Peak(s):  West Spanish Peak  -  13,626 feet
Date Posted:  07/04/2016
Modified:  07/06/2016
Date Climbed:   07/03/2016
Author:  rajz06
 The Coming of Spain   

Starting Point: Wahatoya Trailhead, Elevation: ~9,800'
Peak Climbed: West Spanish Peak (13,626')
Route: East Ridge
RT Distance: ~9.3 miles
Elevation Gain/Loss: ~4,250 feet (per Google Maps)
Group: Solo

West Spanish Peak has been on my radar since 1997 when, on a southbound trip to climb Sandia Crest, I found myself fascinated by the majesty and prominence of the Spanish Peaks. Last season, in my foray into the southern Sangres, I got my fill of this magnificent peak.

West Spanish in All Her Glory!

I vowed to come back the very next week to hike both Spanish Peaks from the same trailhead, an epic undertaking by any measure, but life got in the way and Trinchera proved to be the last big hike of the season.

Both Spanish Peaks can be climbed from the Wahatoya trailhead which is the starting point for the standard approach to the lesser of the two, East Spanish Peak (12,683'). West Spanish Peak (13,626') is typically climbed from Cordova Pass (11,248') as a direct ascent of the southwest ridge. Studying the top maps, it was clear that ascending the lower northeast ridge and then the long east ridge would give the hiker a much better appreciation of the glory of this peak. But have there been any documented climbs of West Spanish Peak from Wahatoya trailhead? I couldn't find any evidence of such with the exception of a report from 1999 by a Gary Swing. In my research on this route, I came across a forum discussion from 2008 involving the late, great Steve Gladbach; by his own account, Steve had climbed East Spanish Peak from this trailhead no fewer than eight times, but not the West peak. Settled then - I knew what my approach was going to be.

Wahatoya Trailhead

The Wahatoya trail is narrow but ascends gently all the way to the saddle between the two peaks. Given my lazy 9:15 a.m. start and the likelihood of afternoon thunderstorms, I took advantage of the easy ascent by running most of this section. Views of East Spanish opened up shortly into the trail.

East Spanish Peak

The woods were green and lush thanks to the recent wet weather. The water flow in the creek was good but the first creek crossing posed no problems.

First creek crossing

Narrow trail

Right around 10,000', the trail passes over a rock field en route to the second creek crossing.

Looking back at the boulder field

Second creek crossing

I had studied the map and knew that I would have to leave the comfort of the trail shortly before the saddle to ascend the lower northeast ridge which would then provide access to the long east ridge of West Spanish. I found the perfect spot to do this around 10,600'.

Time to lave the trail

The woods in this spot were not dense enough to require any bushwhacking so I just weaved between the trees as I made my way up the hillside.

Climbing the hillside

Navigating through the pines

Looking down the lower slope

As I approached treeline at 11,400', the terrain transition from soft moss-laden clay into rocks.

Approaching treeline

Looking back down the slope

Breaking out of the trees, I was greeted by a steep talus slope leading to a point just above 12,200' on the northeast ridge.

Aiming for the next station on the NW slope

The next two thousand vertical feet are on tippy talus but I didn't as much as put one foot wrong on this terrain during the ascent. The descent, however, was a different story. The view down this rocky terrain captures the steepness of this pitch.

That's steep!

The wind was now blowing steadily as I slogged up this pitch, mindful of the rocks that moved under each step.

Tippy talus

The northeast ridge is deceptively steep as it scales over two thousand vertical feet in around 1.25 miles! The high point on this ridge is around 12,800' and comes into view momentarily.

Next point to aim for

Then I got my first glimpse of the long east ridge that would eventually connect to the summit of West Spanish even though the true summit would not be visible until much later.

Reaching the east ridge

I realized that I could skirt below the next bump on the ridge and the route I took is shown in red in the next shot. Conceivably, one could stay lower and regain the ridge farther ahead but that slope harbors loose scree so I decided against that choice (in blue).

My route in red

As I grunted up this section, the view of East Spanish behind me was definitely worth a few looks.

Looking back at East Spanish

There is no trail on any section of this route so I took the path of least resistance across the talus, trying to minimize unnecessary elevation gain while staying on the more stable rocks. Easier said than done!

Finding the path of least resistance

I aimed for and gained the ridge at the grassy saddle from where I could survey the east ridge to the summit.

