I picked up Colin in Morrison at 9:30 on Friday night and we pulled in next to Mike's car at the N. Crestone TH around 12:30. After a horrendous night's sleep in the car we woke at 4:30 for our proposed 5:00 am start time.
Saturday; Comanche/Spring/Venable ~11 miles and 6,000 feet. Winter Lingers
The N. Crestone trail was essentially dry until just before the Venable Pass Trail junction at 9,800 feet. There we had an icy log crossing and as we made our way up the trail we gradually found more snow. While it was overcast, we could see a clearing over the La Guaritas.
A band of blue sky gives hope.
Our plan was to camp about 0.5 mile passed the junction where from MyTopo there appeared to be a spur trail linking the Comanche Pass and N. Crestone Trails. We didn't see this small trail, but found a great established site labeled as "Three Forks" on Colin's Sangre map just past a creek crossing. Room for 3 tents, just behind a rock on the north side of the trail and the creek was a few dozen feet south of the trail. We set up camp between 7-7:30, shoveling out the inch or 2 of snow for our tents.
After setting up camp, we looked at Mike's GPS and saw that if we followed the side creek we just crossed on the west side we would meet up with the Comanche Trail. I turned off trail at the first sign of a passable route and a very easy bushwack was on. As we made our way up this route it became apparent that we were actually on our intended spur trail. It isn't marked or maintained, but it is definitely there and probably saved us a mile or more of hiking and about 300 feet of elevation. We met up with the Comanche Pass trail shortly afterward and made our way up the Middle Fork of N. Crestone Creek. We followed the creek to the south when (unbeknowst to us) the trail went north. Thanks again to Mike's GPS, the problem was quickly solved with an easy climb to the grassy ridge. Once on the ridge, our visibility dropped to about 50 feet and we just put our heads down in anticipation of gaining Comanche Pass. Again, not much to report for the summit of Comanche or the hike over to Spring. We kept to the ridgeline and plowed through the weather - strong winds, blowing snow, and no visibility.
Mike/Colin Climbing Comanche
Colin heading up Spring
Me on Spring's summit - Maybe the U2 concert would have been the better decision this weekend?
On the summit of Spring we had a brief flash of blue sky and spirits began to rise. We started the descent over to Venable and the weather had a new surprise. The winds picked up substantially and we hunkered down near the saddle. It did give us some time to snap some photos and look in awe at the Phantom Terrace. That thing would be an adventure. If you aren't familiar with it, there is a great TR on Summitpost under Comanche-Venable Loop, check it out sometime.
Mike descending Spring as clouds began to move out
Notice the Phantom Terrace? (Photo by Mike)
Colin and I descending Spring (Photo by Mike)
Looking towards Adams/Kit Carson (Comanche on far left)
Colin/Mike starting the ascent on Venable
We made the climb of Venable much harder than it should have been. We didn't have our crampons with us since we thought we'd be sticking to a class 2 ridge walk. We decided to go up the west side of the south face to escape the wind. We succeeded there, but the slope was much steeper than it seemed from below and held some icy patches that required a lot of care.
Mike on Venable's summit looking south
13,054 from Venable
Obligatory San Luis Valley shot from a Sangre summit
Adams out of the clouds
Spring/Comanche from Venable, Horn Peak behind
Looking north to Rito Alto/Hermit/etc...
Colin descending Venable through blowing snow, Pikes in background
We took advantage of our familiarity with the south face on the descent and avoided the icy/steep portions. Once down in the valley we picked up the Comanche Pass trail around 11,600 and followed it back to our campsite. Tired and thrilled we survived the rapture, we relaxed until lights out around 8:00.
Sunday: Point 13,153 ~11 miles and 3,700 feet, Spring is here
After another 4:30 alarm, we were back on trail around 5:30. The trail up the basin was pretty easy to follow in the snow and there wasn't ever a need for snowshoes (I left them at camp all weekend). It was mostly about ankle deep and very occasionally I'd sink my whole boot in. Once at the lake, the views of Adams opened up and it was shaping up to be a perfect Spring day after we endured winter the day before.
Mike with Adams in the background
13,054 in morning light
We crossed the frozen N. Crestone Lake at its western tip and tried to climb too early. The slope was way too icy for our comfort level - we were dealing with 3-4 inches of fresh stuff on top of ice covered rock - Nothing for purchase. We descended back to the lake and easier terrain. From there Colin chose to head up the normal path to the saddle, but Mike didn't have crampons and we weren't sure how steep it got at the top. I went with him up some cliff bands/benches to climbers right which ended up being MUCH more difficult than the saddle route. In hindsight, the correct decision would have been for Colin and I to lead the snowfield to the saddle, kicking in steps for Mike with our crampons.
Mike and I gained the ridge ~100 feet above the saddle after a fun little gully (which followed a lot of very dicey terrain that I didn't care much for). Oddly, Colin was right there when we topped out. The 3 of us finished the rest of the climb off without incident. Now, we could really appreciate the views from the top.
Final traverse for summit of 13,153
Lenticulars over Adams (Photo by Mike)
Our 3 from the day before
Another obligatory San Luis shot
Then, the craziest thing happened. I was looking west when some movement caught my eye. Was that a goat coming this way? No, it was actually a person. This was the last place we expected to see a climber. It turned out to be a couple of guys that came up from S. Crestone and they were headed over to 13,546. We chatted for a while and then went our seperate ways.
The descent was uneventful except for a very enjoyable glissade from the saddle. (It turned out to be very mellow/safe and was by far the better ascent choice.) The snow is melting very quickly and the trail should be pretty dry if we get the least bit of a dry spell. Anything that was ankle deep was now muddy slush and I can't remember stepping in anything more than ankle deep on the way out. Our campsite, which we dug out of 2" of snow was now all mud and there wasn't any lingering ice on the log crossings. We got back to camp around 1:00, packed up, and to the trailhead at 2:35.
Colin making the initial descent
Glissage path from the Adams saddle
Colin hiking on N. Crestone Lake (Photo by Mike)
One last shot of Adams from above N. Crestone Lake - Our tracks can be seen across the lake and from the saddle.
13,153 from N. Crestone Trail (photo by Mike)
Waterfall on the hike out