Peak(s):  Blanca Peak  -  14,345 feet
Little Bear Peak  -  14,037 feet
Ellingwood Point  -  14,042 feet
Crestone Needle  -  14,197 feet
Crestone Peak  -  14,294 feet
Adams A, Mt  -  13,931 feet
California Pk  -  13,849 feet
Rito Alto Pk  -  13,794 feet
Electric Pk A  -  13,598 feet
Cottonwood Pk A  -  13,588 feet
Date Posted:  07/10/2018
Date Climbed:   07/03/2018
Author:  Nick Clark
 Full Sangre Traverse: Como to Salida  

Until last year, I had never spent time in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. However the skinny and oh so long nature of the range's central spine had captured my attention on a trip down to New Mexico many years prior. After looking at the relief and the almost perfect north to south alignment of the range on a map, it seemed like the main ridge was just begging to be traversed in a single push.

While most of my time in the mountains over the past decade has been focused on performance and fitness, I have over the years developed a small peak bagging habit - mainly focused on completion of the Larimer County ranked peaks. Many a friend I have roped into bashing through the woods in pursuit of entirely unsatisfying, treed-in local summits that - really - nobody in their right mind should be pursuing. But such is the fate of the list-chasing peak-bagger. While I don't have the affliction as seriously as some, peak-bagging has nonetheless become part of my portfolio of recreational pursuits, and so a mega traverse with mega peak booty seemed like an eminently sensible undertaking to add to the projects list.

I'm not sure when I floated the idea of the Sangre de Cristo traverse to good friend Cam Cross, but I'm sure it must have been while getting raked over the coals by some deadfall-infested Rist Canyon hillside or perhaps a cactus-infested peak on the south-facing slopes of the Poudre Canyon. Cam is a far superior technical climber than I, and somebody in whom I have complete trust in when it comes to mountain passage. We have completed a number of obscure traverses together, including a north to south link up of the Never Summer Mountains and a similar link up to the north of the Never Summers on the Medicine Bow ridge. Given the - at times - technical nature of the Sangre de Cristo ridge and our similar pacing in the mountains, Cam seemed like the perfect partner. And he needed no persuading. Soon a plan was being hatched.

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Fast forward to July 3, 2018 and we find ourselves inching our way up the Lake Como Road just as dark was starting to settle in. For a stock vehicle, my 2007 Xterra does pretty well on gnarly jeep roads. Nonetheless, it had more than met its match with 2.5 miles to go before the lake. And so we parked the car at a turnout and hoofed the remainder of the way to lower Lake Como, bivvying nearby the cabin where we'd begin our journey the next morning.

The plan was pretty simple: hike, climb and maybe jog a little from Lake Como to Methodist Mountain in as expeditious a manner as possible, while staying on the range's central ridge for as much of the route as feasible and/or practical. The pre-adventure math promised something in the range of 80 peaks, ~100 miles and a butt-ton of vertical accumulation. And there's nothing I love more than a butt-ton of vertical accumulation. Well, perhaps a butt-ton of bagged peaks. Man was I excited to get going when the alarm sounded at 4:15 on Tuesday morning.

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First ones up the Hourglass on this morning.

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Perfect morning for the LB - Blanca traverse

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Spring Creek Fire raging to the southeast

We had decided to journey south to north in order to be able to take care of some of the more technical sections of the route while still physically fresh and mentally sharp. And so it was that we found ourselves on top of Ellingwood Point, with Blanca and Little Bear Peaks in the rear view mirror some 4.25 hours into the trip. The knife-edged ridge of the Little Bear-Blanca traverse is somewhat folkloric within the Colorado alpine community, and justly so given the extended, aesthetically exciting and sometimes airy nature of the ridge. But, as we would come to find out, there are many equally-as-exciting ridge sections to be enjoyed in the Sangres connecting the more workmanlike '12ers' and '13ers; of the range. While the two groups of '14ers' are indeed the bright, shiny objects of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (totaling 5 peaks on our chosen route), your bread and butter on this line is accumulated in the 12,000' to 13,937 range. All told we would cross over the summits of 33 '13ers' and 18 '12ers' during the trip. But three peaks in, it was '14ers' 3, the rest 0.

