Ascent of Little Costilla Peak on 2020-09-20

Climber: Michael Walker

Date:Sunday, September 20, 2020
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Little Costilla Peak
    Location:USA-New Mexico
    Elevation:12584 ft / 3835 m

Ascent Trip Report

First off: do not believe anyone who tells you there is a TRAIL up this mountain. There is no trail. You may find sources saying "the trail is unmaintained in some sections" or some optimistic claptrap like that. No, the closest thing you'll get to a trail is a littering of twisted barbed wire with perhaps a few lines of loose dirt among the pine needles.

Not to worry, though. The mountain is virtually a straight shot up a single, long ridgeline that extends north all the way from the road. It is nearly impossible to get truly lost if you know your cardinal directions.

I started my hike at 6:30 AM from a parking lot specified by AllTrails. I briskly began my march up a trail along a barbed wire fence, before realizing that my GPS line was straying far from the path prescribed by AllTrails. So, I turned east, and ascended another ridgeline that exists between Little Costilla and Ash Mountains. I figured I would eventually run into the true trail, but no. Once atop the ridge, I found the terrain much easier to traverse, but still no trail. I continued along this path until AllTrails directed me back west, onto a little saddle towards the main ridgeline towards Little Costilla. This path saved a bit of elevation I had gained earlier, but I realized it would have been much easier to climb the correct ridge in the first place.

I reached the top of the Little Costilla ridge after a bit and again found the rocky ridge much easier than the loose topsoil of the forest. Besides woodpeckers, squirrels and rabbits I saw no wildlife, though there was significant evidence of elk. I also found a dilapidated barbed wire fence, lying mostly on the ground, loosely wrapped around long-dead tree stumps. I thought at first this was the original fence I abandoned early into my hike, but correctly figured it was too far west to be the same one. Still, this fence would prove to be a helpful guide on the descent.

Out of the forest and onto the windy grassland above treeline, I began to climb the numerous false summits below Little Costilla. Oddly, there was an extremely well beaten trail about a mile from the top, but only about two hundred yards from end to end. On the top, I found the usual rock pile and survey marker, but also a very welcome wind shelter. I rested here for about ten minutes, eating, drinking, and admiring the view of Ash Mountain and the Taos Range.

The descent was much faster the ascent, taking only two hours compared to three. This was partly due to it being downhill, of course, but also the fact that I could follow the barbed wire straight down the ridge instead of traversing the forest glen unnecessarily. The area around the fence often yielded very good and navigable paths, at least as far as game trails go.

After negotiating my way down the steep, lowest part of the mountain and dodging some very wary-looking cows, I finally emerged back onto the road. I had not seen any humans at all so far in the day and was hoping to avoid them entirely. Alas, I still had a mile to walk along the road back to my car, and no less than four pickup trucks drove by, kicking up dust everywhere. Still, the downhill walk/jog on the road was refreshing after so much bushwhacking. I found my car as I left it, and after scooting past a few more cows in the road, drove home.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2648 ft / 807 m
    Route Conditions:
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:2648 ft / 807 m
    Distance:11.2 mi / 18 km
    Start Trailhead:9936 ft / 3028 m
Descent Statistics
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Michael Walker
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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