| Sangre de Sawatch 13ers
High their, my name is Vomit. So in my last report my friend Tyler & I headed to the Elks to complete Pyramid & the Maroon Bells traverse, which was a lot of fun. Still a shame to hear about the death on North Maroon that occurred six days after our visit.
We met up again the following weekend (9/15-16) w/ several climbing options. Our primary interest was to do the Crestones traverse, but after hearing about the first dumping of snow in the Sangres, we settled on spending a day north of there at the Gibson Creek trailhead to tackle five easy but long ranked 13ers (I only completed four). Our hope was that by Sunday the snow would melt away that perhaps we could tackle the Crestones or elsewhere, though that didn't happen. But regardless of change of plans, it was a rewarding weekend, even though both days were spent entirely on the road & in the mountains, followed by going straight back to work first thing Monday morning.
We met up at my place & had about four hours of sleep before taking off super early for Westcliffe. A straightforward drive led us to the parking lot for the trail head around 7AM, in which we started off, taking an unnamed trail up Gibson Creek to where it disappeared roughly two miles in the thick aspen groves. From there, it was bushwhack time up steep slopes while staring far away at our first summit so high up.
From the Gibson Creek trail head, Horn Peak makes a majestic appearance.But eventually at about 12,200 feet, we met up w/ tree line at what looked like gnarled bristlecone pines (do they grow in the Sangres?). There was an abundant amount of snowfall on the north slopes, especially when looking south towards the Crestones & seeing all the high peaks in white. Definitely the final ridge that led to the summit of our first peak had some tricky snowy & icy spots.
Above tree line looking south at the snowy peaks.
Before long, we reached our first summit, Spread Eagle Peak. Such a phenomenal view of the area, facing very close to Rito Alto Peak, which was also on our initial to-do list, even though we didn't complete it this time. Well, I don't need to describe the views as I have links for it below.
Basically our traverse went from Spread Eagle over to "Peak of the Clouds" (Pt. 13524'), then north towards "Silver Peak" (Pt. 13513'), traversing further north to Mt. Marcy, & then a northeast ridge ascent to Gibbs Peak. Now of course, Gibbs Peak from Spread Eagle looked like some distance, which started taking a toll on my feet later on, hence I decided not to climb it while my buddy did. But after Gibbs, it would be a return to Marcy, followed by a return to a false summit we encountered between Marcy & Silver, then taking a side ridge that veered east & downwards towards Lake of the Clouds & to the trail that ultimately connected back to our parking area.
Spread Eagle to Peak of the Clouds was easy, following alongside the flat ridge w/ snow piled up against the northern slopes. The walking was gentle over grassy terrain mixed w/ rocks, which slowly progressed into large boulders once we started climbing up the second peak. Windy it was, we plocketed our way to the summit & once again experienced breathtaking views of the range. Spanish Peaks on the horizon, views as far down as New Mexico & north towards the snowless Mt. Ouray & Antora Peak.
Following the ridge to Peak of the Clouds. Nothing but blue sky today.
View south of fantastic geologic strata from Peak of the Clouds.This was definitely a cold day up here, since I was finding it hard to stay on the summit much longer w/o freezing. It was said from Summitpost or some other website that there was some Class 4 terrain on descent to the saddle between Peak of the Clouds to Silver, which turned out to be down-sloping slabs that made up the uplifted layers of this range. Fortunately there wasn't much snow, but it was still a slow descent since the slabs had few good holds to them that we had to backtrack in some places to get down.
View of our Class 4 descent following the edge down Peak of the Clouds.
Eventually, we hit the saddle & followed the snow drifts towards a gentle climb of Silver Peak, which had a narrow long summit that had a fantastic view of Peak of the Clouds & the 45 degree flatiron formation it had. Marcy still looked like another long climb, however it seemed easier since there was less snow. The bulk of the first snow seemed to be south as far as the Crestones if not further. We could even see some of the isolated 13ers in the San Juans had their own dusting of white.
