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.