Peak(s):  East Spanish Peak - 12,683 feet
Date Posted:  05/25/2011
Date Climbed:   05/22/2011
Author:  Matt

 No Snow to Speak Of  

East Spanish Peak 12,683' (CO Rank 874)
2,383' prominence (CO Rank 49)

One of the joys of living in Colorado is a steady, mostly predictable supply of snow during the ski and snowboard “season,” during which I ride the lifts and mostly forget about summits, except for occasional trips to NM or AZ. Once the lifts stop and the snow melts, it’s time for hiking/climbing above treeline to summits. Winter is for the former, summer for the latter. That’s how it works for me, anyway. You might guess, then, that 2011 has been trying my patience. Plans dreamed up back in March for peaks that are usually dry or close to it by early May have come and gone, but the freaking snow hasn’t stopped.
Listening to and reading about the weekly exploits of some of the ski mountaineers on this site hasn’t made this extended shoulder season any easier. While I work the weekend, do something around town, or hike some low peak, those guys are out in the places where I want to be. Sure, I could grow up a little and simply adapt to what’s in front of me, but I’ll come out and say it: I don’t like hiking on snow or in the cold. Postholing in the trees sucks. Period. Maybe someday, my chatter about getting a splitboard or learning to ski will turn to action, but not yet--not when there are gifts from God like the Spanish Peaks last weekend.
While the eyes of others looked toward Berthoud Pass and Bakerville, my thoughts went southward, toward La Veta. Wednesday, I found this live webcam, which showed me exactly what I wanted to see—the “Breasts of the Earth” looking mighty bare. I think anyone who drives down I-25 past Pueblo has seen these things and wanted to get closer to them. They're spectacular. Right about then, I got an email from Ft. Collins resident ChrisinAZ, who was up for a springtime trip to explore East Spanish Peak and the weekend, indeed, my year, was looking up.

Along the way, we took a detour to the plains to visit Dry Bluff, the unranked, but wild Otero county highpoint.
Since we had ice axes, we brought them along (better safe than sorry) and I put mine to use spearing, then tossing cow pies around.
Here’s Chris, with a token hero shot at the summit.

From there, we took a series of back roads across the plains to I-25. As we dodged random cattle and antelope, we soon saw our destination beckoning.

After a quick stop in Walsenburg, the culinary capital of Huerfano County, we hit the road, stocked with Pizza Hut and Subway’s finest.
While the Spanish Peaks are visible from hundreds of miles away, the closer you get, the more impressive they become.
East Spanish Peak looking dry

We had plenty of time, so we decided to drive around the area, specifically to see if access to class 3 8er Goemmer Butte, pictured below, were possible.
No dice. Private property. No matter. This area is gorgeous, and the vivid green of spring lit up the evening.

Given the scantily clad Spanish Peaks, we were surprised to see that the southern Sangres wore a full blanket of snow.

While I prefer the Wahatoya themselves, the “great dikes” of the Spanish Peaks are a nice piece of eye candy as well.
Dike dwarfed by W. Spanish Peak

Finally, we headed out of town on CR360, taking the 4x4 road that forks right just before Wahatoya Camp. This road starts easily, and should not be difficult for any 4wd with high clearance. I read here that a Hyundai Santa Fe can handle the road (h/t Kevin Baker). I think taking anything with less clearance, even a Subaru, would be a challenge. It gets narrow near the top, so I was glad we didn’t meet anyone else along the way. Passing could be a chore, as there are few pullouts. Driving the road cuts about four r/t miles and 1600' of gain off the hike from the lower TH.
The road tops out around 9850’ with a small parking loop, a TH, and one big fire ring with some flat spots for tents. I had hedged my bets by not bringing a cooler (there’s got to be some snow somewhere, right?) and hoping we’d find some firewood. There was firewood aplenty, but a scan of the surrounding area revealed no snow—ironic since we picked this hike to avoid it, but I'd expected enough to chill some beers. Fortunately, Chris came back a minute later with good news—a single patch of snow was about 30 feet from the truck.
We were in business!!!

