The 3rd and final chapter of this Sangre De Cristo story…
I wasn’t sure we’d ever be here, but Annie invited us via Steph, who’s down to her last three 14ers, and well, here we are outside of the gate to Cielo Vista Ranch with plans to climb the only Colorado 14,000 foot peak on private land. We’re just a few miles from New Mexico and there’s a festive atmosphere, with climbers setting up camp, cooking, and talking about 14ers. A lot of climbers save this one for the end, choosing to climb all of the free mountains on public land first. This one costs $100 for camping and a day of climbing – another $50 if you want to tackle Red Mountain, and surrounded by like-minded folks, I’m warming to the experience. There’s no logical explanation for paying to climb, Colorado has thousands of beautiful peaks on public land; but if you want to summit all of the 14ers, you’ll wind up here eventually. Landowners these days are diversifying all sorts of ways, and we had just come from Zapata Ranch, where dude ranch hospitality compliments bison and cattle ranching. Cielo Vista opens the gates of the 77,500 acre ranch to paying guests climbing Culebra and private elk hunts in fall. Hunters pay ten large for the chance at a trophy elk. Our plan was to camp out as guests of the ranch, meet Carlos, the ranch manager at 6 a.m. when he opens the gate, take care of formalities, and climb the peak the next day. Continue reading “Culebra Peak, Colorado’s Private 14er”→
With some miles and vertical feet under our belts this season, we ventured into the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness last week. The goal was to combine backpacking and climbing, while adding a few fourteener summits. We started out in the town of Crestone, hard against the Sangre De Cristo Range in the San Luis Valley. The Willow Lake Trail gains 2,800 feet in five miles and is basecamp for the standard climbing route to Challenger Point (14,081′) and Kit Carson Mountain (14,163′). I wish I could say it was a piece of cake (that would be a load of crap) but it was a lot of fun and it’s gratifying to reach new heights in the Sangres. My photo essay follows, just click here: Continue reading “Kit Carson Mountain and Challenger Point”→
There are mountains of our dreams that may never be reached and mountains of the mind that we just might stand on. Every one has its own special place etched into the soul. That’s the thing about mountains, they wait until we’re ready. Snowmass Mountain, in Colorado’s Elk Mountain Range, took us nine years to climb, a “not quite” in our Jerry Roach book. We first attempted Snowmass while circumnavigating the Maroon Bells on the four pass loop in 2003 and were thwarted by weather and a shortage of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. True story. This time around, fitness was in question, but we were determined and had been perfecting the art of suffering over the last decade. The latter, combined with determination driven by a “not quite” in the Roach book, and lots of peanut butter on Marla’s homemade banana bread got us to the top this time around. Continue reading “Snowmass Mountain”→
View to James Peak (upper left) from the top of the Second Creek drainage on March 25, 2012. Vasquez Peak Wilderness, Colorado
We barely squeezed in our annual pilgrimage to the top of the Second Creek drainage and over to the 12,000 foot high point of Mary Jane Ski Area. Second Creek is popular with backcountry skiers and snowshoers, with great accessibility from a wide spot on I40 just below Berthoud Pass. Marla, Kim, Marc, his daughter Hannah, and I hiked up past the site of a new backcountry cabin, then straight up the bowl to the top with 180 degree views of the Indian Peaks and Vasquez Peaks. Byers Peak caught the first sun to break through cloud cover and the air quickly warmed to temps more like May than the end of winter. We made a slight detour and hopscotched from one snow island to the next to avoid treading on fragile tundra, not normally a concern in March. Panoramic Lift, at just over 12,000 feet, is an amusing lunch spot, with skiers off-loading and pointing at us, a few asking where we hiked from. We soaked in the sun while dining on lukewarm burritos, fruit, nuts, and brownies that emerged from our packs and compared notes about the stunning lack of snow and the few skiers on a spring break Sunday. Kim, who grew up in nearby Granby, and Marc, who has a condo in Fraser, have never seen such a light snowpack in March. It’s officially 65% of average statewide and above average temps are predicted for the next week. If we don’t get a big dump soon, it’s going to be a parched summer across the West. Continue reading “Got Snowpack?”→
Kevin leaps from High Dune on a blustery afternoon in Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO
I’m in between trips after spending eight days teaching at the Monte Vista Crane Festival and the Zapata Ranch Sandhill Crane Photo Workshop. After the Monte Vista class, I stretched my legs at Great Sand Dunes National Park, with towering dunes sandwiched between granite 14,000 foot peaks and high desert. It’s a rare ecosysytem in the world and a special place to hike. I met Kevin and Tamara on top of High Dune – they stopped en-route to Tucson for a week’s vacation, adding Great Sand Dunes to their quest to visit all of America’s National Park. Now in their 20’s, Kevin and Tamara met while competing for the University of Wyoming swim team; so of course Kevin wanted to demonstrate his diving skills from the big pile of sand. We hiked out together, talking about adventure with no complaints about the miserable conditions.
