Hunts Pk - 13,071 feet
Bushnell Pk - 13,105 feet
Twin Sisters North - 13,012 feet
Hunts Pk - 13,071 feet
Bushnell Pk - 13,105 feet
Twin Sisters North - 13,012 feet
|A-Hunts-ing We Will Go With Little Twin Sisters North's Bushnell Rifle Scope|
That title was reeeeeally a stretch, wasn't it? But then again you aren't here for the title of this report, are you?
The northernmost three thirteeners in the Sangre are among the range's shortest; Hunts Peak, Twin Sisters North, and Bushnell Peak are the range's 66th, 73rd, and 64th highest ranked thirteeners, respectively, out of 73. Despite their relatively short stature they involve large amounts of elevation gain in a relatively short horizontal distance. This is balanced out by the fact that they're all just pretty easy from the western/San Luis Valley side with short approaches (if one has a 4WD vehicle, anyway) and ancient mining roads snaking up their western flanks to reduce the difficulty even further. Tedious talus on Bushnell and Twin Sisters North and extra loose terrain in the Ox Cart fire's (2013) nearly vegetation-less burn scar on Hunts pose the only real difficulties on these peaks. Many people choose to climb them in transitionary periods between seasons like this due to their ease and lack of technical difficulty, which is exactly what I did.
Table of Contents
The trailhead for Bushnell Peak and Twin Sisters North isn't really a trailhead. It's on public land but isn't anything official and requires driving on the maze of 4WD roads that twist and snake through the desert east of US 285 to the base of the mountains. I climbed up the Brook Creek drainage to Bushnell's west ridge, parking my car in a large, grassy area near a funky junction off Saguache County Road 57 that's actually two sets of Y-junctions. I'm not sure if the roads beyond this point are really named or labeled, as they certainly aren't on any maps I could find. A map is probably the best thing to show the area.
This of course meant hiking several miles on the dirt road before reaching the mountains or cover of trees.
The roads weren't marked on the map I had on my Garmin inReach so I was glad to have a GPX track for the road on my watch; I could have figured it out probably but it might have taken me longer to do so. The dusty desert road eventually led into the forest and its drivable portion ended abruptly in deadfall. It faintly snuck off into the trees, largely reclaimed by the local environs.
Along the way I encountered an old cabin I assume to be from some kind of mining activity. Not much seems to have occurred here in the Sangre but these old roads into unnamed and poorly trafficked basins seem to say otherwise.
The road continued through the forest gaining elevation and snow cover in equal measures. Eventually it was almost entirely snow covered, most of which was of terrible quality. I was sometimes lucky enough to have a few feet at a time of nice, solid crust to walk briskly on before punching in anywhere from ankle to knee deep. Shady spots seemed to be better. I followed a mountain lion's tracks up, envious of its lack of postholing.
While it only took me an hour or so to climb the road to treeline it felt like it took a lot longer than that. It certainly took more effort than it should have due to the awful snow quality. Arriving at treeline the basin opened up and route finding changed from determining whether a snowy, indistinct area was actually a switchback to what the best way to link grass and rock piles poking through the sunbaked snow on the upper slopes of the peak.
The route from treeline also gets a little steeper. It cuts off prior to the final end of the road which just continues farther up the basin before disappearing into thin air. It's better to leave the road and head due south on a kind of rib that merges into the west ridge.
Fortunately as I ascended the snow was more and more melted out. Eventually I didn't have much trouble staying on dry ground, which was good because I was in trail runners and my shoes and socks were soaked. In mid-November. Yup, I do it to myself. The terrain also began shifting into more and more talus, the large, blocky, obnoxious kind that's just kind of like walking around drunkenly on, except you're sotally tober, opister, raises index finger to object but falls on face instead.
As I edged up farther a false summit came into view. It was still too low and too far away to be the true summit but served as a nice landmark for me to hike towards.
Along the way I got a good view of the traverse across the Twin Sisters (oh boy!) and also had the opportunity to do some fun, optional scrambling on very solid rock.
The scrambling improved the route quality and raised my spirits above what was, to this point, just a long slog on an unexciting road and lot of snow and talus. Linking together as many short sections of scrambling as I could I reached the summit of Bushnell Peak, which was really just a continuation of the long Sangre backbone.
Not wanting to waste time as it was already almost 1pm (I had gotten a late start) I reversed back down Bushnell, sticking closer to the ridge separating Brook Creek and Bushnell Lakes drainages. The routes I ascended and descended mostly converged but I did have the opportunity to scramble a new section or two. The ridge eventually cut north and returned to the Class 2 talus found elsewhere on the mountain. It stayed at Class 2 for the remainder of the day.
The short hike from the Bushnell/Twin Sisters South saddle to the small, pointy summit of the south peak was the highlight of the day. Though it was easy and involved no scrambling it was simply an enjoyable tundra stroll up a beautiful pyramid, unique among all the otherwise uninspiring talus.
Between the Twin Sisters was mostly more talus. A short, easy hike later and I was on top of the Sangre's shortest ranked 13er, Twin Sisters North.
