Peak(s):  Comanche Pk A  -  13,277 feet
Spread Eagle Pk  -  13,423 feet
"Peak of the Clouds"  -  13,524 feet
Date Posted:  08/26/2014
Date Climbed:   08/23/2014
Author:  SurfNTurf
Additional Members:   Sanjainthemountains, SnowAlien
 Raiding the Clouds  


Raiding the Clouds



PEAK(S): Comanche Peak A (13,277')
ROUTE: North Ridge
DATE: Aug. 23, 2014
RT DISTANCE: ~12.5 miles
RT GAIN: ~4,500'
RT TIME: 7 hours
CLIMBER(S): Jeff (SurfNTurf), Sanja (Sanjainthemountains)

The dream was a full weekend of hiking around Lake City. The San Juans are without a doubt the best part of our beautiful state, and months have passed since my last pilgrimage. As they often do, however, my best-laid plans hit snag after snag. A broken fridge almost derailed my entire weekend (and my August budget). Luckily a repairman was able to solve the issue the next day, and though Lake City had proven too much of a headache, a weekend in the Sangre de Cristos isn't exactly a terrible Plan B. The weather forecast was (much) better there, anyway.

I thought I was going solo until Sanja (Sanjainthemountains) contacted me late Friday afternoon, a few hours before departure. We agreed to meet at the Comanche/Venable Trailhead that night for a Saturday attempt on Comanche Peak, Spring Mountain and Venable Peak, with our Sunday plan a giant question mark. We had a map and open minds. It was a "problem" for another day.

We started at 6:15 a.m. with the promise of a beautiful morning. The miles go quickly on the wonderful Comanche Trail, and we reached Comanche Lake long before we expected. The peak itself was blocked by a thick layer of clouds, but as it was still early, we remained optimistic.

"It's just fog. Probably going to burn off, right?"

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Wait, I thought it was supposed to be mostly sunny?


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Comanche Lake. "It's just fog. It'll probably burn off, right?"


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Farewell, sunshine.


And so, upward we climbed. Visibility decreased to about 100 feet, and suddenly everything became cold and wet. It's not often I travel uphill wearing much more than a T-shirt and a shell - even in winter - and yet there I was, reaching into the bottom of my pack for my puffy. To make matters worse, the wind increased to a steady 30-35mph by the time we reached the Comanche-Spring saddle.

Needless to say, the lighthearted conversation from earlier in the morning faded to silence as we slogged up the last brutal 500 feet. Everything was soaked, the wind chill dipped well below freezing and we couldn't even see how far we had to go. False summit after false summit finally led to a high point with a register.

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Sanja climbing into the clouds.


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Summit ridge on Comanche.


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Long anticipated views. From L-R, Humboldt Peak, Mt. Adams, Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, Kit Carson and Challenger.


We started down after only a few minutes. The sun occasionally teased us from beyond a thinning veil, but it always snuck back into hiding. We still held out hope that the clouds might burn off or lift and make the remaining hike more enjoyable.

"It's just fog. Probably going to burn off, right?"

Lucky for us, this 13er loop has a very well established trail. Getting lost wasn't really a concern. We traversed around the backside of Spring Mountain, but as we had no inkling of which ridge bump was the summit, we opted to just stay on the trail toward Venable. When we finally reached the Spring-Venable saddle, it was decision time.

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Traversing under Spring Mountain, hoping the weather will improve.


The obvious escape was down the Phantom Terrace, which was our planned descent route regardless. The Venable summit looked about as miserable as Comanche's. We knew we could plod up the remaining 500 feet no problem, but neither of us was very motivated. It didn't seem worth it just to put a check in a box. We'd chosen this loop for the views it would afford, and since those weren't happening, what was the point? Fun > lists. We retreated down the Phantom Terrace.

The Phantom Terrace, for those who don't know, is awesome. It's like the Kit Carson Avenue, except you can't drive a Mini Cooper on it. (Thanks for the joke, Matt.) This section of the descent was definitely the highlight of the day, and I can't wait to ascend it when I return for Venable and Spring.

