Peak(s):  Horn Pk  -  13,450 feet
Little Horn Pk  -  13,143 feet
Fluted Pk  -  13,554 feet
Date Posted:  07/07/2020
Modified:  07/29/2020
Date Climbed:   06/28/2020
Author:  123tqb
 Last-Minute Decisions  

Last-Minute Decisions

  • Date: 27 Jun, 2020
  • Peaks: Horn Peak, Fluted Peak, Little Horn Peak
  • Route: Horn Peak North Ridge to Little Horn Peak South Gully
  • Mileage: 11mi (could be slightly different if better route is taken)
  • Time: 8.75hrs (lots spent in a loose rocky gully)
  • Partners: Solo

Sleeping out in the open is one of the best feelings on Earth. Listening to the beautiful sounds of nature, falling asleep quickly due to a day in the outdoors beforehand, and waking up to the light slowly filling up the scenery around you, they're feelings you just can't experience otherwise, and especially not all at once. Although I was sleeping under the stars, this was not my experience the morning of June 27th. I woke up at 03:40 to something rustling just feet away from my head. My heart began to race just as soon as my eyes were opened. What could be next to me at such an odd hour? Did whatever it was see me? That's when I heard it, BLAAAARRRRPPPPPPPP!

Yeah, so it turns out some of the guys also camping in Vallie Bridge got up to look at the stars at one point and didn't see me sleeping in the darkness. They thought they were alone, and just let it rip. What a way to wake up.

What's better? I was already awake and went to check the time on my phone when I saw two notifications, one from each of my climbing buddies for the day, explaining that they wouldn't be able to make it. Sent the previous night, but while I was asleep. Drat! Now I had to come up with a new plan for the day. With my view of the Sangre de Cristos for the entire night, I settled on one. The Sangres had been a fascination of mine for a while, I'd always seen them when I traveled to Salida, and I was interested in climbing them. I left a bit earlier than planned for my failed trip to DeCaLiBron, which my parents would later question me about, and made my way to Westcliffe. The trick was to find a trailhead that was accessible by my puny Honda Civic, that wasn't a million miles away. I settled on Horn Creek. Although not officially a route on 14ers.com (I wasn't willing to read many trip reports when I arrived, I wanted to get started. FORESHADOWING!), I decided to try out a traverse from Horn Peak to Fluted Peak, to Little Horn Peak, and back. Why this direction? Because I looked at Horn Peak first. Why try looking at the others? I'd figure it out!

I arrived at the trailhead at 06:15 in high hopes. It was a busy trailhead! And there was a marked trail almost all the way to the summit! This was perfect. The trail was in great condition, and I had already seen a few groups headed in my same direction. When I signed the register, there was another group of two right behind me (I wouldn't end up seeing them at all afterwards, unfortunately). I was treated to views on the whole ascent, which only made me more excited.


20276_01
The first goal: Horn Peak.
20276_02
After a full winter of horrible routefinding, this trail was basically heaven to me.

Upon reaching treeline - and watch out, future geology nerd here - I found that the rock I was standing on was like nothing I'd seen before! It was perfectly purple slate, smooth and layered, and it reminded me why the Rockies' team colors are purple and black (the baseball team, of course). There was a point after reaching about 11800ft that the trail completely faded away, but lucky enough for me there were still some cairns and handy wood posts to guide me on my way.

20276_03
The trail cuts out behind these bushes, but the posts guide true!
20276_08
A sneaky little marmot.
20276_06
The northeast ridge with the summit in sight.
20276_05
Awesome view of the valley.

It was HOT! I brought three layers with me: a long-sleeve cotton shirt, a windbreaker, and a puffy jacket. I left only the shirt on (probably could've taken it off, but that's a lot of sunscreen), but I rolled up the sleeves as far as they could go. I made it to the summit of Horn Peak at 09:20 just as a stunt pilot was flying by. I waved and didn't expect much of it, but as they flew over they gave me a show! I had a quick snack before heading down the west ridge.

20276_09
View of the Crestones. I would loveeeee to do that traverse sometime soon!
20276_10
I got a flyover!
20276_11
Summit selfie #1.