As twilight faded to darkness, we sat around the fire marveling at our good fortune thus far. Looking up at the stars, sipping on Colorado-brewed Gordon and Modus, talking about peaks we’ve both done in Arizona and Utah, peaks we look forward to in Colorado and elsewhere, & thinking about our hike of East Spanish was exactly what I’ve needed for a while. I thought to myself, “This is why I live here.”
Contrary to the billboards on I-70, no ski pass from Vail Resorts has anything to do with it.
Honestly, if some act of God had prevented our hiking the next day, I was ok with that, knowing I'd already outdone even the best day spent back in rainy Denver.

I awoke to 40 degree temps and the urge to get going. We decided to leave snowshoes/crampons in the truck, but took our axes and spikes just in case. About ¼ mile down the trail, we met our first obstacle. It was a gutsy call, not going back to the car for crampons, but we crossed this snowfield safely, getting some use from Chris' axe.

The well-defined Wahatoya trail meanders for two miles, gaining only 400ft or so to the saddle between the peaks. Here are some shots along the way.
First peek at our goal


We could see the west ridge and summit ahead.

Suddenly, Chris came to a jarring halt ahead of me, so I asked him why. Here’s why:
Someone had installed what looked to be a flimsy trip wire across the trail.
Thankfully, Chris didn't fall, there were no IEDs attached, and the wire was not strung tightly. We cut it down and moved on.
From the saddle, either peak is doable, though the western of the Wahatoya is more of a handful. There are plenty of comfortable campsites available. An old fencepost marks the spot where you enter Las Animas county and head left (east) toward East Spanish.
We stopped for water and looked at W. Spanish just in time to catch the moon as it went into hiding.

From here to treeline, the trail gets faint at times, but there are plenty of cairns to help. After a short descent, the grade steepens to a grunt, and I grunted more than a few times gaining 700ft in 0.4 miles, reaching the ridge a little below treeline.
From there, the trail fades in and out, and was blocked at times by large snowdrifts, but staying close to the ridgeline made the right path obvious. Treeline comes abruptly, with a line of trees resembling a fence, and the talus begins. It starts loose, but is pretty stable overall.
Here are two shots from about 2/3 of the way up to the summit ridge.
Looking back at W. Spanish

Up we went, crossing a couple bumps on the summit ridge, then topping out.

Views from the summit are tremendous, with clear shots at neighboring peaks of note:
Blanca group, Lindsey, et al

12er Greenhorn Mountain, Pueblo County Highpoint

Looking toward Westcliffe, with Mt. Mestas in the foreground

Southern Sangres

West Spanish Peak

After soaking up the views, snapping lots of pics, and making a halfhearted attempt to dig out the summit register, we made our way back down the talus, through the still-firm snowdrifts on the west ridge, on to the saddle, then back to the TH.
While the summit of East Spanish Peak falls short of the seduction lines of 14k and 13k, this peak has more than enough to recommend it, even after (if?) the snow melts further north. While the higher peaks are mostly where it's at for Colorado hikers, I've found that really prominent mountains, regardless of summit elevation, often feature expansive panoramas unmatched from peaks surrounded by others of similar height A trip here features vast 360 degree views across the Sangres, Wet Mountains, Pikes Peak, east toward the plains, and south to New Mexico and Oklahoma. It offers solitude, great camping, and a chance to diversify your peak list a little. For me, it provided a chance to rekindle the passion for being out in the mountains that brought me to Colorado in the first place. I'm grateful for the chance to have been there, and hope that someone who reads this puts it to good use and checks out the area.

R/T Miles: 7.5-8.0
Gain: ~3000ft
Enjoyment level: 100%

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

another great trip report
05/25/2011 18:42
I thought the Pyramid Ski Descent trip report got my heart racing. Man, can't believe you didn't rope up for that snowfield crossing. You young kids are really rocking it in the mtns this spring.


Nice TR
05/25/2011 19:28
I liked your pics and write-up, thanks for posting!


Glad you had a good weekend.
05/25/2011 19:50
Love that last pic of WSP.