That would change quickly, and by the time we found ourselves on California Peak (a Centennial at 13,849'), the tally was knotted up at '14ers' 3 - '13ers' 3. From California Peak to Mosca Pass, we were extended the green carpet treatment on the Carbonate Ridge and were able to get a good head of steam going, running large sections of the net-downhill tundra cush. Popping over a small rise, halfway to Carbonate Mountain (12,308'), we encountered the first of many herds of elk that we would have the honor of observing during the trip. Coming upon them from above and with the wind blowing in our favor, they didn't notice us until we were within 40 or 50 yards. Once spooked and in full majestic gallop, they were 1,000 feet or more below us in a matter of seconds. Quite incredible creatures and so much better adapted to the mountain environment than us human hacks.

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Herd of elk on the Carbonate Ridge

The Carbonate Ridge ends at Carbonate Mountain, from where it drops precipitously to Mosca Pass at approximately 10,000'. Cam, having scouted the Mosca/Carbonate area previously, was aware of a use-trail that picked up not far off the summit of Carbonate Mountain and so it was that we were able to make quick progress down to our first water re-supply stash at approximately 18 miles, 13 peaks and 11 hours into our trip.

Our most realistic goal for the first day was to reach Medano Pass before sunset. We were on our way from Mosca by 4:00pm with the only obstacle on our way to Medano being the lowly Mount Zweischen. However, standing at just a few clicks above 12,000 feet, the fortress-like Zweischen and its 2,000 feet of prominence punches way above its weight we were to find out. From pass to pass it is some 10 miles. Coming from the south, the summit itself is guarded by at least 5 ridges that have to be traversed in addition to heavy tree cover (opening up a little towards the summit due to the 2010 Medano fire). Thankfully, the area is inhabited by a large deer and elk population and the commuter trails through the woods and over/around the ridges are well worn and nearly always headed in the right direction. Nonetheless, it would take us close to three hours to gain the summit, leaving us with the unwanted prospect of potentially having to bash through the woods near Medano Pass in the dark at the end of an already long day.

And so it was at a mile and a half from the Pass that we found ourselves flailing around in the dark while being consumed by an incredibly dense man-eating stand of young aspen. To make matters worse, the Aspen had grown over an area of mature deadfall. In all my years of hacking around in the woods, this was a new one on me. It quite literally felt like we were imprisoned in a sea of bag- and gear-grabbing branches. It would take us a good half an hour to fight our way out and give up on the ridge in favor of a ditch channel that we knew led to the Medano Pass Road in the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Tail tucked firmly between legs, we completed the walk of shame to our stash and bivvy spot up the ridge, a mile or so north of Medano Pass, feeling like we'd taken a very solid left, right combination from both flanks of Mount Zweischen.

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Mt. Zweischen, a worthy opponent

The day's digits ended up at some 29 miles, 11,300' up, 12,800' down, and 14 peaks. Our stretch goal for the day had been to hit Music Pass in order to be able to mount a morning assault on the Crestones, but the opposition mounted by Zweischen had been too strong. After a good feed, it was straight into our bivvys for a total lights-out night of sleep. Exhausted, we mistakenly allowed for a liberal 6:00am wake up.

To Music Pass, we had estimated four hours. Having scouted this section a month or so prior, we made quick time in getting out of the forest and back above treeline and were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves refilling on water at Music Pass just three hours into our morning. Aside from a singular Belarusian on top of Blanca Peak, we had had no other human contact up to this point. Crossing the road at the pass, we nodded to a couple out for a July 4 morning hike before making tracks for the summit of Marble Mountain (13,266'), 1,800' and a couple false summits above us.

It was a very hot morning in the Sangres, and the long trek to the top of Marble was a grinder. It was quickly becoming apparent that the 2:45 that we had estimated it would take to get to Broken Hand Pass was wildly optimistic. The route - which we should have scouted in favor of the less complex and extremely well documented Crestone to Crestone passage - consumed a large chunk of time. While overlooking South Colony Lakes at the notch between Marble and Milwaukee, we debated whether to drop northeast towards the mine above South Colony on precipitous scree and reascend to Broken Hand Pass from there or ascend to the Milwaukee Peak ridge to sneak around the back (west) side of Broken Hand Peak to then reascend one of Broken Hand's gullies and tag the peak from that direction. Weirdly, there was an unmapped trail beginning right at this lonely notch we were standing at. It offered up passage to Milwaukee's summit ridge and so we followed it, finding out that it turned the corner towards Broken Hand pushing us in the right direction before it dropped off in the direction of lakes below the west ridge of Pico Asilado. Leaving the trail, we made our way around a couple of ribs on Broken Hand's lower southwestern flanks before picking a nice channel to scramble up to gain Broken Hand's southern ridge.