Looking back towards uplifted layers.
Descending Silver had its own problems. I for one was in tennis shoes & the slope going north was steep & completely covered in snow, so I had plenty of issues of slipping & flippity flopping on the non-grippy terrain. The snow itself probably delayed us by about half an hour, so after all this hiking, we knew it was going to be dark by the time we were headed back. The wind was a constant bur, no sign of summer here anymore. It made us reconsider tomorrow, where the plan was to ascend Rito Alto Peak & nearby other 13ers all the way back from the trail head. Perhaps we would turn to another range to enjoy for Sunday.
Marcy was long but straightforward. It seemed to have an unimpressive summit amidst the rest of the surrounding peaks. The peaks to the immediate west had some classy rugged terrain to it, almost looking Maroon Bellsish. Tyler said he could hear coyote howls in the valleys below & I definitely saw two coyotes in front of me running in the snow, running off after spotting me & splitting off in different directions.
There was a cool escarpment to the east where Texas Creek originated, & we followed it to the round flat summit of Marcy. I felt a little headachy & had the itching desire to vomit, but refrained as I decided to rest on the summit while Tyler made the bold determined dash to Gibbs Peak, which looked deceivingly close but filled w/ plenty of false summits along the ridge. I watched him head off while I took some photos & took in the scenery a bit more. It felt fictional, like I really wasn't here, since there was a beauty to this range I couldn't say I've experienced anywhere else in Colorado. The geology struck out as impressive & violent, and seeing nobody in this high country at all really made it an enjoyable moment up here. This was the first time I've ever been to the northern part of this range, after doing the Grand Slam (Little Bear to Blanca to Ellingwood) two years ago.
Crestones from Mt. Marcy
Looking north from Mt. Marcy towards De Anza, Electric, & Gibbs.
Well I saw a faint green speck at the summit of Gibbs. Definitely a 48X optical zoom photo still showed Tyler as a tiny speck. Soon, seeing him leave the summit, I started heading back along the escarpment towards the false summit where we would branch down to Lake of the Clouds. I waited there as a low cloud stayed hovered over my area, keeping the area ultra cold. It took about 1 hour, 40 minutes until he arrived back to where I was. I'm glad I didn't go up Gibbs simply because it would've taken another hour or so for me to keep up. Sitting around admiring the views helped make my headache go away & kept my feet rested for a bit before our trail-less descent to the three visible lakes below Spread Eagle Peak.
Can you find Tyler? Descending the gentle terrain off Marcy following along an impressive escarpment after completing Gibbs.
There was a false unnamed & unranked cairned 12er we reached before making our way straight down a gentle grassy plain to tree line. A few faint random small cairns showed us the way until we made it through the marshes and rocky hillsides to the middle Lake of the Clouds. What a picturesque place. A few campers, & one guy we bumped into said that he saw us with his binoculars as we were descending down & wondered where the fuck we came from. Ah, I would've wanted to have camped at the lake, these basins in the Sangres were always so pretty.
Spread Eagle & Peak of the Clouds from our descent to treeline.
Peaceful reflections from the middle lake of Lake of the Clouds.
It was after sunset as we went down, not really seeing the distinct Blood of Christ color on the mountains like I did when I did the Grand Slam. Before long, it was dark, & we had flashlights guide us the last three miles to the Rainbow trail & back to the Gibson Creek trailhead. We debated about camping here or going elsewhere, since when we were descending, we had our eyes focused on making it an easy day tomorrow after considering climbing Mt. Ouray. That peak stood out on the horizon & the both of us had that peak on our to do list for some time. So we settled for that & decided to leave the Gibson Creek trailhead & drive in the dark to a pullout spot I knew in the thicket of the aspens along the drove up towards Marshall Pass.
We were starving & stopped one minute before closing time at the Subway in Westcliffe before taking the drive to Salida & to the road leading up to Marshall Pass, which followed an ancient overland railroad. I found a spot that was free of campers (not the one I knew of) & parked where we set up Tyler's tent while I car camped. Tomorrow was going to be a day still in the summer solstice, not the windy icy snowy conditions we experienced down south.
