A recent ownership change of the land that Culebra Peak resides on has come to the delight of many hikers in Colorado. Previously, only 50 people having completed between 50 and 53 14ers and who are members of the Colorado Mountain Club could apply to climb the peak one weekend each year. The new owners have become more liberal. They are allowing parties between 5 and 20 climbers to request to hike Culebra Peak and its neighboring Red Mountain, a Colorado Centennial, almost anytime that is convenient for the ranch. You are still required to contact the new owner and make the appropriate arrangements, but the mountain is much more assessable than it had been in the past. The trip comes at a cost of $100 for Culebra Peak and an additional $50 for Red Mountain per climber.
When Layne made a global invitation on a couple of climbing forums, I decided to sign up in order to bag the peaks before the rules change once again and also to meet a number of fellow hikers. I knew some of them only via the internet and email, so it was nice to put a face to the names. I met Layne, Amy, Scott, and Kevin in Colorado Springs, Colorado, around 10:00 on Wednesday to make the long drive to the trailhead of Colorado's southernmost 14er. Other than Layne almost turning an elk into a hood ornament, the drive down was uneventful.
Several vehicles were parked at the gated entrance to the ranch when we arrived around 12:30. I climbed into the back of my Trooper while the others quickly set up tents and crawled into their sleeping bags to escape the coolness of the night. Dogs barked, elk bugled, and coyotes howled all night long. Everyone woke around 6:00 to prepare for our prompt meeting with ranch personnel at 7:00. By 7:30, we had all become acquainted and were becoming concerned about the tardiness of the ranch hand that was to meet us. After a quick phone call, someone arrived to unlock the gate and escort us to the ranch.
At the ranch, we signed the liability waivers, handed over our fee, and consolidated vehicles to drive to the trailhead. Several people only climbing Culebra Peak stopped at 11,000' in order to gain 3,000', while the rest of us drove up to Fourway. The first mile continues on the road until it turns south at which point you leave the trail and begin to climb the grassy and rocky slopes towards the east. I tried to hang with Jim for a while, but he left me in his tracks after about 1,200' of climbing. I climbed Little Bear Peak with Jim last Spring. Shortly after Jim pulled away from me, Jeff passed me by.
Upon reaching the crest of the ridge, Culebra Peak comes into sight. There is a cairn the size of a house that leads you to the northwest ridge. Hakan caught me at a small saddle below the false summit and slowly pulled away from me as Jeff and Jim were making good progress up the ridge. Everyone pretty much went their own pace and I actually ended up hiking alone most of the day. When I reached the false summit, I could see the climbing party was spread over the entire mountain. I made it to Culebra Peak after 1 hour and 55 minutes of hiking where Jim, Jeff, and Hakan were already relaxing on the summit.
After everyone arrived, we congratulated Layne for finishing the 14ers as he unloaded an entire base camp out of his pack. We took a group summit photo and those climbing Red Mountain departed promptly. With the late start of the day, nobody stayed on Red Mountain very long and we made our way back. I decided to bypass Culebra Peak on the return and made an ascending traverse back to the false summit before picking up the ridge and making my way back to the large cairn. From this point, Jim and I continued back to the road and his vehicle to relax in the sun for a while.
Jim and I thanked Layne for organizing the outing and said goodbye to those who hadn't already departed. Since Jim was heading to Creede, Colorado, to hike one of his few remaining Centennials, and I was going to the Sawatch Mountains, we decided to stop in Alamosa, Colorado, and have some mexican food along with a couple of Coronas. I had a great time on the hike and hope to hook up with some of the hikers I met to climb more mountains in the future. My total trail time was 5 hours and 50 minutes.