RT Length: 9.74 miles
Elevation Gain: 4828’
First of all, I’d like to recommend doing this hike backwards from the way I took the hike: Route finding is easier and it’s much more straightforward; You’re above treeline almost immediately and have great visuals of all the peaks/route.
Secondly, Cielo Vista Ranch makes special arrangements for people to hike these southern peaks and because of this they require you to hike (or at least drive in and camp) as a group. They wouldn’t give me a reservation to go solo, so every month since December I emailed Carlos asking if anyone else was hiking and if I could tag along. I’d get a response saying he’s “look into it” and then he’d go silent. Thank you Rose for putting the ask out there and letting me tag along on your reservation!
We all met at a special entrance to the ranch and around 5:30pm. Carlos met us at the gate and had one of his guys drive us 7 miles up a dirt road to our campsite. This is a 4WD dirt road, and while 4WD wasn’t necessary the entire drive it did come in handy once or twice. Carlos gave us each his business card and asked that we text him when we exited the property the next day. At this point I view Carlos as a celebrity. I mean this in a positive way. Yes, he’s charging us all out the nose, but at least he’s nice about it. Also, he’s known by his first name.
Here’s a topo of the road we took. These roads are not shown on maps (CalTopo). I made a GPX file on the way back, which came in handy because there aren’t many ways to get lost on this road but I always seem to find them (I backtracked twice). We’d noticed on the way in the GPX file(s) we had were correct, but the road they took us on switched back and forth between the two files (apparently some of the roads are now washed out and impassable). Also, TONS of moths. Like, Biblical plague amounts. We had our Miller Moth season last month: Cielo Vista is experiencing it now.
Here’s a picture of where we parked our vehicles and camped for the night, around 11,750’
We all sat and chatted for a bit. I kept thinking to myself I should go look at the route I’d intended to start out on while it was still daylight, but I had a couple glasses of whiskey and I fear I was a bit too chatty. You see, I’m used to drinking alone (that sounded bad) but what I mean by that is when I usually hike/camp/etc. alone I have a few drinks, scope out the beginning of the route or at minimum where the trail starts, and call it a night. Early. Instead here I was, talking to people at camp. It was so nice to have like-minded people to talk to: we understood and appreciated each other’s mountaineering experiences and goals. That’s so much more refreshing than my mom freaking out every time I bring up hiking because she thinks I’m going to die. We discussed our intended routes for tomorrow and I decided to take the opposite route as the others so I’d be able to do it solo. I didn’t get to bed until a little after 9:30pm, and I never got a good look at the route I intended to take.
I woke up at 3:30am and decided I wasn’t ready to get up yet so I slept a bit more. I was way too comfortable. The third time my alarm went off I figured I’d better get going. I woke up, gathered my gear, and was off. My plan was to head northeast around the mountain and pick up a trail in the basin to the north of Purgatoire. After hiking for about a quarter mile I came to a rocky area that didn’t look passable in the dark. Well, it might have been, but at that moment my flashlight went out and I couldn’t see a thing (I later confirmed on the hike both visually and after talking with others telling me they’d turned around there as well that that route’s not passable). I decided to retrace my steps and try again.
Back at my truck I saw the others getting ready; their headlamps glowing inside their tents/trucks. I got a new flashlight from my truck (a headlamp: I’m not fond of headlamps as they make me dizzy but it was better than nothing). I restarted my tracker and was on my way, following the 4WD dirt road as it wound around the mountainside, losing about 450’ of elevation in the process (which was what I’d been trying to avoid by going around the mountainside first. Oh well).
After about a half mile my headlamp gave out. Great. Two flashlights out in the same hour. Who would have guessed? At least I was just following a dirt road and the sun would be rising soon. I’d just make a lot of noise to scare the larger critters who may be hiking with me this morning away.
I heard a loud noise ahead of me. An animal had been startled by the noise I’d made, ran through the deadfall for about 20 feet and then stopped. Knowing some animal was standing still ahead I made a lot of noise with my trekking pole. It didn’t budge. I slowly hiked forward and noticed whatever I’d scared into bolting for a little bit I’d scared pretty badly: I could tell by the smell.
The animal was still there, and now I could hear it breathing. I made noises again but it didn’t move. I was worried it may be an injured animal and wanted to know what it was, and obviously I didn’t feel comfortable turning my back to it. In the dark I got out my phone and decided to take a picture (thinking the flash would go off and I’d be able to see what it was, even if the photo didn’t turn out. Note: Later in my hike I realized I could have used the flashlight app on my phone, but since I’d never used it before the thought didn’t come to mind until later).
I took a picture and the beast in front of me was…. a cow. Yep, a cow, and the first of many I’d see today.
