Peak(s):  Culebra Peak  -  14,047 feet
Red Mtn A  -  13,908 feet
Vermejo Pk  -  13,723 feet
"Alamosito"  -  13,466 feet
Purgatoire Pk  -  13,676 feet
Date Posted:  05/17/2018
Date Climbed:   05/08/2018
Author:  bmcqueen
 Culebra & Southern Friends - with Unintended Consequences  

Note: This is going to be a trip report about mistakes and what not to do, so please read it as such. I am writing it up with a normal level of detail about the day in order to provide the context to accompany the debrief on the mistakes.


I requested access to climb Culebra and Red over President's Day weekend in February and committed to those plans long before seeing a weather forecast. Once we saw the forecast, we weren't psyched - cold and VERY windy. I am really hoping to get in a position to finish the Centennials this year and needed Red Mountain towards that objective. I hadn't climbed Red the first time I was on Culebra in September of 2005 because a) it was also very windy that day and b) I wasn't even thinking about 13ers at that point. The Cielo Vista Ranch and manager, Carlos, were extremely accommodating in allowing winter access, for which I was grateful. There was still ample snow covering the road, so we had to start from the Ranch Headquarters, making it a much longer hike. We started walking around 6:30 that morning, knowing that we needed to be back down and signed out by 6:00 PM.

Fighting through the wind at the big cairn.

With the brutal winds that day (35-45 sustained with gusts of 75 mph forecasted), three of us started out and two of us summited Culebra at nearly 1:00 PM. I really wanted Red and we tried to start in that direction, getting knocked down by the wind as we dropped towards the saddle. My partner and I looked at each other and knew it was a no go. The wind was simply too great and we would never make it over and back in time to get down by 6:00 PM.

Culebra summit was awfully cold.

We retreated back to the summit of Culebra and descended, arriving back down at Ranch HQ at 5:45 PM. It was one of the most brutal days I've ever experienced in the mountains. My prize for the day was a wind hickey on my neck from apparently having an ever so small area of skin not covered.

Fun explaining that one to your wife...

May 8, 2018 Climb

After not getting Red in February, I had to think about how & when to get back down to the Ranch. I watched condition reports until I saw that people were able to drive up to the four way, then I e-mailed Carlos again to see if I could come back down to climb Culebra and Red with a shorter day. After making sure the wind was forecasted to be reasonable that day (15-20 mph in the forecast) I asked if I could climb on Tuesday May 8th and he was gracious and accommodated my request (I now understand that their recent practice has been to not allow weekday reservations, but he made an exception for me). I drove down Monday night after teaching my class at DU, crashed at the Best Western in Alamosa and set my alarm for 4:15 AM so I could have breakfast and be at the gate a bit before 6:00 AM. Before I went to bed, I quickly pulled up trip reports to see if anyone had done the southern bi-centennials with Culebra and Red. After reading Otina's and Derek's TRs and seeing that they had done the southern bi-centennials separately, I discarded the brief thought as silly and went to sleep.

The ranch guys were right on time Tuesday morning and quickly turned me loose from the office. I was able to easily drive up to the 4WD trailhead, counting myself lucky to save yet another mile each way vs. starting at the four way. I started walking at 6:38 AM and climbed the snowfield straight towards the big cairn.

Snowfield just above the 4WD trailhead that leads straight to the big cairn.

I was at the big cairn exactly an hour after leaving my car and was feeling great.

The big cairn with Culebra's false summit in the background.
Culebra's summit comes into view with Red Mountain on the right.

I topped out on Culebra at 8:30 AM, 1:52 after leaving my car. A quick text to Melissa and I was off to claim Centennial #91, Red Mountain.

Red Mountain (left) and Vermejo (right center) from Culebra.

49 minutes after arriving on top of Culebra, I was standing atop Red Mountain. It was 9:19 AM. I was torn. I could go back down and be home nice and early or I could alter plans. I should have just gone back down and gotten home early, but I have also been having a hard time orphaning nearby peaks, knowing that someday I'll regret it and need to come back for them.

Looking back at Culebra from Red.

I looked across at Vermejo, a bi-centennial peak across the way. I decided to change plans and go for it. I messaged Melissa to let her know my change of plans, then set off.

Vermejo (near left), Purgatoire (back center) and Alamosito (right center) from Red Mountain.

I arrived on the summit of Vermejo at 10:53 AM, snapped a few pictures, then kept right on going towards Alamosito, another ranked peak (#223).

Culebra (left center) and Red (right) from Vermejo.
Purgatoire (left) and Alamosito (right foreground) from Vermejo.

Once I got to Alamosito's summit at 12:06 PM, I felt committed to getting Purgatoire as well. Another quick couple of photos and I was off.