Morning came, & the aspens glistening golden yellow & orange red w/ the rising sun. We were camped near Grays Creek, which had a view of monstrous Ouray over the trees. This was a picturesque area, & I remembered attempted Ouray in the past & knew roughly how to climb it without taking a bushwhack approach. This time I was determined to say I've done the peak.
Wrapping up camp near Marshall Pass.
We did zero research on this area since this was impromptu decision, so I was still bracing a lot of off-trail hiking through the woods trying to make it to tree line. Before Marshall Pass, there is the parking area for the Colorado Trail access, which you catch on an old dirt road heading north. We hiked that to just about where it ended at an abandoned quarry over a mile in, spotted an old road w/ a sign indicating foot & horse traffic only as it went steeply up the side in the direction of the ridge we wanted.
The road seemed to disappear quickly & there was a faint worn trail w/ cairns that seemed promising. It led us straight to tree line where it ended, & the rest was easy from there. The top of the ridge we made it, facing the huge Mt. Ouray & the Sangres hazing off into the distance. Walking the grassy slope, the path was straightforward up the gigantic rocky slopes of Ouray.
Mt. Ouray from the ridge leading to the summit. Pt. 13472 isolated at left.
Rocky terrain awaits us up Ouray.
We made it to the summit rather quickly, finding a broad area w/ a center cairn marking the top. Views expanded of the Arkansas River Valley below, the core of the Sawatch, & the ridges towards Gunnison. Antora was to the south as well as the long range of the Sangres. Not too windy, still felt like a summer hike to the top, unlike yesterday.
There was a 13er we did not expect to find immediately to the north, Pt. 13472. That mountain randomly stuck out like a sore thumb to the north. We knew it had to be a 13er, though the map we had only indicated that a 12er called Chipeta Mountain lay in that direction, which we figured was the low insignificant rise next to Pt. 13472. Originally, we were just going to call it an easy day up Ouray, but we figured w/ the extra time, we'd just follow the ridge around the Cochetopa Creek basin & make our way up Chipeta & the unnamed 13er. Nobody was here, we had the entire place to ourselves, so it was completely worth the effort.
We timed ourselves, getting off Ouray towards the lowest point of the ridge where a trail connected the Colorado trail to Cochetopa Creek at the pass. Slowly but surely amidst a windy day, we were getting closer & closer to the other side of the ridge, w/ grand views of the northern face of Ouray.
On our way to Chipeta Mountain, we crossed this large pegmatite field of solid white quartz w/ mica sheets.
The white quartz pegmatite zone w/ the noticeable survey cairn in center.Ahead was a gigantic cairn in the middle of nowhere, which really raised eyebrows for the both of us. I even saw this cairn from atop Ouray but didn't know exactly what it was, other than it stood out bizarrely on the ridge below & appeared to be man-made. It turns out the cairn marked the SW corner of Chaffee County & it was safe to assume that it had standing there for the past 130 years. Evidence of this was due to engravings we found on the top rock of the cairn, which said:
July 22, 1882
S. E. Day Co. Survey Co.
Survey carved into the top rock on the cairn.
Wow, so cool to think someone 130 years ago stood at this exact spot chiseling a message into the rock, if that really is the case. No handy-dandy bronze USGS benchmark to put in place back then. Made me wonder if there were other gigantic cairns at the other corners of the county line. (Of course, I check out the topographic maps & I don't think the cairn is accurately placed, unless the county line used to be in a different location at the time - from what I saw on the map, Chaffee County's true southwestern corner is a few miles south). If anybody knows anything about this cairn & why it's here or S.E. Day company please share.