Well, that was anticlimactic! I’ve raised cows before (both dairy and beef) and I know how to handle them. I clapped my hands, waved and shouted “Move on!” held my walking stick parallel to the ground and advanced forward. The cow turned, moved out of my way, and I continued on. I saw about 10 more cows before it got light, but knowing what they were I didn’t have a problem with them anymore.
I followed the dirt road for about 1.25 miles until it came to a 3 way divergence. I randomly took the middle road as it looked to be heading in the direction I wanted to go and it turned out to be the right one.
I continued east through the trees, encountering more cows, until I made it to the basin. The sun was now up and my anxiety level dropped. There were still tons of cows, but now I could see them, as well as cow trails and ATV trails. I followed the ones that went east.
Once out of the trees I could easily see the path I wanted to take to summit Alamosito. (Note, some routes tell you to take the saddle and drop down into another basin and then gain another saddle, summiting Vermejo first then backtracking to Alamosito. The way I went just made more sense to me, but several routes all ‘go’. Alternately you could gain the Alamosito/Purgatoire saddle and summit from there as well).
This was straightforward, except for these cows who didn’t seem to want me to pass. I made noise and told them to “get along” they just stared at me. One even lifted its hind foot and stomped a few times, kicking up dust. I got the impression they were expecting something from me. Even the calves had ear tags, so they’re used to humans (at least in some part). I passed them to their left and they went back to grazing.
Here’s a look back from the saddle. I’ve circled the campsite in red, and the area that cliffed out in yellow. Note: Everyone else just went straight up the ridge to start (a better choice to begin). My route to the saddle is in orange.
From the saddle I turned right and headed east. This was a very straightforward ridge hike. In fact, they all were today.
I summited Alamosito at 6:45am, after 2 hours and 3.3 miles of hiking. There was a summit register in a glass jar buried in the cairn.
I turned north and headed down the ridge to the Alamosito/Vermejo saddle
There was some rubble to contend with on the way down, but all class 2
From the saddle I turned right and headed east up to the summit of Vermejo Peak (that’s a false summit you’re looking at here). There was some rubble here as well
At the top of this easy ridge walk there was another .3 miles to go before making it to the summit, also an easy trek that reminded me of Ireland: the tundra was green and there were lots of black and white rocks. The picture doesn’t do that justice.
I summited Vermejo Peak at 7:45am. From Alamosito to Vermejo it’s just over a mile and a half of hiking. There was a summit register here as well (one of the pipe ones I can never open because: Raynauds).
There were great views of Red Mountain A and Culebra from the summit
I turned and headed back the way I came, towards the saddle and back up to Alamosito
From the saddle there’s a great view of both Purgatoire and Alamosito
From the saddle I made my way back up to summit Alamosito
I re-summited Alamosito at 9am and looked over at Purgatoire Peak
This was another easy ridge walk. Rubble turned to tundra as I made my way towards the saddle
Here’s looking back at Alamosito and Vermejo Peak from the Alamosito/Purgatoire saddle
The rest of the ridge to the summit of Purgatoire was straightforward
I summited Purgatoire Peak at 10am
There was a summit cairn, and also this thing. I’m not sure what it is? I could probably look it up, but, thoughts?
I turned west to head down the way I should have headed up, back over this unnamed point (which has about 260’ of elevation gain from the saddle, and tops out at well over 13K)
Here’s looking at the route from the morning when I was hiking up Alamosito
It starts out as a simple ridge walk on tundra, dotted with rocks the size of toasters, and once at the saddle it looked like there may be some scrambling involved, but there’s actually a game trail to the left of the ridge that makes the ridge easy to follow
Here’s a look at the route from the saddle towards Purgatoire Peak
From the top of the point there’s a tundra ridge to walk down, and just a little bit of forest to go through before reaching the road. As long as you aim for the road you’ll be fine, as you can follow it to the campsite. Yes, I should have hiked the couple hundred feet up this last night: it would have made the entire route more obvious.
Here’s a look back from treeline on the point you need to ascend if heading this way
Once you’re in the trees navigation can be a little difficult. Just keep aiming west and you’ll hit the road. Oh, and you can’t see them in these pictures, but there were moths everywhere! Thousands of them swarming around. They apparently appreciate the elevation / pines today.
I made it back to the 4WD road we drove in on and followed it back to my truck. I arrived back at my truck at 11:45am, making this a 9.74 mile hike with 4828’ of elevation gain in 7 hours (not counting my early morning false start).
I got back in my truck and followed the road back to the gate. The route was much easier on the way down than on the way up. I unlocked the gate, re-locked it, drove through, and text Carlos to let him know I’d exited the property. Also, the lock was much easier to figure out than the one that was there when I hiked Culebra (but to be fair, it was also the first day they’d implemented that system).
Here’s a topo map of my route, as well as the drive in.
It was still early in the day. I ate a sandwich as I drove the 3 hours to the next trailhead during a thunderstorm.