Michael York

05/25/2011 20:02
nice tr, really enjoyed the read. you just gave me an idea for something to do next week!! thanks for posting!


Why not a 12'er?
05/25/2011 20:25
Nice report and great pics. I have been doing long hikes up in North Cheyenne Canyon lately and wondering where else I can do some training hikes as I wait for the Spring (Summer?) thaw. I don't mind doing 14ers in some snow, but come on! I see the Spanish Peaks from Colorado Springs on clear days but have never climbed them. Thanks for the great idea!

Dr Dave


Wicked cool pics
05/25/2011 21:25
That shot of W. Spanish turned out as epic as I thought it'd be

Had a blast, man--can't wait till the next trip!


The breasts of the earth ...
05/25/2011 22:12
Watch out - there's kids that get on this website. But, something's missing ... speaking of ”scantily clad” ... where's the leg shots, my man?!?! 8) Heck, that's the only reason I clicked on this report. Lots of good humor in this report. And, what the h*ll is up with that trip wire ... like we need one more thing to worry about in the backcountry. Next thing you know, wire cutters will be added to the 10 essentials. Very enjoyable, Matt. Nice beer selection. Thanks for posting. Happy trails!


I should've gone South...
05/25/2011 22:53
Nice write up, slick. That looks like a great location to hit, especially during shoulder season. I think I need to change my elevation diva ways and accompany you on the next southern colorado journey.

The trip wire has to be another gift from the texan mountaineers or whoever that rogue group is from the lone star state that is taking over our summit registers.


Nice !
05/25/2011 23:03
Having done West Spanish Peak twice and enjoying've driven me to return for East Spanish Peak. Not being a backcountry skier myself, the lure to get above treeline is tugging at me after this long winter.


Image #8
05/26/2011 05:06
Is pretty damn cool. Nice well rounded TR. Time for a splitboard my friend.


Dangerous stuff!
06/02/2011 14:57
First time I drove south through Colorado I was headed to Arizona for school. That was in '89. I had been to Colorado several times a year from my childhood but never that far south. First time I saw the Spanish Peaks I was reminded of an old girlfriend......

Anyway, 1)very happy you brought the Ice Axe, 2)what's up with the trip wire? That is just plain nasty, 3) I think I'll have a Modus with breakfast this morning. Nice report. I once flew with a flight attendant who didn't know what ”cow pies” or ”buffalo chips” are so she made a P.A. to see a show of hands if anyone on the plane knew..... funny stuff.


05/26/2011 16:40
Thank you! I hope to summit on of those beautiful peaks myself someday! Thank you!!


05/26/2011 23:21
Thanks to everyone for the comments.
Chris, thanks for helping make this a great trip.
Scot, I thought the lenticular shot you posted was tremendous.
Presto, sorry to disappoint. My legs were visible at the Herzog movie, though the 3D glasses might have distorted things a little...
Pap, I hope you come along for the next 12ers. Bison Peak?
Brian, if I get a splitboard, your exploits will be the driving force.
iluv80s girl, glad to be of service. I'm sure these will be right up your alley.


Rick, Furthermore
05/28/2011 18:04
I can edit double posts, though.
Rick, I made some yellow snow afterward, but no.
Furthermore--Cloud Peak, San Gorgonio, Timpanogos/Nebo are the ultras I'd like to get next.


Was that......
05/27/2011 00:07
yellow snow you stashed those beers in???


So little
05/28/2011 00:50
Snow. Crazy.

What is your next ultra?


05/29/2011 17:46
Loved the post! I have wanted to climb the Spanish Peaks for years as I see them often on my drives south to NM. Is West Spanish Peak much more difficult? It looked like there was more snow on it than the one you went up, any help as I might be inclined to hike it in the next few days as the mountains near Denver are still full of white.


05/29/2011 21:35
WSP is easier via its standard route from Cordova Pass than either East or West from the saddle. Summitpost provides plenty of info. That route is a half day at its longest. We couldn't see that side of WSP, but a call to the forest service should tell you if the road to the pass is open.

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