Aiming for the grassy saddle

From this vantage, the best route appeared to be along the ridge, staying just below to climber's left.

Surveying the east ridge

As I gazed up the ridge, mentally mapping my path to the next station, I saw something looking straight at me. Obviously, he had spotted me even before I did and was wondering what I was.

Hey there!

Denizen of high ridges

He stood his ground as I approached while keeping my eye on him the whole time. Satisfied that I posed no threat, he causally bounded up the rocky ridge and disappeared.

The next shot shows what appears to be the true summit; the east ridge is also broken in a couple of sections which I figured might make the traverse more interesting.

East ridge route

The broken sections on the ridge were such that there was no choice but to skirt them on the left.

Roughness on the ridge

More broken sections

The last notch on the east ridge en route to the top was no different.

One more notch on the ridge

The final pitch to the summit was an easy walk on broken talus.

Starting the final ascent

Final pitch to summit

I knew the views from the top would be nothing to write home about today due to the cloudy weather. The long line of southern Sangre De Cristo peaks were merely silhouettes surrounded by murky skies.

Murky skies

Clouds over Sangres

Is that Culebra?

The next shot looks down at the Wet Mountains - a sub range of the Sangre De Cristo, a beautiful range where I spent many a weekend this past spring climbing many memorable high points.

Wet Mountains

The views of the northern Sangres were disappointing due to the foggy air and the cloud cover over the high peaks. Looking up, I realized that those very clouds were heading in my direction so I decided to abandon my lofty perch.

On my descent I stayed closer to the ridge proper to see if the crest offered any opportunities for down climbing the more rugged sections. The few that existed flirted dangerously close to the steep cliffs on the north face. Perhaps the Bighorn sheep may have been more at home on these cliffs...

Atop the ridge crest

Gazing down one of these steep gullies, I caught a raven in mid-flight.

Raven in mid-flight

The cloud cover thickened, but a speedy retreat, however, was simply not on the cards. The descent down the lower part of the east ridge and the northeast ridge proved to be largely an exercise in balancing while maintaining downhill progress; nearly every rock I stepped on moved no matter the size, and some behaved like skateboards. No surprise then that the traverse from 13,000' to treeline took longer on my descent; I was just relieved once I reached the trees, knowing that the worst was behind me and I could cover the remaining section down to the trail at a more respectable pace.

Just as I got below treeline, I heard the first rumble in the skies - a gentle reminder that I was overstaying my welcome. Any ambition I might have had of making an attempt at East Spanish was summarily dispatched at that point. I would have to be content with one Spanish Peak today. Content? Color me elated!

Did I really climb that?

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

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 36 37 38 39

Comments or Questions
Brian Thomas
the majesty and prominence
07/05/2016 08:56
Prominence = Majesty.

3,685' of prominence to be specific.

And pic #37 appropriately captures the awe in which the majesty of this much prominence should be revered.

Nice Raj!
07/05/2016 09:49
I do enjoy your reports. I did East SP from Wahatoya and enjoyed it a lot. I thought that was tougher than doing West from Cordova. Is there a faint trail in Pic #20?

Great work an a route that I had seen no documentation on either.

Nice job, Raj!
07/05/2016 10:20
Good to see you out hitting the peaks again!

amazing work
07/05/2016 20:57
What was your total time??

A Different Point of View
07/06/2016 09:50
I like your adventurous style, thanks for the TR! I will have to try it from that side some day with my own variation in mind! I don't think it is an easy task no matter how you slice it to get both. Wow, such a big mountain and undertaking!

07/06/2016 19:40
Brian: Well said!
Jay: There is definitely a path in the rocks across that slope in Pic #20 that helped the traverse.
MtnHub: You're due for some mountain adventures yourself - hope to read about them soon!
krazykat: Car to car was 6:45.
boudreaux: I'd still like to do the Spanish combo but yes, that'll be a big day - probably ~14 miles RT and ~6,400' elevation gain/loss.

Nice Report!
07/09/2016 16:13
I love that area and have been down that trail many times, never seeing anyone on it as opposed to the mob at Cordova. Beautiful, remote area. We did East Peak but never West from this side...that is one long talus slog you did. Super job!

Very nice.
08/16/2016 16:17
Great report, I enjoyed it. Looks like a heck of a long ridge hike. I plan on taking my middle daughter up there next month to bag West Spanish from it's standard route and probably a Rito Alto/Hermit/Eureka combo the day before or after that.

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