Peak(s):  Rito Alto Pk  -  13,794 feet
Hermit Pk A  -  13,350 feet
Date Posted:  08/17/2020
Modified:  08/18/2020
Date Climbed:   08/15/2020
Author:  RJ_Greenhorn24
 Solo day on some high altitude bumps  

Peaks: Rio Alto Peak & Hermit Peak

Time: 7hrs 25 mins (with and hour spent on each summit)

Distance: 5.83 miles

Camp: Located 2 miles below the pass (see last picture for track info)

What a lovely day to brave some high altitude bumps! With a road leading you to 13,000' can these really be counted as peaks? Add in some road hiking and I'd give it a solid "maybe", so forgive my intentional sarcasm throughout this report. I figured I would overload you with pictures and beta since these peaks are so obscure and genuine ;-)

On our La Plata hike 2 weeks prior "The dreaded hike" we determined that hiking is NOT my fiance's thing, so I decided to do some solo hiking. He brought his dirt bike and it was a good deal for both of us. So, Friday after work we drove up Hermit Pass as far as our patience could handle in the dark, in a 2wd truck. Just 2 switchbacks below treeline we set up camp (about 2 miles below the pass). I planned to start at 4am so I could take in the sunrise on Rio Alto's summit, but around 2am something came by to scout out our camp. I could only assume it was a cat of some type because it was very sneaky. With that assumption I decided to wait until sunrise to start my hike since this would be my first solo hike and quarantine has me in a shape that I doubt could defeat a mountain lion with my bare hands, as I would have been able to do pre-quarantine.

Our oh-so kitty attracting camp. It must have been the 2-stroke fumes that lured him in.

SO, at dawn I set out for my lovely road hike that I loved so very much...

The boulders and inconsistent rock on this road does wonders for your ankles! A real strengthener..
All day I was reminded of the terrible forest fires we're currently experiencing. The poor air quality did a number on my already slow hiking pace.

Again, I just love this road.

It wasn't until I was at the top of the pass that I saw all the great hiking trails between the switchbacks that would have saved some time and foul words mumbled under my breath on the way up.

Looking over Horseshoe Lake towards Eureka. Notice the faint hiking path to the left, one of many that I failed to see until I was up top. Oops. In the center of the picture is the cliff band that I chose to descend later in the hike, but we're not there yet.

Peak of the Clouds (left) and Spread Eagle (right) finally came into view. I plan to come back for those as another combo.

Rio Alto as seen from the last few switchbacks below the pass. It looks so Brossy from this view.

A look back down the road, no 4wd traffic yet. Just me and a group of 4 others pretty far behind me.

Just below the pass, instead of continuing up the road I decided to go up this white rock hill which connects to the ridge.

And here we go, a little less ankle rolling Finally!

The ridge all the way up was pretty obvious, and I was able to hang left around most of the ridge bumps saving some elevation gain/loss between them, I did love the big blocky talus hopping, and that's not even me being facetious. That was my very favorite thing about the day!

This cairn was the only one I saw all day. If only the route finding were not so difficult on this quite obvious ridge haha

Just follow these, and you are bound to make it to the top, some how.

The view to the West was pleasant, even with all the low lying smoke blocking out the San Luis Valley.

Looking back at big blocky hermit. The ridge up Rio stays pretty broad until you reach the memorial on what I"m calling the false summit. Then it slims down a bit with minor exposure on both sides.

Wouldn't you guess, another ridge bump. This route's obscurity is just killing me ;-)

Nearing the false summit, my view back South East. No Greenhorn mountain in sight, just low laying smoke :(

Aww, the false summit. I just love those!

Almost there! You can see the Crestones and Carson group sticking their heads out, but the Blanca Massif remains a faint outline for the duration of the day.

False summit to the left (home to a neat memorial) and true summit to the right. This route finding I tell ya!


Little bit of exposure on the ridge line. It would be hard to fall off, but if you did then you probably wouldn't be coming home to talk about it. The loose rock goes alllll the way down the steep slope.

Very neat memorial on the false summit. There was a flag pole with remnants of an old tattered flag. My fiance, who is a vet but hates hiking said he would gladly rejoin me on this peak just to replace the old flag with a new one :)

Christopher's metals, forever one with the mountain. Thank you for your service, good Sir.

After taking in the memorial I look North to the true summit, which may as well be as far away as Spread Eagle. How will I ever make this last 100'?

Another spot just before the summit that you probably don't want to trip near.
Aww, at last. I can rest my new boots that I never should have worn. (My 5 yr old trusty hiking boots blew a hole on the La Plata hike and I am now determined to repair them, never again will I leave them at home)

At least Wibby Brewing was able to offer some solace! Side note: It is perfectly acceptable to drink at 9am - so long as you just worked your butt up a mountain for it!

