Peak(s):  California Pk  -  13,849 feet
PT 13,577  -  13,577 feet
PT 13,660 A  -  13,660 feet
Stewart Pk  -  13,983 feet
Baldy Alto  -  13,698 feet
Organ Mtn A  -  13,801 feet
"Column Ridge"  -  13,795 feet
Date Posted:  07/10/2014
Modified:  10/07/2014
Date Climbed:   07/01/2014
Author:  SnowAlien
Additional Members:   jdorje
 Sandy Sangres and Gentle La Garitas   

California Peak group - California, PT 13,577 and PT 13,660A

Approach from Zapata Falls TH
Mileage: ~13 miles
Elevation gain: ~6.0k
Time: ~13 hours (including an hour stop at the Zapata Falls on the way back)
Crew: Natalie (nkan02) and Jason (jdorje)
Date: June 29, 2014

With the ski season effectively over, it was time to tackle some drier Centennials. California has been on my radar for a while and once Jason mentioned Zapata Falls TH, I was sold. Although meaning longer approach and more vertical than the usual route from the Huerfano side, it allowed us to check out 3 new drainages. With the good forecast, we left the TH at a leasurly time of 6.40am.

We followed the Zapata Falls trail for a couple of miles, but then took a left turn into North Fork trail - the turn-off is clearly marked by a cairn and the name of the drainage is seen carved into a tree.

We followed that trail for a about half a mile, but before it started heading down into the basin we left the trail and started bushwhacking up the ridge. Very soon we picked up a faint trail which we followed into California gulch. We didn't like the look of the talus-covered ridge, so we followed the drainage for a while. As soon as the talus ended and near ~12k ft, we fairly easily gained the grassy ridge. The views started to unfold.

Heading up California gulch

Sand Dunes and Crestones

View of the Blanca group from California

The rest of the hike is fairly straightforward and we got to the summit sometime around noon. Since we both still felt ok, we decided to continue onward to both unnamed points. We stick to the ridge over some smaller bumps as the ridge seemed more solid.

UN 13,577 provides an incredible view of the Blanca group.

Looking back at California and the ridge

We continued onward to UN 13,660A, and the scrambling got progressively more challenging, in the Class 3-4 range.

Beginning of the ridge to UN 13,660A

The ridge gets steeper

Jason on the ridge

On the summit of UN 13,660A

Twin Peaks (13er) and Zapata Falls gulch from the summit of 13,660A

We topped on the final summit of the day around 3pm. Weather still looked good for now, but clouds were starting to gather. Jason suggested we go down the Northwest ridge of 13,660A as Furthermore mentioned in his winter report that it was only Class 2.

Jason descending Northwest ridge

Well, there were a few Class 2 moves, but it was pretty exposed and things got more "interesting" as the wind picked up. I guess the takaway is - don't listen to Furthemore! (or listen, but up the grade by one or two notches).

More Class 2 moves

I know I had to time crossing the exposed sections when the gusts died down. Eventually we made it to the saddle with unranked subsummit 13,470 and descended steep grass and talus into the North Fork drainage.

Descent into North Fork drainage

Since we didn't ascend that drainage, my main concern was how much bushwacking to be had. It turns out - almost none! There is a strong climbers trail starting from the lake. We managed to lose it a couple of times, mainly due to the treefall, but it wasn't bad at all. The trail stays on the right side of the creek on the descent.

The lake

The sobering discovery was made near the lake - a wreckage of a small plane which went down in December of 1965. There is a memorial plaque.

North Fork creek drainage

On the way back to the treeline we got sprinkled by graupel, but it was short-lived. We followed the trail to the point where we left it in the morning and then back to Zapata Falls TH. We even got to check out the Zapata Falls and soak our tired feet in cold stream.

