Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Spread Eagle

155 days.  That's the longest stretch of mountainlessness I've experienced in the better part of a decade.  Luckily, this terrible streak came to an end with three consecutive days of getting up high in the beginning of June.

Spread Eagle Peak (13,423')
"Peak of the Clouds" UN 13,524
Rito Alto Peak (13,794')
Hermit Peak (13,350')
June 1, 2013
10.9 mile loop
5,483' gain

My goal was to get in the jeep and disappear for three or four days.  My climbing partner Jake wouldn't be free until Monday, and we hadn't yet decided on a plan, so I packed the kitchen sink in preparation for anything - car camping, snow climbing, ridge running, hiking in, you name it, I was ready for it.  As I 'waited' for Jake over the weekend, I thought it might be a good time to head to the Sangre de Cristo Range and dip my toes in the water.  After all, I hadn't been above treeline since December.  The Sangres, as usual, are closer to snow-free than their northern counterparts.

Alarm went off at 2:00.  After a bit of dilly-dallying, I was on my way out by 3:30, and in Westcliffe by 5:00.  I finally settled on a group of peaks - I would park at the 9,800' Taylor Road "trailhead" (if you can call it that), ascend 13,423' Spread Eagle Peak, circle around to the west and south, hit peaks until I got tired, then drop down to the Rainbow Trail and take it north back to the jeep.

Taylor Road TH, 9800'.  The last mile of road is pretty rough.  The TH is more of a dead end than anything else, but if you're looking for solitude, you'll find it here
My experience in the mid-Sangres from last May left an impression on me - during this time of year, it's hard to avoid postholing.  Making matters worse is the depth (1-4 feet depending), range in elevation (on northern aspects it was continuous from 10,800' to 11,800') , and concreteish quality of the snow.  I departed with the intention of leaving valley trails for ridges early and often.  On this particular day, I think I made it about 400 yards before making a beeline up Spread Eagle Peak's SE ridge.

It was a nice trail...really!

Living tree, Spread Eagle Peak, Dead tree
 Upon gaining the ridge, I settled into a rhythm.  I enjoyed the direct line and quick elevation gain, as it afforded me the usual breathtaking views of the Wet Mountain Valley.

Living up here is tough

Spread Eagle's SE ridge

Spread Eagle's summit, looking west.  Hermit is on the left, Rito Alto in the center, and "Peak of the Clouds" (UN 13,524) is on the right
The route from the summit of Spread Eagle was straightforward.  No surprises or difficulties other than my need to adjust to altitude.  By the time I made it to the top of Rito Alto, my head was starting to throb.  Taking a look into the Megan Lake valley, I thought some of the snow would be avoidable once I got down there.  (oops)  I made work of one last bump, Hermit Peak, before making some quick glissades to Megan Lake.

Rito Alto's east face, seen from the UN 13,524/Rito Alto saddle

Rito Alto's summit.  Looking south to the Crestones...the view that never gets old!
Shortly after Megan Lake, I found what I feared - concrete everywhere.  The trail was rough and obscure enough that it was tough to locate as it intermittently exposed itself between blobs of snow.  I'm not sure which was more of a pain - postholing or bushwhacking down the river valley.  Eventually the snow gave up and I jogged the trail back to the jeep.  I felt pretty terrible by the time I was done.  Eight hours above treeline when you're not acclimated will do that to you.  However, just being in a place I love made it a GREAT day.

Spread Eagle, UN 13,524', Rito Alto, Hermit from Taylor Road TH

Once back at the jeep, it was time to regroup.  I managed to eat an entire large pizza at R's in Westcliffe.  I then made the quick drive to the Comanche/Venable TH to prepare for Sunday's adventure.

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