Peak(s):  Culebra Peak  -  14,047 feet
Date Posted:  07/12/2011
Date Climbed:   06/28/2011
Author:  ChrisM

 The Unstandard Route  

I got off work at 5:30pm, had gotten the fee money and gas before going to work, and got some fast food and hit the road for Culebra right after work. I arrived at the gate just as the sun was setting so I had time to set some stuff up and get organized before it got really dark. The race to the gate before sunset reminded me of the same problem that vampires have of avoiding sunlight. Racing to their coffins before dawn.

The ranch gate. Climbers are allowed to pitch tents inside the property and there is a porta-potty about 100 yds from the gate.

Some folks were already there, with their tents set up just inside the gate, just like the instructions had required. I elected to camp in the back of my Pilot making logistics a little easier. Since I had already eaten, no need to fire up the stove either.

A coworker told me about Red Mt and that it was a ranked 13er so I thought I would try to include it in my climb. Should I ever start of the 13ers, I would be money ahead, literally.

My experience in making reservations was positive. I had to juggle work in order to get a day that was available, but all the same, fairly simple. Unbeknownst to me, the Denver CMC had a trip planned with 15 people on the day I went, so Culebra was open. I debated about paying the extra $50 for Red Mtn and I finally decided to pay it and make an attempt to climb it, as well.

Carlos was very friendly, gave his talk and directions.

Carlos was at the gate and let us in about 5 til 6am. We drove onto the ranch and parked at the “headquarters” building and after the last vehicle came in, Carlos opened the building, collected the waivers and money, then gathered everyone for a short talk and sent us on our way.

Not sure how 3 roads would be called 4 Way, but maybe I missed a road somewhere—actually I did, just a little ways from here!

I had decided to use the 4 Way as my TH in order to get the 3000’ elevation. That added a little over 2 miles round trip to my trek. Pretty much a flat or slightly rising road, so no big deal.

On the road, sun already up, alone, and last.

Only one other person elected to do this and he was off and hiking before I got started. I left 4 Way at 6:42am and I was already alone and with all the other climbers starting at the 4WD TH, I ascertained that I was also last. This put me in a precarious position, it turns out. I missed the dirt in front of the road I was supposed to take and went right, crossed the stream and went about a quarter of a mile when the voices in my head told me I was going the wrong direction. I wish those voices would speak up sooner! Now I was not only last, but behind.

The road more traveled. I came from the right and should have gone straight, but I took a right toward the cars and continued on for a while.

Now I was thinking about Red Mtn. Not getting an alpine start and having to sign out by 6pm back at headquarters already meant my time climb was fenced in to begin with, and now being last and a slow start only compounded my concern for getting down in time. They call SAR, if you’re not signed out by 6pm.

Back to the climb. I got back to the upper TH parking lot and began examining the map, terrain and GPS again. I did this before and made an assumption, so now I really had to make the right decision or the whole day could be shot. It seemed from my position that the route defined by Roach would be the best option and maybe I could make up some time. My GPS already had waypoints for the planned route, but eventually, my path converged with the planned route.

I went straight up a somewhat steep slope of grass mixed in with talus. The route I took, went for the saddle and then to the right, joining the originally planned route. Now began the ascent up to the summit. It was a long and talus climb to the well established false summit and then a drop to a saddle and then the final pitch, which had a few ups and downs along the way.

Roach’s route became my fall back position.

The main route was on the left side of the gentle valley and took a sharp right on the ridgeline and then a left. Roach’s route eliminated the right and left, just going straight.

The tall rock became my navigation aid.

When I crested the ridge, the rest of the story was unfolded for me. Now I could figure out where I really was and where I was really going, finally.

The big cairn that everyone talks about. It was way to my left as I never came near it.

Who can tire of a marmot posing on a rock, guarding the homeland?

The route is clear, no where else to go. Up until this point, you sort of made your own route. There are no defined paths.

This is an example of the terrain. No path, no 2D ground, all 3D.

The snake’s back is not flat, but bounding after something. You’re along for the ride.

The final summit pitch.

Near the summit, I found some black rock that looked like slabs of volcano lava. It was easy to go up and down on so I used it rather than two step with the talus.

I need to learn more about this rock. It was oddest rock I’ve seen and relatively easy to walk/climb on.

Another windy, “breezy” summit.

I arrived at the summit around 10:30am and had some lunch, signed the roster, and took a few photos. I could see several climbers headed over to Red Mt. I had already made up my mind to only summit Culebra, so the thought didn’t even cross my mind to reexamine the decision. I can’t believe I was on the summit for 30 minutes. It seemed so short. I headed back down. I found the talus situation similar to what I’ve run into in the past on several collegiate peaks, but not to this extent. It seemed that talus scrambling was the main way to go since, there was no formal path. However, I would say that in many areas, there is only one way to go, and the number of people choosing a particular route has defined a route, like it or not. I found myself in some class 3ish situations where I had to use hands and feet to move around big rocks. Have you hugged a rock today?

My nemesis, Red Mountain.

Going down wasn’t as fast as I had hoped. I was constantly watching foot placement ever on guard for a loose rock or wrong footing. I finally learned to determine a path to a spot of least resistance and go there then determine the next spot. Sometimes I was so engrossed in the footing, I lost track of where I was going.


Another flower species

Very picturesque, the stream divides the gentle valley to the first ridge.

The storm moving in.

Once I got back to the initial saddle, I saw the route I had taken up and the 4WD trail off to the right. I decided to go the same way down that I had gone up. I could see the upper TH parking lot and headed for that. One thing I didn’t recall was all the talus fields. It didn’t look that bad on the way up! Got to the parking lot and walked another 1.1 miles to my car. On the way, the wind picked up in a thunderstorm sort of way and sure enough, it began to rain while I was still at 4 Way. I figured the Red Mtn climbers must have resummitted Culebra by then and on their way down. I was wondering where I would have been; probably in-between peaks and not too comfortable with the weather conditions.

Me, back at 4 Way, with the Pilot and the road headed for the upper TH.

Unlike any other 14er, Culebra has artificial conditions. No alpine starts and a sign out requirement by 6pm. Couple that with weather issues, and you have an unusual challenge. I was happy with not climbing Red Mtn under the circumstances and even happier in retrospect. I would have liked to have summited Red Mtn just in case I should want to start climbing 13ers, but I will have to go back, I guess. It will be there. The issue of paying has come up many times in the forum. Is it a cause worth grumbling about, sure, but is it a cause worth not climbing over, I say no it isn't. There are better causes to get excited about.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions
Doctor No

Nice work!
07/12/2011 18:08
Looks like a great day for some mountain tourism - I am looking forward to ticking Culebra off of my list someday.


07/12/2011 20:40
I spent the money and hiked Culebra last August. I agree the cost is not worth arguing about. You either pay and go, or decide against and not. I am glad I did. It was a unique experience.

Dr. Dave


07/13/2011 22:00
I hope to do this one soon! Nice trip report. Nice to have the SPOT receiver! Very beautiful and not adultered like other peaks...


07/14/2011 04:25
Honda makes a pretty good tent, no?

Nice report, thanks Chris!

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