Evening light on the Dunes

Stewart Peak group - Baldy Alto, Stewart, Organ, "Column Ridge"

Stewart Creek TH
Mileage: ~18 miles
Elevation: ~7.7k
Time: ~15 hours
Party: solo
Date: July 1, 2014

After hiking West Spanish Peak the day after California group and almost getting a heat stroke on the way down, I was ready for some cooler and greener pastures. I was excited to head back to La Garitas, for the first time since hiking San Luis two years ago. My plan was to tag both Stewart and Phoenix group together and eliminate driving between the THs. I knew those peaks are quite gentle and that I would be making good time on easy terrain. In addition, I wanted to test my backpacking gear in anticipation of the upcoming Weminuche trip. With that in mind, I got to the Stewart Creek TH and car camped. I got up at 4.30 in the morning and packed my backpack for an overnight trip. For some reason it took longer than expected and I didn't get started on the trail much before 7am. The standard San Luis trail is practically designed for backpacking and I was making great time. The first 4 miles went pretty fast. My original plan was to get the overnight pack to the ridge near Baldy Alto. Leave the pack and hike the Baldy Alto, Stewart and Organ from there. Once done, descend into the Cochetopa creek drainage and hike the Phoenix group from there the next day. Well, it almost worked out. Except for the Phoenix part.

The first part went reasonably well. I hiked with my overnight pack to the saddle with Baldy Alto near 13.2k. Dropped the heavy pack there, took the daypack and departed for Baldy Alto and Stewart. Left Baldy Alto just before 11am and continued to Stewart. I hiked Column ridge (both subsummits) thinking it was Baldy Chato - oops - I need better maps on my GPS. I knew those were unranked 13ers, but they looked pretty cool. I wasn't sure which one was the proper summit so I tagged both. Still feeling pretty good I got to the summit of Stewart around 1pm. The weather was forecasted to be almost flawless that day, so I wasn't too worried.

First look of the basin on the approach

I left the San Luis trail around 12.2k and started ascending Baldy Alto

Left the "big pack" on the saddle with Baldy Alto

View of San Luis from Baldy Alto

View of Stewart (which is about 1.6 miles away) from Baldy Alto. Unranked "Column Ridge" is on the left

Column Ridge is getting closer. I was convinced it was Baldy Chato at the time

Geological marker says "Stewart" - but it's on the summit of "Column Ridge"

From the subsummit of "Column Ridge", looking at Stewart

Finally made it to Stewart around 1pm or so

Going back over Baldy Alto was the test piece. I decided that if I felt weak, I would bail on Organ, but if I still felt ok, I was willing to continue. I felt ok. I got to my "big" pack at the saddle around 3pm and took a long break. It was nice to have a water filter and "real" food with me, so I cooked a meal for the long treck to the other side of the basin.

A camp on a little "glacier" aka snowfield ~13.2k

Organ on the other side of the basin - 1.7 miles away

Starting the hike towards San Luis

Gentle ridge

Organ is getting closer

The hike over false summit 13,707 of San Luis was rather painful with a big pack, but eventually I topped out and then picked an easy San Luis trail to the saddle with Organ. Around that time I was starting to realize that I was up for an epic. As a rule, I try to avoid epics as much as possible, but on that particular day I felt I will be up for it. I was feeling rather strong, had an overnight pack with me, so I was willing to push my limits a bit. After getting my day pack (and not forgetting a headlamp) I departed for Organ around 5pm. It is just over a mile from the saddle - how hard can it be?

Leaving the pack at the 13.1k saddle by the cairn leading into Cochetopa drainage

Well, I definitely underestimated Organ. Roach rates the connecting ridge with San Luis (Organ's West ridge) as Class 3. I didn't bother to read or take the route description with me as I thought I should be able to figure it out. It turned out to be a mistake! The West ridge starts pretty mellow and I was wondering where the dreaded Class 3 section was, but after about 40 minutes of hiking I reached some nice-looking spires.

First good look at Organ - the "organ pipes" become visible

Running into the spires

That's cool, thought I and continued to plod along unsuspectedly - I am in gentle La Garitas after all and most of my day was spent on grass. Bam, I reached the big gap in the ridge. Wow, where did that come from? I should have backtracked and looked for a "proper" route, but I ended up downclimbing into the saddle as I saw the opening. The terrain was surprisingly steep and loose and I didn't see anything resembling Class 3.

Downclimb route into the notch

The opposite side of the wall

Now what? I knew I had to gain the ridge, but how? The direct approach looked like overhanging Class 5 on loose rock. I looked right - it didn't look promising. I looked left. It was a steep gully (which I dubbed the "Dark gully"), but I could see a snowfield and then grass at the bottom. First I tried to descend the gully somewhat and then regain the ridge from there. Well, it didn't look promising - I didn't want to climb spires without assurance that they would connect and lead to the spine of the ridge. Another option was to downclimb the "Dark gully". First I had to see if it went and not get cliffed out. There was a small rock band which I was able to downclimb followed by a steep snow, but I was able to get down to the valley floor without major issues. What was that?