We finally emerged from the fog toward the bottom end of the Terrace. The sun's rays are easy to take for granted until you're deprived of them for a few hours. We took a long time to lounge around Venable Lake, appreciating the newfound warmth and letting the dampness withdraw from our bones. A young couple from Michigan became the first people we'd seen all day. The Venable Trail turned out to be a great descent route, with several cool lakes and the picturesque Venable Falls providing breaks in the monotony. Even with only 1 of 3 planned summits reached, nothing about this loop felt like a letdown. We returned to the TH at 1:15 p.m.

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Bailing down the Phantom Terrace.


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Such a cool trail.


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Returning here won't be a bad thing.


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Celebrating the sun at Venable Lake.


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Where we came from.


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Where we are going.


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Venable Falls.


Back at the trailhead, we made plans with Natalie to attempt Rito Alto and some of its surrounding 13ers the following day. Sanja and I enjoyed a huge meal at Tony's Mountain Pizza in Silver Cliff, which has the best BBQ chicken pie (my favorite) I've ever had. No exaggeration. Highly recommended, except the beer list sucks -- unless you find Fat Tire palatable.


Part 2



PEAK(S): Spread Eagle Peak (13,423') and "Peak of the Clouds" (13,524')
ROUTE: via Lakes of the Clouds
DATE: Aug. 24, 2014
RT DISTANCE: ~14 miles
RT GAIN: ~5,000'
RT TIME: 10 hours
CLIMBER(S): Jeff (SurfNTurf), Sanja (Sanjainthemountains), Natalie (nkan02)

Natalie met us later that evening. We weren't sure about the Hermit Pass Road and decided to play it safe by attempting Rito Alto, Spread Eagle and Pt. 13,524 ("Peak of the Clouds") via the Gibson Creek TH.

Several TRs exist, including a 13ers.com description, on a direct route up Spread Eagle's East Ridge. From there it would be an easy ridge run to "Peak of the Clouds," Rito Alto and possibly one or two other 13ers. We started off at 6 a.m. trying to find this route and quickly lost the unmaintained trail. Rather than mess around with a heinous bushwhack, we decided to bail due north and link up with the Swift Creek Trail. That would put us on the "standard" route to the Lakes of the Clouds and the saddle between Spread Eagle and "Peak of the Clouds." Though much longer mileage-wise, the hope was this option would be less of a hassle.

This brings us to the mistake that cost us Rito Alto. Somewhere during our northward meanderings we chanced upon an old footpath. I knew it wasn't the Swift Creek Trail, but it headed in the right direction and avoided descending a couple hundred feet. The path quickly became overgrown, and the worst bushwhack of my life ensued for the next 1.5 hours. From the map, I knew the Swift Creek Trail was frustratingly close to the north, but we were stubborn and didn't want to lose elevation. The interminable war with downed trees and sharp branches finally ended when we intercepted Swift Creek. Sure enough, there was the huge maintained trail.

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Bushwhacking Fest 2014.


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The blessed Swift Creek Trail.


The remaining hike up to Lakes of the Clouds was blissfully smooth. Emerging from treeline, however, Sanja and I were crestfallen to see the same views as the previous morning. Low-hanging clouds enshrouded our peaks. We resigned ourselves to another wet, chilly hike with limited views and plodded upward.

Beyond the third (upper) lake, the goal is to head toward the saddle between Spread Eagle and unranked Pt. 13,165. A cliffy headwall is the first obstacle. The easiest and most direct way appeared to be around to the left on some grassy terrain, but we went right of the headwall and it worked just fine. We descended yet another way, so I'd say just pick whatever line looks most enticing and head up. It all "goes."

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Not this %^&* again... (Photo by Natalie.)


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A moody Spread Eagle Peak.


