Ungulate Skull, north slopes
Zwischen is German for “Between,” and is quite the appropriate name for Mount Zwischen which rises south of Medano Pass and north of Mosca Pass. The peak also sits between the San Luis Valley to the west and the Wet Mountain Valley to the east. Ironically for being so “in between” everything, the peak is close to nothing. Just six feet above the 12,000 feet mark and nowhere near any trail, the summit of Mount Zwischen is not a very crowded place.
Even the fact that this is a “P2K” peak (mountain with 2,000+ feet of prominence) is not enough to encourage many to visit this remote summit. Convenient to nothing at all, Mount Zwischen is well-guarded by gullies choked by avalanche debris and long, undulating, curving ridgelines. There simply is no easy or efficient way to gain this summit. All routes to the top of this peak involve trail-less, convoluted navigation in remote land and pretty much guarantee a long, tiring day.
Mount Zwischen resides on the border of Great Sand Dunes National Preserve and the National Forest, forming the headwaters of Horse Canyon. The Blanca Group rises high and mighty to the south while the Crestones march northward in the distance. Nearby Mount Herard and neighbors dominate the view immediately to the north. Due west the Great Sandunes undulate on the floor of the San Luis Valley.
The lower slopes are coated in thick stands of Aspen. Open grassy meadows on the northern ridge feature small button cacti. Treeline is exceptionally high in this area, with stunted Krumholtz rising nearly to the top of this peak 12,006 foot peak. The peak was affected by the 2010 Madano Fire, with many stands of trees on the mountain’s slopes charred to ash. Presently mud and ash flows in flash floods are a concern, while in a few years the chief risk will be from falling charred timber.
highest peak in Colorado
Trails Illustrated Map:
#138- Sangre De Cristo Mountains
Rank & prominence information source: Lists of John
Back to Life
Medano Pass Primitive Road is the closest road of any type to Mount Zwischen. It is a rough 4x4 road suitable only for high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicles. Due to the wide variety of conditions on this road, most vehicles will find it necessary to travel the road from east to west.
This is why:The road includes soft sand for about 2 miles, 9 creek crossings that may be deep in late spring, and a rocky roadbed near the summit of the pass. If sand becomes soft during dry times, dropping tire air pressure to about 20 pounds may be necessary. Full tire pressure is required to drive over rocks higher on the pass, so if you do drop pressure, you will need to either 1) have your own air compressor to refill before going higher on the pass, or 2) drive the road from east to west, and reduce pressure after going over the pass but before driving through the soft sand. A free air compressor is available at the western entrance to the road in the national park.
View a map of Great Sand Dunes National Park here: NPS Link
Fire scar and sandunes Last few steps to the summit Mount Zwischen Summit Mount Herard from Zwischen
Because the peak lies on the border of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, more regulations apply than if visiting the National Forest. Some regulations are somewhat more relaxed in the Preserve than in within the Park boundaries. A few key highlights:
• Fees: It is noteworthy that if approaching from the east on Medano Pass road, no fee is collected for entry.
• Camping: Permits are required for backcountry camping and it is preferred that you camp in designated or at least existing sites. Car camping is permitted only in designated sites (front or back country.) No camping in the krumholtz tree zone or higher.
• Regarding pets: Pets are permitted in the main national park day use areas and in the national preserve as long as they are kept on a leash less than 6 feet long. They are not permitted in the national park backcountry. Please keep the park clean by cleaning up after your pet.
• Note that the Park Service will close Medano Pass Road whenever conditions warrant doing so (fire danger, wet conditions, deep snow pack, etc.)
• Bear-proof storage of food, garbage, toiletries, fish guts, etc., is required.
Blanca Group to the south North ridge of Mount Zwischen
Camping in the vicinity of Medano Pass Primitive Road is limited to established campsites. These campsites are rustic and dispersed, offering a surprising amount of solitude and privacy, and are available on a first come, first served basis. They also contain bear lockers for storage of food, garbage, toiletries and other smelly items that may be of interest to hungry bruins.
For more information about these campsites and for updates on road conditions and closures, visit this site: NPS Link
Weather & Seasons
Old snag on north ridge Old root ball
Due to seasonal closures of Madano Pass Road, plus long, trail-less approaches, Mount Zwischen would be best saved for mid-summer through early fall.
Remants of 2010 Medano Fire Approaching the final summit push