The "Dark" gully

Whew, it goes!

Looking back up on the downclimb

The Gash and the Dark gully

By now it was something like 6.30pm. Where did the time go? I considered bailing for a moment, but seeing nothing but grassy terrain again in front of me and at least 1.5 hours of daylight, I decided to push for the Organ summit.

Grassy terrain ahead

I was starting to feel the extra vertical, but persevered and got to the summit sometime after 7.00pm. The evening colors were spectacular.

"Organ pipes" from the summit

West ridge from the summit

Phoenix group

Easy retreat route - I wasn't taking the ridge back to the saddle as I didn't want to do route finding in the dark

Evening light on Organ

To get back quickly to my pack I had to bomb down the grassy slope of the Stewart creek drainage. Momentarily I considered descending all the way to San Luis trail, but spooked by the prospect of bushwacking through the willows I did the ascending traverse on the left side of the basin and regained San Luis standard trail around 12.6k. Only then and there at 8.30pm I realized that Phoenix group is not going to happen the next day. I was too tired and descending into Cochetopa drainage in the dark and setting the camp there wasn't feasible. I also had a long backpack into NoName drainage the day after and needed plenty of rest for that. Oh well, sometimes plans don't work out. I eventually got to my pack around 9pm and descended back into the Stewart drainage for another hour or so until I found a flat spot to camp near 11.9k. After setting up my brand new tent (BA Fly Creek 2), I got in and passed out. It was really nice to wake up to a gorgeous view the next morning. I leasurly cooked breakfast, filtered water and made an easy 1 hour 45 minutes trek back to the car. All I had to deal was a flat tire and a dead car battery on the eve of the drive to Durango to catch the train - but it is a completely different story.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Comments or Questions
Great Information!!
07/10/2014 15:37
I love 13ers!

Very enjoyable.
07/10/2014 16:10
The La Garitas are a pleasant place. Except, evidently, for your Organ experience.

Nice Job!
07/10/2014 16:30
You've really been pickin' off those Cents! I had no idea hitting Stewart, Baldy Alto, and Organ together required that much mileage and vertical. Might make me change up my plans a little bit for later this summer. Thanks for the TR Natalie .

07/10/2014 20:35
There is not much better than reaching the summit late in the day and seeing late day sun over beautiful terrain. I love your ”Phoenix Group” picture, captures the essence of the La Garitas! Thanks for the report, it brought back good memories.

Nice day
07/10/2014 22:13
Good hiking with you on the California group, Natalie.

About the 13660 N Ridge, I distinctly remember you asking if I was sure it was class 2, and I replied ”I'm sure Furthermore said it was class 2”. I've seen a few reports where he's a bit loose with the class system .

Supposedly, if you descend the S ridge from 13660, there is a class 2-ish gully down to S Zapata lake. I doubt it would be easier than the route we took down though. 13660 is a pretty legit peak, though I think the views (of the Blanca group) were a bit better from 13577.

I'm pretty sure our route up California - up the N Fork S Zapata trail then the crossover into California Gulch - is the least painful one. Sooner or later that peak will have a trail to the top.

As for Organ, I believe the class 3 route past the Gash involves downclimbing to bypass it to the south. Hard to imagine from how gnarly things look in your pictures.

Nice report Nat
07/10/2014 22:29
Looks like a pretty good sweep! Zapata area is pretty nice. I'm a bit envious of your Garitas day - healthy stats.

Furthermore's report says it is class 3, by the way. His ranking are generally pretty good and from an experienced eye for the easiest route:
The ridge was fun solid class 2 with some sections of class 3. The longest section of class 3 was ~50 feet and the class 3 crux reminded me of the class 3 crux section on the South Arapaho - North Arapaho traverse.

07/10/2014 23:06
Are you familiar with Roach's ”Class 4” in the flatirons? Anywhere from class 3 to 5.5. Those are always fun.

07/10/2014 23:20
stats making for a healthy outing.

