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