West and East Spanish Peaks from the Saddle

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Trip Report
Colorado, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Jun 8, 2003
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Created On: Jan 17, 2005
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Trip Report: West Spanish Peak (13,659) and East Spanish Peak (12,687)

I'd been wanting to climb these prominent peaks since I first laid eyes on them some years ago. Twin monsters looming over Southern Colorado from everywhere you look, if you're South of Pueblo. Almost a range unto themselves, they're geologically very different from the nearby Sangres, but I'll leave that discussion for someone who knows more about it. One cool thing I'll note is the long 'spokes' that radiate out from the Western Peak. Sometimes 20 or 30 feet high, perfectly straight, miles and miles long, apparently these formations were underlying rock that pushed up through the softer crust, like mud through your toes, when the peaks were formed.

Anyway, with the weather not sounding too promising, I headed south anyway, even though it might spell my second failure on these peaks. Last September, rain and snow and a fair amount of aimless screwing around bushwhacking was my first attempt. I found that the Jeep road that runs South from LaVeta towards the saddle and the wilderness boundary was in great shape- not as muddy as I've found it at times, and no snow at all. I passed a woman backpacking in with her dog. Ever the gentleman, I offered a ride to the trailhead, which she declined. She was the only person I would see for three days. At the trailhead, I parked, literally, in a cloud. I'm not sure if it was raining or not, but that would be a mere technicality- the moisture content warranted rain gear. One moment, the cloud would dissipate, affording a momentary glimpse of the East Peak. The next, the mountain would take a shallow breath, plunging me again into rain.

This first day would be an easy one- the trail to the saddle is only a couple of miles, with barely any elevation gain- from 9900 to 10,400. A new register had one entry from the ranger, stating the trail was in good shape. He didn't mention the avalanche wake that leveled a stand of aspen. Since the trail takes you through the maze of broken, downed trees, I considered that a notable exception to the 'good shape' of the trail, but it only cost me one nasty jab in the calf by a sharp stick. The price we pay.... Seeing the power of this slide, even long after the fact, was humbling.

I camped before the saddle, at a flat spot with a bit of a view of both peaks, or at least the East one, and point 12,800, one of many false summits of the West one. A large-sounding four-footed creature startled me running through my site as night fell. Fresh tracks in the morning told me it was an elk. There are tons of elk tracks in the forest in this area, but I never saw one.

West Spanish Peak: At 5am on Sunday, I got up thinking I might have it in me to summit both peaks in one hike, with the option to bail, since the round trip would lead me past my camp on the way to the second one. Little did I know how taxing the Western peak would be. Both peaks are basically a ridge walk, but getting up to the ridge on WSP involves my least favorite condition: loose rock. 2300 vertical feet of it. Every step from camp to point 12,600 was a slip-sliding, knee-wrenching, ankle testing, annoyance. This is the world's largest unstable rubble-heap. (Actually, in retrospect, it was coming down this slope that really had me p.o'd). Having gained two-thirds the elevation in less than half the distance, I still figured the rest of the hike would be a cake walk. And frankly, once you're up there, it's pretty easy. But it's a big mountain, and it tired me enough to split the peaks into two days. Near the highest false summit, there are some great rock ribs and chimneys that look like awesome climbing for you technical types, if you can put up with the scree and talus hike to get to their base. I finally gained the summit in 4.5 hrs, not the 3 hrs I expected it would take. The views are awesome- East Spanish right next door, the Culebra range to the southeast, Lindsey and Blanca.... Clouds were rolling, but it had been an otherwise perfect blue-sky day. There's no summit register, but there is a rock pile trying to be a summit cairn on the real summit and another point just West, which also had a bronze plaque commemorating Vanessa somebody (sorry, forgot the last name), 1962-1997. On the descent, I saw a herd of about 15 bighorn in the distance. It's always such a treat to watch a large group of them run like that. Like high-altitude pronghorn, they're so fast and graceful. Now for that 2600-foot loose rock descent. This will teach you how to curse even better than golf, I imagine. I took a well-deserved power nap upon return to camp.

East Spanish Peak: Knowing that the eastern peak would be less effort, I still hauled out at 5, as I'd also need to pack out and drive home. It turned out to be wise, as the weather finally returned later. ESP also involves a very steep climb out of the timber to gain the ridge, but this one features- a trail! How about that. A nice one, too, bypassing, but unencumbered by, 10 foot snowdrift leftovers. The ridge levels at about 12,000, still completely inside the pine forest, affording some weather safety. As the trees abruptly end, so does the trail try to imitate its western counterpart by ascending steeply up a pile of rock, but on this peak, not only has someone tried to keep the trail going (it peters out after a couple hundred feet), but this granite pile is much more solid than WSP's. Above the trees, the view of WSP is awesome, revealing from a bird's eye view yesterday's ridge walk and all its false summits. For that matter, the view of each peak is pretty spectacular from its neighbor.

At 12,400 or so, the steep grunt is over, nothing like yesterday's effort. I'm within a couple hundred feet of the summit, and it's only 8:45 am. The trail now turns onto a very narrow ridge, a nearly flat traverse accross about a quarter mile, to the final summit mound. I'm up in less than 3 hrs from camp. Birds are my only company- the peaks are very sparsely vegetated, and except for a few pikas and those sheep, there's not much wildlife above the trees. There is a summit register on this one. At least 4 boy scout troops over the last couple of years have made it. And someone was up here last week, which shatters that feeling I had that I'm the only person to come here in a long time. It's just so quiet here, I feel insulated from the outside world. I spend an hour here, fighting off bugs (why are there so many bugs up here??), and start my descent.

Thunder and rain come out of nowhere some time later, but I'm off the ridge and back in the trees. I don the goretex and don't even think about it. Back in camp, the sun shines through long enough for me to break camp in perfect sunshine, but I'm well aware that a storm is coming, and that I've enjoyed the tiny window of perfect weather that has allowed me these two summits over the 3-day weekend. The hike out in uneventful. The jeep road, too, is pretty tame. A careful driver could get a sturdy 2-wheel drive up to the trailhead, I'd think.

Though they look like identical twins from below, these two peaks are quite different hikes. It's such a beautiful area, and designated wilderness, on such prominent mountains, I can't believe they see such little hiking traffic. But I definitely know what my phirst phinest twelver is going to be! Have at it, folks. These peaks are quite a find.


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West and East Spanish Peaks from the Saddle

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