Summer Kickoff: Culebra Range Trio

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“Leaning South” and Cuatro Peaks seen from Trinchera. That’s Culebra way in the back. 

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.

What $17 will get you at Blue Lakes Campground.

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.

The route we took up Trinchera seen from near the summit. One of the lakes near the campground can be seen in the trees below. That’s West Spanish Peak in back.

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.

Trinchera is unique in that the summit has five or six massive cairns on it. Someone may have smoked some Peyote and had a little too much fun stacking rocks on top of one another.

After signing in we scouted the peaks to our south, which appeared to be mostly snow-free. Here’s Steve and Jax heading off Trinchera’s 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.

“Leaning South” summit, looking south towards Cuatro (the highest point) in the distance.

Steve with the rapidly melting Blanca Group in back.

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.

Jax hoping meat is in his near future. Quite the hiking dog he’s turned into.

On the north slopes of Cuatro with the snow-capped Trinchera behind.

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.

Steve and West Spanish Peak.

Looking south from Cuatro’s summit into the land of peaks on private property. If Steve and I finish the 13ers someday, getting the seven ranked peaks between Cuatro and Culebra will surely cost us.

A look back at Cuatro Peak.

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.

“Leaning North” (right) and Trinchera from the north slope of “Leaning South”.

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.

Steve and Jax discussing descent options off the north ridge of Trinchera.

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.

The exclamation point.

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…

6 thoughts on “Summer Kickoff: Culebra Range Trio

  1. Brandon Chalk

    What a nice ridge run to kick off things this summer, Ben! Nice work to you & Steve & Jax! As Rainie was in her heyday, Jax will no doubt be a peakbaggin’ trail dog!

    1. Ben Post author

      Brando, you da man. Thanks for always diligently reading all this BS we constantly churn out. Rainie rocks too. She’s Jax’s inspiration I think. He’s still got some work to do… 🙂

  2. Floyd

    Jax is really getting after it! I really miss the days of peakbagging with Floyd. Those are special times. Just thinking of him lying in front of the tent exhausted after a long day brings a smile. I hope Jax appreciates the fast food $1 menus as much as Floyd does (did). Also, I still have your leash…
     
    So, you didn’t go any farther south, huh?

    1. Ben Post author

      Hey Floyd! They definitely are special times. I’ve been trying to savor them knowing Jax won’t be able to do this stuff forever. I have yet to try the dollar menu post-climb for him. I’m sure he’d love it.
       
      Yeah, we resisted the temptation to head further south. But we were able to get some good beta on Mariquita and De Anza…for whatever reasons we might want beta for those two…

  3. Steve

    Jax is a fine hiking companion – besides the fact that he never complains, I like that he alerts you when I’ve fallen a quarter mile behind. You left out our hour of fun after I got the car stuck trying to motor through that seemingly small snowbank the night before. I hope that’s the last time I end up using a sandal as a shovel!

    1. Ben Post author

      Man, getting the car stuck sucked, as did that postholing session. Dang mud season!

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