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Eyeing Broken Hand Pass and the Crestones from Marble

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By the time we had negotiated the scree descent and sidehill over to Broken Hand Pass from the summit of Broken Hand, time had seriously gotten away from us and we were faced with the decision of calling it there for the day by dropping down to bivvy at Cottonwood Lake or pressing on to try and get over the Crestones before nightfall. At the top of Broken Hand Peak, Cam had said that the heat had done a number on him and he didn't think that he had the Crestones in him. It was 4:30 by the time we hit the pass and started discussing options. The skies looked great, so weather wasn't a factor in our decision-making process; however, I didn't much fancy the prospect of descending the red gully off Crestone Peak down to Bear's Playground in the dark, which seemed likely at our current pace. After 20 minutes of hemming, haahing and refueling, we decided that we needed to press on and get through the Crestones.

The nature of the gully climb up the needle worked in our favor as the solid rock allows for extensive aid from hands and arms in upward propulsion. I got to the top of the Needle a few minutes before Cam and checked out the descent. It felt like we still had a good amount of daylight left to knock out the traverse over to the Peak, so I opted to rappel rather than down-climb to the traverse given that we'd hauled a couple of skinny cords and a lightweight harness from the start specifically for this section. Cam quickly down-climbed and was below me before I was halfway down the rappel. Looking over at the down-climb, I have to say it looked pretty tame and it would have saved a bunch of time but I had promised myself prior to the journey that I would make smart/conservative decisions in the heat of battle, especially when in a relatively compromised state. We quickly packed the ropes and then proceeded to knock out the traverse over to the Peak. This was my second time on the traverse and I was as underwhelmed by it this time - perhaps more so - as I was the first time. It's just not much more than tedious scrambling and a bunch of loose side-hilling that drops you in a heinous gully which you have to haul up to gain the Peak's summit. There are many superior traverses within the Sangres, in my opinion. If, of course, you can bring yourself to schlep around in the '12er' and '13er' world.

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On the Crestone traverse

The grind up the Red Gully was, well, a grind. Looking below, it was a little comical to see Cam bear crawling his way up the rock but awesome to see such resolve. As it turned out, we topped out on the Peak in good time, with at least an hour of daylight left to descend the opposing red gully down to the flats of the Bear's Playground, which we hit right at dusk. This left us with a rather nasty scree and loose talus descent to negotiate to get down to our bivvy spot at Upper Willow Creek Lake, but it was with a sense of satisfaction that we sat down to eat before getting some shut-eye to the sound of rolling thunder a ways off to the west.

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Red Gully descent to Bear's Playground

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Sunset over the Crestones

Day three would turn out to be a bit of a bust, but started well with an early morning meet-up with a herd of 5 big horn sheep on the lower flanks of Mt Adams. Getting on top of Mt Adams itself was a somewhat time-consuming affair given the technical nature of the route from our location. Acquiring the connecting ridge to Adams involved traversing sidehill across some high-angle, low-feature slabs to get around ribs and runnels, and culminated with a fun, low-exposure 5th class move to get on the slopes of UN13,517. All told, it took us close to three hours to summit Mt Adams. From the top we had truly stunning views back to the Crestones and onwards to Fluted Peak. In my mind, Fluted was pegged as something of a halfway marker where we would transition from the challenging, slow-moving terrain that we had largely been on up to this point to faster moving majority class 2 slogging territory.

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Smoke was laying in the valleys early on Day 3

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Crestonia

Alas at the top of Fluted, somewhere around midday, weather started to roll in and we were pelted with hail and graupel as we made our way over to Comanche Peak and onto our food stash at Venable Lakes. On the short stretch of trail over to Venable Lakes we would encounter our third and final group of people on the whole trip, a family of five hiking/camping the Venable/Comanche Lakes loop. By the time we dropped to Venable Lake, the weather had cleared and we enjoyed an extended break to refuel, filter water and discuss plans. Cam was of the opinion that more weather was incoming and we might want to chill at the lake for the rest of the day. I wanted to try and make it over Hermit Pass to Banjo Lake - our original goal for the day. With sunlight abounding, we agreed to press on.