As soon as I stuck my head up above the summit, the wind really picked up. I rolled down my sleeves and put on my windbreaker, which, despite the name, seemed to work pretty well (lol). I fully expected some parts of this route to be Class 3, but this section seemed to be mostly made up of difficult Class 2 and some easy, avoidable Class 3 (MORE FORESHADOWING). It was an enjoyable ridge, and I took the Class 3 challenges when I could. If you want to avoid most of the scrambling and just hike, the south end of the ridge is the way to go, as the other side is cliffed out. I reached the high point of the connecting ridge (elev. 13297) at 10:20 to get a view all the way to the San Juans. I eventually want to explore the southwest of Colorado at some point, but for now it's just too far.

20276_14
View down the west ridge of Horn Peak. Fluted Peak is on the right.
20276_16
Looking back up to Horn Peak from the col.
20276_17
View west towards the barely-visible San Juans. I bet there's just a ton of alpine rock climbing around here (I'll have to check it out sometime...)

Now headed south, Fluted seemed very close. And close it was! Without hesitation (except to take a few photos), I made my way up to the summit of Fluted Peak. I arrived at 10:45 and took a nice long lunch break of candied walnuts, a dry bar (my friend's name for Nature Valley bars), and a buttload of water. Sitting on the eastern side of the summit made it so that the wind was blocked, and I could enjoy sitting in just my shirt.

20276_21
Fluted Peak looming above me.
20276_19
Looking at the Dry Lakes.
20276_23
Summit selfie #2. My camera handling needs some work apparently...
20276_24
The aforementioned homemade candied walnuts. Yum!

I left the summit a happy man, and although I was feeling a little bit fatigued from my fast pace so far, I was still pushing on willingly. With the wind at my back, I was unbeatable! I passed a couple doing my route in reverse, and I decided to ask about what lay ahead in my journey. They responded that I had a quick slog up to the summit of Little Horn Peak, and then I had two choices. I could descend via Dry Creek, the way they came up, but it would be a lot of bushwhacking, or I could descend on the standard route to Horn Creek. Either way would give me with Class 3 scrambling on the way down, and the mileages were about the same. I opted for the standard route (which, by the way, I looked up the description for on my phone while on the summit of Little Horn). While I had circumnavigated around the main ridge by staying to the south so far, this couple had been making the most out of their experience and were scrambling along the main line. I could have been able to follow in their footsteps, but I was just tired enough not to risk it. I wished them good luck, and arrived at the next summit at 12:00 on the dot.

20276_26
The ridge back to Fluted Peak. A bit harder than it seems!
20276_27
Wait, didn't we just see one of these? My camera work got lazy after my rest on Fluted. S.S.3.

I didn't pause, and continued on along the ridge eastward. What I didn't expect was that the entire ridge would be unavoidable Class 3. That's what I get for not planning well enough. The moves were feeling like a bit of a stretch, and so I decided to try and make an exit. I had seen a few gullies going off to the south side of the mountain, and I knew that there was a trail along the length of the creek down below. I ducked into the closest gully, and hoped that it would be a shorter, easier descent. I was dead wrong. It was full of loose slate, each piece larger than a dinner plate, and I was sliding. It took me minutes just to make a step, and with the energy I was expending on the way down I couldn't have made my way back up. I was in the thick of it now, and one misstep would send me flying down the mountain. I had seen what looked like a trail form up above, but reaching it after an hour made me realize that it was just a band of lighter rock. Another half hour and I made it to the forest, and in another 20 minutes I finally made it to the Horn Creek trail. THANK GOD! It was a rough experience for my legs, but my mind had seen worse in the past (nearly caused an avalanche attempting a Pikes Peak summit back in December).

20276_29
Here's the gully I chose. Notice the "trail" at the "bottom."
20276_31
Upon closer inspection. More rock and 100s of feet to go.
20276_30
Looking back up.

I made my way through the forest in a hurry. There was rain coming. How could I tell? There were moths everywhere. Every step I took I would get hit by a moth somewhere on my body. Apparently this year has had some of the most Miller moths in the last ten years, and after this I'd believe it. I hurried my way past a few families on day trips on my way down, and made it back to the car at 15:00. My timing was pretty good, but I think if I'd have taken the standard route to descend it would have been even faster. Looking back, it was a great day. I secretly knew this the second I made it to the parking lot, but sometimes it's fun to complain! I'd highly recommend this loop, just do some research beforehand and DON'T TAKE MY ROUTE! I think it goes to show that I'm horrible at routefinding, so just take my word that you should pretty much never follow me up and expect it to be without roadblocks. In any case, the Sangres have proved to be an awesome part of the state, and I hope to return soon!

20276_33
Now leaving... I hope to come back!
20276_34
Topo map of my route, taken with a grain of salt since I forgot to start my GPS.



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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