RT Length: 16.25 miles
Elevation Gain: 6102’
I am so glad this happened! Everyone I met on this trip was highly competent, an avid mountaineer, and just a generally great person. My only regrets are that we didn’t have more time to chat, and the group was split due to weather and all 15 of us couldn’t have met at the same time. I’m looking forward to when we have gatherings again, as you are all my people!
We had originally planned to hike these peaks last weekend, but the forecasted snow had us put off the trip for a week, and our group of 15 got split up into 3 groups. 6 of us arrived at the Whiskey Pass gate around 4pm and were escorted up to the Whiskey Pass campsite to be the first group of 2021 to hike the Northern Cielo Vista 13ers. We left the two Subaru’s down low, but they could have made it up the 4WD road to the campsite (but not to where they shuttled our vehicle and we exited). I never put my truck into 4WD on the way up.
Our campsite for the night was at 11,500’, and absolutely beautiful. If was obvious no one had been up there in quite a while. It was nice to put faces to names, and all of us chatted for a bit. Some of us slept in our vehicles, and others set up tents. We all had different ideas for what we wanted to accomplish on our hikes the next morning, and all got to bed relatively early so we could start early.
I was unsure when I went to bed what time I’d start, but when I woke up without an alarm at 1:45am I knew it was time to get going. I was on the trail by 2am. I didn’t see anyone else up, which meant they were either already on the trail or starting later (both ended up being true). I wanted to get De Anza peak first, so instead of going over Whiskey Pass I started out heading northeast. Here’s a visual. There’s actually a road up there I followed for a couple dozen yards before I circled around the side of the mountain and headed northeast for the De Anza/Whiskey Peak saddle.
Sorry, but since it was so early in the morning, I don’t have pictures from the hike to De Anza or Whiskey Pass, so you’ll need to use the topo map as reference, but I believe it’s self-explanatory. Also, the weather was terrible: I was hiking in fog the entire time. I’m not sure if you’ve ever hiked in fog in the dark, but flashlights are useless. You can only see about 5 feet in front of you, and actually have a better visual turning your flashlight off for a second to see the terrain.
Hiking up to De Anza was easy, as all I had to do was keep hiking northeast and up and I knew I’d eventually make it to the summit. When I did, I thought to myself “that was too easy” and had to check my Peakbagger app to verify I was already at the summit. I was, so I took a picture of my feet at the summit cairn, and headed back down. My advice on this peak: If you’re already paying to hike here, hike De Anza as well. I’m guessing it may have added half an hour total to my hiking time. Totally worth it, and super easy, especially by avoiding Whiskey Pass on the way up, which meant less scree/talus to navigate: it was all tundra for me.
Hiking back down the ridge was the tricky part. It was still dark and foggy and I had no visual sense of direction. At one point I encountered snow and knew I was going the wrong way because I hadn’t encountered snow on the way up. At times I’d point my flashlight away just so I could see the terrain better. I kept my compass in front of me and did my best to head southwest down the ridge. Hiking in the dark with fog is not ideal.
Once again, no pictures here as I made my way to Whiskey Pass. In the daylight this is probably easy to navigate, but in the dark I kept coming across large gaps in the ridge I had to maneuver around. If you’re doing this in the daylight I’m sure the route is obvious. If you’re doing it in the dark I’d say if you’re in doubt, stick to the right (west) when you encounter a chasm/drop off. It’s all class 2, so if you feel it’s more difficult than that, re-assess your route.
The hike from Whiskey Pass up to Beaubein Peak was a straightforward ridge hike. It was still dark, but the sun was starting to rise as I kept heading south.
Summit of Beaubien Peak
Here’s my view looking back at De Anza.
It’s colder than it looks
Next, I continued following the ridge south. The clouds didn’t seem to want to go away. I could see Culebra in the distance, and was just waiting for the fog to lift and the sun to rise
Here’s a look at Francisco Peak
Once again, I hiked through the fog to get there
From the summit, it looks as if the true summit of Francisco Peak is further southwest (where the cairn is), but it isn’t. It’s actually where I’m standing, taking this picture.