I’ll post a recap of the (2) Zapata workshops soon.
Kit Carson Mountain (14,165′) in early morning light from the summit of Humboldt Peak (14,064′). Sangre De Cristo Wilderness, Colorado
I came across this image while working on a submission for the 2013 Colorado 14’ers Calendar and it stopped me in my tracks. The yearning to get back on a mountain peak with Marla has been building for months as I’ve tried to be patient with my osteoarthritic knee; but never allowing myself to seriously think about climbing a mountain. But last night’s hike was strong and I’m now able to spend some time going through mountain photos, day-dreaming about that feeling of freezing on a mountaintop in mid-summer while waiting for those first golden rays that trick the camera into capturing warmth above timberline.
We were camped with Annie, Mike, and Chris, and Marla somehow convinced the crew that it would be awesome to start hiking at 2:30 a.m. to be on Humboldt’s summit at sunrise. I don’t know how she did it, but there we were the next morning, a short train of light, winding our way up Humboldt’s summit ridge. And it was cold! Just after sunrise, clouds building on the valley floor raced up the valley between us and Kit Carson Mountain, creating an alpine dreamscape that would eventually obscure the peaks, then tease us with views of the Crestones and the Sangre De Cristo skyline. I can’t wait to get back.
Winter In Mayflower Gulch, Arapaho National Forest, Colorado. Fletcher Mountain (13,951′) looks like it was sketched into the backdrop as light snow fell.
We make a pilgrimage to Mayflower Gulch at least once a winter. It’s an easy snowshoe or ski up to Boston Mine, situated at timberline beneath hulking peaks and a jagged ridge in the Tenmile Range. Our plan (in Feb, ’11) to photograph sunset changed with Mother Nature’s muse, offering light snow and flocked pine with glimses of 13,000 foot peaks.
Our annual group 14er trip was a small gathering in the Lizard Head Wilderness this year. We had a great time with Annie and Mike Goodwin – others had excuses – Chris Park was in New Zealand, Jack and Claudia are getting ready for three months in S. America, Tim and Amelia Poppe are having a baby. Really? We made the trip anyway, beginning in Telluride, where we all bought new climbing helmets to take the place of helmets that were safely tucked away in the garage at home. Part one was a backpack into the very popular Navajo Basin, staging area for climbs of Wilson Peak and Mount Wilson. We successfully climbed class 3 Wilson Peak on day two. Continue reading “San Juan Mountains – Photo Essay”→
We weren’t sure whether it was ok to follow through with our plans to climb Mount Elbert just a few days after 9-11. At 14,433 feet, Elbert is the highest peak in the Rockies and it was a tough day on the Black Cloud Trail both emotionally and physically. We reached the summit after about five hours of ascending and saw the large flag on top. There was another group on the peak at the same time and I recall that we all spoke in hushed voices, celebrating our expression of American freedom quietly. This image always takes me right back to the strange days following 9-11, the surreal coverage of the tragedies, and the lump in my throat on Mount Elbert that day.