Peak(s):  Culebra Peak  -  14,047 feet
Date Posted:  02/12/2021
Date Climbed:   02/04/2021
Author:  Geckser
Additional Members:   arthurspiderman, Ivar
 A Cold Ski on Culebra   

Culebra peak is a beautiful summit with a great climb and a wonderful southwestern character. It is also the most expensive peak I have every had the pleasure of bagging. This cost is certainly high but I don't really regret paying it... Maybe I should, but it is such a wonderful winter climb/ski that I have a hard time being too bitter about it.

This trip was done with my hiking partner, the wonderful @arthurspiderman, as well as @Ivar who was a great addition to the team. I hope I get a chance to climb with both of them in the future.


View of Culebra on the way down

The day started in Salida where we had spent the night, waking up at 3:00 is always tough but it is certainly better than having to leave Denver at 1:00. The drive from Salida to Alamosa is always beautiful though in this case the beauty was somewhat dampened by the temperature, which was sitting at a balmy 6 degrees in the San Luis Valley.

We arrived at the gate at around 5:50 and we were surprised to see 4 other cars in the parking lot. A lot of people for a cold, expensive day, with high winds forecasted. We were led up to the parking lot by the nice ranch employees who were helpful and prompt.

At the parking lot we got to meet the 2 groups we were sharing the mountain with, 3 snowshoers and 1 fellow skier. Everyone seemed pretty excited to get going (largely because it was ~5 degrees out there). So we began up the long road. We were not super worried about the 12 hour time limit but it was made quite clear to us.

First glimpse of the sun rising over the San Luis Valley

The coverage was great, with essentially no bare patches on the road. The road was also plowed for the first ~3.5 miles which made for very easy going on our skis. I was constantly amazed how much snow there was up there. More than many of the more northernly resorts. The snow conditions were also good. Just hard enough to get some good gliding in.

The forest looking somewhat ominous ahead of us
The beautiful forest before sunrise
Great view of the Culebra Range
Cutting through the snow that had fallen over the past few days

At this point it was getting a touch too hot so we all stripped off some layers and kept marching through the snow. Once we arrived at the 4 way intersection there were no longer any snowmobile tracks meaning that we had to cut through ~10 inches of snow. This section was also drifted which significantly slowed us down.

We eventually breached treeline at around 12,200 and were gifted with some great views and snow that was easier to move through. It was at this point we decided to skip the large bowl because of avalanche concerns. We could see huge wind drifts in the bowl and thought better of it. So instead of the bowl we ascended the wind scoured ridge.

First peak above the trees
Arthur at the base of the ridgeline.
Another view of Ivar and Arthur nearing the base of the ridgeline (blanca group in the background)

The ridge was pretty tough going. The snow was either hard and wind blown or soft and drifted. This meant we had to wind through the wind formations trying to find the least unpleasant route up. Despite this we made pretty good time up the ridge and stowed our skis at a sufficiently large wind drift at around 13,100 feet.

From this point we boot packed up to the ridge to the mega cairn. Once we were on the ridge the wind really picked up, though we were lucky that it was an otherwise very clear day.

View of the false summit from near the mega cairn.

From the cairn onwards the wind was an ever present and pretty dominating force, making conversation difficult and appendages cold. Luckily the ridge was pretty easy to move on, at least until the final climb to the false summit. Generally it was a mix of hardpacked snow and boulders filled with snow drifts. The wind did make some beautiful marks on the snow and rocks.

Rocks totally coated in snow patterns
You can really see the wind blowing here.

The climb to the false summit gave me some trouble as some of the snow was quite unstable and the boulders made for some weird scrambling. Once we reached the false summit it was a simple walk on hard snow to the summit. This section also provided some astounding views of the Sangres

Ivar coming up the false summit
The view south from the false summit

The final push was a bit tough, largely because of the cold but we powered through and summited at 11:58. This was my 51st summit and Ivar's 50th so it felt good to take one more step towards finishing up the 14ers

The view east from the summit, pretty dang cold and windy

Now that the summit had been gained we prepared to head down. This is when the cold really settled in, giving all of us a little extra pep in our step and encouragement to get off of that freezing ridge. The winds were probably sustained at 30 mph with gusts into the 40s, this along with the near zero atmospheric temp certainly made for a cold ridge descent.

After about an hour we made it back to our skis, we saw the other skier on the ridge about 700 feet from the summit. Instead of skiing down the rocky top portion of the ridge we carried our skis down to around 12,700 at which point we all carefully descended the variable snow. Pretty tough going but once off the ridge and into the glade there were some great low angle turns to be had.

Once we were back on the road we glided the rest of the way down. There were two short inclines where you either had to take off your skis or gain a LOT of speed on the declines. This section was very fun and we were able to get a few great tree turns in. We made it back to the car at around 2:30 at which point we started the long drive home.

View of Blanca taken on the descent
Near the parking lot of the ranch
A glimpse of Culebra on the road
Truly a beautiful day down below!

Great day and a super fun summit. Big thanks to Arthur and Ivar for the trip!

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

02/12/2021 16:00
Looks fun in winter


At least you got to ski
02/12/2021 16:03
Operation White Snake


Sbenfield thanks!
02/12/2021 16:29
Thanks so much, it means a lot from one of the best posters on this forum.
Love the Lake Como road post, keep it up.


Sbenfield you're my hero
02/12/2021 16:37
I hope to someday drive my VW Bug up Como. You've clearly done the most impressive feat on the forum.

When you get a chance, please hit me up with some beta on the DTC highpoint. The upper class 4/5 portion looks very spooky.

cool report
02/12/2021 16:51
That was a nice report with wonderful photographs.

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