| A Penn State alum walks into a bar...
MOUNTAIN: Culebra Peak (14,047')
ROUTE: West Ridge
RT DISTANCE: 7 miles
RT GAIN: 3,200'
ASCENT TIME: 2.25 hours
TIME ON SUMMIT: 45 minutes
DESCENT TIME: 1.5 hours
CLIMBERS: Dillon (dillonsarnelli), Rob (RJansen77), Jennifer (LuLuLuv), Marcia (marciamallow/avidhiker123), Ben (BenfromtheEast), Bill (wildlobo71), Tyler (MountainMedic)
...just kidding. I'll save the off-color jokes for Dillon's text inbox.
Lots of things cost $100. A fleece jacket. Two weeks’ worth of groceries (I eat like a college student). A lower-level ticket to an NFL preseason game. And, of course, climbing the elephant in the Fourteener room: Culebra Peak.
The $100 Peak.
Paying $100 to hike a 14er sucks, especially considering all the gas, food and gear costs that already goes into the hobby. It’s even more grating that Culebra is about as easy as it gets. I’d be more amenable to paying $100 to hike Crestone Needle or Wetterhorn, but I wasn’t exactly overjoyed to fork over the cash for Bierstadt Without A Trail. But hey, it’s on Cielo Vista land and they can do whatever they want. Including charging a surging pack of 20-somethings (and 20-somethings at heart) a significant portion of their biweekly paychecks for a four-hour hike.
The only way to make it tolerable? Good friends and the promise of beer and BBQ back at Fischer Fest in Colorado Springs.
After 49 prior 14ers, Culebra was a bizarrely unique experience. Instead of starting at your leisure, the 20-25 people allowed to hike the mountain on a given day all hit the trail at the same time. No defined, continuous path exists, but rather a loose connection of game and climber trails. The southern-most 14er has views more suited to New Mexico than Colorado.
Most everyone camps out the night before the hike in a crowded roundabout near the Headquarters Gate for Cielo Vista Ranch. Alarms blast sometime between 5 and 5:30 a.m., or in our case, around 4 a.m. when someone’s car alarm went off. Thanks yo. Coyotes howled throughout the night, though my prevailing thought wasn’t “how could anyone fear these graceful creatures (-THE LYNX),” but instead, “Man, I hope Dillon isn’t dragged out of his bivy.” We were also concerned with the presence of yetis per a briefly posted and now-deleted forum thread. We figured Dillon would be the tastiest yeti treat and thus slept soundly.
Once the gate is open, Carlos, dressed to impress, checks you in and you drive a few miles to the ranch headquarters. That’s where you turn in your waiver and $100. Since everyone was allowed through the gate at the same time, it felt almost like The Amazing Race. Subarus raced Xterras on secluded dirt roads for the ultimate prize: their $100 back. Just kidding. There's no prize.
After everyone's paid, Carlos gives a brief speech and once again the hikers speed off for Fourway (2WD) or the 4WD trailhead. Sticking with the race theme, people got geared up at alarming speeds. Our group was very nearly the last on the trail. Seeing everyone else heading up for the lefthand (Northwest) ridge, we followed an old 4WD road the opposite direction for a bit before turning onto the righthand (West) ridge.
The route really doesn’t need much of a description. We grinded up a steep grass-and-talus slope until we reached the ridge and the famous giant cairn. It turns out our way was a bit of a shortcut and we had already passed everyone else. From the cairn, you follow the ridge proper over a few false summits to the top. We kept our minds occupied during our ascent by cracking Penn State jokes to our two Nittany Lion alumni, Dillon and Marcia, and going for first ascents of precariously balanced boulders. We summited after about 2.25 hours. We skipped Red because most of us have decided to stop pursuing lists so vigorously after the 14ers. And also because 13ers are apparently for hipsters.
The top was windy and cold, far moreso than normal for mid-August. Ever prepared for emergencies, Bill brought out his flask of whisky to warm everyone up. It was also the anniversary of Dillon’s 25th birthday, so Rob had carried up a six-pack of Dale’s Pale Ale. For some undisclosed reason Dillon also brought up Miller Lite. At any rate, it was a veritable party on the summit despite the chill.
The impeccably dressed Carlos.
The pack starts for the righthand ridgeline.
Looking down from whence we came.
Typical terrain along the initial ridge.
Ben notching a first ascent of the Widowmaker Pillar.
The Blanca group.
The only photo in recorded history of Dilly taking a rest break.
Looking down the ridge from near the top.
I have no idea why we thought this landmark was worthy of a group photo.
Working along the ridge proper and the GAPING EXPOSURE.
Another false summit.
Me leading slowpokes Dilly and Tyler.
Dillon properly celebrating the Culebra summit on his birthday.
Rob awkwardly mounting the true summit, as Tyler leads a life of leisure..
Blance group, again.
Group shot. (L-R Me, Rob, Dilly, Tyler, Ben, Bill, Marcia, Jennifer).
The two Penn Staters, with me posing as an innocent little boy.
It was a rather uneventful summit.
Looking down from the major false summit on the descent.
We took roughly the same path down, as did everyone else. The sun finally made an appearance and we lounged around the 4WD trailhead for a while, snacking, drinking beer and rinsing off in the creek. Congrats again to the man who finished the 14ers on Culebra!
Since we got down so early and weren’t due to be in Colorado Springs for Fischer Fest until 5 p.m., we went to a pizza place in Ft. Garland to kill some time. Dswink and Milan happened to be there as well, so we all piled into a large table and settled for the salad bar since we figured we’d only burned about 13 calories on Culebra. We also waited until Dilly was gone and asked the waitress to bring him a cake with a candle in it. They sang to him. It was glorious.
Dillon's Embarrassment Cake.
We finally piled into the cars a little after 3 p.m. en route to Fisher Fest, where we met dmccool and gregory_fischer (plus their wives and children). The Fischers generously had us over to their home for a feast of BBQ, hamburgers, hot dogs and various side dishes, which we gratefully enjoyed. Sadly, our day was almost ruined by a freak two-minute rain storm that almost forced us to turn around at the saddle between Greg’s fence and backdoor. We survived by assuming the lightning position and drinking more beer. Once it cleared, we continued our game of Testicle Toss (I’m not sure this is the actual name, but it’s going to stick). Dan and I beat Dillon and Rob 2 sets to 0 to win the Fischer Cup. You may have seen the ESPN highlight of Dan retrieving a set of Testicles from a power line.
Rob utterly exhausted from his long day on Culebra.
McKayla is not impressed.
Dan saving the day.
Culebra is a boring mountain that costs $100 to hike, but I’d be lying to say I didn’t love every second of it. Why? The mutual quest to complete the 14ers this summer has brought together a group of men I feel privileged to be a part of. The camaraderie the mountains inspire is a treasure, and I can’t even express how lucky I feel not only to have one “perfect partner,” but a whole freakin’ pack of them. I know we rub some of you the wrong way, but I encourage you to take a step back from your computer screen once in a while and have a laugh. God knows we do. You can only take 14ers, 14ers.com and yourself so seriously.
In conclusion, there’s nothing that these guys couldn’t make fun. Including Culebra.
Happy birthday Dilly!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):