Stats/IntroPt 13660 - CO Rank 168
Pt 13577 - CO Rank 205
California Pk (13849')- CO Rank 84
Pt 12180 B - CO Rank 1208
Sept 16, 2006
10 miles RT, 4650' gain
from Huerfano 4WD trailhead
Participants: David Pneuman and Kevin Baker
Centennial California has been on my list for quite some time, but it seemed like everytime I made plans the weather forecast went bad. The weather for Saturday looked bad throughout much of the state with a front moving through, but the Sangres looked reasonable other than high winds. I figured I could deal with 50 mph gusts in Sept.
I wanted to do a tour of California to include the 2 ranked 13ers to the south, one a bi-centennial and the other a tri-centennial. It's not often that you can hike a top 100, 200, and 300 peak in the same day! I read Ryan Schilling's excellent report where he also picked up the ranked 12er just north of the Zapata trail on the descent, so a copycat trip was in order. David Pneuman agreed to join me on this climb that affords incredible views of the Sierra Blanca. We decided to do this loop clockwise, which would mean we would have the winds to our back most of the day if the forecast held.
The plan was to meet at the lower Huerfano TH since Dave was bringing his minivan and the road got rougher past it. I left C. Springs around 3:30am and had an interesting drive out as I dodged a fox, a skunk, and some cows who were sleeping on the dirt road to the trailhead! Luckily there was enough room to squeeze by the cows as they wouldn't budge! I arrived at the lower TH at a little past our meeting time of 6 and Dave was nowhere to be found, so I drove to the upper trailhead and he wasn't there as well. We finally crossed paths when I went back down as his van was parked off the road out of view.
I drove us to the upper TH at 10660' which meant we would have to do some uphill on the road for the return. As we were about to set out, Jared Workman and his wife arrived as they were going to climb Lindsey. There were quite a few cars at the TH for so late in the season, presumably all heading for Lindsey. Dave and I set out at 7:09am as skies were overcast but it looked like the sun would break through. It did but not until much later than we had hoped. The route to the 13ers follows the route to Lindsey for the first 3/4 mile or so, then follows the Lilly Lake trail s.w. to a beautiful hanging basin. The trail is not very efficient in the beginning and gains most of the 1500' or so from the valley floor to Lilly Lake in the last mile or so.
We could hear the winds howling on the ridgelines above us, and we knew our pleasant hike would be short lived. The clouds obscured most of the impressive north face of Blanca when we arrived at pristine Lilly Lake, but we got the views we were hoping for later in the hike. I had read about the annoying climb to our first goal of the day, Pt 13577. It looked pretty loose with quite a few cliff bands to navigate, so we did an ascending traverse on the talus to just above the higher lake at the head of the basin. We spotted an attractive looking couloir that looked doable to the low point of the 13577/13660 ridge, so we decided to make up our own route. We dubbed it the "California Dreamin" couloir and it was pretty efficient, saving us some elevation loss. We stuck close together since we didn't have helmets, and we were soon at the low point of the ridge.
The "California Dreamin" couloir to the 13577/13660 saddle.
Our shelter from the wind was now over as were exposed to its full fury as we would be on ridges for quite awhile. The prevailing wind was out of the s.w., but the terrain made it swirl about knocking you every which way. The wind wasn't too terrible on the first climb to 13660. There were some fun class 3 slabs just below the summit that made things interesting with the wind. There was some snow left over from last weekend's storm, but not enough to slow us down. We topped out at 10:36 and were rewarded with stunning views of the Blanca group.
Stunning view of the Blanca group of 14ers from Pt 13660
This bi-centennial offers a very unique view of the 14ers in the area. We only hung around for 20 minutes or so, as our day was just starting.
The intimidating n.w. face of Little Bear from Pt 13660.
The journey over to tri-centennial 13577 went fairly quick. The wind was still manageable at this point as there were wind shadows that provided some relief.
14er Lindsey from Pt 13660.
The talus hopping on 13577 wasn't bad, but we were now feeling the full effects of the wind the higher we got. I topped out at 11:34, grabbed the register, and headed to the eastern leeward side of the summit for a brief respite from the wind. We knew the final sustained climb of the day to California, our prize for the day, would be brutal. We only hung around for 10 minutes and began the northward slog to CA.
The whole day I had the old Mamas and Papa's song "California Dreamin" in my head and it was very fitting for this day as it didn't feel like summer anymore! It was a very winterlike day with temps in the 30's and 40's with windchills around 20 with the gusts. Full face cover was necessary for awhile. When we arrived at the 2 saddles to California, it was hard to keep your balance. I felt like I was on a pogo stick as the wind was hitting us from all directions. Fortunantly the prevailing wind was out of the s.w., so if we spread our arms it would push us like a kite when behind us. At one point, Dave had me take a pic of his poles which were getting pushed horizontally when he dangled them from his wrists!
Dave's poles being blown horizontally by the force of the wind.
I really hit the wall on the 600' climb to CA's summit, but I knew we were close. Upon arriving at the false summit, I skirted it on the leeward side and once on the summit ridge the wind seemed to abate somewhat. I topped out at 12:47, happy to have most of the elevation gain done for the day. We took a longer break here, soaking up the views in all directions and enjoying the vivid array of colors in the Huerfano valley. We left at around 1:15 and headed down the gentle north slopes, although the ups and downs were more than I expected.
Pt 12180 B and Descent
The winds abated somewhat as we descended to the 11860' saddle, which was a long 2 miles away. Dave didn't seem to be too interested in adding a 4th ranked summit just 1/2 mile north of this saddle, but he was a good sport and tagged along. This 12er is a nice little gem to add to the day as it only adds 1 mile round trip and 320' vertical! We topped out on it at 2:53, happy to finally be heading down for good.
On the descent, we skirted to skier's left of Pt 11976 to shave off a little distance and joined the Zapata Trail. We left this trail at 11200' when it did a switchback to the n.e., which is opposite the way we wanted to go. We did a descending traverse, trying to stay high and contour towards the upper trailhead. We ended up popping out on the road at Dave's mini-van, which was only .2 mile above the lower TH at 4:10. Dave gave me a ride as far as he could and I walked the last half mile to the 4WD trailhead. All in all, it was an excellent hike that would have been superb had the wind cooperated!
Mighty Blanca stands guard over the Huerfano Valley.
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