Comanche Venable Loop

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Trip Report
Colorado, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Jun 21, 2009
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81.18% Score
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Comanche Venable Loop
Created On: Jun 29, 2009
Last Edited On: Jan 12, 2013

“Everybodys Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey”

Now, there are people who have no fear. Those who have little fear and those who are basically scared sh*tless of standing on a narrow ledge next to a cliff with a sheer drop of several hundred feet or more. Unfortunately, I happen to be one in the latter category. If I lived hundreds of miles away from climbable peaks and wasn’t an avid outdoor adventurer, this wouldn’t be of much importance, but I happen to live almost within walking distance of some of the best climbing in Colorado and I love being in and exploring the mountains.

For some, this hike will be a walk in the park. For others, possibly one of the most exciting things they might do in their lifetime. For me, a way to try and tear the monkey off my back. The monkey; being, my fear of heights.

The Comanche Side

I’ve been waiting for months to finally get out and do a hike that doesn’t involve “buried down to your waist in snow” snow shoeing. I’ve not been living in Westcliffe long enough to know what to expect of the annual weather patterns, but I’ve been here long enough to know it normally starts snowing around October and can continue through as far as September. This year, with about 3 ½ more foot dumped in the last week of April on top of the existing snow pack, has led to a long year of waiting for the trails to clear.

My friend Jeff and I have a weeklong hike planned very shortly and I needed to get out and do a little checking on conditions to see if we were going to have to change our hiking plans. I decided to take the Comanche-Venable Loop. Figured if the Phantom Terrace was open, then the rest of the area should be passable.

The day was gorgeous and sunny. Not a cloud in the sky. Seems to me, the last time I saw a day like this was in September, almost a year ago. Man… I can’t believe how long winters can be.
Comanche TrailLower Comanche Trail
Avy ChuteAvalanche Field

I drove up the forest road towards the parking area and got stuck behind a dump truck dropping dirt across the road, trying to cover up the rocky sections that have appeared because of last years harsh winter eroding it away. After almost getting stuck in the fresh mounds of dirt and banging the front end of my car into the newly dug channels that have been placed across the road at various places for drainage, I arrived at the trailhead and quickly headed out. I planned on a short day, because frankly, there just looked like there was too much snow in the upper elevations for me to get around the whole loop.

Got to the trailhead register and noticed there were two groups of two ahead of me. I thought to myself, “Dang! Where are all these people coming from?” Four or more people on a trail around here would be considered heavy traffic. Did I say I love living here?

The first few miles of the hike are somewhat mediocre (somewhat like this trip report) except for an occasional grouse flying out of the bushes to make you jump and some gorgeous view of aspens in the spring and fall, but stick with me, it gets better.

After following the trail westerly for a couple of miles, it makes an abrupt turn due south past an old avalanche field and begins to climb a series of several fairly short switchbacks. After the switchbacks, you reach a saddle where you get a clear view of the valley to the south that leads to Comanche Lakes as well as a glimpse of the upper tip of Horn Peak. At this point, the views start to look pretty good.
Glimpse of Horn PeakHorn Peak In The Distance
Wet Mountain ValleyWet Mountain Valley

Once you pass the saddle, the trail heads westerly and narrows quite a bit. As always, there are rock fields that you cross. Seems like, any place you go hiking in Colorado you’re going to pass rock fields. I guess, that’s why they call em The Rocky Mountains, ya think? About a mile and a half past the saddle I reached a basin and see the first bright blue lake. Continue climbing a short distance and the second lake appears. Up ahead, directly in front of me is Comanche Peak. And finally, to the right of Comanche Peak is Comanche Pass. Once I get up there, I’ll get a good level walk for a mile or so.