Purgatoire from Alamosito.
Left to right - Culebra, Red and Vermejo from Alamosito.

My legs were a bit tired going up Purgatoire and the name suddenly seemed somewhat fitting. I topped out at 1:16 PM. I looked back across towards Culebra, thinking my car at the 4WD trailhead sure seemed like a long ways away. I had read an April CR that indicated a 13-hour day on Culebra and I inquired whether the 6:00 PM cut-off had been an issue. While the response indicated that was an old rule, I was still worried about it and really wanted to be back at my car by 5:40 PM in order to be back at the Ranch Headquarters by 6:00 PM.

Purgatoire from the Alamosito saddle.
Purgatoire summit.
Culebra off in the distance with my car on the other side of and below the trees off to the left.

I debated myself for a minute about whether I was better off retracing my steps and reclimbing some or all of the first four peaks to get back vs. dropping down below the ridge and making a bee line for my car. My tired legs were strongly arguing for the latter and I erroneously listened to them. I dropped back to the saddle between Purgatoire and Alamosito, then dropped a bit and popped up and over a pass into the Vallejos Creek basin. I tried to stay high, knowing that I was still going to need to get two more basins over to get back to my car. The scree was time consuming and I eventually gave up and dropped to the floor of the basin. I thought I would make better time across the snow, but it proved unsupportive and equally time consuming.

Down in the basin looking back at the pass I came over.

Once I got back on south facing slopes, the snow was no longer an issue, but unfortunately, I had to climb up and over a rib to get into the next basin over.

I crossed over the rib on the left hand side. It hurt going up that little hill.

From the top of that rib, I could see that I still had a ways to go to get back to Culebra and my car.

Getting closer, but still another basin to cross.

I dropped down the north facing slope to descend into the North Vallejos Creek basin. The north facing aspect meant snow again. It was knee deep and didn't even tease me with the thought that it might hold my weight. Every step was a plunge in, an effort not to hyper extend my knee and an effort to move to the next step. More time went by. At least I had gravity on my side as I struggled down the slope to the creek at 11,000'. Once across the creek, I contoured along on game trails as best I could to avoid the thick deadfall all around me. I could see on my map that I was getting close to a road that would take me back up the final rib and over the top to the 4WD trailhead and my car. I had enjoyed cell signal most of the day and tried to send the Ranch a quick e-mail to let them know I was running a few minutes late, but that I was fine and almost back to my car. Of course, another lesson I should have known was that I wouldn't have cell coverage back down that low when I actually needed it. My e-mail sat in my outbox waiting for the magic bars to reappear.

I came up over the last rib and saw my car at 6:17 PM and arrived at my precious chariot at 6:23 PM, 11 hours and 45 minutes since I started. I didn't bother taking off my soaking wet boots and gaiters. I just jumped in my car and started off down the road, wanting to get back to the HQ and sign out as quickly as I could. Nearly back to the HQ, one of the Ranch employees was coming up the road on an ATV. I apologized that I was running a few minutes late. He told me it was no problem at all. I volunteered to him that I had gone over to the other mountains and it had taken me a bit longer than I had expected.

He followed me back to the Ranch HQ where I signed out at 6:42. I again thanked them for their hospitality and apologized for my tardiness. He again told me "no worries" and wished me safe travels.


I briefly discussed my February climb and gave the details of the May climb to make sure I provided adequate context. Here's the important part of the TR though.

Last week I learned that my tardiness and decision to climb peaks beyond Culebra and Red had caused a problem for other climbers (a lovely couple that I met at our CFI fundraising event the night before they headed down). The Ranch had decided not to allow weekday climbers any longer at all (even on the exception basis). I feel really bad about this and have spent the past six days trying to make amends with the Ranch, which has recently shown the climbing community nothing but kindness and great hospitality. I've sent three e-mails of apology, so at this point I thought it best if I shifted my attention to helping others not make the same mistakes.

My takeaways from this trip would be:

* Changing plans on the fly is not a good idea. If you've done your research and decide something doesn't look reasonable, trust that instinct.

* Don't climb additional peaks in the Ranch without prior permission - with prior permission, I don't think it would have been a big deal at all. But since I had not asked in advance, this understandably upset them. In my e-mails with Carlos, I think what rubbed him the wrong way more than anything was my bolting on peaks that I had not discussed with him in advance. The Ranch was publicly stating that climbing was allowed only on the weekends, but was accommodating special weekday requests like mine and the couple's from last Friday. We never know what the Ranch may have had to deal with the time before any of us was there. It might have been unprepared hikers, lost hikers, slow hikers, grumpy hikers who didn't like that they had to pay, etc. The point is we should all treat access to this peak as a fragile thing and do our best to not screw it up for the next people like I did. Any of us might very well be the straw that breaks the camel's back on legal access.

