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Culebra Peak lies in the sangre de Cristo Range of South Central Colorado. It isn't the only 14er in the state to lie on private property, but it's the only one that requires a fee to climb it. The fee in 2020 is $150 per person with dates available in the summer months on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays only. Many peakbaggers scoff at paying the fee to climb it, but the three of us felt otherwise and secured a Saturday date in July. We had to work our roadtrip schedule around it and would end up with extra hours of driving, but so it goes. We arrived the previous evening at the Cielo Vista Ranch North Gate (you can use Google Maps to get you there quite easily), camping in our vehicles outside the locked gate. The weather forecast was poor, but workable. We would get no rain, but little few views with heavy cloud cover, cold and wind.
The gate was opened promptly at 6a to let 24 of us access the property. We checked in with one brother there at the gate, and then a second time at the ranch house a few miles up the road with the other brother. We were then free to drive to the trailhead at 11,700ft. The road is in decent condition, but high-clearance is recommended. We were the second vehicle to reach the parking lot and the first ones to start up the grassy slope to the southeast. It wasn't exactly a race, but we wanted to get up the mountain before the others to give ourselves a little solitude. The cross-country route climbs open slopes for a mile, climbing to 13,300ft where the main ridge is reached near a very tall cairn. The few views we had during this initial ascent were gone by the time the ridge was reached. It was now cold and windy and we put on more clothes as we followed the ridge for a bit over a mile to the summit of Culebra, reaching it in just under two hours. The route along the crest has a use trail for much of the distance, with some minor talus and rock hopping between trail sections. First to the summit, there was little to hold our attention with the cold wind and zero views. We continued across the summit to Red Peak another mile to the southeast, passing over an intermediate bump and dropping 600ft to a saddle before climbing up to Red Peak. We spent an hour traversing between the two, initially a rock and talus scramble down from Culebra, but the use trail returning when the slope lessened and continuing across the gap to the summit of Red Peak. A young solo climber reached Red Peak just a minute after we arrived. We spoke only briefly as he touched the highpoint and immediately returned. Our party spent less than five minutes at the summit, no views again, but we had a few summit snacks to fortify ourselves before returning back to Culebra.
On our return to Culebra, the clouds began break some, giving us fleeting glimpses of the valleys far below us, the ridgeline ahead of us, and partial views of Red Peak behind us. We passed only one party making their way to Red Peak, the rest satisfied with the day's main event atop Culebra. When we reached Culebra's summit for the second time, we found the expected crowd, about half of the day's complement of 24 climbers. Not wanting to linger in a COVID danger zone, we continued across the summit with barely a pause. We had one more summit on the agenda, an easy ascent of Punta Serpiente, really just an off-shoot of Culebra's Northeast Ridge with barely 40ft of prominence. It was a bit off the usual track so when we reached the large cairn marking the start of the usual descent, we turned right and continued on the ridge for perhaps a quarter mile, an enjoyable stroll along a gentle incline with a sharp drop on the right down to Carneros Lake at the bottom of a deep valley. A solo lady climber came zipping past us while we sat about the summit area briefly. Eric was moving slowly since leaving Culebra and was five minutes behind us in reaching Punta Serpiente. He may not have appreciated that we were ready to go when he joined us, but he seemed to have liked that we at least waited for him. He would be even slower descending from Punta Serpiente. Now with cell service, he would pause to send texts periodically and take his time coming down the old 4WD road that no longer sees vehicle traffic. Meanwhile, Tom and I continued along the ridge for the nice views of the Carneros Creek drainage, eventually dropping for the last 1/3mi to return to the vehicles at the TH.
There was some delay in leaving the TH because of an injury up on the mountain. The brothers had driven up in their CanAm and asked us to wait for the Sheriff and SAR vehicles to arrive before we started back down. There was also an ambulance parked down at the ranch, all for what the brothers described as a twisted ankle. Either the injury was more severe than indicated, or the officials don't have a lot to do around these parts. After driving back down to the ranch house with two other vehicles, we signed out and got the gate code that would let us back through the north gate. We attempted to find a place to eat a late lunch in San Luis, but found nothing with outdoor seating. We then drove north to Fort Garland where we found a BBQ place with a few picnic benches outside. Not the best Colorado has to offer, but it did nicely in a pinch...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Culebra Peak - Red Mountain
This page last updated: Fri Sep 4 17:20:19 2020
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