I remember that ridge between the two summits on 13,660 being only class 2. Sticking to the ridge crest might up the rating to class 3. I went back through the photos from that trip and it appears I bypassed the ridge crest on the northeast side but no lower than 5-10 feet below the ridge crest.

From my experience, finding the easiest line on the descent can be more challenging than finding it on the ascent. Bypassing the ridge crest directly on either side of the ridge will usually eliminate harder climbing.

jdorje - If you think I inflate routes, perhaps climbing Roach's ”Class 4” in the flatirons might give some perspective.

07/10/2014 23:21
you beat me to the punch Ryan.

07/11/2014 00:53
Nah Derek, I don't think you inflate ratings. Your beta is among, if not outright, the best, and in this case was the only we had available at all for that ridge. Without it we would probably not have attempted it, and would have taken a harder route down. So, thanks for that, and for all the beta on other peaks you (and everyone else who writes reports) have left in your trip reports.

I do think there is a big range of difficulties between class 2 and class 3, as indeed there is between 3 and 4. Class 2 is nominally off-trail hiking that requires no hand use, but almost any steep traverse or talus hopping is going to need some hand holds. There is a big difference between walking over flat tundra (class 2) and almost any class 2 rocky ridgeline.

Where you gloss over the class rating is in the route finding. It's possible there was a ”class 2” route along the NE side of most of the ridge, though I'm sure there must have been at least one class 3 move in there. But even if so, it would have been ”class 2 with careful route finding”. And after a report of a tough class 3 ridge climb, I didn't really expect ”some class 2 walking” to mean there was nothing beyond class 2.

And, yes, that is just the kind of ridge that's easier to go up than down. Climbing up a 3-foot step may be class 2 while climbing down it is not. And of course you don't want to backtrack or lose elevation unnecessarily.

In the end, the ridge went, and that's what we needed to know. That it was actually so much harder than ”class 2” was, to me, just kinda funny.

07/11/2014 03:34
Moving on to real discussion, yo. If you link 2 sections of 5.15b and 1 sustained pitch of 5.15a, does that make the entire linkup 5.15c??

Brian C
Gettin Wolfed?
07/11/2014 16:46
I've been Roached many times, but now I need to worry about being Wolfed?? What a world it is that we live in!!

PS- nice work Natalie! I wish I had that kind of motivation. Haha.

GPS track
08/26/2014 15:03
Thanks, Nat! I think Kate and I are going to do the big trail loop around Organ Mtn this weekend (Stewart Creek Trail down to the CDT, starting and ending at the Stewart Creek TH). Hoping to hit Stewart/Baldy Alto/San Luis and possibly Organ along the way. Your report and track really helps with planning.

04/02/2015 19:45
JosephG - Organ was pleasant enough, just eye opening. Views were mind-boggling though and it was the latest I've ever been on the summit, I believe.

Ben - I had no idea either. Roach seems really coy about it. Looked just fine on the GPS, and I thought with backpack on easy terrain it should be fine. But I really should start using Bill's mapping tool more! Now I am scared to estimate the total vert for the Phoenix group. 8)

04/02/2015 19:45
Ryan - it's the next line after what you quoted:

After some more class 2 travel between summits, we arrived at the true summit around 12:45 PM.

We were on the ridge only between 2 summits, so it must be ”C2” in his TR. Btw - it is getting geeky, quoting Derek's TRs.

La Garita day was pretty big for sure, but most of it on really nice easy terrain, so it helped a lot. I was pretty beat at the end though.

Jason - great day indeed, and glad the weather held to do the full loop. Your route finding was most excellent. Thanks for the West Spanish peak suggestion, it was fun and a light day for sure. Yeah, by elimination, the ridge to Organ must go on the south side 8)

04/02/2015 19:45
Roach's Class 4
State of California Class 4 (Thunderbolt)
Furthermore's Class 2

I get it.

Derek - we stuck to the ridge spine as it looked more solid with only minor deviations, good holds. What a gorgeous peak though, particularly as seen from North Fork basin. And we both couldn't believe you did that ridge in snow. We kept looking at it on the descent. Looks gnarly & loose even when dry.

Adam Ondra
04/02/2015 19:45
would know a definitive answer to this one, Ryan. PM him.

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