Rito Alto y Los Debajo

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July 11, 2015

Ben & Steve

Six Peaks, 11.5 miles, 7,300’ vertical gain, 9 hours & 55 minutes RT


Ben and I concocted this eccentric loop because I’d already bagged Spread Eagle and its two northwestern neighbors, unofficially named Silver and Cloud peaks. But we both needed Rito Alto and Hermit, and the couple reports of the unnamed peaks along the ridge west of “Mas Alto” lake, along with zero beta on the ridge connecting it to Hermit, enticed us to decide on an itinerary of Hermit Peak, Eureka, then 028, 060 and 062, followed with a climb to the crown jewel (for height anyhow), Rito Alto. (What the hell is a Rito, anyhow?)

We left Highlands Ranch at 3 am, but with the slow-going up the Hermit Pass road, we didn’t get on the trail until 7:07. Here’s all I will say about this road; if you live close by Westcliffe and need a chiropractic adjustment or deep tissue massage, a drive up this road might be an economical alternative, as every bone and tissue in your body will be jarred loose.

We parked by Horseshoe lake, a couple hundred feet below Hermit Pass. The walk up the road went quickly. Attesting to the crazy late Spring snowstorms of this year, we had a decent snowfield at the top of the road.

The ridge walk to Hermit Peak went easily – though I cursed the stiff, cold wind that tore at us from the west – and we barely paused at the top, but continued onto Eureka. We stopped a little longer on Eureka to enjoy the warmth of climbing sun behind some rocks that blocked the wind. The view east overlooks Horseshoe and Hermit lakes, and after admiring this, we turned our attention NW to scout the way to 028.

After the descent south from Hermit Peak, the way to Eureka looked like this.

After the descent south from Hermit Peak, the way to Eureka looked like this.

The view of Horseshoe and Hermit lakes from Eureka.

The view of Horseshoe and Hermit lakes from Eureka.

The view back north over Hermit and beyond to our final stop for the day, Rito Alto.

The view back north over Hermit and beyond to our final stop for the day, Rito Alto.

And here's our view across the valley west of Eureka to the Hermit-028 ridge.

And here’s our view across the valley west of Eureka to the Hermit-028 ridge.

Reversing our route along the ridge back toward Hermit, we looked for a decent point to set on down into the basin and ultimately back-tracked all the way to the rough little bump between Hermit and Eureka, bypassing it this time on the east to get out of the wind for a bit. North of here, we found a slope of loose but reasonable junk to scamper down, and a chute adjacent to a rib helped us down to grassier and easier slopes.

Here's a view of Ben negotiating the chute.

Here’s a view of Ben negotiating the chute.

After this, we just made a bee-line for the low saddle on the ridge from Hermit to 028, making good use of game trails through the patchy willows. As we continued, we connected with the trail leading up from the valley. (This trail then descends north from the saddle and heads northeast to zigzag up to Hermit Pass.)

The road ahead.

The road ahead.

As we reached the saddle, our ridge route looked like this.

As we reached the saddle, our ridge route looked like this.

Now the fun began, as we enjoyed some easy but lively scrambling along this bumpy ridge of grassy ledges and knobby conglomerate slabs. There was one narrow spot early on with some exposure to spice up the class 3 moves; otherwise, this ridge goes at mostly class 2, as nearly all of the towers can be bypassed on the left (south) via grassy slopes or easy class 3 ledges and ramps. If one wanted to stay ridge proper, I’m not sure if a rope would be needed. Since both Ben and I needed to be back home at a respectable hour, we put speed ahead of ridge-running aesthetics and took advantage of several class 2 grassy bypasses to the ridge’s difficulties.

Here's Ben getting the first taste of conglomerate cake for the day.

Here’s Ben getting the first taste of conglomerate cake for the day.

Here's another shot of Ben early on.

Here’s another shot of Ben early on.

And one of me, appreciating the great holds afforded by the solid, knobby rock.

And one of me, appreciating the great holds afforded by the solid, knobby rock.

Now Ben is tired of following me, and he's blazed on ahead and out of sight, bypassing the high point ahead via the grassy slope between the rock face left of center and the rock rib further left.

Now Ben is tired of following me, and he’s blazed on ahead and out of sight, bypassing the high point ahead via the grassy slope between the rock face left of center and the rock rib further left.

I guess he decided to pause to let me catch up (look for the orange dot).

Here's a view back of a skinny ledge walk, with the grassy picnic sub-peak behind.

Here’s a view back of a skinny ledge walk, with the grassy picnic sub-peak behind.

Typical terrain.

Typical terrain.

We didn’t waste much time on the top of 028, but kept our course to 060. The ridge between these two peaks presents nothing more than a hike, and we arrived at the summit at 12:45: 3 hours 15 min after leaving Eureka and 1 hour 40 min after reaching the low saddle leading to 028. Unnamed 060 has fabulous views, being perched between a narrow valley to the northwest and southeast, each harboring a pretty lake, and with the fangs of the Crestones rising to the south.

View NW from 060.

View NW from 060.

View S from 060 as I sign us in: you can see the winding but mellow ridge from 028, which is the rounded bump in the sun left of the high snowfield directly above the lake.

View S from 060 as I sign us in: you can see the winding but mellow ridge from 028, which is the rounded bump in the sun left of the high snowfield directly above the lake.

After feasting our eyes and partaking of snacks, we headed onto 062 and a fun downclimb. This section, our crux for the day, lies only a little to the north of the summit: it involves a class 4 downclimb to grassy slopes broken by conglomerate bones sticking out of the ground. This is a classic Sangres scramble, consisting of solid rock ribs and chutes, and grassy ledges. Anyone who has climbed the Crestones or the peaks west of Music Pass will feel at home here.