Turns out I had been suckered in by the brief hole of pleasant weather and raincoats were soon back on as we made our way to Eureka Mountain (13,507'). Then, at a small saddle (~13,200') between Eureka and its southern sub-summit, things got ugly quickly. A strong lightening strike just north of us quickly put us into scramble mode. We were fortunate to find a reasonably sheltered marmot hole large enough for 1.5 people in the vicinity of the saddle and there we hunkered and shivered in bivvy sacks for close to two hours while we watched the weather change from rain to snow to hail with increasingly strong and swirling winds, all to the soundtrack of booming thunder to both the south and north.

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Trouble above

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In a marmot hole. Make it go away.

As nasty as our weather was, it did seem like we were in a bit of a bubble between two systems. So that was something. Snookered in our hole, we discussed plans a bit and decided that we really had no option but to wait it out even if that meant a really uncomfortable overnight bivvy. As it turned out, the weather did begin to clear some two hours after it got really ugly and we quickly scampered for the summit of Eureka to the north. With the skies still looking unsettled by the time we hit Hermit Pass (13,350) at ~6:00, we decided to call it a day and started looking for bivvy options, ending up at a small cluster of trees (mostly dead) above Rito Alto Lake to the west of the pass. With feet soaked we sacked down for a miserable night of rest, having covered just 12 miles on the day.

Cam had the worst of it that night and was up before 3:00am to get moving to start generating some heat. I popped down to a nearby creek to filter water (having been too lazy to do it upon arrival) before hustling to try and catch back up. Still dark, we reconnected on the top of Rito Alto Peak, where we began what would be a long and fruitful march north for the day. The goal was to hit Hayden Pass - where we had our final stash for the trip - before nightfall, and hopefully before the forecast afternoon storms started rolling in again. There were some particularly challenging ridge descents on slick, hail covered rock in the early going, but after a couple of peaks the terrain eased up and rolled out the always welcome green tundra carpet. That was until we hit De Anza Peak (13,362'), which appeared to have taken the brunt of the storm from the afternoon before while we were hunkered in our cave some six or seven miles to the south. The whole mountain, and just this one, was painted white in a thick crust of hail which at times was a good two to three inches deep and basically blown solid by heavy winds. We thanked our lucky stars that our weather had been pretty moderate by comparison and took the opportunity to dig out some ice to fill our bottles as we kicked in steps up the mountain.

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A very localized epicenter to the storm over De Anza

After enjoying a repose watching a gaggle of newborn ptarmigan on top of De Anza, we got our heads down and started knocking out peaks on a wobbly escalator of talus for the rest of the day: Electric (13,598'), Lakes Peak (13,375'), Thirsty Peak (13, 213'), UN13,123', Cottonwood Peak, (13,568'), UN12,830, UN12,658, UN12,578, UN12503, UN11,729. By the time we found cairns indicating the long neglected Black Mountain Trail, I was beginning to smell the barn for not only the day's end at Hayden Pass, but also the end of the line to Methodist Mountain. What, at times, had seemed exhaustingly unlikely during some of the earlier challenges of the trip was now looking like a formality that required no more than a resolve to keep humping up and down peaks until there were no more to cover. The last four miles of our day took us back down into the woods, over a few bumps through the Hayden Pass burn area, and finally down to the pass. A couple miles out from the pass, we spooked a black bear off the trail and got tracked for a while by a fairly large cinnamon bear. Thankfully, neither seemed particularly interested in us.

We set up camp a half mile past the pass, and having made really good time on the day we were able to enjoy some downtime in the sun to not only refuel, but patch and tape some very soggy and blistered feet. We checked the map and did a peak count to calculate that we had just 14 mountains left to negotiate. On any given outing, a 14 peak day above 12,000' is definitely a big one, but given the ground already covered over the four previous days it seemed eminently doable and it was with complete confidence that I drifted off to sleep before the sun had set, with an alarm set for 2:30.

To get back up on the central spine by way of Galena Peak (12,461'), we were predicting a couple hours in the dark, but with an old mining road leading a third the way up the hill, and a game trail doing much of the rest of the navigational work, we were excited to get up in just a little over an hour. The remaining peaks would be a mix of talus and tundra, weighing mostly towards the talus side of the equation and much like the day before, the name of the game was no more than rhythm and knocking out peaks with nothing too technical to really grab one's attention beyond a class 3 scramble here and there.

By the time we hit Red Mountain (12,994'), the halfway point of the segment, I was in great spirits. England had just beaten Sweden convincingly in the quarter finals of the World Cup and we realized that we were a couple peaks ahead of where we thought we were on the map after signing into the register. It was like finding a long forgotten $20 bill in the pocket of a jacket that you haven't worn for months. Hunt's Peak at 13,071' would be our last foray over 13,000 feet and it would all be net downhill from there, with a couple of tundra bumps and the chossy Simmons Peak left to negotiate before our triumphant conquering of Methodist Mountain.

