Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Snake Charmer

Culebra Peak, 14,061'
Red Mountain "A" 13,908'

~8.5 miles RT; 4300' elevation gain

[camera used: Nikon D5100 DSLR]
One of the largest ranches in Colorado is Cielo Vista Ranch (translated- sky view or heavenly view). It's 77,000 acres and borders New Mexico on the southern edge of the state. This is no ordinary ranch, it contains one of Colorado's 14ers Culebra Peak, and also contains 13ers Red Mountain A, Vermejo Peak, Purgatouire Peak, Alamosito, Cuatro Peak, and others. To say it's pristine is an understatement; it's also one of the premier wildlife preserves in the country, hosting deer, elk, bear, bighorn sheep, and all sorts of other animals. The land is remarkably undeveloped when compared to public lands. Many of the roads and trails on the property are slowly being reclaimed by nature.

The ownership of this prime piece of property over the years could fill a book. It's currently owned by a large corporation from Texas and they allow access to their mountains... for a price. In my case, that price was $150; which is a lot of money. Many people ask- what do you get for your money?

We came through the gate at 6AM, went to the ranch office to pay, and talked to a friendly man named Carlos who laid down the ground rules. The road up is very smooth and well maintained, but 4WD is required to minimize wheel slippage on the steep sections.

Here's the rough route we took. Unlike most other hikes I do, there is no defined trail on this peak, not an official one anyway. They encourage you to spread out and minimize impact on the environment. We chose to take the "Roach Route", pioneered by Colorado climbing legend Gerry Roach. It turned out to be most excellent.

 Our brave team has reached the "upper" parking lot. Some people cheat and start at 11,600'

We quickly put distance between ourselves and the upper parking lot vehicles

Joey waits for us. We ascended the area above her head.

Early sunlight panorama

I like our shadows going down the hill
Panorama of the same shot

Jeff takes some pictures

Little Bear, Blanca Peak, and Mt. Lindsey center, crestone group distant right

What trip report of Culebra would be complete without a picture of this large cairn?

Scott gaping at the cairn (photo by SZL)

Turning around, this photo shows the pathway to false summit alpha
Vermejo Peak, "Alamosito", and Purgatoire Peak

False summit alpha looms ahead
The marmot shall show you the way!

Joey coming up the ridge past the false summit
West Spanish Peah and Spanish Peak

Summit Panorama looking North/East

Summit Pano 2- Same view, slightly lower

Summit Pano- looking South; Red Mountain on the left, Vermejo and others beyond

All it takes to climb Culebra is right here (Photo by SZL)

Group on Culebra summit: Dan, Joey, Jason, Scott, Sarah!

Culebra is a mere 3/4 mile away from Red Mountain, which is a Centennial 13er. It's the 92nd highest mountain in the entire continental US. Since I plan on eventually climbing Centennial peaks, it was prudent for us to tackle this peak as well. We felt that it was a little more effort than we anticipated, and the "round trip" from Culebra was close to 90 minutes with a 15-minute break at the top of red.
The summit push on Red Mountain. There are some braided trails.
Looking back on the saddle between Culebra and Red Mountain

Summit pano from Red Mountain looking South/East
Summit pano of Culebra Peak from Red looking North/West; Spanish Peaks at right
Why did I do this? On the Red Mountain summit
Culebra Summit 2: Spurge, Kay, Bill, Jeff, Dan, Scott (L to R)
When Marmots Attack
They are multiplying
The marmots were plentiful and aggressive on the summit of Culebra. We had to watch our backpacks constantly to insure that they remained unmolested. At one point I threw a rock at the ground near a marmot to scare it away. The rock bounced up and hit him, and yet he was unfazed. Watch out for these critters on Culebra.

Scott looks over the valley, false summit alpha behind him

Jeff surveys the scene just beyond the massive cairn

Massive 8-shot panaorama of the valley to the North of Culebra's snaking ridge

White-tailed Ptarmigan

Cool butterfly, these guys were everywhere around 12,500'

Milbert's Tortoisesh​ell Butterfly

Jeff comes down from the ridge
I thought I was being smart by wearing my running shoes on this hike. It turns out, off-trail hiking is harder on your feet than regular trail hiking, and I was feeling pretty worn down by the time we started descending. Luckily, we only had a couple more miles to go, and one of them was easy.
Looking down from the same place

The clouds are building in strength

Quick road-hike back down to the truck; 1 mile was under 20 minutes

Pano looking back from the "Four Way"; Culebra at extreme left

Panorama: about 1 mile down the road from the ranch gate; Culebra center

As we drove away from the ranch, my truck was bombarded with the largest raindrops I've ever seen. We had just missed out on getting pelted, I'm pretty sure everyone was going to stay dry that day.

