-hopping back down to the saddle. Once we reached the saddle, we made our way generally southeast toward the cliff band below. We knew exactly where the narrow ramp that we'd climbed up was, but didn't really feel like downclimbing the wet rock, so we kept an eye out for the larger ramp we knew was somewhere in the area. Eventually we spotted the top of the ramp, and decided to make life easier for the next climbers by making a couple small cairns in the meadow above and right before the top of the ramp.
Top of large ramp
It would certainly be difficult to find the ramp in fog or darkness without a good memory or a good GPS.
No trip reports or route descriptions that either of us had read really prepared us for how loose the large ramp would be. In retrospect, it might have been advisable to bring a helmet as a precaution against falling rocks if there had been more people on this hike.
Looking down the ramp from the top
Looking up the ramp from the bottom
Fortunately, neither of us knocked more than small rocks down onto each other as we descended. At the bottom of the ramp, it appeared we could follow the cliff face down, but we soon discovered that the terrain was far more solid if we just hopped down the massive pile of boulders that had built up at the bottom of the ramp down to a small pond below.
The ramp and boulder pile
Many of these boulders were the size of cars, and one distinctive, darker-gray, cube-shaped pair of boulders by the pond was the size of a house.
Looking down boulder pile to dark-gray cubic boulder pair
This boulder is a good landmark when looking for the large ramp as you come up; from the approach it looks very cubic with a white diagonal stripe across the face that's turned toward Lower Sand Creek Lake.
Neither of us felt like going back down the willow slopes to Lower Sand Creek Lake, and from the top of the boulder pile, we spied out a route that looked like it would avoid the cliff bands and willows above the lake.
Our general path back down to the lake
We cut northeast across Music Mountain's southeast flank, and then descended into the open forest and meadows above the lake. There were still a couple spots where we had to bushwhack through willows, but these spots were very brief, only a few steps before reaching open ground again. About the only part about the detour that I didn't like was the loose soil on the slopes north of the lake, where it seemed only the grass was keeping that side of the mountain from being washed downhill. But it was still more enjoyable than the willow trees we'd had to fight through earlier, and we did not regret the alternate route.
Lower Sand Creek Lake from the north
Tijeras -- named for its two (apparently) scissor-like summit points
The remaining hike back down to the valley and up to Music Pass went by without incident.
Music Pass above the meadows
We weren't looking forward to having to resummit the pass, but the trail up proved smooth and gentle.
Trail back up to Music Pass
Before we knew it, we were heading back down to the shady forest above the upper Music Pass trailhead.
Wet Valley below Music Pass
All in all, this was a very memorable hike. We couldn't have asked for more enjoyable weather, and that turned out to be a good thing, because we had underestimated how long the hike would take. This hike was definitely longer than the 3500 or so round-trip vertical gain had led us to believe. But the views and the solitude were very welcome, and left me wanting to return to climb more of the 13ers in the area in the future.
Google Earth view of our route
The cliff band separating the upper and lower basins
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