Peak(s):  Culebra Peak  -  14,047 feet
Handies Peak  -  14,048 feet
Mt. Sneffels  -  14,150 feet
Date Posted:  08/19/2011
Date Climbed:   08/12/2011
Author:  Zambo
 A Hasty, but Beautiful Journey  

Climbers: Zambo & Stu (marmotman)
Conditions: Late Summer in Colorado, so pretty much perfect.
Summary: Three peaks in two days (including an AM/PM combo) in some of Colorado's best areas. A speedy trip with an old friend leaves him two peaks from completing all 58.

Work all day...come home and run 8 miles...spend all evening at a social gathering with friends...find time to pack for a three day to the airport to pick up Stu at 6 hours to the Cielo Vista Ranch...get lost in San Luis...finally find the gate...sleep 30 minutes...cringe at paying $100 to go up a frikkin mountain...begin walking.

I often wonder why the start to so many climbs has to be this stressful.

The prospect of a relaxed packing session, and a good night's sleep before venturing into the mountains is beyond me. Ah well, I'm young and dumb enough to keep doing it I guess.


Anyways, it's always great to climb with an old friend. Since moving away after college, Stu has been making the journey back to Colorado every summer to chip away at his list. This trip began with only 5 to go, and our plan was to hit 3 peaks in 3 days.

So, after the chaos of getting to the ranch, we found ourselves at the upper TH (IMO, baaaarely a 4wd road - granted, we had great conditions, but I thought it was a pretty tame all things considered...) geared up and ready to go on the first peak: Culebra.

We opted to take the Roach Route and headed straight South from the TH to gain the ridge almost immediately. In retrospect, this seemed to easily be the best option as it cuts the distance considerably, and is the most direct line.

We gained the ridge right at about tree line, following no trail to get there.

From here, it was a very straightforward march to the saddle. One thing I will say - the ridge is a bit deceiving in that things tends to look much closer than they are. I think it probably has to do with all the grass everywhere, which is a nice change from the typical massive piles of rocks found throughout most of the rest of the Rockies.

A short peak, we were up to the giant cairn and able to see the remainder of the route ahead in a very short time span.

Just a little bit better than Ohio, eh?
Honestly, that cairn is just huge.
Every peak in Colorado has beautiful sights, and Culebra is no exception.

Now, Stu lives at around 500ft and had just spent a week in Houston which is even lower. When asked about his fitness before the trip, the quote I got was, "Meh, it's ok." So, needless to say I was bit worried about the quick jump into the high country.

At the saddle some quick ibuprofens took care of a small headache, and we trekked the last 1,000 ft or so in no time, with Stu leading the way. Standing on the summit, the guy had gone from sea level to 14,000ft in just over 9 hours - feeling strong and fast the whole way.

Which is pretty damn legit, if you ask me.
From the summit.
Beautiful cloud formations on the descent.

I fully understand the desire to get your money's worth on Culebra, but honestly we were happy to get on and off that thing in as short of time as possible. A hasty retreat has us to the car and back out of the ranch in an hour and a half or so.

Thoughts on paying for it:
So much has been said, discussed, debated, and fought over this land for so long that I would not even pretend my opinion holds sway. It affects others far more than me, and I try to respect that in taking a 'stance' regarding paying to climb a mountain.

I will however, say this. If anything rubbed me the wrong way about paying to do this, it wasn't so much the philosophical misgivings about the fee, but that what you 'buy' is not all that great. Overall, I just found this to be very uninteresting and, well...boring.

Sure, Culebra is a bit different because of all the grass (which IS nice) and uniqueness of the land, but that's about where the special nature of it ends. Not crowded? Well, the 25 other people (all very nice) who start with you make it feel like any other weekend climb. Pristine and unspoiled? Felt pretty standard to me. Good summit views? Every summit is beautiful, but this was pretty 'meh' overall I'd say.

It is also incredibly short. Sure, we could have walked the road to get the 3000 vert and expand the day, but honestly, who enjoys hiking a road you could easily be driving?

Anyways, all philosophical debates aside, my overall impression was that it is just kind of a lame peak in general.

BUT, we were thankful that we could climb it at all, because who knows how long will last... And also, as many have reported, the representatives of the ranch were very friendly and helpful - so props there.

It also made me feel better that nature called at the TH, and I left my own special mark on the mountain (well buried of course).


Back on the road again, a long drive eventually had us to Lake City, and then rumbling along the Alpine Loop on our way to Handies. We were lucky to arrive just before sunset, which offered some last minute views of American Basin. Looking out into the beauty of that place, it was hard to not pack up and get going again right then and there. Such is the allure of the San Juans and its best spots.

With darkness upon us, we laid down for a restful and much needed 10 hour slumber.

Evening light on the basin makes us eagre to get up and enjoy it.

Wanting to avoid the inevitable crowds, a 5:30am start had us on the trail and alone.

The trek through this basin and up to the saddle is nothing short of marvelous. Green grass, imposing cliffs, wildflowers, solitude, a perfect and relaxed is a joy and delight to trek up Handies.

We noticed a high camp set up across the valley - prolly at 12-12.5 or so.
Whcih we learned was a large group of students who made the trip to the top for sunrise. Here they are descending the ridge.
Reaching the saddle and meeting the sun.
The final 500 feet. Beautiful colors on Handies.