A gentle windy slope up led us to the top of Chipeta. It was definitely not ranked being right in the shadow of Pt. 13472, but for some reason, it was officially named. The peak definitely had a good view of the Cochetopa Creek basin below w/ a direct view of Ouray Peak, which looked magnificent from this perspective. It was here that we left our packs at the top & parook-eh-dee-dooped our way up to Pt. 13472. It was nothing but wind and climbing over boulders before hitting a grassy ridge towards the summit.
Mt. Ouray from Chipeta Mountain.
Pt. 13472 had a summit register with a page and a half full of names all during Summer 2011 but it appeared that we were the only ones who signed it for 2012, which was surprising. The cairn itself really caught my attention as I spotted a small dark inclusion in one of the larger rocks that contained pitch black solidified globular bubbles that reflected in the sunlight, which I immediately knew was a fulgurite - that is, melted silica as a result of a lightning strike. Most fulgurites are hollow, these ones have the impact zone & tubed cavities in the rock. Finding one meant there was definitely more. So rather than immediately descending to escape the relentless wind, we combed the summit for about 20 minutes searching large & small boulders for plenty of fulgurite specimens & "worm" hole borings in the rock created by strikes. One specimen we found almost appeared to be moldavite, a gemstone variety of the silica (which by the way is hard to facet since it is solidified silica that splinters). Moldative itself is melted silica from the result of a meteor impact - the best green gemstone variety comes from Bohemia, Czech Republic.
This peak had such an isolated prominence (except being next to Ouray) that it made sense why there were plenty of fulgurites. I bet had I known to look, there probably could've been some to be found on Ouray too. Some of the rocks we found on Pt. 13472 had worm tunnel patterns that were long and extended through the rocks, almost like some species of coral you find at a ocean souvenir shop. Yeah, definitely don't want to be up here during a thunderstorm. If a lightning bolt can create scarred dendritic markings on a rock, imagine what it could do to you if you got hit.
Combing the summit for fulgurites.
Glassy bubbular cavity the result of a lightning strike.
Glassy silica fulgurite looking similar to moldavite.
Worm hole patterns from a major strike. Mother nature was pissed.
I really enjoyed this summit. Definitely now that I've summitted it, I have decided to officially rename Pt. 13472 to Fulgurite Peak. No WAIT! Take that back, I think its brand new official USGS-approved name should be 'Mount of the Holy Vomit', named of course in prestigious honor of me. Has a good ring to it doesn't it?
Well anyhow, we made our descent down Pt. 13472 to the saddle & quickly re-ascended Chipeta, grabbed our packs, & followed the ridge back down to the lowest saddle where a trail went west towards the Colorado trail. Downwards on the west side we went until we met up w/ the Colorado trail in a picturesque meadow area facing down towards Gunnison. We bumped into a biker from Salida who was doing a 125 mile loop in the mountains all for today. We also encountered another guy & his temporary backup friend who was doing the entire Colorado Trail - at this point he was probably halfway to Denver.
Descent towards the Colorado trail from the low saddle.
Late afternoon contrasts looking southwest. San Luis Peak in range at far left, an isolated Uncompahgre rises left of center.
One day Antora, one day, you'll be conquered as well.
It took about an hour total from the start of the Colorado trail to get back to Marshall Pass where we packed up & drove back down, stopping for a $5 savory, scrumptious, salivatingly delicious foot long sub from Subway in Salida before taking US 285 back up towards Denver. We stopped at one spot along the South Platte River where we soaked in the frigid cold water in the darkness for five minutes to relieve any stiffness & tension in the legs. And after that, homeward bound we were, where we signed off w/ thoughts of what to climb next weekend.
Our treks for both days - the orange line to Gibbs Peak is the extra extension Tyler completed.
Seven peaks for me, six of them ranked (Spread Eagle, Peak of the Clouds, Silver, Marcy, Ouray, Chipeta, Pt. 13472), & not a single person we encountered except for down below... that is certainly the taste of a rewarding weekend. Well, after all those peaks & gorging myself on a foot long sandwich, I don't feel so great, so please excuse me from writing any further while I go vomit. Adios for now, until my next report!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):