However, I didn’t realize this until I’d walked over to the other side, so you get a picture of me there, not at the actual summit… but close.
Here’s looking back on the route so far. Still colder than it looks
The clouds now behind me, I continued following the ridge south towards Lomo Liso Mountain. This was an easy ridge walk on tundra
The summit was large and flat and it was again difficult to figure out where the ‘true’ summit was, so I went with where the cairn was located. Side note: all the summit registers on all of these peaks have been broken and are empty.
Lomo Liso Mountain:
From the summit of Lomo Liso you can clearly see the rest of the route
From the summit of Lomo Liso I turned and headed northeast, and then followed the ridge southeast. It’s really quite obvious the direction you should go.
There were some ups and downs to the ridge, but it was a simple tundra hike
This is also where I saw my first herd of elk for the day (I ended up seeing 3 herds total, but some were too far away to see in pictures, as they were down in the basins)
After the elk ran away from me I hiked up the north slope towards Miranda Peak
The last bit to Miranda is class 3 for a short distance. Here’s the overall route. If you’re in a large group you may want a helmet for the loose and rocky gully (but it’s relatively short, I’d suggest just taking turns ascending so you don’t kick rocks on the person below you).
Once in the gully, here’s how I ascended to the ridge
Once on the ridge I dipped to the left (east) to go around PT 13247, and then stayed on the ridge proper towards Miranda. This area reminded me of the knife edge on Capitol, but with less exposure and better footing. I was able to put my feet in the cracks and walk across easily.
Miranda is unranked, so I didn’t take a summit selfie. From Miranda you can see Culebra, as well as the next ranked peak: PT 13565. As you can tell from the picture below, it’s a simple ridge hike.
The summit of PT 13565 was also flat, and the summit register was also broken with the information missing (hopefully the next group will bring new summit registers)
Here’s looking back at some of today’s peaks from PT 13565
Turning west, then following the ridge northwest, it was an easy hike to PT 13229
After summiting PT 13229 I returned to the 13565/13229 saddle and then turned right and headed south.
This is where it gets tricky. There’s a large area where you can cliff out on your descent. You’ll need to hike much further south than you want to so you can avoid the cliffs. I looked for a break in the cliffs, and didn’t descend until about 12500’, down a gully. Here’s what that looked like from above
Here’s what you’re trying to avoid, and a view of how I came down (from below)
Once in the basin, I headed northwest. It’s important to stay between Cameros Lake and the smaller pond
Here I saw a herd of elk. Of course, they didn’t stay long
As I exited the basin, I came upon two sets of cairns, which led to a very faint trail that eventually became a more pronounced trail and then an OHV track that led me out of the basin, and back to the 4WD road.
The trail stays to the north of Carneros Creek.
Once below treeline the hike seemed to take forever, as it was another 4 miles to where they’d shuttled our cars. There were a lot of downed trees, and a lot of elk tracks. I heard a few turkey, and I even startled some elk on the trail that ran away as I approached. Eventually I crossed Carneros Creek on a few logs that had been placed for just such purpose.
And made my way back to where they had shuttled our vehicles. As I arrived, Carlos was just bringing the last of the vehicles up. We chatted for a bit (they are seriously super nice: every time I’m here they act as if all they care about is my happiness, which is appreciated, considering we pay quite a lot for the privilege of hiking there).
I’d really recommend having a GPX file for this route, if just to get out of the basin and back to the vehicles, as most of the rest of the hike above treeline is self explanatory. Message me if you’d like mine (although I’ll admit it’s not perfect). I’d assume if you’re hiking these peaks you have a good sense of direction, and that you have a lot of off route hiking experience, so you should do just fine. Most of this hike is on tundra, and the gully/ridge section just before Miranda is quick and nothing to worry about. I’d like to add the drive down was more difficult than the drive up, as we were now in a different area and the road had more divots and ruts to navigate. I still didn’t need 4WD, but I couldn’t have done it without clearance. Carlos did use spray paint on the grass/dirt to indicate which turns to take, which was helpful.
I made it back to my truck around 11:30am, making this a 16.25 mile hike with 6102’ of elevation gain in 9.5 hours. On to the next trailhead!