The Blanca group as seen from the highway

I think the primary question people ask about this experience is: "It costs $100 to climb, that's a lot of money, is it worth it?" I think the answer to this question is an individual one. For some, they will never do it again. For others, they are so enchanted with the unique experience that they absolutely desire to return at a later time.  Some have refused to climb only this 14er, stating the price as the reason. You are free to take a stand on principle, but realize that you are missing out on an interesting experience.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Men Get Massive

Mt. Massive

14,421' (2nd highest in Colorado)

SW Slopes Route

8.0 miles RT, 3,950' elevation gain

On the previous day I had escorted some ladies on Grays Peak and Torreys Peak. This day I promised Avery and Nathan (the Husbands) I'd take them on a 14er. Deciding WHICH 14er to take 2 ambitions 14er virgins on was difficult. First, I planned on Bierstadt and Evans via the Sawtooth. Next, I decided "Tour de Abyss" sounded good. But finally, my peakbagging lust overcame any other considerations and I decided on Mt. Massive. I had not yet done Mt. Massive, and the SW slopes route seemed like a challenge worthy of some young ambitious guys. Recent consensus on 14ers.com said it was both more scenic and shorter than the East Slopes route. When pressed, I estimated 3 hours to ascend and 2 hours to descend. I told them that if we could target those goals it would be a "good time" for anyone.

Partners in crime- about 1 mile in. Nathan and Avery
Mt. Oklahoma. Man, the Sawatch mountains are so ugly, huh?

So these guys are both in the Army. They both run distances over 10 miles. Some might characterize them as "type A" personalities. I don't think either of them let the "first 14er" obstacle dampen their enthusiasm. I found myself getting tired and struggling with the altitude. I wasn't sure if it was the previous days hike (unlikely), poor nutrition and energy levels (likely), or what. It turns out we were climbing rather fast as well.  I guess it just goes to show you that just because you have done some 14ers, that doesn't give you an immediate edge over everyone regardless of fitness level. Their sub-10% body fat didn't hurt either, but I have to give props to these guys, they were pushing ME.

Getting higher- near 13,000 feet.
Mt. Elbert, La Plata Peak, and some other high mountains

Mt. Oklahoma
The route up Massive's SW Slopes is steep. I believe it gains about 3,000' of elevation in less than 2 miles. The trail, however, is very good and it never approaches more than a standard class 2 in difficulty. When we neared the top we moved with a renewed sense of urgency. I realized that not only would 3 hours be easy, but that 2 hours 30 minutes MIGHT be possible. I kept these thoughts to myself. We took some short breaks for water and Cliff Shot Blocks. My heart rate seemed to soar when we climbed.

When we finally crested the summit ridge, we could see the true summit in the distance. We had time, but we had to hustle. We started moving faster (it was much less steep), and eventually broke into a speedwalk as we approached the summit "lump". Our final time: 2 hours, 26 minutes! That's 1,620 ft/hr ascending, which is the fastest documented ascent for me. We probably could have been a couple minutes faster too, had my partners both had working camelbaks.. :)

Massive Green and North Massive from the Mt. Massive summit

Future New Belguim Advertisement?
Summit of Massive with Avery, Nathan, and Me

Big Panorama looking NW

3-shot pano, taller photo
 We enjoyed our time on the summit except it was too crowded and one person was smoking Marijuana in close proximity to us. Hey bro- I'm not a cop, but I also don't want to breathe in your toxic cloud of smoke. Please be more considerate next time.

Looks like weather is moving in- FAST

The weather moved in quickly. No one seemed to notice on the summit, as people were lounging about, smoking weed, and chatting about how awesome they were.  After lounging for a bit and taking photos, we departed the summit with haste. The guys quickly decided that 1 hour and 30 minutes was a good descent time!! I wasn't sure but we tried. We ran into quite a few parties ascending and near the top on our way down.

Okay; this is a little gross but it happened.  Around 12,000' on the descent, Avery was peeing on a rock, when a marmot suddenly popped up right where he was peeing and went for the urine. It sure surprised him! We watched the marmot eagerly lick the rock but he got a little shy when I approached with the camera. Yes, wildlife if often attracted to the salt in urine, but still, strange behavior from the marmot!

Furry Devil

Nice flowers on the lower sections

Huge fireweed "bush"

Weather moving briefly into the valley (2-shot composite)
The weather broke loose when we were down to about 11,000'. It started to rain and hail. We tried to move fast, but the rocks got wet in a hurry. Luckily, the excellent trail didn't get muddy or slippery as you might think; it was totally under control. After about 15 minutes, it let up considerably, but dampened all the trees and willows.

As the trail flattened out, we started to run a little more, surprised how much trail we had left. Trying to catch up to the 2 guys, I tripped on a root and did a "superman" fall. I got up and speedwalked to the end, and we missed our goal- it took us 1:34 to get down- it's entirely my fault for crashing I guess.

Silly guy, learn 2 run ( I look short in this picture!)

Well, my hands actually hurt worse...
Memorial to the Blackhawk helecopter crash. Interesting (but sad) story
Parting shot of Mt. Massive. It really IS a big mountain.

So, we made it up and down in a very good time. The only one who got hurt was me, and we enjoyed our 14er experience. BOTH guys said they wanted to do more of them in the future, and really liked the feeling of being up SO HIGH in the surrounding terrain. Nathan was convinced he could repeat this ascent and complete it in 2 hours flat; he also expressed interest in a winter ascent and snowboard descent. Avery is ready to do some 14ers with his wife. The marmot encounter and the sudden weather change made it a memorable experience.