Backstory and Call of the MountainsThis climb occurred on October 18th, 2005. While going through my digital pictures and summitpost I realized there were no trip reports for this mountain which so inspired me for appreciation of nature - so I made one.
I had loved Colorado for a very long time. Not content with living 10 hours away, I had made the drive from north-central Oklahoma many times. As a kid growing up, my parents always camped Cuchara pass at Purgatorie or Blue/Bear lakes. Cuchara pass is the obvious "first night" stop after the long haul through the wastelands of the Oklahoma panhandle.
I never truly appreciated it then.
I had driven the route this time to meet a woman I had met online who also liked the outdoors. She was also located in Colorado herself so I knew there were common interests. Not only was this location a good stopping point after a long drive, it was halfway for her as well. When meeting each other, we really had no intention of hiking anything like this. We planned on doing what people who meet after long distances do. Climbing a peak was the last thing on our minds. Although we had previously talked about doing some hiking, to us that meant walking the campground's gravel road.
The CampsiteWe camped on Trinchera road about a third of a mile from the intersection of FR422 and FR436. Since we were planning on camping for 5 nights, we didn't feel like paying $12 a night at the campground for a portable toilet. We parked the car down the road a few blocks because it was basically 4WD where we were camping at and we hauled our camping gear up the extra distance, about a block from the last parking area accessible by 2WD cars.
While we knew that the road we were on was also called Trinchera road, it never really clicked until were deciding what to climb later on.
We were camped on the east side of the road near where the road goes to the right then left sharply. The old section of road was washed out, muddy, and full of ruts. We could hear the creek across the road that goes down into the campground even though it was several hundred feet away.
The night before was horribly cold and windy, as were all the nights camped. This was at the end of October and I was almost certain the road would have been closed to seasonal use. The trees were blowing in the wind and had the howling noise which I found calming and yet scarry at the same time. While the temperature dropped and the wind continued to barrage the tent, we were kept warm enough by a thick blanket and a single propane catalyst heater. Although it was on high, starting it at around 10pm would last most of the night and keep us warm until sunrise took over.
The next morning we woke up and made a makeshift shower with some boiling water and stream water. After 5 gallons of semiwarm water were used for the shower and a cup of coffee we decided to hike up the road. The day was sunny and clear. We had planned Zapata falls the next day and Cordova pass (and maybe the spanish peaks too) but this was simply a spur of the moment. We took 1/2 gallon of water, 12 granola bars, and a bunch of slim jims for the dogs. As we had slept in, our start was late, around 10:30am.
We knew from looking at a map that most of the way was simply a 4WD road we could hike. As we were getting ready to start, two ATV riders were unloading Grizzly ATVs where we had parked. As we were beginning the trail we talked to them shortly and they headed on up - ATVs as we were walking. The start of the hike (from our campground) was around 10,700 as indicated on a topographic map but we had no altimeter or GPS at the time for a more accurate figure.
The road loops left and right, switchback after switchback, climbing and climbing. While I wouldn't say this is a difficult hike, I was not prepared for the thinner air and was not fit enough to do this back then. Nonetheless, as we climbed I eventually had to take a break. We sat down and had a couple of granola bars and some water. We continued on. Every so often we would sit and rest. Before even reaching treeline, the ATVs passed us on their decent.
It was a combination of depression and jealousy that we were not half way up and they had been and were returning. Again, we talked. They told us it was cold on the top but they had seen some elk.
It gave me the strength to go on.
As we continued we saw a small sign indicating the way to the Purgatorie campground off to the left and at around 11,400 or so the trees suddenly gaveway to smaller sagebrush type plants and open areas. Looking up, the mountain loomed ahead.
You never realize how high it is until your only halfway there. Up above I could see the heard of Elk we had been told about.
The road is well defined. Unlike other areas of Colorado, there are few mining relics in this area - although there were a couple of waste piles on the east side of the ridge that drops down on the north side of Trinchera peak.
Near the top we found a nice area to lay down in the sun and rest. The views of the Spanish peaks in the distance were amazing. You could also see down into the San Luis Valley. Blanca Peak and Mount Mestas were also visible in the distance. Clouds rolling above the Spanish Peaks cast shadows on the mountains which crept slowly across the trees below. One rather large cloud came above Trinchera Peak which looked somewhat gloomy, yet in 2 minutes it had passed back to a sunny blue sky.
Relaxing at the Finish and the Descent
The descent was more difficult than the trip up. Sometimes you think it is easier going down but by that time our legs were rubber. Sometimes its harder to stop yourself from going down than it is to simply go up. As others have pointed out, above treeline the road is very rocky. I did trip a few times but caught myself before a faceplant occurred. I'd say hiking this road is a class 2 at most. We arrived back at the tent about 4 or 5 hours after leaving. The decent was nothing spectacular. I had a feeling of accomplishment but was very tired. Even my Siberian Husky was about to pass out.
ConclusionThis route is scenic, fairly easy, and in many ways reminded me of hiking the road from Telluride up to Tomboy. Its a littie windswept at night and there isn't much air up there. The parking access is decent. Since you are hiking on a road, there is no trail-finding involved. This area is very remote in October. For the 5 days we were there, we saw two ATVs and two other hikers. You can't get farther away from people than here and from what I understand the weather is usually good during October in this area of Colorado. The weather on this day was sunny with a few small puffy clouds and little wind. If you are in decent shape, you can make this fairly easily.
This person and I parted, but she was the first person I had known that didn't mind a workout and loved the outdoors as much as I did. If it had not been for her I wouldn't have ever gone up this mountain, nor would I still be doing it today. Thank you J.