Culebra Peak - 14,047 feet
Red Mtn A - 13,908 feet
Culebra Peak - 14,047 feet
Red Mtn A - 13,908 feet
|Winter Culebra and Red|
Winter Culebra and Red 2 for 1
An Out and Back
I first did Culebra two years ago on my quest to climb all the 14ers. Unfortunately, it was 2 days after the spring equinox and didn't count as a winter ascent. Fast forward 2 years later and I still needed a snowflake for Culebra. Couple that with the fact I was starting to run out of "easier" winter 14ers and that put Culebra high on my list. So, with the winter climbing season quickly coming to an end and a great forecast I booked my reservation with the Cielo Vista Ranch. It was $150 and I was very excited for this climb. The Legendary Will E was also scheduled to climb so that made it even better! We had nearly crossed paths once before on a winter Sunshine, but we had never actually met. I was hoping to also get Red Mountain for the 2 for 1 *special*.
Day of Climb: March 6th, 2021
Trailhead: Cielo Vista Ranch headquarters
Peaks: Culebra Peak and Red Mountain
Mileage/Elevation Gain: 15.64 miles and 5900 feet of gain.
I arrived at the locked Cielo Vista gate late the night before the climb. It was probably just past midnight which gave me the luxury of 5 hours of sleep. Will E was already there and appeared to be sleeping so I was as quiet as a mouse. I was told by Carlos that a couple other groups would also be joining us, but I didn't see them. Maybe they were smart and stayed at a nearby hotel for the night?
I was up at 5:15 (plus a couple snoozes) the next morning to get ready, and then, just before 6 a Cielo Vista employee arrived to check us in and open the gate. It would have been nice to start earlier but the ranch had a strict rule about a 6 AM start. The other groups had arrived and we all drove up the dirt road 2 miles to the ranch headquarters and parked. They assembled us in a tiny office for a quick briefing and set us on our way with orders to be done no later then 6 PM. I finished getting ready at my truck and started hiking the road alone.
I started off in just boots with my snowshoes hanging from my backpack. The ranch had been nice enough to smooth down the road with snowmobile tracks to the four way which was about 3.5 miles from headquarters. This was a big bonus. Two years earlier on my first Culebra climb I had to trench this section which was not fun. Anyways, it was nice to get off to a quick start. I quickly passed 2 sets of skiers and was then on my own. Will E and another guy had been more efficient getting ready and had started roughly 10 minutes before me. I wasn't sure if I'd see either one of them again?
The first 2.5 miles or so were steep and relentless for an approach road. I was able to make quick time though thanks to the snowmobile tracks. On occasion I caught a glimpse of the 2 guys ahead of me which acted as a carrot and kept me motivated to move fast. Finally, at a clearing the road leveled off a bit and was less steep the rest of the distance to the four way.
About a mile later I reached the four way where the tracks abruptly ended. Surprisingly, I had finally caught up to Will and the other guy. I don't remember the other guys name, but he did say this was his finisher. After a short break we started trenching.
Fortunately, the trenching wasn't too bad as we followed the faint outline of an old trench. It had been completely buried but gave us a solid foundation. This took us all the way to the 4WD trailhead at a clearing just below the upper bowl.
We continued on at a fast pace blazing our own trail having lost sight of the old trench. It still wasn't bad trenching except for in a few spots as we zigzagged up an embankment to the base of the upper bowl.
In the upper bowl the snow was thinner and crusty as we beelined straight to the cairn on the ridge. Snowshoes probably were no longer necessary here but the extra traction was nice. With our fast pace, neither Will nor I had seen the other guy or the skiers in a long time. I later learned that the other guy and 2 of the skiers turned without reaching the summit.
We were now at the cairn on the lower ridge at 13,300 feet and had a great view of Culebra and the big serpent like ridge to get us there. Will wasted no time and took off on his own to the summit while I took a 10 minute break to eat and rest a bit. The weather had been perfect to this point with just a light wind and clear skies. We had timed Culebra perfectly! After refueling, I began hiking south along the ridge before turning southeast down to a small saddle. I had stashed my snowshoes at the cairn and continued the rest of the way without the need for traction.The drop to the saddle had a few spots with deep snow and minor postholing and was maybe 150 vertical feet down.
The ascent from this saddle to the upper ridge was mostly windblown and easy. After gaining the ridge I went left and then back to the right following its serpentine pattern. I was now heading southeast towards the summit. It was all class 2 with a mix of snow and talus. I never needed traction.
After turning southeast following the ridge, there was a steep climb to gain the false summit. There was a bit more talus here, but it was still easy to maneuver through and didn't exceed class 2. Once past the false, I continued along a relatively flat area which was a nice break for the legs. There was more snow in this section, but it was firm and a welcome break from the talus. The rest of the way to the summit was a nice stroll.
Will E was at the summit when I arrived and had been nice enough to wait. I'm not use to having people wait on me but Will is fast, and my conditioning was off with less climbing this winter. The views were amazing in all directions and the winds still weren't bad. It was great to get another winter 14er! This was definitely easier than my spring Culebra ascent 2 years ago when I battled fierce winds and more snow.
It was only 11:45 which left us plenty of time to get Red before the 6 PM cut off. Will had already climbed Red but decided to join me anyways and I was glad for his company. Red Mountain A was approximately 3/4 of a mile away and we headed south off the summit hoping for a quick round trip.
The descent off Culebra was a steep talus slope to a saddle at about 13,500 feet. We found there were actually 2 saddles between Culebra and Red with an annoying bump in the middle. The winds really picked up while we were crossing the saddle, and they would remain constant and annoying the rest of the day. Despite the winds though the climb up Reds northwest face was very pleasant. It was mostly a mix of scree and talus, but there was a nice climbers trail with switchbacks. It didnt take long to reach the summit of Red from Culebra and we had our second summit of the day.
My summit stay was brief. It was getting super windy and there was still that 8 mile return trip to the ranch headquarters in order to beat the 6 PM cut off. I had heard that a few weeks prior a group of 4 didn't return until 9 PM and were all fined. Also, there was that 5 hour drive back to Fort Collins.
The descent went relatively quick. I retraced my steps almost entirely except I found it wasn't necessary to completely summit Culebra again. At about 13,850 feet I started sidehilling under Culebra back to the northwest ridge. I put my snowshoes back on at the big cairn and cruised back to my vehicle at the ranch headquarters.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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