* Be sure to understand the current rules on what time they need you to be out. I made the mistake of assuming that since a couple of recent climbers had been told not to worry about it, that I didn't need to be too worried about it either. Even thought I had heard the 6:00 PM exit was not a big deal any longer, I understand why one of the guys went up at 6:00 to check on me since they knew I could drive to at least the four way and it doesn't take most people all day to climb Culebra and Red. That took time away from their busy regular work schedules on the Ranch unnecessarily and frustrated them.

* Don't take access to private property for granted. They have every right to make rules and we should repay their kindness and hospitality with gratitude and respectful compliance. Some people's reaction to access issues on Culebra is to propose ODS as an alternative. I don't subscribe to that view. That is a great way to have access denied for everyone on all days of the week. I feel bad that my impromptu decision to climb three extra peaks may cost some of my fellow climbers the ability to have legal access during the week, but ODS is not the answer. It's much better for us as a climbing community to respect their rules and just be happy that they allow access at all.

* Frankly, don't climb Vermejo, Alamosito and Purgatoire with Culebra and Red. There is a good reason why seasoned 13er climbers like Derek and Otina didn't do it. It is a heck of a long way without having the benefit of a convenient loop to get back to where you started. I'm certainly not the fastest guy in the community, but I'd be on that side of the bell curve vs. the slower side. It took me almost 12 hours and my legs were dead at the end. Not a good choice from a route perspective and couple that with the negative consequences this has had makes it an even more poor choice.

I sincerely hope that I am able to repair the damage I have done to the relationship between the 14er community and the Ranch staff. I owe any other aspiring Culebra weekday climbers out there an apology in the mean time, especially the couple who drove all the way from my house Thursday night down to the Ranch to climb Friday morning per their prior agreement with the Ranch, only to be turned away because of my mistakes.

Thanks for reading and please accept my apology for causing an issue in what had been a very positive relationship with the Ranch.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

 Comments or Questions

Good Man
05/17/2018 17:13
Brad, you're a good man to come forward and admit you might be the cause. Much respect.
But I can't believe one incident was the reason. The new ranch owners allowed the staff to open up access.
I don't think they realized how many people wanted to hike this peak.
As you mentioned, they made an exception for you to hike during the week, so obviously they were trying to stop mid-week hikes before that.
It wasn't just you. You might have been the proverbial last straw for them to finally stop.
I wonder how many other people missed the closing time?

Good TR, I still have to go back for Red.


Well handled
05/17/2018 17:38
It's never easy owning up to a mistake, especially one that might affect a lot of people in our community, but I think you have handled this very well.
I also think it probably wasn't just this one thing that caused the weekday closures. I think there is probably a lot more work on their end than most of our community realizes, and more than they were expecting.

Thank you for sharing what happened and the important takeaways we all can learn from to help keep the mountain accessible in the future.



Top notch
05/17/2018 21:14
Brad you are one of the top notch guys on this forum and thanks for working to repair any damage with the ranch! I want to get Red and those BiCentennials, although maybe one trip is a little too much.... I also feel that there were multiple factors involved in their decision to limit weekday access, not just this one event.

That guy in those February pictures looks pretty miserable


Nice Work Brad!
05/18/2018 08:50
Sounds like a long day, and totally understandable that you wanted to grab those other peaks. I think you handled the situation really well, and being able to post about it and share your experience with the community shows just what kind of a man you are!


05/18/2018 11:12
I'm surprised you went on to the other summits without asking them first.
Yet at the same time I'm not surprised that you went for more than two peaks!

Maybe the change was them transitioning into "summer mode?"
It's unfortunate they didn't inform the two folks that went down there after you that they would no longer honor weekday hikes. And since they didn't inform them (or even try?), it's too bad they didn't just let them do it and then implement their new plan/rules.


The Lure of more peaks
05/18/2018 12:17
I think the biggest problem with the Culebra peaks, is the extra hoops we have to jump through, that don't exist on other peaks. What you did, would be completely normal for me and others anywhere else in the state. It is why I am ECSTATIC to be done with them. I've been on that ranch 4 times. I have given them more than enough money.

When I did those southern 13ers, Rob went and got Culebra and Red as well. BUT he started many hours before me and Matt started. We also didn't have snow to contend with. That extra time was the only way to get it done before the monsoon clobbered us. We also had some *special permissions* I won't discuss online.

Ron mentioned to us that the previous owners weren't exactly happy to have hikers/skiers on the peaks, but they did it because of the historical precedent. So I would take that to mean that their willingness to allow extra things may be tenuous at best. Ron used to be a mountaineer as well, and he really looked out for our community and was quite understanding. The owners only care about the liability issues, and not losing money in an incident.