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All went fantastically to plan and we were well ahead of schedule up to Simmons Peak, our penultimate mountain. But dropping off the peak onto the long connecting ridge over to Methodist Mountain (11,707') we were stymied by horrendous blowdown. We're talking brick wall blowdown here. Some of the worst I've ever seen in soul suckingly hot afternoon temperatures, and it would end up taking a buzz-killing three hours to connect the final two peaks of our journey.

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Cam surveying the route to Methodist, our final objective

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Something of a buzz kill when ready to be eating burgers and drinking beer!

But we weren't going to let a bunch of dead trees take us down at this point. We found our way around the carnage and finally gained the ridge of Methodist Mountain and pounded out one final slog for the summit, which we achieved some 4 days, 9 hours and 57 minutes after we started. We made our way down to Cam's car that we had dropped five days earlier at the Rainbow Trail trailhead at 8,800' and headed straight for Route 50 Burgers to inhale a lot of food and suck up some fine nectar.

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Approaching the end!

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Beer me!
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Some stats:

14ers: 5
13ers: 33
12ers: 18
11ers: 17
10ers: 4
Total peaks: 77

Total Miles: 103
Established Trail Miles: 9
Established Route Miles: 6
Off Trail Miles: 88
Vertical Gain: 53,000'

Strava Route/Data

Time from Como Hut to Methodist Summit: 4 days, 9 hours, 57 minutes
Time from Como Hut to Rainbow TH (8,800'): 4 days, 11 hours, 17 minutes




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 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42


 Comments or Questions
DavidEStaunton
Wow...
07/10/2018 18:26
I need to find a like-minded climbing buddy so I can do stuff like this.
Congratulations on something truly visionary.


Trotter

wow
07/10/2018 20:49
just wow


justiner

!
07/10/2018 20:55
Nice job, gentlemen.


PaulVee

Amazing!
07/11/2018 07:07
This could be like the new version of a Nolan's 14 type of thing. Incredible! Just curious, is there a gpx file or even a rough drawing of the route? Would love to look at it on a map.


Nick Clark
Tracks
07/11/2018 08:58
Hey Paul - you can check out the tracks at the Strava link: https://www.strava.com/activities/1693713039


Emily_Gulanczyk
Dang!
07/11/2018 10:57
Wow, this is so cool. Such a great area and you really got the full experience. Congrats!


pfiore1

Damn
07/11/2018 13:48
When I was planning for this trip north to south (and still haven't implemented it yet) I thought completion in a week was a push. Less than four and a half days is incredible. Glad you had a safe time.


Tornadoman

Awesome!
07/11/2018 22:53
One heck of an adventure! Thanks for taking us along for the journey.


Ridge runner

THE Nick Clark
07/12/2018 10:40
Fancy finding you on here! Being away from the Fort for so long I haven't heard much from you or your running gang. Glad to not only see you getting out there still, but hitting a long and challenging line. That's a great linkup you chose. Believe it or not, I had a very similar Sangre traverse in mind for several years while I was still more of a peak bagger, though not quite to the length of yours. Those days are likely long gone, but I enjoyed living vicariously through your journey. If you find yourself in SW Colorado, hit me and Chris up. We'll at least take you out for a beer.


Nick Clark
Steph!!
07/12/2018 10:56
Great to hear from you, Steph. Don't give up the dream. Such a great line and one that no doubt would be a lot more enjoyable spaced out over, say, 10 days. We spent a lot of time staring at our feet in the name of 'getting it done'. Will definitely look you guys up next time I'm in SW CO. Looks like you guys are building quite the homestead!


madbuck

The Blog Lives!
07/12/2018 11:27
Great to see your success, your writing, and the beautiful Strava line!


Nick Clark
And there's Mike
07/12/2018 11:33
The Ida - Arrowhead gang is back together (virtually)! Thanks, Mike. Yeah, it was so cool to be on an alpine ridge for so long. Non-stop views all day long (and makes for a great looking GPX line).


wombat

Great
07/13/2018 13:58
This is epic, thanks for sharing!


12ersRule

Almost Missed This!
07/16/2018 15:03
Until I saw the post on FB. Saw Blanca Peak and just ignored. Nice job!!



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