I suspect that for a lot of people who, like myself, grew up in Oklahoma and Texas, the Sangre de Cristos of New Mexico and Colorado serve as their introduction to mountains. Certainly for me, my interest in mountains started about 25 years ago at Philmont scout camp and included the first mountain I ever climbed above treeline (Baldy). A few years later, Blanca Peak was one of the first 14ers I climbed. Once I moved, I didn't think much of the Sangres, with my sights on numerous other mountain ranges around the western United States. However, once I decided to attend a medical meeting in Santa Fe, my thoughts again turned to the Sangre de Cristos.
There are numerous great things about summitpost, but for me it is just the opportunity to learn about new mountains. With a few free days in late May, I decided to find a few peaks to scramble up, and summitpost was full of options. It has been a pretty heavy snow year in Idaho, and I wasn't sure if snowshoes would be needed in New Mexico and southern Colorado but thankfully I brought them
Day 1- Jicarita Peak
After flying to Albuquerque, I picked up my rental car and headed for my first goal- Jicarita Peak. I had never heard of Jicarita Peak before summitpost, but it seemed like a good first day option- high peak in an area I had never seen. I drove to the trailhead at about 10300 feet and camped. In the morning, I set out at 600AM. It did not take more than a half a mile to get into snow. The snowshoes went on, and from there is was a little bit of a bushwhack on at times several feet of rotten snow to get to treeline. As the summitpost page on Jicarita indicates, this is not a very steep mountain at all. The upper slopes were windblown so I ditched the snowshoes and walked to the top. The views of the Truchas group were particularly nice and appear more rugged than most mountains in New Mexico. The Wheeler group to the north had plenty of snow. I had the summit to myself other than some unusually large wind shelters constructed by people with too much free time. A quick hike down got me back to the trailhead. The mountain is not steep enough for much glissading. I was surprised to see a few people hiking below the snowline- I was also surprised that several of them had apparantly never seen snowshoes. From Jicarita, I had a pleasant drive through northern New Mexico, with a quick sentimental stop in Philmont, and headed toward Trinchera Peak
Day 2- Trinchera Peak
My goal for day 2 was Trinchera Peak, a mountain I had seen multiple times from I-25 but did not know much about climbing until seeing the summitpost page. I must admit that while it might not be Colorado's best, the view of the Culebra Range driving west from Trinidad is pretty good. I had planned to camp at Blue or Bear Lake but was a little surprised to find them closed due to several feet of snow still on the ground. I backtracked and ended up camping along the road toward Cordova Pass.
On the morning of Day 2, I got up at 500am, broke camp and drove back to Blue Lake campground. The jeep trail heading up toward Trinchera was covered in several feet of snow so the snowshoes went on immediately. The snow was firm and with a jeep trail to follow, I made quick time to treeline. From there, there looked to be fun snow slopes to the summit. I put on crampons and headed up- it was never very steep but I had an enjoyable time on good snow to the summit. Good views toward Culebra in the south and Blanca in the north. The summit register was full of signatures from Texans. Once the jeep trail melts out, this would be an very quick hike if one drove the entire trail. I thought I had the summit to myself but was surprised by a couple of Bighorn Sheep up there. I had considered heading over to Cuatro Peak, but decided to go back down and continue driving to tomorrows goal. There was some good glissading on the way down. One of the best things about Trinchera is the view over to West Spanish Peak, one of Colorado's more underappreciated peaks.