RidgelineRidgeline to Comanche Peak
Locals along Commanche Venable LoopLocal
Lower Comanche LakeLower comanche Lake
Upper & Lower Comanche LakesBoth Comanche Lakes

A Special Memorial

Memorial For A Young BoySmall Memorial For A Young Boy

Just before reaching Comanche Pass, there’s a good sized rock outcropping. Below it, sits a small wooden cross. I’d seen it once before when there was a lot of snow on the ground. It sits in a slightly precarious spot, so I hadn’t checked it out before. Now, the ground was free of snow and I could climb down and do a little exploring. Maybe, it might have words on it. At first, I see nothing and notice that it’s mounted to some sort of circular bottom. I’m able to turn it. A small picture of a young boy appears. All sorts of thoughts come to mind. I wonder what had happened here. Knowing that it had to be a place of great sadness for someone. Whose child is it? How long has the cross been here? Also, realizing that if I had started the loop hike on the Venable side, instead of the Comanche side, I probably would have walked past it without ever knowing it was there. I snapped a picture of the memorial and climbed a few more feet, reaching the top of the pass. Standing on what seems to be the top of the world, I see for miles and miles in all directions.

The snow on the western side has disappeared and the trail is perfectly clear. At least, as far as can see. I began walking along the western slope of Spring Mountain towards the Phantom Terrace. I can almost touch the summits of Comanche Peak and Spring Mountain. Snow covered Mt Adams and Kit Carson sit majestically to the south and Venable Peak looms directly in front of me to the north.

As I near the final switchback immediately below the PhantomTerrace, (the ledge that connects the Comanche and Venable trails), I stop and talk to a small group of hikers. I asked if they came across the Terrace. They told me that they had. Said it wasn't too bad and that there was some snow at the upper end with a small ledge providing access across it. The snow could be skirted by a narrow ledge. In "acrophobic" retrospect, I think it's truly amazing how one persons "easy" is anothers impossibility. Funny how the mind works.

Comanche PeakComanche Peak
Views from Comanche PassView to the south
San Luis ValleySan Luis Valley
Venable PeakVenable Peak

The Phantom Terrace

I see a narrow ledge with a long, sheer drop without any possibility of surviving if I slip and my pulse begins to race, I start to sweat and a battle of will begins to entail. At first, it’s a thought. Then several thoughts. Then, actual words begin to emanate from my lips and pretty soon, a full fledged argument ensues.

I reached the saddle and peered around the corner to look at the top section of the Phantom Terrace. Sat my pack down and the argument began. This time, I win the argument and fear loses. I’m going across. No ifs ands or butts. And probably, I could add, No brains!!!
First View of Phantom TerraceFirst View Of Phantom Terrace
Upper Phantom Terrace & Spring MtnView Of The Ledge

I took another close look at the ledge and the wall of snow standing between me and safety. Next move was to put my hiking poles inside my small pack and slowly place my left foot on the ledge. Then my right foot. I figured, I had about 10ft to cross before the trail widened enough for me to feel somewhat comfortable. I dug my left hand as far as I could into the snow bank for a little more security and took another couple of steps.

I had one or two more steps to go before it widened and saw a large patch of mud that I was going to have to step into. To make matters worse, the ground was highly uneven and tilting towards the cliff edge. The step was going to be quite awkward, leaning towards the drop off, making the chance of my foot sliding out from underneath me a substantial possibility. I stood there for what seemed an eternity and decided that a hiking pole might give me more security.

I wanted to kick myself for putting both of my poles in my pack. Now, I was in a precarious position. I reached very, very slowly over my shoulder and grabbed my pack. Trying as hard as I could not to look down over the edge. I slowly pulled one of the poles out only to find that it was jammed closed. Said a cuss word or two and began to wish that I was just about anywhere else on the planet, instead of standing a couple of inches from possible death. I tugged again and again on the pole, but it was jammed in good and tight. There must have been some mud or something on the shaft when I had pushed it closed and jammed it into my pack.

