Culebra Peak

26 Aug 2002 - by Steve Bonowski

CMC sponsored two great climbs this past week of Culebra, one of two privately owned 14,000' peaks in southern Colorado, and the only one with limited access. Arrangements for the climbs are done through negotiations between CMC and the owner's representatives.

The climb goes from Ranch headquarters at about 9,200', which means each day's climb is about 13 miles round trip with 5,000' of vertical gain. The climb is technically easy, with only some Class 2 hand-over- hand on the upper ridge, and virtually all the rock is solid. While not a hard climb, other than distance/elevation, the scenic views from the high ridge and summit may be unsurpassed among Colorado 14ers.

The route follows the jeep road to the former camping area at treeline. The stream there had little if any water in it, due to the drought. The route continues past the "tank traps" on remnants of road to the north end of the ridge. Once there, the route follows the ridge past the monster cairn, up the subpeak and then to the summit. Some 24 of the 49 trip participants were completing their "14er Grand Slam", with Culebra being their 54th 14er.

Not much wildlife to see on the Sunday climb. But Saturday's group saw 6 bighorn sheep up close while gaining the high ridge and more below the ridge near Carneros Lake. Several elk were seen in the trees along the road, plus the usual birds, marmots & pikas up high.

There continues to be a mild poaching/trespass problem as several climbers left their names in a small bottle on top, found on Saturday. Two were stupid enough to leave their full names, unless using aliases. As usual, much venom was directed at the west side owner for limiting access. Also as usual, the east side owner, who has forbidden any public access for over 20 years, didn't get mentioned. Maybe the prospect of getting caught, arrested, charged with felony trespass, and having to pay a 2-3K fine, as happened with a couple guys in early June, serves as a deterrent even to complaining about the east side owner.

Anyway, it was two beautiful days for climbing and everyone enjoyed their experiences on this great 14er. And, dining at Emma's Hacienda in San Luis was good as always. Emma herself was in for a while Saturday evening. She is 85 now, and has ran the restaurant for 60 years.

James Schaffner asks:

Excellent report, and it's not surprising the complaints were aired towards the west-side owner, formerly of Enron. Multi-millionaires tend to have that effect on people.

Is there any talk at all about reopening public access? Pay to play? Anything other than the CMC lottery trips?

Steve Bonowski replies:

No plans that I'm aware of for opening up access more on the west side. No "pay to play" as you noted. CMC will continue to advocate for increased access through our negotiating process with the owner's attorneys. There is some limited access for a few locals now as a result of a recent State Supreme Court decision, stemming from litigation originally filed against Taylor back in the 1960s. However, that decision as I understand it specifically excluded access for recreation.

Re wealth, I suspect the east side guy is just as loaded albeit less well known. The east side owner also makes an example of anyone caught on the property to try and deter poachers. He has no interest in climbers at all, per the letter from his attorney to CMC back in late 1999.

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