The summit is, of course, no less amazing. Mountains, mountains everywhere...

#2 Finished.
Towards Sunshine & Redcloud

And then the best part about this climb: you get to turn around and do it all over again. It's not too often I look forward to a descent (other than to just be done), but the prospect of getting to hang out in the basin some more is very fine indeed. When we hit Sloan Lake, we walked around a bit and were content to just relax and enjoy the morning for the better part of an hour.

Warm and beautiful, all that was missing was our lovely ladies.
Just awesomeness everywhere you look.

It was a real shame that we were pressed for time, but I suppose that is the good thing about the mountains - they aren't going anywhere in a hurry. I can't wait to get out here again, and I can only imagine what the basin must be like in winter. Something to look forward to...


With Handies behind us, we packed up yet again and got ready for the next portion of our adventure along the Alpine Loop. I had never been past this point on the road, so I was eager to drive over Cinnamon pass on our way to Silverton, and then on to Mt. Sneffels.

As we drove on the road and enjoyed the 4wd obstacles, we commented on how many people make the journey here to just do the loop. I can hardly blame them as the driving is fun and the pass is just awesome. It's even better when you can incorporate the 4wheeling into a bigger adventure.

Glad to reach this point without any hassles. Especially considering we did the road with a borrowed vehicle, ahem...

A few hours had us to Silverton by mid-day. A quick shout out to Grumpy's Saloon in the middle of town - awesome burgers, good price, good service, in a great old venue. Highly recommended.

Reaching Ouray in the early afternoon, the possibility of a doing Sneffels that same day began creeping into our minds. We reached the lower TH by about 3:00 and had to make a decision.

Usually I am NOT a fan of peak bagging in this blitzkrieg style, especially through two of the most beautiful basins in the whole state. I see the 14ers as a mean to an end, and it is a real shame to miss out on everything else for the sake of ticking something off a list.

Having said that, sometimes you just feel like pushing it and getting back to the creature-comforts of home. Stu wasn't going to mind the extra day to see people, and I was looking forward to potentially getting back early, not to mention avoiding the crowds.

It was a beautiful day, a short peak, we both felt good, and it just kinda made sense to go. So, a few short hours after getting off Handies, we saddled up again on the way to Sneffels.

We started at the lower TH, which I was quite happy with as the hike up is easy, you DO get to get off the road, and it's an excuse to hang out in Yankee Boy.

I could happily spend week in both American and Yakee Boy basins, with the goal being to figure out which is better.
I think the answer is, they're both better.
Afternoon sun over Gilpin Peak.

We quickly reached the base of Sneffels and made our way to the Blue Lakes Pass, opting for an ascent up the Southwest ridge.

Ridgeline and Blue Lakes Pass.

Upon gaining the pass. We stopped to take a good hard look at the weather. Truth be told, there were clouds in the sky and we weighed our options carefully. In the end, we decided that the systems didn't look too menacing, we had heard no trace of thunder, and we would just blast it up the ridge.

And blast we did...between both of us feeling very strong, and not wanting to tempt the weather for longer than needed, we hit the ridge at full speed. I forgot to check the watch, but I'm guessing we did Blue Lakes Pass to summit in something like 30-40 minutes. Maybe it was slower, but it sure felt fast.

Start of the ridge, with Stu leading.
Looking back down Yankee Boy from the summit.
Blue Lakes.

Unfortunately, Stu took all the pics from our ridge climb, which are m.i.a. at the moment, so really nothing useful for anyone to see in terms of beta. However, as usual, Bill's description should be all which is needed.

On the whole I enjoyed the ridge. The proper route had minimal exposure, and all the moves were pretty easy and straightforward. In fact, they were often SO straightforward that I found myself wanting more hands-on moves. Plenty of fun to be had, but the easiest route seemed to require very little actual climbing.

Of course, that all changes when you go off route as we accidentally did. The one useful tip I might pass along is to make sure you go all the way to the top of the second gully (past the notch) before turning right, back onto the ridge. We turned a bit early and found ourselves in a much more interesting spot. Plenty of class 4 and I'd even wager a 5.0 move or two were to be had as we exited too soon. Having said that, we knew our mistake almost right away and decided to just keep going until we met the ridge higher, which we could clearly see. Nothing too sinister or dangerous aside from a few very short spots.

Reaching the top, we were very pleased to see all threatening clouds holding in place (which they continued to do) and we knew that most risks were past. All that was left was to descend the most rotten, horrible, awful, loose, crappy face on earth (aka, the standard route), and then a short jaunt to the truck.

Seriously, what a piece of garbage this slope is.

All in all, a very hasty, but beautiful and fun trip. We were very pleased with ourselves for getting the AM/PM peak combo, and felt accomplished as we started the long trek back to Denver.

As I mentioned, my only regret is going so quickly through Yankee Boy and American Basin. Each is well deserving of their own trip and camp-out. I cannot wait to get back there.

Many thanks to Stu for going on the trip and inviting me. It was a great time hanging out together again, and congrats on only having two left. Excited for next summer to hit it and finish the list!

Thanks for reading anyone, and happy climbing!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

The pass
08/30/2011 13:58
I am going to be over in Silverton this weekend and was looking at going over Cinnamon pass to American basin. How is the road both over the pass and the 4WD road to American Basin. I have a stock F150 4WD.

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