I got a little panicked and kept tugging on the closed pole. Finally, it moved. But now, I had to balance myself on the ledge and try to line up the small spring loaded pin in the small hole in order to get the pole to lock in place. I worked on lining the pin and the hole. A short time later, I heard it snap into place. Relieved, I grasped the pole handle and pushed the pole tip deep into the mud, sliding my foot ever so slowly forward. It felt solid. So, I took another step and then another. Shortly, after a few more steps, I made it past the wall of snow. I then stopped, did a thorough underwear check. Gave myself a clean bill of health, then took a deep breathe and headed down towards the Venable Lakes. I had made it! What a feeling!

Continuing down the Phantom TerraceWider View Of The Phantom Terrace
Phantom TerraceContinuing Down The Phantom Terrace

Continuing down the Terrace, I hit a few more narrow spots and sections where there had been some small rock slides recently, but nothing like the upper ledge. My heart was still pumping fast. There was no more snow to contend with. I began to relax and enjoy the scenery once again About ten minutes later, I was standing at one of the upper Venable Lakes. The largest and most picturesque of them all.

Lower Venable LakesLower Venable Lakes
Close up of Upper Venable LakeUpper Venable Lakes

The Venable Side

Sitting down for a short rest, I started to think about what I had just done. I was utterly thrilled with myself. Each time I go out, I overcome the fear more and more.

After leaving the upper lake, I continued down the trail towards the lower lakes and an old cabin. It’s really sad, with all the harsh winters and vandals that appear to be using it for firewood the little shack and its history are disappearing quickly. Not much remains standing.

Upper Venable LakeUpper Venable Lake
Cabin at Lower Venable LakesOld Cabin At Lower Venable
Phantom Terrace in the distance.Phantom Terrace-Center
Venable FallsVenable Falls

Views along the Venable TrailHorn Peak From Venable Trail
Views along the Venable TrailWet Mtn Vly From Venable Trail
Camp along Venable TrailCamp
Hunters CampHunters Camp

After a short break and a couple of photos, I pick up my things, took one last look at the Terrace and headed down the trail. A short distance later I hit a few switchbacks crossing at a very large avalanche field. Very few trees are left standing. The ones that are all seem to be only a few years old. A couple miles further down the trail, The Wet Mountain Valley appears in front of me. And a little further, a sign pointing to Venable Falls. A short detour down a steep embankment gives fabulous views of some nice waterfalls. Fortunately, I’m there at the perfect time. With all the snowmelt, the water is raging down the mountain.

I’m now about 2 miles from the car and come to a couple of nice campsites. The second has a lean to and is used by hunters during hunting season. In fact, last hunting season I stopped and had a short visit with a few hunters on my way up the trail. I just noticed, they’ve even built a custom made table. Probably where they place the multitudes of beer cases required for a proper safari. Today, I won’t be dodging bullets as there are many months before the armed goblins invade the local forests… Yee haw!!

Another mile or so of gorgeous scenery and we’re back to the parking area. I loosen my boot laces to relieve some of the pain the miles have etched into my toes, take a couple of ibuprofen and think to myself; Whadda ya say we do it in reverse? Hey! Déjà vu…..


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Viewing: 1-12 of 12
Westcliffe Willie

Westcliffe Willie - Jul 2, 2009 8:58 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Good read

Very kind words there, Mike. If you're ever in the area, let me know. Would be nice to meet ya... You must be a good man, it takes a lot of courage to put your name on a Westcliffe Willie post in this world of professional climbers. :).


bryangast - Jul 6, 2009 9:39 am - Hasn't voted


I remember doing that loop when I was in Junior High and a again when was in High School with my family. I remember some of the same feelings you had when crossing the Phantom Terrace. Also the pics were great looks exactly as I recall.

Westcliffe Willie

Westcliffe Willie - Jul 8, 2009 2:44 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Memories

I love this hike. I run into family groups quite often along the trail near the Terrace. I wish my family would have been active back in my day. Probably would have helped me with my paranoia of cliffs.


alpinedon - Jul 6, 2009 11:44 pm - Voted 10/10


Its not always easy overcoming our fears of the mountain environment, when I wasn't climbing much I was alot more fearful of exposure, but now that I am doing more rock climbing, I find that much of that fear has lessened. Good read, keep it up!

