Culebra Peak

  • Culebra Peak
  • 4282 m
  • Location: North 37:07.345, West 105:11.152 (GPS on the summit)
  • 41st in Colorado
  • Primary factor 1471 m
  • Saddle: South La Veta Pass, a railroad crossing
  • Climbed August 22, 2003.


How to get there: The closest town is San Luis, Colorado's oldest town. There is a pretty large motel as well as several bed and breakfeast places. San Luis is reached by going 25 km south from Fort Gartland. Fort Gartland is on Hwy. 160, east of Alamosa and west of Walsenburg. The fastest way from the Denver area is south on Interstate 25, a more scenic alternative is to drive via Buena Vista, either via Interstate 70 west and then through Leadville or by Hwy. 385 through Fairplay.
From San Luis go southeast on Fourth Street, follow this road 6.75 km to a T-junction where you turn left and drive about 5.6 km until you cross Culebra Creek, immediately after this, turn right on a dirt road and then left after about another 0.8 km. Follow this road to the Taylor Ranch gate, a big red gate.
Access to this ranch is limited, prior permission is required. The owners of the property have no sense of social acceptable behavior. Currently, they only allow CMC (Colorado Mountain Club) a access in a single weekend per year. All people that care about and are interested in the Colorado mountains should use their influence to change this policy. Very possibly, this will require a change of ownership of the Taylor Ranch.
Route description: From the Taylor ranch (elevation 2810 m, N 37:08.988 W 105:17.534), a dirt road continues gently uphill. Very shortly, the main road forks left, while a less travelled road continues straight uphill. Do not fork left, take the road that goes straight uphill. This road climbs steadily, part of the way quite steeply. Higher up it levels off a bit before climbing further. There are a few smaller tracks forking off, remain on the main road as it levels off and comes to new fork called 4-Way (after 4.8 km, there is a sign). Continue straight ahead until the road sort of ends, it actually bends right and crosses a small creek at this point before continuing uphill on the far side of the creek. You have now hiked about 6.9 km from the ranch. The elevation here is 3560 meter and the coordinates are N 37:08.356, W 105:12.934. Do not cross the creek, but head up along an old trail/track aiming for the saddle slightly left up the grassy slopes. As you climb up aiming slightly left you will reach the north-west sloping ridge. Climbing this ridge maximizes the length of ridge hiking to Culebra. The route will reach a local summit at about 4090 meter, the ridge turns more south and after crossing some larger rocks descend to a small saddle at 4030 meter and location N 37:07.613, W 105:12.046. From here the ridge heads more east, in the beginning climbing significantly, then more gently as you approach the summit.
Comments: Culebra has a primary factor of 1471 meter, this is more than stated in many references, like the 14'er guide by Gerry Roach etc. The defining saddle towards Blanca Peak is La Veta Pass, elevation 2811 meter. The railroad passes through this pass, while the highway crosses further north through another La Veta Pass. This northern pass is about 50 meter higher and the likely source for the different listings.

I did this hike as part of a Colorado Mountain Club hike, the only one permitted in 2003 to climb both Culebra Peak and Red Mountain. Including the trip leader we were 23 persons. Group hikes with this many people normally takes longer than more individual hikes, depending a bit on how much "central command" is implemented. Obviously, this was a group of exerienced hikers, still hiking speeds will always differ. We started at 0600 from the Taylor Ranch, waited about half an hour for people to catch up at the end of the jeep road, then close to another full hour in the same place on descent. I was back at the ranch at 1430, a total trip time of about 7 hours when excluding the wait.
The weather was unstable and clouds moved in as I arrived (among the first) on Culebra. We hurried on to Red Mountain, and indeed just as we arrived at the summit, two bolts of lightning flashed a bit further south. This made for a quick return back down the saddle and traversing back up on the Culebra ridge. I met several more people in the group still headed for Red Moutain, that I urged to consider the weather carefully and if they decided to continue, try to hurry.
It is pretty clear that this peculiar situation with access restricted to a single yearly climb, as well as the lottery to be selected, did create a potentially dangerous situation for many of the participants. The CMC leader pushed on together with the slower hikers (now perhaps one hour behind me), I guess to just turn back and consider the hike another weekend would have been the normal, sensible thing to do. However, this was not an option due to the very unreasonable practice by the owners of Taylor Ranch.
By the time I regained the ridge, it was clear that lightning could strike anywhere along the ridges, thunder rolled on either side of the mountain. I caught up with a strong lady hiker (age 59!), she was one summit short of completing all 14'ers twice! With the serious weather, I advised her to stay with me as we picked a route down staying off the ridge and rather contour around the final ridge into the basin above the jeep-road rather than following our route of ascent.
Further down, we had an exploding "flash-boom", just above our heads. With the majority of the group still high in the mountain, I was definitely concerned for their safety. Fortunately, everybody made it down with no serious incident, the last group being driven down by the ranch jeep. There is no question that an earlier start and faster hiking would have increased the margin of safety for everyone. It is also clear that the special, restricted access policy of the owners of Taylor Ranch, increased the objective danger. Having said this, I appreciate that all hikers were experienced and should be able to decide by themselves on the issue of turning back or going on. I strongly suspect that with free access, several members of the group might have decided differently.

This was my 54th and final Colorado 14'er. Due to the difficulties of accessing Culebra Peak, a full year had elapsed since my previous climb of Mount Lindsey that concluded "the ABC", (All But Culebra).
Starting with Mount Elbert in July 1997, the climb of all 14'ers thus took me 6 years and one month. However, most peaks were climbed between August 2000 and July 2001, the one year period when we lived in Boulder. My son Pål Jørgen will always be closely tied to the 14'ers in my memory. We climbed most of them together, summer, fall, winter and spring. Thanks Pål for very good company.
I like to thank my other climbing partners, my son Tor Erling, my friends Sverre, Arnt and Jan-Frode for many good memories. Also, thanks to Ellen and Sverre for their great hospitality, providing a "Base Camp" for many a visit to the Denver area.