A close up of the Crestones, the smoke was becoming more pungent.

View North from the Summit, just more Sangre 13ers.

At this point I was doing decent on time even after my late start. My original plan was to hit Rio, Hermit and Eureka today, but I spent too much time on the empty summit of Rio and Eureka became less and less desirable.

Tons of birds on top!

A view West into the underlying valley.

Looking South West to this cluster of peaks

Heading back down the summit ridge after my extended stay (and extra summit brew since I had the place all to myself). More exposure to the West.

The hike down Rio's ridge line was uneventful and quiet, somehow I managed to not pass a soul all day. Every group I saw was heading up Hermit and I missed every one of them as well!

Looking back at Rio Alto from halfway up Hermit. It looks much more "peakish" from this view than it did from the switchbacks coming up the pass.

The hike up Hermit was the most uneventful to date, it literally took me 15 minutes from the pass and I'm not sure it should even be considered a true summit.

The adorable summit marker on Hermit! (Eureka in the backdrop)
A marmot sunning himself on the summit. I noticed all the marmots I saw in the Sangres had much thicker and darker hair than those I've seen in other ranges.
Hermit summit marker with Rio Alto in the backdrop

As I sat on the empty summit looking West I revisited my plan for the day. It was now close to noon and they were calling for afternoon thunderstorms. I knew it would take me at least another 2-2.5 hours to summit Eureka and make it back to camp. Eureka wasn't looking too appealing with all that steep tundra leading to the sub peak between it and Hermit and, nor was the steep tundra up to the peak itself looking appealing. With that I decided to scratch Eureka for the day, but I didn't feel that the 10 min hike down Hermit followed by the hour road hike back down to camp would make for a fulfilling end to the day. So I opted to take Hermit's ridge over to the tundra basin that connects it to Eureka and descend a cliff band to reach the lake, and ultimately, the road.

This was the connecting ridge I chose to take. Steep and off camber if you hang low or exposed and a bit spicy if you stay ridge proper. I opted to stay ridge proper-ish. For the Bergenstiens or other superstars of the 14er community this would be cake, but for my novice self (only 14 peaks under my belt) it was an intro to new levels. Being my first solo climb I found myself opting to try things that I normally wouldn't try with my normal hiking partners, which in retrospect was naive but I don't regret it a bit.
A look down a gap in the ridge towards Horseshoe Lake
And another. Sweet gully, too bad it doesn't go!
At the end of the ridge nearing the basin connecting to Eureka. To the left you can see the cliffs that I used to exit the basin. There were plenty of options. And once I got down into the basin i was positive that I didn't want to tag Eureka. The "bump" is just as long and steep as the final pitch to the summit. No.
A final look back at the ridge on the West side of Hermit. 2 options here: low and steep or ridge proper and exposed.
Down in the basin connecting to Eureka, bidding farewell to that view of Hermit. It was time to find a good break in the cliff band. Luckily it wasn't too difficult.
Halfway down the gully I chose. Half flat/slick and half crummy loose shale-like broken shreds of talus. Still glad I chose this route over the added road hiking.
Looking down the gully to the willows, my final goal before climbing back up to that miserable road.
Aww, the bottom. The gully I used to descend is center in this picture. There was one to the left (from this view) but it didn't look like it went from above. From here I see that it would have, but it would have been a bit unforgiving.
Final view before hitting the road, literally, I could have slapped that road. I disliked it that much. Hermit Peak to the right and the cliffs I used to descend to the left.

My track for the day

Final thoughts:

This was fun for my first solo hike. I didn't want to go anywhere desolate until I knew how I would handle being alone in the wilderness. After this I'm ready for more solo hikes, and I actually rather enjoyed the solitude.

Having both summits to myself was a nice treat and reminded me again of why 13ers will always rule 14ers. The number of benefits they offer in comparison will always win.

After living at the foot of Greenhorn Mountain most of my life, I'm shocked that I haven't spent more time in the Sangres since they are literally RIGHT THERE! I'll have to fix that :)

I know I'll return to this area of the Sangres for Peak of the Clouds and Spread Eagle, but I'm not sure Eureka is in my near future. It just looked less and less appealing as the day went on.

Hermit Pass is not for the faint of heart, I know it's by no means the worst road ever, but it sure does suck.

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

08/18/2020 10:20
Is a cool peak and is certainly worth a visit at some point, it is indeed a steep grunt up to the summit though! Nice job getting out there solo and good choices for peaks. Really hard to go wrong with Sangre 13ers.


Great report
08/20/2020 20:21
I did these about 3 years ago
Along with eureka
Super cool area with interesting geology
Nice job
I saw 0 people on all 3 peaks which was great

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