The $25 dollar mountain. Most people wait to climb Culebra until they are near their Grand Slam (climbing all 54 of Colorado peaks over 14,000’) because it is the only 14er on private land. As such, the owners of Taylor Ranch charge $25 a head to gain entry to the ranch and climb the mountain.
I had first contacted the ranch foreman, Stet, in late May planning to climb it Memorial Day. But the heavy snowpack had the peak “closed” and they were not letting climbers in until early June. Fortunately, high temperatures in the last two weeks have really taken a bite out of the snow levels in the southern mountains. Culebra is located near San Luis, the self-proclaimed oldest town in Colorado and is only 14 miles north of the New Mexico border.
Denise Snow and I planned our outing for the weekend before her Mt Rainier trip and Mike Tate also joined us at the last minute. Our plan was to drive down on Friday night and “bivy” in a cheap motel or somewhere near the Taylor Ranch’s locked gate. We arrived in San Luis at about 10:30pm and found there were no hotels in town. We decided to backtrack first to Ft Garland, then Alamosa, Colorado. Seemed all of the hotel rooms were full due to two weddings and a rodeo in town – go figure.
We got a bit less picky at this point and headed to the local KOA campground and laid our bags down in an open campsite, getting to sleep about midnight. The stars were out and we all slept soundly until the first rays of sunshine began to lighten the sky over Blanca and Little Bear to the east.
We headed back toward San Luis where we called the ranch headquarters. Stet met us at the gate at 7:00am and escorted to the ranch headquarters. Early on I figured this was not working cow ranch as we saw no livestock or corrals. The ranch is a wildlife ranch catering to hunters?! Stet mentioned Taylor Ranch was looking to develop a cross country and backcountry skiing business by making more trails through the Culebra range. I wonder how much they will commercialize this wilderness area just because the own it? At any rate, we paid our $25 each and headed up a newly graded, straight, steep road to about 11,200.
There were two other 4wd trucks at the end of the road that had been there from the night before from the looks of things. Denise, Mike and I got our packs together quickly and set off up a rather steep snowfield for about 800’ of straight up — good training for Rainier. We gained the ridge and saw how Culebra or “snake” got its name. It was a long winding ridge with snow cornices to the left and rocks to the right. We headed up the ridge at a strong pace because the ridge of the Culebra Range to our east was holding at bay a complete solid cloud cover, even though to our west was blue skies.
The ridge is a narrow affair for most of its length and at the first rise we encountered the mother of all cairns. It was at least 10’ tall and quite nicely shaped. We continued up to the first false summit, to the second false summit, then finally the sharp rise to the true summit. We had summited within 2 hours and found a register indicating we were about the 15th to make the top since it was opened in 1995.
The clouds continued to boil to the east of the ridge so we decided it was time to set out for Red Mountain, one of Colorado centennial peaks (highest 100). Denise led down from the summit to the saddle at 13,460 for the 500’ climb back up Red Mountain. We reached the summit about an hour after leaving Culebra and had a bite to eat while watching the mist roll over the summit.
The return journey led us back down to the saddle and NW, bypassing Culebra’s summit by 400’ gaining the ridge we had ascended. There we met three people coming down from the summit and a foursome going up. We trekked down the ridge with me bringing up the rear. We longed for a glissade down the snowfield, so Denise and I donned our shell pants over our shorts and started down, saving my already beat knees. We reached the cars at 1:15, about 5.5 hours after we had started.
Tired, but happy we set off for home with brief stops in Walsenburg and Pueblo for food for both ourselves and the truck. Before we climbed Culebra, we had the opinion that it was a “dull” mountain. Afterward we had a new appreciation for the mountain and its long ridge. A great bargain climb for $25!
Beta: Northwest Ridge, Class 2, 4000’ elevation gain (including Red Mountain), 7 miles RT, 5.5 hours