Starting off tame.

Starting off tame.

Getting a bit spicier.

Getting a bit spicier.

After this short section, the terrain once again relented. After picking our way across this broken ground below, we had a simple grassy walk over one more bump and then to the summit of 062.

After this short section, the terrain once again relented. After picking our way across this broken ground below, we had a simple grassy walk over one more bump and then to the summit of 062.

We ran across three hunters on the the other side of the ridge bump. They were resting on the ridge, having climbed up to scan the ridges for bighorn sheep. After a few words, we continued, reaching the final slope to the summit of 062. The section of ridge between 060 and 062 spans only .39 miles, and we averaged a little over one minute per .01 mile, arriving after 44 minutes.

The views here were as great as those on 060, and here's another glance south again, over our route (060 rises out of sight to the right foreground). The Crestones loom majestic as always at far left, and there was quite a bit of snow in Crestone Peak's NW couloir.

The views here were as great as those on 060, and here’s another glance south again, over our route (060 rises out of sight to the right foreground). The Crestones loom majestic as always at far left, and there was quite a bit of snow in Crestone Peak’s NW couloir.

We backtracked nearly to where the hunters rested, and picked our way down fairly mellow grassy slopes. These next two shots show Ben heading down and the vantage toward 062 to get an idea of where we descended.

27 descent N 062

On the descent.

28 062 from descent pt

Looking back up at 062.

It’s not that critical, however, as the hunters were heading down only 200 feet or so further south from the ridge, and we all ended up coming down in the same proximity again. These guys were really cool – athletic outdoorsmen who enjoy the outdoors, covering miles up and across hill while carrying 65 lb packs – no tree-standing going on here. So we chatted with them for another 15 minutes or so. As they had parked their ATVs at Hermit Pass and hiked in, they gave us some sound (if not encouraging) advice about the way back: no matter which way we returned around Rito Alto Lake, we’d wish we’d done the other.

We parted ways and got down to the lake, which presented a nice view.

We parted ways and got down to Rito Alto Lake, which presented a nice view.

Then we initially headed down the Rito Alto trail to the north, but that felt like it was taking us too far north and east, so we backtracked to the north edge of the lake and then simply bushwhacked east. The slopes soon steepened dramatically and I questioned where we were, but Ben beckoned to the blue sky between the tree branches ahead. While we had intended to hit the trail that comes down into the basin from the Hermit-028 ridge, we had struck due east from the north edge of Rito Alto lake and engaged the southern edge of Rito Alto’s west face. As we neared treeline, we paused for some sugar infusion and marveled at the views back to 062. The mountain looked much tougher from this distance than it had been.

30 view back 062

The hunters were just right of tiny bump near dead-center of this pic, along the ridge, and our descent was at a barely visible gap midway between that point and the peak of 062 in the shadow. As we descended, we stayed to the trees between the two rocky outcrops in the center of the pic, and you can glimpse the lake through the trees at lower left.

We also saw a cool waterfall from the cliffs further south of the lake.

We also saw a cool waterfall from the cliffs further south of the lake.

Once above treeline, we found low cliffs on our right but inviting slopes ahead, along with the sidewinding trail from Hermit Pass.

33 Hermit-028 ridge

A small pond we came across.

34 Rito Alto south slopes

Rito Alto is in sight.

By this time, the terrain felt steeper to my calves than it probably was, and I was happy to reach the trail. Once it made the hard line east, however, we abandoned it to take on the steep grass leading to Rito Alto. Toward the top, the terrain became rockier. We topped out and enjoyed the vantage in all directions, although we agreed that the peak itself was the least interesting of all that we climbed this day.

View south and those attention-seeking Crestones are in the way again.

View south and those attention-seeking Crestones are in the way again.

View north-northwest.

View north-northwest.

The day in review, L-R: Hermit-028 ridge and Hermit is the brown point above and behind Rito Alto Lake, 060 is the green point right of center, and 062 is the blockier peak sporting striations at the end of the ridge.

The day in review, L-R: Hermit-028 ridge and 028 is the brown point above and behind Rito Alto Lake, 060 is the green point right of center, and 062 is the blockier peak sporting striations at the end of the ridge.

After snapping a few photos and savoring the moment, we both decided it was time to savor an IPA and so headed down to the road in short order. Upon reaching my dad’s truck, which I’d borrowed for the rough Hermit road, we startled a marmot, which I later learned had chewed through electrical lines underneath the truck. (On the ride down, the fuel gauge no longer worked and the “Check Engine” light was on.) That ended up being a costly repair, so beware of parking at Horseshoe Lake!

3 thoughts on “Rito Alto y Los Debajo

  1. Ben

    Sweet recap, Steve! We got some really good shots of that area I’d say. This loop was indeed a strange one, but it really worked out well. Thanks again to your Dad for letting us use his truck. I won’t be heading up that road again, that’s for dang sure.
     
    I’m really looking forward to the next one, dude!

    Reply
  2. Floyd

    Very creative loop. I joined Mike for those UN guys a few falls ago from the west and celebrated his 400th 13er summit stop one of them. I concur that knobby conglomerate is an absolute joy to climb – but snow/ice made some of the climbing interesting. I have not yet had my back adjusted by that road and now I’m dreading the day that I decide to take the plunge. The Sangres are a great range but without a 4WD, you have to want it!

    Reply
  3. Michael R.

    Nice stuff, Sangre ridge runs are always a lot of fun! I hiked that road from the Rainbow Trail when I did Rito Alto/Hermit/Eureka, the only other people walking it were a trio of Mennonites from the local community. I thought we were all the smart ones, didn’t look like a fun drive! I like the chiropractic adjustment comment, sounds about right, the drivers looked like they were bouncing around pretty good!

    Reply

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