Peak(s):  California Pk  -  13,849 feet
"Huerfano Pk"  -  13,828 feet
Date Posted:  08/13/2012
Date Climbed:   08/10/2012
Author:  Yikes
 California and Huerfano combo  

California Peak (13,849')
Date: Friday Aug 10, 2012
Time: 6:30am - 1pm
Stats: 8.4 miles, 4101 vertical (per Roach)
Crew: Yikes (Jim) and Annabelle Ferocious

With summer quickly wrapping up, I really wanted to get Culebra, which would be #53. I finally stopped procrastinating (after 20 some years) and called the ranch to schedule for that Friday. Carol called back with the news that they were booked for the weekend and I would have to put off my reservation until later in the month. I was still eager to get some hiking done "down south", so pulled out "Colorado's Thirteeners" and settled on California and "Huerfano".

I had a party to attend that Saturday night, so shifted my schedule a bit, taking Friday off from work. I didn't leave Aurora till 8pm on Thursday, and with a 4 hour drive, rolled into my campsite around midnight. I'm always on the lookout for wildlife when driving at dark, and was fortunate to see a bear sprinting across the road shortly before the trailhead. Now I would be cautious for the duration to keep any tempting smells away from the SUV. I don't want to be getting back from a hike with the doors peeled off the side of the vehicle. Slept in the back, which wasn't too bad with several layers of old-school sleeping bags laid down as padding. The typical nightly mountain winds were absent.

I choose California Pk for the 1st day, primarily because it was a little longer and had more elevation gain than "Huerfano". I guess I was thinking of saving the "easier" day for last; ending up being wrong about that decision.

The Zapata trail starts out through a nice aspen forest, never becoming very steep.
Zapata trail through the aspen

Roach describes the trail as being "obscure in the meadows", and I would have to agree. I felt tempted to cross the meadow and head straight for the saddle, but the trail takes a sharp left turn after the fence. There are a few posts that guide the way, but they can be tricky to spot.
Easy to loose trail

Nice easy ascent

Views to the south

Annie and I were lucky to see two separate herds of mountain sheep. There was only a single lamb in both herds, so I wondered if they had a bad year breeding.
I think I smell sheep

Yep, there they are

Can I have one please?

The ridge hike is long but straightforward. Mostly grass with some scattered talus. It isn't until just before the summit before the route becomes a little rocky.
Ridge to the summit

Colorado at its best

The hike down went smoothly and we got back to the Xterra right at 1pm. I was tempted to drive back to Walsenburg for some dinner, but the 90 minute drive each way was a sufficient deterrent. Instead, I pulled out the novel I was working on and read a hundred pages or so. I drove up to the upper trailhead right before dark, so that I could be on the trail as soon as possible the next morning. And for those who want to know how rough the road is, it takes about 30min to drive the last 5 miles, BUT there was a SmartCar at the upper parking lot. I don't know if it was able to drive out, but someone coaxed it all the way in.

Across the valley

Truck, bedroom, dining room

"Huerfano Peak" (13,828')
Date: Saturday Aug 11, 2012
Time: 5:10am - 1pm
Stats: 8.2 miles, 3728 vertical (per Roach)
Crew: Yikes (Jim) and Annabelle Ferocious

Alarm went off at 4:50am. Not being one for wasting time on breakfast, I threw on some clothes, harnessed up the dog and was on the trail in 15 minutes. It was still dark for a while, so I had my headlamp on as I headed out towards Lindsey. At one point, I got concerned about taking the wrong fork in the trail. Checking the GPS showed my track diverging from the downloaded route. I backtracked for about 10 minutes trying to find the fork that I somehow missed. After a few minutes searching, I decided that the GPS wasn't to be trusted since it didn't have a clear view of the satellites. I turned back around south and was proven correct when I reached the river crossing. The crossing was pretty easy with low water and some decent logs to walk across on.

The trail up to the basin is pretty steep and I had to take a few breaks.
Steep hike up to the basin

Once in the basin, you get a short breather crossing to the other side before you have to tackle the steep ramp up to the saddle.
Dramatic view of Blanca

Can I stay up here? I want to play with the marmots.

The wind really picked up at the saddle. I didn't have a wind gauge, but it was strong enough to threaten my balance. Fortunately there isn't any exposure on the route. Annie is pretty low profile, so she didn't seem to be bothered by the wind.

The 30 ft gap and adjacent saddle were interesting. I was running low on energy and figured I would bypass the Iron Nipple. Descending around the cliffs and crossing the "pesky talus" wasn't very enjoyable. I didn't have much problem with loose talus, but Annie is a little small to be hopping across some of the bigger chair-sized blocks. I did carry her across a few short talus sections; otherwise she gets full credit for both hikes.
Iron Nipple and the ridge

The grassy slopes up to the summit cone took a bit of time, with frequent breaks. The summit was rocky with some nice drop offs and a jagged north ridge. No cell phone reception at the summit.

Summit shot of north ridge

The hike down was uneventful, taking my time across the talus traverse. I was sort of happy to regain the trail, but it isn't the most enjoyable tail being so steep. I always keep Annie on a leash, but it gets tricky keeping her out of the way when the trail is that steep. Happy to get down to the valley floor, we quickly completed the final mile back to the trailhead. Driving out of the valley, saw a second bear, this one with a black head and tan body; pretty nice coloration.

A not-so-quick four hour drive back the city, a quick shower and off to the party. Needless to say, I wasn't the life of the party. Put me in the corner and wake me up when it's time to go home.

The trip went well and I was able to complete two more Centennial peaks. The only change I would make is to climb "Huerfano" on the first day when my legs are fresh. For me, 8000' in two days is an effort.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

 Comments or Questions

This is so cool
08/14/2012 13:48
Just YESTERDAY I was looking at Huerfano and California, looking at the different routes. Thanks for the pics and the beta!


cool pics
05/21/2015 21:38
I wouldn’t have thought of Huerfano from the west side...Nevermind. It was the "Zapata trail" that confused me, as I was thinking of the Zapata Falls to the West.

Nice report.


08/16/2012 18:30
Nice, informative TR. And super congrats to Annie; she looks like a terrific climbing buddy.


nice doggie
10/01/2012 16:14
I love pics #7 and #14 - what a cute pup!

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