If only we can make it a little bit farther, then just maybe… Well, I am not referring to any harrowing action on the climb, but rather to nursing a sputtering Mazda truck to the Texaco gas station just outside Colorado Springs on the way home… but more on that later. Tom Vervaeke had asked me a while back to accompany him on his first Colorado Mountain Club outing to climb one5 of the Spanish Peaks near Walsenburg, Colorado. Although he had been a member for over a year, he had been tied up climbing solo or with me over the summer and had not done a CMC group hike.
I met Debbie, a CMC member at a potluck dinner on Saturday night where John Fielder had spoken and given a slide show on his latest book, ” A Walk in the Wilderness” (Fielder in a regionally famous large format photographer in Colorado) Debbie was also signed up for the climb and asked to carpool so we set to meet at my house at 5:15am on Sunday. We loaded the gear into Tom’s truck and headed to Pueblo to meet up with Steve, the leader, and 4 other folks. Then down to Walsenburg and out the5 paved road to the forest service road turnoff.
There was about 15″ of snow at this turnoff at about 9500′. I was driving Tom’s truck and put it into 4wd and headed up….quite relieved that we did not add 3 miles on snowshoes to the approach. Arriving at the trailhead we were short one fellow who was to meet us at the trailhead. Steve headed back down the road and returned in about 30 minutes with Mark who had arrived just a few minutes late after digging his truck out of the snow where he got it stuck while camping Saturday night. We all voted not to use or pack snowshoes as we thought we could break snow just as easily without them. With a late start we headed up the trail at 9:30am. The weather was clear and breezy with a high ventricular cloud over just our mountain. The hike was very pleasant along a gentle forest setting through the snow as we headed toward the West Spanish Peak.
There are two Spanish Peaks; East and West and they loom on the horizon like a resting Dolly Parton (pls no flames) and can be seen from as far north as Colorado Springs, over 100 miles away. They are long dormant volcanoes and have unusual rock rib formations that radiate out for 2-3 miles called dikes that were formed by the cooling lava. As you drive up to the mountain you see these tremendous rock formations but you can’t really appreciate them until you are on top and can see them clearly radiating out from the mountain. Anyway, back to hike we were making good progress to the windswept ridge but not making much elevation gain.
Finally we cleared tree line and took the full force of the steady 35mph “breeze”. We were not particularly cold as we headed up the talus, but the wind did keep our attention. Steve led from the rear and took great pains to keep us together as we switch backed up through the snow and loose rocks. One guy marched to a different drummer and took off on his own quest to reach the summit off to the right on the slope. The rest of us continued to aim toward a large cairn on the summit ridge. Three hours after starting we topped out on ridge and were met by some serious wind; probably 45 mph sustained. We continued up the ridge to a large cairn holding a cross where Steve announced we were there at last…finally. A homemade register was found buried in the cairn and some folks signed it as we battled the winds in the lee side of the summit. Time to get down!
We headed down quickly, plunge stepping through the snow when possible but actually spending more time on loose rock. Halfway down we regrouped to wait for some slower members and then headed down to tree line where we ate “lunch”. Tom led the rest of the way down through the trees following our tracks we had made earlier. Back at the cars we enjoyed the moment; a nice hike, a challenging summit, and a good group of folks.
We made it down the road through the snow and headed back. Tom assured us we could make it to the Springs without getting gas as he always gets 300 miles to a tank. But we did not factor in the 4wd low climb I had made up the mountains. I thought he was messing with us when the truck started to sputter and lunge, gasping for gas. The look on his face assured me I was wrong… up to 80 mph we went to coast the last three miles to the first exit with gas where we just made it to the pumps. Whee… that was close! Now Tom and I just have to go back and do the sister peak, East Spanish Peak!
Beta: 7 miles, 2800 elevation gain, 5.75 hours