Day 3- Horn Peak
Like most people, I really think of the Crestones when I think of the Sangre de Cristos. I had not been in the area since climbing Crestone Needle in 1991. I had also not been to the area this early in the spring. The Sangre de Cristos of New Mexico may be part of the same range but really look nothing like the Northern Sangres. As I drove from Walsenburg to Westcliffe under clear skies the views were stupendous. I always think of the Tetons when I see the Crestones. I set up camp at Alvarado campground which was essentially deserted on Memorial Day evening (except for one RV which had numerous people driving 4 wheelers around the camp). On Tuesday morning, I woke up at 500am and broke camp. I was surprised to be in a little fog but I soon drove out of it on the way to the trailhead. The area around the trailhead is undergoing some type of timber operation and it looks like it was bombed. After a brief stroll on the Rainbow trail, the Horn Peak trail goes more or less straight up the hillside. Unlike the past two hikes, there were signs of hikers once I got into the snow- lots of postholes. Once the trail gets on the east ridge it was an interesting contrast between the south slopes that were bare and dry versus the north facing slopes still with several feet of rotten snow- testament to the effects of sun and prevailing wind. The snow was so rotten that the snowshoes went on- I will testify that my MSR Denali's are pretty rugged having now walked over dirt and rocks with them. There was not much snow above tree line so I ditched the snowshoes and walked to the summit. After reading KM Donovans register entry I had brought my crampons and ice axe but did not find any occasion to use them. The views were excellent, particularly the range crest from Crestone Needle to Mt. Adams. For the third consequetive day, I had excellent weather although there were low level clouds coming in from the plains. On the way down, there were a couple of potential glissades into the drainage but as I had left my snowshoes on the ridge, I had to skip the glissades.
Day 4- East Pecos Baldy attempt
I had initially thought of trying for Cottonwood Peak in the Northern Sangres or Cuatro Peak in the Culebra range, however, I really needed to be closer to Santa Fe as the meeting started that evening. I spent the night in Las Vegas, New Mexico and woke up to rain and fog. It did not look like a very good summit day but I headed up to the Jack's Creek Trailhead and started toward Pecos Baldy lake- must admit I was low on motivation and between the weather and rotten snow and multiple downed trees, I decided to call it a day after getting to about 11000feet. Nevertheless, it was a pretty area with a surprisingly large number of backpackers. I didn't take any pictures- just visualize lots of downed timber on snow.
Day 5-Tent Rocks National Monument
Being in a medical meeting all morning, I did not have time for a big undertaking. I must admit that I was dubious when I heard there was a slot canyon near Santa Fe, but sure enough there is. There is a nice summitpost page on this national monument (Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks) and while the slot is not as impressive as some in Utah and Arizona, it is still worth visiting for a half a day.
Day 6-Lake Peak
My final planned ascent of the week was Lake Peak. It is very close to Santa Fe with a high trailhead so I figured I could do it in an afternoon. My biggest question was the quantity of snow. Once I arrived at the trailhead it became clear that I could avoid most of the snow by following the ski slopes up to the ridge. There was still two or three feet of snow in the trees but it had primarily melted off the open slopes. Hiking up ski slopes is not the most scenic way to climb a mountain but it was a very efficient way to get to over 12000ft. After briefly climbing on broad open slopes above treeline, one arrives at the final ridge to Lake Peak. After minimal scrambling the rest of the week, I was quite surprised how rugged this ridge was- much more rugged than Santa Fe Baldy to the north. There was still some snow in the gullies along the ridge which made routefinding a bit of a challenge without being exposed to fairly long falls. Overall this is a very quick trip to what I suppose is the southernmost peak in the Sangre de Cristos. Good views down the valley toward Santa Fe.
Day 7- Rafting the Rio Grande
After 6 days of hiking, I decided to go rafting as a change of pace. There is plenty of water in the river this year. The race course section is not particularly hardcore but plenty of fun.
Had a great week with some early season hikes up some lesser known peaks. I appreciate everyone who has posted invaluable information on summitpost. It has certainly got me interested in another trip back to the Sangres.
1. Hiking Colorado's Sangre de Cristo Wilderness- Jason Moore- what I particularly like about this book, is that it provides information on winter/ spring hiking on the routes.
2. Blood and Thunder- The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West- Hampton Sides
I attempted Jicarita a couple weeks earlier, we did not reach the treeline because of not being prepared for the snow. We left in the morning at around 9000ft and it was snowing throughout the morning. By early afternoon, the snow was thigh deep at points so we decided to head on back. I am looking forward to trying again this year.