Finally, summer is here. To cap off what I can best describe as a hard-earned, tumultuous, even frustrating at times, spring ski season, 23 of us (yes, twenty-three) skied the Tuning Fork on Torreys Peak and grilled out in the green meadows down below. Skiing Torreys has turned into a yearly tradition of sorts; a sendoff to ski season (for most of us at least) and a welcoming of summer and new activities to come. As other, perhaps more die hard skiers than myself continue their eternal search for snow, hiking long miles with skis and boots on their backs to glisse down strips of summer corn, I always find myself 100% happy to ditch all the gear and transition into peakbagging mode.
In the spirit of transitioning into peakbagging mode, Steve, Jax, and I motored on down to southern-Colorado with nothing but a pair of 8lb packs and trail shoes. After a fruitless search for a free campsite, we pitched our tents at Blue Lakes Campground west of Cuchara Pass. I’ve always found this area of the state intriguing – a sort of southwest meets mountain town feel in La Veta, and peaks more reminiscent of New Mexico 12ers than Colorado 13ers. The ranching history is sure rich in this region, and time hasn’t done much to dissolve the aura.
We woke up at 4am and started up the snowed-in Jeep road that parallels Cucharas Creek as it winds southwest towards the east side of the Culebra Range. In fully dry summer conditions, 4WD vehicles can continue up this road well above tree line, but Steve and I quickly figured out we’d be starting from the campground. It’s amazing how much snow the Sangres received this spring.
After hiking a few miles up the road over numerous frozen snowbanks which we knew would almost certainly lead to posthole city later in the day, we broke tree line and headed straight for Trinchera Peak’s half-dry eastern rampart. The snow was mostly supportive which allowed for an efficient ascent to the summit.
Like true peakbaggers we bypassed the unranked “Leaning North Peak” and topped out on the much more ranked “Leaning South Peak” within an hour or so of leaving Trinchera.
Gaining Cuatro required us to skirt around a few humps which bisect the ridge line, but it still felt like a skip and a hop away. We were expecting a longer, more involved ridge run between the three peaks than we really found.
Banks of thunderheads were already starting to build to our south and east, so we decided not to tempt fate by continuing any farther along the ridge to Mariquita. Knowing we had to return back over Trinchera before being able to reasonably descend off the ridge was a big part of this decision. That, and the summit of Mariquita is officially on private ranch property.
We reversed the ridge back to “Leaning South” and skirted below the west side of its summit this time, then dropped down to the base of “Leaning North” and slogged up the final bit of elevation back to Trinchera’s summit.
One small curve ball was thrown our way upon descending Trinchera’s north ridge. The terrain gets cliffy and loose for a few hundred feet, bordering on class 3 terrain. Jax negotiated it well though and in no time we were back down on the 4WD road and heading into the trees.
Now for that post hole city I mentioned earlier. Thankfully it wasn’t too terrible for us as the snow in the trees had consolidated well enough in the weeks prior to still allow for some support around 1pm. It wasn’t without its difficulties however. A few strings of obscenities may have been heard coming out of the woods by any onlooker standing in the right spot. Eventually though we came plodding into the campground, happy to have gotten our first peaks of what felt like summer up there.
A long nap at the campground was in order, followed by a Melvin session (taste test between the MPA, IPA, and DIPA, we both liked the DIPA the most). After that it was into Pueblo for a quick bite to eat at Brues Alehouse (a solid new brewery in town), and a straightforward drive back to Denver. For those interested our stats came out to 10 miles and 5,600 ft.
This is a highly unique area of Colorado and a fun set of peaks, particularly for early or late-season peakbagging. I’d recommend checking it out sometime.
Steve, thanks for another good one. Looking forward to whatever the rest of the summer has in store…