05/18/2018 14:35
It's nice of you to admit wrong doing, but with your experience and stewardship for the 14ers this was just a string of selfish decisions that you'd be chastised for if you weren't a longtime, respected member of the community. Unlike your friends/mods I won't stroke your ego for admitting this. Climb on.

Jon Frohlich

05/18/2018 14:07
I'm not going to stroke your ego either. You knew what you were doing.


Your Rep is for Doing Good Things for CO Hikers
05/18/2018 15:08
This wasn't one of them.
I like orphaning peaks as much as I like postholing and false summits, so I get the temptation. Like you, I left Red in 2005 for much the same reason.
However, that was a selfish decision to go after two more peaks that you didn't pay for, after you'd been given special treatment to hike on a weekday. Instead of thanks, the ranch got pooped on.
I'd feel badly, too, but this TR feels like it's still all about you. I hope I'm wrong.
We share the sincere hope that any damage done can be repaired and that access isn't further limited. The CFirony would be huge.


In Your Defense
05/18/2018 18:31
From what I can see there is nothing in the Climbing/hiking description or waiver that states you are only allowed on Culebra and Red. In fact the waiver makes it seem more like "access to the property" I actually had the same plan back in 2015 to traverse all those peaks and retrace my steps, but spooky clouds made me turn around at Vermejo. At that time the waiver actually had a blank spot to fill in the peaks you intended to climb, so I filled them all in and no one said anything. I see the waiver has changed a little since. Good job on getting those peaks, not sure how I'm ever going to get Purgatorie. Please feel free to correct me if I missed something...


6 hours late
05/19/2018 06:36
Ive totally gotten burned before by trying to fit extra peaks in when i said i was going to be back at a certain time.

The dude at the gate probably took one look at you and figured you'd be back by 12.30 latest.

Always better to keep people informed on possible plans.

Thanks for posting.


Have a Nice Day
05/19/2018 11:53
One could sincerely state "Have a nice day" to everyone on this forum and get ridiculed for it. Sheesh. Brad - thank you for explaining this situation and for owning up with your apology. I took you for exactly what you intended - to help the rest of the community and apologize for possibly putting things in jeopardy. To think someone owns up to their mistake and attempts to educate others with the lesson learned, and then get accused of an overblown ego on this one is ridiculous. Have a nice day, Forum. Now, let ME have it.

Lesson Learned?
05/20/2018 22:03
Hopefully you learned a valuable lesson, as you violated several simple rules of wilderness travel along your journey...Sometimes an apology after the fact is not enough, and you cannot blame Carlos for reacting the way he did. Was climbing a few "bicentennial peaks" worth it? I think not.


LOL - sh*t happens
05/22/2018 21:43
I won't try to act as if I've never made a mistake before - kudos for being upfront and honest about it!

Access status?
06/02/2018 18:56
So does anyone know the current state of access? I'd like to climb culebra this summer and have been going to the website almost every day since May 10, and it still says "stay tuned". I've tried calling without success. Is there a different way to make reservations? Or have they not opened it up yet? Or not going to? Anyone know?

JanetS reply
06/04/2018 21:12
I was able to schedule with them by emailing them. I scheduled for the end of June.

06/07/2018 22:52
Thanks Iâll try that!


06/29/2018 07:22
It's been a while now since this happened, so I wanted to respond to a few of the questions/comments. Yes, the first two comments were from friends of mine and they were positive. I had talked to them when I first learned I caused an issue and they reviewed many drafts of e-mails to Carlos and of this TR. They also knew first hand how much I was beating myself up for causing this issue. I knew I would take some heat from others on this (and believe I deserved it). So...for Jon, Mike and Matt - thanks for your candor here. I don't fault the sentiments at all. While Ricky hasn't commented here, he has made comments elsewhere to the effect of poaching peaks I didn't pay for. Preston is right that the waiver is for general access, but it's true that I did not have explicit permission to climb the additional three peaks. I've offered three times to Carlos in my apologies that I would be more than happy to pay for the additional peaks. He hasn't taken me up on that offer, so I donated an extra $150 per peak for the three extra peaks to CFI. I wish the Ranch would charge me, but know that I'm out of pocket regardless. Janet - I hope my PM the day of your question with the e-mail address was helpful and you were able to get your date scheduled. I value being a part of this community and will work that much harder to do good things for the peaks and the community. And greenonion, I just have to close with, "Have a nice day, Forum".

Did you count the poached peaks?
11/22/2020 13:36
It seems a truly remorseful person wouldn't count the poached peaks on their personal list as a valid ascent. Did you count these as a valid ascent on your peak list, or are you going to head back the the ranch, pay the appropriate fees, and climb the peaks "legally"?

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