West Spanish Peak – 13,631
RT Length 7.9 miles
Elevation Gain 2400’
I’ve been eyeing this trail for weeks, and was finally able to make the hike! I don’t do well in the cold (or wind) so I’ve been looking for a relatively clear, wind free day. It’s been clear but the wind hasn’t cooperated, so instead of 14ers and 13ers I’ve been hiking 12ers, 11ers, 10ers, 9ers, and 8ers for the past month and a half: I needed to get above treeline again!!!
Today’s forecast at the summit was 38* with 15mph gusts, which I figured I could handle. I’d been keeping an eye on the Webcam, and the peak looked pretty barren from snow: http://www.keno.org/colorado_web_cams/cuchara_cams.htm (side note: If you use this link, know the best time to view for clarity is around 3pm, and the bottom webcam is only updated once a week, the others usually every half hour).
I found several directions to the trailhead, but none of them were ‘exactly’ correct. This is the exact route I took:
I25 South to Walsenburg, Exit 50 (the second 160) turn right
Continue on 160 for about 13 miles
Turn Left onto CO12
Continue on CO12 for 21.8 miles
Turn Left at Cordova Pass CR46
The trailhead is exactly 6 miles on the road, near the campground
The road in was a 2WD road, but iced over in a lot of areas, making it an easy 4WD road for this point in the year. Just be careful: there are 3-foot-deep drainages on either side of the road filled with snow so they look like they’re level with the road (but they’re not), and driving into one of those isn’t fun to get out of, even with a 4WD. It was obvious many had made this mistake.
The trailhead is the West Peak Trailhead. I parked here. There are restrooms but they’re locked. I was told to pay a fee, but all signage and fee envelopes (etc.) were gone, presumably closed for the winter. I gathered my gear and started on the trail at 8am.
A few yards in I came upon a trail register. The last entry was from December 28. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t seen anyone else on the trail today.
I hiked for about a quarter mile before coming to a meadow. I’d seen quite a bit of cow patties along the trail up to this point, and figured there were cattle in the area. When I reached this meadow I thought I saw cows on the saddle ahead of me. I made a mental note to look out for them, and stopped to put on my gloves and hat because I could hear the wind picking up. The wind didn’t stop for the entire hike!
What I thought were cows ended up being bighorn sheep! So cool! They were a bit skittish and ran up and over the hill as soon as they saw me.
When I’d entered the meadow I thought I was out of the treeline, but the trail dipped back down and I walked for about 2 more miles through the trees. Most of the path was clear, but there were a few snow covered areas.
This trail is super easy to follow the entire way to the summit. There’s only one trail junction, and it’s clearly marked.
The trail is also very easy until you get to treeline, but make no mistake, most of those 2000+ feet in elevation occur during the last mile of this hike, so it is still quite a workout. Once you hit treeline you turn right and see what’s ahead of you:
The trail follows the ridge on the left (but stay to the right while on the ridge). It’s all loose rock until it becomes scree, and it’s straight up for over a mile. Since there are so many rocks there are tons of cairns and the route is easy to follow. About halfway up I saw a small wind break made out of rocks, which was filled with snow. There was no other snow on the mountainside.
After hiking for what seems like forever you’ll come to a false summit, but it’s ok to be happy about it because the rest of the trail is very easy and is only about another 100 yards or so. This was also the only spot I saw snow above treeline (besides in that small shelter).
I was able to make that little bit of snow look like a lot of snow…
Here’s a view of East Spanish Peak from the summit of West Spanish Peak
And photo proof I summited. I started at 8am and summited at 9:45am.
The summit was very windy and cold. The weather predicted 38* with 15mph wind gusts, but those winds were actually closer to 20mph and sustained. I didn’t spend much time on the summit before heading down. Here’s a view of the ridge back down. Crazy huh? It’s January 5th and there’s no snow!!! Check out those dry ski runs…
About halfway down I noticed a very small heart on a rock. It was less than 2 inches in diameter, and randomly caught my eye. At first I thought it was moss, but upon closer inspection noticed someone had painted it on the rock. I have no idea why they did this, or why they chose this particular area: it wasn’t on the main trail and it wasn’t very visible. It made me happy to see it, and I took a picture of it before reminding myself LNT. So, to the person who painted this, it made me happy, but it’s really not cool to do this stuff so please don’t do it again.
Here’s a photo of what it looks like when you get to treeline. See that meadow in the middle? That’s the one that I crossed that had the Bighorn Sheep. The entire hike above treeline I kept that meadow in view in case I got lost (although this is such an easy, well maintained trail I didn’t foresee that happening).
The hike back down went quickly. When I reached the meadow again I looked for those sheep but didn’t see them. Well, that is until I’d made it all the way across. At that point I looked back and saw them about 100 yards away from me. Never one to miss an opportunity, I backtracked and tried to get a few photos. The wind was blowing towards me so I was able to sneak up on them pretty close before they saw me. By pretty close I mean about 15 yards away. I stood in the shade of a tree and tried to get photos of them before they noticed me and ran off (about 3 seconds).
I continued on, and during the last part of the hike I actually saw a pair of birds. They were about 10 inches long, much bigger than this picture suggests (I still need to identify them…)
I made it back to the trail register and signed out.
I reached my truck at 11:40am. I hadn’t seen another person on this trail. It’s funny how it usually takes me longer to hike down than hike up: must be all that elevation training I do everyday…lol!