Westcliffe Willie

Westcliffe Willie - Jul 8, 2009 2:48 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: excellent

Thank you for your compliments.

You're right on that fear factor issue. It seems, the more I work on it, the better it gets. Just one very, very slow process.

Just got to keep plugging along.


slowbutsteady - Jul 8, 2009 6:17 pm - Voted 10/10

great trip report

I was able to hike to summit of Comanche in 2004. I really love your photos and entertaining text of your report. I'd love to experience the Phantom Terrace!

Westcliffe Willie

Westcliffe Willie - Jul 8, 2009 9:08 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: great trip report

I've seen many of your photos. Coming from you, I take your compliments in high regards.



BobSmith - Jul 11, 2009 4:49 am - Voted 10/10

Nice TR!

I really enjoyed that report. I also have a bit of a fear of fally-down spots. I'm just super-careful around cliff faces, etc.

I try to steer clear of the forests here in the South during hunting season. There are just way too many bullets in the forest during hunting season here and not that much open space. I don't think a hunting season goes by here without a few people getting killt by careless hunters.

Westcliffe Willie

Westcliffe Willie - Jul 11, 2009 9:06 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice TR!

Thank you very much for your kind comments and vote. I appreciate them both very much.

Hopefully, we will both survive the many hunting seasons to come. I believe, I learned an invaluable lesson this year. As I was bushwhacking up thru the woods and heard the atvs slowly coming in front of me. Next, the crack of the twig below my feet, that whisper from somewhere ahead of me, "hold on", the click................ Start yelling as loud as you can!!!!! "I'm not an animal. I am a man!!!

No bushwhacking during those months....


Ruvicha - May 26, 2012 8:15 pm - Voted 10/10


Thanks for a trip report that is as entertaining as it is helpful. I hope to do Comanche-Venable in the next couple of years so it's heartening to know that a fellow acrophobe found it worthwhile, achievable and safe on the skivvies. Would it be easier to approach the Terrace via the Comanche Peak trail or the Venable Peak trail? Put another way, which direction has you climbing rather than descending across the Terrace?

Westcliffe Willie

Westcliffe Willie - May 28, 2012 8:45 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Encouraging

Glad you enjoyed and sorry that you seem to have the same affliction as me or perhaps how I like to put it, have a higher sanity level than most. If you’re looking to try and break the “illogical” fear, this is definitely a good one to challenge you on.

I've never really thought about which approach is better, but for some reason, I seem to like the wall on my left and the drop off on my right. Must be a left side/right side brain issue :). Anyway, coming up the Venable side takes you on the upward section of the Terrace. I usually come from the Commanche side and go down. It's not that much of an incline. Regardless of which direction you come from, it’s either flat or downhill the remaining way back to the parking lot.

The benefit of the Venable side is more water along the hike. If you're carrying all the water you plan to use and not fill up anywhere, it doesn't matter what side you go, but the Venable side has about 2 or 3 places to get water along the trail. Although the largest lake is about ½ to ¾ mile above the cabin, it does not have running water in or out of it. Stopping near the cabin would be your last chance for running water if you were going up that route.

The Commanche side only has one stop for water and that is at the spillway of the lower lake. The trail does not follow the creek on the way down. The lake is also off trail a couple hundred yards.

If you do get the chance to go, I’d suggest July to September. Although the severity of winters fluctuate, snow tends to linger on that ledge just about more than anyplace else. I’ve been up it several times and got near the ledge and had to turn around, because it had quite a bit of snow. A long way to go to have to turn around.
Good luck.


Ruvicha - Jun 24, 2012 9:30 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Encouraging

Thanks for the additional detail. A friend and I plan to hike Elbert this summer but I'm looking for alternatives in case the weather is bad there. This sounds like a great hike. My friend detests cliffs, so I'd have to profess surprise about the Terrace-- "Well lookey here, it's kinda steep!" -- and hope that he doesn't translate his thoughts, which would be murderous, into action.

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Comanche Venable Loop

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