Sunday, August 18, 2013

Operation Dark Snake - Culebra Peak

Had originally intended to pace a friend at the Leaville Traill 100 this weekend, but things don’t always work out as planned. After injuring herself at work and not being able to race in Leadville, I suddenly had some free time, and decided to give “Operation Dark Snake” a go. Let me interject a little explanation here; “Operation Dark Snake” refers to the act of poaching an ascent of Culebra Peak, which lies on private lands in southern Colorado. According to, normally folks will pay a $100 fee to the owners of the Cielo Vista Ranch near St. Luis, CO for the pleasure of climbing this peak. However, directions are also available on the Internet for how to approach the peak from the N. Purgatory Creek TH, near Stonewall, CO; via an arduous ridge traversing journey that covers some 12+ miles one way.
So, this sounded like a challenge that was right up my alley, and I decided to give it a go since the weather window looked to be clear of monsoon related mischief; when opportunity knocks… I took off Saturday morning from Colorado Springs and began hiking just after 12:00 PM. This seemed like a good strategy to me, being able to see most of the route in daylight while I was outbound, and then return after dark. Thinking I would have the route to myself, I was surprised to encounter 2 other folks doing the exact same thing. The first person I encountered near Whisky Pass, where he was on his way back from beginning the previous evening at 11:30 PM. On my return trip, I ran into another person beginning his journey while descending Maxwell Peak around 2:00 AM.
Overall, it is quite a journey, covering almost 12.5 miles one way, going over 25 peaks round trip. The route is really dry, so taking enough water is a must; there aren’t really any places to refill that lie directly in the path of the ridge traverse. If bad weather were to roll in, there are places where a person would be awfully exposed. For me, the most difficult aspect of the traverse is the generous quantity of loose, tippy top blocks and loose scree that are perfectly sized to roll around under foot, generally causing much pain and mischief. Beautiful scenery and much wildlife abound; makes this an awesome itinerary. 24.94 miles, 15 hrs 9 minutes, 11,199 ft elevation gain (I channeled the strength of a lot of my Leadville friends today!)

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