I contemplated making the traverse over to Hunts Peak, the last 13er north along the ridge, but it was nearly 2pm and Hunts was approximately three miles away on a long, rocky ridge with two 12ers blocking easy access. I figured I wouldn't have the time nor did I know which roads to take back to my car from that far north, so I turned around and began descending the massive, steep talus field that makes up the Twin Sisters southwest face. This descent was the worst part of the day by far, worse than postholing all morning. It was super steep and very loose. I'm normally a very careful climber on this type of terrain and I still sent a couple large rocks crashing down the face. If you go down this way with a partner(s) try to space yourselves laterally so you aren't eating each other's rockfall. If I were to do these peaks again I would traverse back to Bushnell and go down the way I came up; the southwest face works and is far more direct but I cannot recommend it due to how steep and loose it is.
I picked my way down tediously until hitting the trees. While the angle of the slope didn't really relent here the loose stuff did and I was able to move a little quicker down the grass. Two short drainages appeared and I worked my way over into the lefthand one as its walls were a little less steep to get into.
The terrain backed off in steepness at this point and hiked quickly through the drainage which eventually had water rushing under my feet. I of course soaked them completely stepping onto what I thought was solid grass but turned out to just be a mud-filled hole, sinking up to my ankles in the muck. So much for staying dry for the upcoming snow on the road. Eventually the trickle of water paralleled the road and I hiked up the embankment to rejoin my tracks, which had softened in the warmth of the day. Since I had broken trail coming up it was a lot faster and easier going down and I progressed back to the dry, open road with ease. Once back on the open road I was able to run and did so all the way back to my car in an effort to save time. I had to work the next day (remote, which meant a library) so I drove to Salida, ate Amica's Pizza (highly recommended; my second favorite after High Mountain Pies in Leadville), and slept in my car in a pull-off near the Shavano/Tabeguache trailhead. Bushnell and Twin Sisters North are are kind of a grunt but an easy one on peaks that you'll probably have to yourself; go get 'em.
Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself)
Similar to Bushnell and the Twin Sisters, Hunts Peak doesn't have an official trailhead though the parking area is on public land. Once again though I couldn't drive to it and was forced to park approximately four miles away, almost immediately off US 285. Ah, the life of a mountain-obsessed nerd with a carboard box for a car.
The morning dawned calm and cool, around 17 degrees. The sunrise was spectacular this morning.
I only had the one peak today, and then I was going back to Salida to work for a few hours, so I took my time getting ready. It was early but I was feeling great. I headed out when it was fully light out.
Striking off on the road I found it wet, muddy, and rutted. Definitely a good thing I didn't try to drive my cardboard box up here, then I'd just have a soaking wet cardboard box full of holes instead.
There's a locked gate just past the Rock Creek crossing. Along the way there's parking and several camp sites, and one can park after the crossing too if desired. Past the gate the road is still obvious but is being revegetated due to lack of use.
The road quickly turned snowy, but unlike Bushnell and the Twin Sisters I didn't have to break trail. The road was packed down nicely, probably by numerous hunters. This saved me a ton of time and effort and I was grateful I didn't have to start the day off with wet feet, having opted once again for trail runners instead of boots.
The Ox Cart fire burned 1,152 square acres, which is relatively small, and yet the destruction was obvious everywhere around me. Entire hillsides as far as the eye could see had been torched leaving only bleached, barren trunks, standing like a forest of toothpicks instead.
The burn scar was both fascinating and somber. The slight breeze whistled a sad melody through the branches. Evidence of new life was already popping up but I hadn't seen such destruction before. The ground below the snow was loose and rocky with nothing to hold it together and made for slow progress on account of its instability. I rounded a switchback and instead of going up a somewhat dry, west-facing slope I continued to the northern toe of a rib off the west ridge, thinking that extra distance on the road would be faster. This ended up being snowy and awful, with knee deep sugar snow on the nearly tractionless surface below.
While this section was short it was the worst part of the day by far. I considered going back down and around to the partially melted area but trucked through and topped out on the rib to find easier going ahead.
I jetted across the rib to the west ridge proper, getting a full view of the remaining ground to the summit. It was all easy but there was significantly more elevation gain than the easy view belied; from the saddle below me to the summit it looked like maybe a few hundred feet but in actuality was around 1,000 feet. Someone had obviously been up before me since the last snow so I followed their tracks while trying to stay on grass as much as possible.
The uppermost slopes were dry and the tracks I followed were still nicely crusted and supportive, so it didn't take me long before I was standing on top of Hunts Peak.
I goofed around on the summit for a few minutes and signed the soaking wet summit register with a dull pencil, careful not to tear the paper. I'm sure the first person to attempt to sign it in a freeze is going to utterly destroy the thing. The pen in the register tube was dry so I took it with me to throw away. Turning back down the brief summit ridge I took the full west ridge in; I'd attempt to avoid going down the exact way I came up, to avoid the bad snow I'd encountered before.
Returning quickly to the rib I started a downward traverse along it. It was fairly steep and without much holding the slope together it was easier to switchback and gradually lose elevation than go directly down it; I lost footing several times before learning that I did not, in fact, like falling on my ass. I'm such a smart cookie, I know.
A quick descent back to the tracked out road, which itself went swiftly back to the gate, and a short run of the several miles of valley roads got me back to my car just after 1pm, which meant I could work a few hours in Salida before heading home to Boulder. An easier day than Bushnell and the Twin Sisters, I might recommend waiting a few more years to do Hunts, if you can. That will allow a little more growth of grasses and shrubs to help hold the burn scar together, since that was really the only part of this hike that wasn't all that nice. As always though, the peak exists and is thus a worthy endeavor.
Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself)
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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