Peak(s):  California Pk  -  13,849 feet
Date Posted:  05/29/2007
Modified:  05/30/2007
Date Climbed:   05/27/2007
Author:  HikerGuy
 California Peak - West Ridge  

I really wanted to hike a 14er over Memorial Day weekend, but logistics ruled that out. California Peak, a respectable 13er (it certainly earned mine), was settled upon as the most accessible goal from the Great Sand Dunes area.

Managed to wake up around 6am and take in a view of the dunes from the Oasis Campground.

After a slow morning start, we arrived at the Zapata Falls trailhead at 7:30am

The road to the trailhead is a well-maintained dirt road, accessible by any car. The route is very straight forward. Take the trail to Zapata Falls, when you reach the falls continue on up the South Zapata Lake trail. Leave the Zapata Lake trail after crossing California Gulch and ascend California's West Ridge. I don't have any photos from below the turn off. I took photos on the descent and was too tired to take any more once we got back to the main trail.

It's a half mile to the falls, from there the next mile is pretty easy. You have to cross South Zapata Creek pretty early on after hiking up above the falls. Use the logs at the left side of the trail to cross. After crossing the creek the hike becomes steeper.

Cross California Gulch, here is a photo looking down/back at the stream crossing in the gulch.

This is the last of two stream crossings, if you cross any more streams you have missed the turn off. Ascend the hill after crossing the gulch and keep a look out for Trail 868 on your left.

Here's a photo of the junction of Zapata Lake Trail and Trail 868.

The trail marker is quite weathered and is upside down, so it reads 898. If you start going downhill and end up at another stream crossing, you have gone too far. Turn around, go back up the trail and look for the turn off on your right. We wasted a good bit of time as we blew right past the turn off. This was hardest route finding issue and in hindsight I'm not sure how we missed it.

Start up the old trail. The trail fades in and out at times but generally is pretty easy to follow. Not long you'll reach a point where you get your first view of the West Ridge.

Keep following the trail. If you lose the trail just stay on the crest of the ridge. This advice follows for the rest of the hike. You will eventually reach a clearing and small steam beneath a steep talus slope. Ascend the talus slope.

Here is a photo looking back from the top of the talus slope.

Continue to ascend the ridge. While no longer an open talus slope, it is still quite rocky and steep. This goes on for quite some time. I thought we would never get to tree line. There is no trail here, just keep on the top of the ridge.

Here is a photo looking down at the ridge from higher up, just before the final ridge.

Looking back on the final ridge from the summit.

I'm missing some photos in here, but basically it's Class 2 hiking over talus. There was still quite a bit of snow remaining, but it was broken up with talus. No single part of the hike was difficult, but taken as a whole it is a very long, sustained steep hike.

Summit photos: Looking out towards the sand dunes and Crestones

Mt. Lindsey

The Blanca group

Closer look at Blanca

Route map

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

05/30/2007 00:21
Awesome report with great photos.


05/30/2007 01:45
Nice job. I may be down there next week!


06/02/2007 00:01
Great report, Living in Alamosa I have done that hike many times, just wondering if you checked out the plane crash, a DC-10 from the late sixties is just onto the east face about halfway between timberline and the summit, near an old mine.

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