If you would have asked me a year or two ago if I’d fork over $100 to climb a 14er on someone’s private ranch, I would have told you “no thanks.” Somewhere along the way between now and then the idea didn’t become any more appealing but I somehow convinced myself to go ahead and do it. Maybe it was the fear of the 14er police inspecting my checklist if and when I eventually finish them all, but I made up mind.
The original plan was to hike with a small group of 5 on June 24th of this year, a date we negotiated with the ranch owners with the understanding that it was before they would officially open for the year, but if the conditions were dry, we could go. Long story short, we weren’t allowed to go, but we did manage to reschedule for August 26th after shuffling our schedule around. This time we pieced together a larger crew of friends, many of whom we’ve met this summer.
The plans were set to meet at the ranch gate just before 6am Sunday and Karen and I hitched a ride down to San Luis Saturday afternoon to scout out the trailhead and link up with Sheri, Tim, and Jake, who had offered Karen and I another night’s stay in the Chateau Vernier. We set off from San Luis back into the middle of nowhere through a maze of dirt roads oddly well-marked with street signs. Seemed like one of those areas you read about in an airline magazine “Own 10 acres of prime Colorado real estate.” I think we saw 1 cabin over a distance of 8 miles and eventually chose the intersection of Forbes and Wood as our stopping point, heading right on Wood until it dead-ended with the forest. We unloaded our gear from Patrick’s car and before he drove off Patrick asked if we’d be alright. We responded “sure, we’ll be fine!” - famous last words.
So we started setting up the chateau and Tim gave me the crank arm to start hoisting the roof. After a few cranks I noticed an interesting problem – the pop-up was not popping up. Something was obviously disengaged in the winch, at which point we realized we had no tools to disassemble it for a better look. No reason to panic yet, Tim and I figured out if we held the crank arm just right and applied pressure there we could convince it to go up a little bit at a time. Fleetwood will be hearing from the Verniers.
All’s well that ends well and we finished setting up in time for Tim to go for a short bike ride before a fine dinner of burgers, baked beans, and potato salad. We finished off the night with s’mores around the fire, good conversation, and me demonstrating cat-like reflexes avoiding the flaming marshmallow on the end of little Jake’s stick. Bedtime came just after 11pm.
Culebra PeakSaturday, August 26, 2007
Objective: Culebra Peak (14,047’) – CO Rank 41
Route: Northwest Ridge (Class 2)
Total Distance: ~7.5 miles
Elevation Gain: ~3200 ft
Participants: Jim & Karen Ohl, Patrick Thornely, Risa Hayes, Matt Wilson, Sheri Vernier, Renee Jones, Monique French, Peggy Knock, Linda Pryor, Uwe Sartori
Up by 4:40am, we made our way back to the ranch gate at 5:45am amongst a crowd of anxious hikers. Carlos, the ranch hand showed up shortly thereafter and herded us up to the ranch headquarters where he signed us in and took our money. Karen and I opted out on the extra $50 bonus hike to centennial Red Mountain, deciding that after the 14ers, we’re done with lists. Once the 25 hikers who were allowed on the ranch that day were signed in we had a quick briefing from Carlos and he sent us on our way. The 4wd road up to the trailhead was almost ridiculously steep. Although 4wd probably wasn’t necessary, the tricky spots were large drainage ruts that angled across the road. We reached “Four Way,” an intersection that marked our starting point, after about 2.5 miles and were ready to go by 7am. I felt a little weird starting a hike so late in the morning.
Carlos had given us a map of suggested routes to the summit and we ended up taking the one labeled Roach’s route, or something close to that route. There definitely wasn’t a defined trail and after leaving the 4wd road we pretty much headed straight for a gigantic cairn that was visible on the ridge. We eventually fanned out to minimize the impact on the terrain and made steady progress past treeline and on up the grassy slope to the ridge.
Once reaching the giant cairn we could see the next segment that traversed Culebra’s gentle northwest ridge up to a false summit. There were a few footpaths and sort-of trails along the way, but traversing the ridge pretty much involved picking our way along the talus. The true summit of Culebra as well as Red Mountain soon came into view and we admired the Spanish Peaks to our northeast. The final push to the summit went quickly and we topped out at 9:45am.
We spent some time relaxing on the summit as everyone finished up, and managed a summit photo of the whole group with our leftover cash before sending 7 of us off to Red Mountain.
Karen and I decided to hang out on the summit of Culebra while the others went over and back to Red, and Sheri and Renee went back to the car. I entertained myself by figuring out my average number of steps over a distance of 100-ft and estimated that our trip up and down Culebra really only cost us $.004/step – seems like a bargain now doesn’t it? After about 15 minutes on the summit we noticed rain clouds to the southeast and then spotted lighting coming down from those same clouds. So much for waiting on the summit, we headed down quickly and managed to catch up to Sheri and Renee. The clouds continued to build and we hoped they would hold off for everyone heading up and down Red. The remainder of the route down was pretty casual and we found ourselves back at the car just before 1pm. We would later find out that the rest of our crew made it up and down Red without incident and made it almost all the way back to the car before the rain and lightning moved over them. We celebrated the day’s success with dinner at Emma’s Hacienda, one of the two open restaurants in San Luis, and headed back to Colorado Springs.