California Peak
South Ridge
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Difficulty:
 Class 2 
Trailhead:Huerfano/Lily Lake
Start:10,700 feet
Summit:13,849 feet
Total Gain:4,500 feet
RT Length:10.5 miles
Author:BillMiddlebrook
Updated:10/2017
Weather:NOAA Forecast
Conditions:47 reports
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Trailhead


  • Drive to the town of Gardner, northwest of Walsenburg on Colorado 69.
  • From Gardner, head west for about 1/2 mile on CO 69 and turn west on the road to Mosca Pass.
  • Just after the start of this road, a Forest Service sign states "Upper Huerfano - 21.5" and "Lily Lake Trhd - 22.5".
  • After 7.0 miles the road turns to dirt.
  • Continue 4.8 miles to a junction and stay left on Forest Road 580.
  • Drive 3.4 miles and enter private property where a "Forest Access" sign reads "Upper Huerfano - 5.3 mi."
  • Continue 0.5 mile and stay left at the entrance to the Singing River ranch. The road becomes narrow, but still 2WD.
  • Continue 0.9 mile and pass the entrance to the Aspen River ranch.
  • Drive 3.2 miles to reach the the west side of large, landslide area where the road was re-routed in 2016. If you have 2WD and/or low-clearance, park here and walk the last 2 miles to the trailhead.
  • Now on a narrow and rugged road, continue 2 miles to reach the end of the road, at the Lily Lake TH. There are many dispersed camping spots along the way, including some at the parking area.

Route

From the parking area, take the Lily Lake trail south through the trees and down to a large meadow - 1. Walk 1 mile to reach a trail junction - 2. Turn right for Lily Lake and walk through the forest and along the west side of the creek ( 3) for a short distance to reach a large meadow and another sign for Lily Lake - 4. Follow the trail into the forest where it turns left and gradually climbs south toward 14ers Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point - 5. Near 11,600 and after walking 1.5 miles from the creek, you get an excellent view of the large wall formed by Blanca and Ellingwood - 6. Turn right and continue northwest out of the forest ( 7) and up to Lily Lake - 8.

The remaining 1.75 miles to the summit of California is more difficult and lacks a defined trail. Your next task is to ascend Unnamed 13,577' but don't make the mistake of climbing up to your right too soon. Pass the lake on the right and continue onto the talus just north of the lake - 9. Hike northwest up the talus that has settled below the steeper slopes - 10 and 11. Near 12,600', turn right and climb over 600' north up a ridge - 12 and 13. This is the crux of the route and some of the rock is loose. Near 13,400' the difficulty eases and you can see the top of Unnamed 13,577', off to the left - 14. Gain the ridge crest and walk over to the summit of this ranked 13er - 15 and 16. If you're interested in also bagging Unnamed 13,660' ( 17), hike 0.5 mile hike west from Unnamed 13,577', tag the summit and return to Unnamed 13,577'.

For the final stretch to California, drop north from Unnamed 13,577' ( 18 and 19) and gain a bit of elevation before bypassing the top of a ~13,400-foot point - 20. Drop to one final saddle and hike the final ~600' up California's south ridge - 21, 22 and 23. From the summit, the view to the south is incredible - 24.

For the descent you have a couple of options: 1) Descend via the same route or 2) descend a portion of California's north ridge before dropping east to reach Huerfano Creek. Option #2 is MUCH easier/shorter. Many people do not go up AND down the south ridge route because it's long and tedious. If you choose option #2, descend north from the summit on a faint trail and 0.5 mile down the gentle north ridge - 25 and 26. Once you are below 13,600', turn right and drop east from the ridge - 27. It's a bit rocky below the ridge crest but you'll see easier slopes below, to the east. Descend east toward Huerfano Creek - 28, 29 and 30. Enter the forest near 12,000' and continue east along a drainage all the way down to the main trail, near the creek. Turn left and follow the trail 0.5 to the trailhead.

Notes

If you ascend AND descend via the south ridge route, it's 4,500' of total elevation gain and 10.5 miles round-trip. If you choose to exit via the north ridge/east slopes shortcut, it's 3,800' of total elevation and 8 miles round-trip.
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Topo

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