Peak(s):  Culebra Peak  -  14,047 feet
Date Posted:  04/28/2021
Date Climbed:   04/04/2021
Author:  SnowAlien
 North Face ski   

Culebra peak

North face ski descent

Trailhead: Ranch HQ
~15 miles, ~6,200 ft, ~11 hours

This was my 3rd time trying to ski Culebra. First time I tried in February of 2016, but had to leave the skis at the big cairn. Due to high winds and sparse coverage, the skiing would not have been fun. Then I tried to schedule the ski in the spring of 2019 after skiing Kit Carson and Challenger, but got a food poisoning. At that time, I was still thinking to ski the standard ridge route. However, in July of 2019 I hiked 13ers Maxwell & Co and was stunned to see a beautiful north face of Culebra from a distance - still hanging in strong after that big snow year.


Windy, dry Culebra, February'16. Dr Jon skied the ridge the day before me.

Snow on Culebra, July'19 as seen from Maxwell

So when a Facebook group formed this winter to ski Culebra, I got mildly excited. 2021 was shaping up a low snow year, and Culebra needs 2019 levels to be legitimately skiable. We picked the weekend of April 4th, which should be the height of the snowpack and made our reservations with the ranch. On April 4th, we started from the ranch HQ as a diverse group of 10 around 6.30am. The road was still snowy all the way up to the 4 way. Snow continued to the large cairn. Once I got to the cairn, the ridge looked dry again, but I could see a sliver of snow from Culebra summit. False summit also had a sizeable snowfield. I pressed to the summit and arrived just after 12 pm.

Dry ridge on Culebra, but a sliver of snow on the north face
Summit ~12 pm

The rest of the group was still coming up, and the guy ahead of me already departed. I set to figure out the descent. I could see a couple options. The easier Option 1 to the skiers' right required a downclimb on dry rock, and I wasn't sure about the exit below. Option 2, although steeper, had a cleaner entrance and the cliffband at the bottom looked friendlier on the topo.

Option 1
Option 2, just to the left of the summit

Option 2 looked tricky getting into the line on what it looked like winter snowpack. Nobody in the group had expressed interest in this more involved north face descent, so I was on my own. As I was worried about wet slides on the descent (avy level was Orange that day), I didn't stay too long on the summit. First couple hundred feet involved shenanigans such as kicksteps and traversing, with an occasional jumpturn. Once I got into the line proper, it was smooth sailing, well, until I found myself above the cliff! Had to traverse to the left on skis, but then hiked down maybe 30 ft on dry rock. In a bigger snow year this would probably fill in just fine.

Initial section, with the group cheering me from the summit
Dropping into the gully
Smooth sailing, but approaching the cliff band below

Line topo
North face overview

The lower basin also had some fun features and a few pockets of steepness. My original plan was to make the reclimb back to the cairn (and I was regretting it half way up due to my early season lack of fitness, 6k ft off the couch is a lot!), but I could have skied out the Corneros lake drainage if the snow had been total slush on the upclimb or if the weather was stormy. I just wasn't sure about the snow quality in the basin at that late afternoon hour, and my sense of exploration was waning. To my surprise, 4-5 people from my group dropped in from Culebra shoulder by the cairn just as I was booting up, enjoying hero corn and took the Corneros lake exit. They reported postholing through the soft snow (on skis!) to get to the 4-way and ended up half an hour late to the 6pm check-out time at the ranch, and were fined $100 each as per waiver. So that's something to consider. There's no easy solution to get out of that drainage, and watch your timing.

Enjoying great corn before a rough exit
4 way intersection

Once back at the cairn, the descent was fairly swift and straightforward, and I made it back to the ranch with an hour to spare. Still, a long day on Culebra.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

Comments or Questions

04/28/2021 10:16
Always thought that looked like the most interesting line on that peak. Nice going.


Great Job!
04/29/2021 14:55
Awesome job Natalie! Thanks for sharing the TR.

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