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Ascent of West Spanish Peak on 2002-05-31

Climber: Scott Surgent

Date:Friday, May 31, 2002
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:West Spanish Peak
    Location:USA-Colorado
    Elevation:13626 ft / 4153 m

Ascent Trip Report

I was in Colorado hiking county HPs. After a trio of Plains county HPs, I drove west toward actual mountains. From Walsenburg I took US-160 and CO-12 through La Veta for 40 miles to Cucharas Pass. The drive is pretty and runs along volcanic dikes that radiate out from the high ridges in all directions. These are massive free-standing walls of rock, as high as 300-400 feet and about 20-40 feet thick, some over a couple of miles in length. Many have natural arches and holes in them.

From Cucharas Pass I took a good dirt road seven miles to Cordova Pass at 11,240 feet elevation, directly below and in full view of West Spanish Peak. It was 3 p.m. when I arrived, but this was by design, as I wanted to spend the rest of the day there to acclimate to the altitude. At the pass is a nice picnic and camping area. Only one other vehicle was there, however, and its owners came back from their hike about 4 p.m., and left, leaving the whole area to me.

I came prepared with lots of food, drinks and reading material. I also made a short hike out to Levy Lookout, a small treeless knob about three-quarters of a mile in which allows for excellent views of all surrounding peaks. However, I was transfixed by my objective, West Spanish Peak. From Levy Lookout could see my route: a hike through the forest, then a steep rock-hop to the summit. That night, I slept in the back of my truck. During the night I had breathing issues due to the altitude. By the next morning, I felt better, but I didn't sleep that well.

I awoke at sun-up, dressed, ate and started the hike at 5:30 a.m. The first two miles stays level through the forest, then the route starts a steady gain up switchbacks as the forest thins. Here, I spooked a herd of deer. I came to the end of the maintained trail at a large cairn, at the base of the final climb up the rocky ridge. According to the map, I had 1,600 vertical feet to gain in about a mile, a consistent 25-30% grade over big boulders, small boulders, pebbles and scree. However, past hikers have tromped paths into the softer parts while cairns help on the rockier parts.

At first, it wasn't too bad. Then, below a small cliff, I had loose scree and small talus to get past. I often lost the trail, then re-found it. Often, I'd identify an odd rock formation and just concentrate on hiking to that, then repeat.

I hiked and hiked, making steady progress. Soon, the summit was in view, still 300 feet up and a quarter-mile away, but the trail was good and I reached the summit at 8:10 a.m.. There are three summits, the farthest being highest. I signed the register, snapped photos, then waited as another guy was slowly coming up. When he arrived, we chatted and he snapped a photo of me. He then sat and waited for his buddy while I started down.

Going down wasn't too bad. Actually, I could see the faint trails better, but the loose rock at those lower cliffs made for slow going. My trekking poles were vital, but once or twice I used five points of contact to get down tricky sections. Finally, I arrived back to the trail and walked out, arriving back to my truck at 10:30 a.m. I didn't see anyone else the whole way down.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:2600 ft / 793 m
    Distance:6 mi / 9.7 km
    Trailhead:11026 ft / 3360 m
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Scramble



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