RT Length: 14.87 miles
Elevation Gain: 5337’
When someone asks you to climb Culebra Peak with them in winter, you say yes! I really needed to get out hiking with friends, and when Bill asked me to hike Mt Princeton with him, of course I said yes! But then, plans changed and he decided to hike Culebra instead. The weather didn’t look too bad (only 20% chance of snow), so when he asked if I wanted to go along I said yes: I mean, securing reservations is difficult in winter as you need a group, and he was putting together a group.
In any event, I made it to the trailhead an hour early. They open the gates at 6, and close them at 6:15am, and I didn’t want to miss that window. Everyone else got there early as well. There were 5 of us hiking today (3 girls, 2 guys), and 4 vehicles: 3 4Runners, and my Tundra. Toyotas seem to be popular among self-professed mountaineers.
Here’s a picture of the gate:
Promptly at 6am the gates opened, we were checked in, and we drove to the Ranch office. There was space for about 5 vehicles to park. We all got out of our vehicles, were given instructions on how to let ourselves out of the gate, and shown where the trail started. I was glad we all had 4WD vehicles, because while the dirt road in was clear of ice, the parking area wasn’t plowed.
We gathered our gear and were off around 6:15am. The trail starts to the east of the parking area. In fact, most of this hike heads east.
Here’s an overview of the entire hike, from the road in
We followed the 4WD jeep road for 5 miles, gaining 2600’ of elevation. What was nice was they’d groomed the road until 4 way with snowmobiles, and after that there was a solid trench to treeline.
This part of the hike was very pleasant, as I talked with the guys (the girls weren’t as fast as we were at this point). We had a great pace, and I learned about other hikes they’d done and some of their goals. At one point I gave everyone a sticker, which got rave reviews. They understood the color schemes and even gave me ideas for other stickers in the future. I asked them to let me know how they hold up.
Once at treeline we were a group again. We donned our snowshoes and headed southeast up the side of the mountain. We had to trench here, but a lot of the area had solid snow. Here’s the path we took to the ridge
Once on the ridge everyone else took off their snowshoes, but I decided to keep mine on (mainly because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get them on again once I took them off). The weather started coming in, and it looked like that 20% chance of snow was going to materialize.
I was on my own from this point on, or, at least I thought I was, as I could no longer see anyone else and I was now in the lead. I made it to the ridge, as evidenced by this large cairn.
At the cairn I turned right and followed the ridge until it ended, which felt like forever! It’s a totally different hike when you have no visibility. But there was a bonus to the lack of visibility: it took a while for the bighorn sheep to notice me. When they did, they were off, running down the mountainside
I continued to follow the ridge as it lost some elevation (a hundred feet or so) and then started climbing again.
There were several small ‘false summits’ on this hike, but they were probably mostly due to the lack of visibility.
As I neared the summit I looked back and noticed three of the other hikers closely behind me. They’d taken off their snowshoes back on the ridge, and my snowshoes were slowing me down. Let me tell you, snowshoes on rock is not a good combination. We all ended up summiting around the same time, and took a group selfie. I couldn’t help but be jealous of everyone else: They didn’t need balaclavas and they were all taking off their gloves. I on the other hand, was trying to keep from crying because my fingers were hurting so bad. Also: we were all wearing the same gear/gloves so I blame my Raynaud’s (funny how mountaineers tend to find out what works and everyone uses the same stuff).
It was here I learned we’d lost one of our members on the ridge (he turned back early), and that everyone else was heading towards Red Mountain. I wished them good luck, as I’ve already summited Red Mountain and wanted to get down to where the sun was shining. We all had a group hug/high-five session, I turned and headed back the way I’d come, with little bits of sunlight peeking through the clouds when the wind made an opening.
Here’s that dip I was talking about earlier. The cairn is circled in red
Once at the cairn I turned left and headed back down the ridge, which was tons of fun with little visibility!
I was glad when I made it down to around 12K and was now below the clouds. Here’s a view of the hike out
This was great because I could just follow our tracks back. Once below the clouds the weather was actually quite nice. I could see Little Bear, Blanca, and Lindsey on the hike out. Also, the hike out seemed to take forever! It was only 5 miles, but it kept going, and going, and going. Wow! Had I really hiked in all this way this morning?
I made it back to the Ranch Office, signed out, and drove to the gate. It was super muddy at the gate, and since I now have a topper on my truck, I couldn’t just toss my gear in the back. Oh well! I put my boots on top of my snowshoes and was on my way.
I made it back to my truck at 2pm, making this a 14.87 mile hike with 5337’ of elevation gain in under 8 hours.
The Culebra Peak summit sticker can be bought here
One thought on “Culebra Peak in Winter – 14,047”
Those photos of the running bighorn sheep are really cool, it really captures the way they bound!