The terrain quickly changes to loose talus. The good news is we found segments of a cairned climber's trail throughout the ascent. The going was surprisingly quick and painless. We reached the saddle and were rewarded with actual VIEWS for the first time all weekend. As we'd hoped it would the previous day, the fog seemed to be lifting.

The remaining 400 feet to the summit was surprisingly fun. An exposed little catwalk let to some minor scrambling, which ended abruptly on the highest point. We'd already discussed making Spread Eagle our only achievement of the day, but all of a sudden the surrounding peaks had dropped their cloudy cloaks. It was probably too late to complete the Rito Alto itinerary, but the aesthetic "Peak of the Clouds" begged to be climbed.

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Talus slog up to the Spread Eagle-Pt. 13,165 saddle.


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Natalie and Sanja ascending as "Peak of the Clouds" is, well, in the clouds.


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Remaining ridge, from the saddle.


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Me, climbing up the ridge. (Photo by Natalie.)


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Rito Alto and "Peak of the Clouds" make an appearance.


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Ready to get meta?


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Photo of myself taking the previous photo. Mind. Blown. (Photo by Natalie.)


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Spread Eagle Peak summit panorama.


We soaked in the sun for a few minutes before making our way back down to the saddle. Natalie and I skirted unranked Pt. 13,165, but Sanja scampered up to claim it as "Mt. Sanja." We all settled into our own little rhythms as the uphill battle resumed, and before long we were sitting on the summit of "Peak of the Clouds." It was a fairly standard steep Class 2 jaunt.

All three of us were glad not to be heading over to Rito Alto. It looked like a bear of a climb, but it certainly made for an awesome backdrop. Our efforts were rewarded with ever-expanding views. By the time we were heading down, we could even see the Crestone group.

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Sanja and Natalie descending a neat little catwalk.


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Sanja on her mountain, aka Pt. 13,165.


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Climb up "Peak of the Clouds." (Photo by Natalie.)


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Natalie topping out on "Peak of the Clouds."


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Natalie brought this up, and is now my favorite hiking partner.


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"Peak of the Clouds" summit Panorama.


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VIEWS! (Photo by Natalie.)


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Rito Alto will have to wait until another day. (Photo by Natalie.)


Rather than head back the way we came, we saved some mileage by scree-skiing down the "Peak of the Clouds"-Pt. 13,165 saddle. The rest of the descent was uneventful. Like the previous day, we enjoyed the sunshine and started taking tons of pictures of the beautiful high-alpine basin. We eventually returned to the trail and opted to take it all the way out rather than repeat our terrible morning misadventure, haha. I even found a shortcut path that went directly from the Rainbow Trail to the 2WD trailhead, saving about half a mile. The pleasant meadow stroll back to the car was the perfect peaceful bookend to a successful weekend in the hills.

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Lakes of the Clouds from the saddle. (Photo by Natalie.)


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Scree-skiing back down to the basin. (Photo by Natalie.)


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"Peak of the Clouds," looking impressive. (Photo by Natalie.)


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Sanja. (Photo by Natalie.)


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Our day, as viewed from the lower Lake of the Clouds. (Photo by Natalie.)


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Perfect ending.


Thanks for reading.



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
dillonsarnelli

only 40 pics?
08/26/2014 21:16
Nice report Jeffers! Some solid shots in there. Do you like bacon more than Remy?


goingup

This trip report would
08/27/2014 04:58
only be cool if it had 65 more photos of fog.

But really it makes me want to be in the Sangres.

Nice outing!


SnowAlien

Nice report
04/02/2015 19:45
Thanks for writing this up! Sorry to hear about lack of views on Saturday, but at least Sunday was nice. A bit bummed that we didn't get Rito Alto, hopefully, next time! It turned out to be a surprisingly full day as is. Glad to have ventured in this new (for me) area of the Sangres.
p.s. Bacon is tasty


dillonsarnelli

look at your trip report
06/13/2018 18:16
I think I might take the dinosaur up Comanche tomorrow.



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