Peak(s):  West Spanish Peak  -  13,626 feet
Date Posted:  08/28/2019
Modified:  04/03/2021
Date Climbed:   08/26/2019
Author:  huffy13
 Steep and loose is the name of the game!   

I haven't had a chance to get to the mountains yet this year and I was beginning to think I wasn't going to have an opportunity due to work and other commitments. I had Monday, the 26th of August off at work....I work a 12 hour shift job and I found out last week that starting the on 27th we are working an 8 week shutdown and I knew if I didn't go Monday I wouldn't get to go at all this year. I needed to keep it closer to home since time was a factor, I went back on shift Tuesday night, so I decided that West Spanish Peak would be a good candidate.

I've had West Spanish Peak on my radar for a long time. Ever since I began my hiking trips 12 years ago I have driven by this area and always wanted to get some of the Sangre 13ers under my belt. I had gone up to Cordova Pass a couple other times with the intent of summitting West Spanish only to be turned around by weather before I ever even got to the trailhead. This time the forecast showed no chance of rain and the temps were forecast to be pretty pleasant.

I left my house Sunday afternoon after my shift at 5:20 pm CDT and arrived at the Cordova Pass campground right at 9:30 pm MDT. I paid my $7 fee and decided to just car camp since I was the only car there....there was one person that was getting into his truck right as I pulled up, said he had hiked the peak starting in the afternoon. Once he left I did not see another soul until I got back to the trailhead after my hike Monday. I fell asleep around 10:00 and had a relatively decent rest considering the wind started howling around 10:30 and was shaking my car quite a bit, but I rarely sleep well anyway and 5-6 hours of intermittent sleep was better than I usually get the night before a big hike.

Trailhead sign directly across from the fee station and toilet facility.

Quite a bit of parking and campsites at the Cordova Pass campground. That's my wife's Honda....far roomier and more comfortable than my Blazer for car camping

My alarm went off at 5:00 am and I ate a quick breakfast of a banana, clif bar and a drinkable peach yogurt before hitting the trail at 5:30 straight up. I knew I wanted to get an early start even though the forecast was favorable and the hike was relatively short. I knew from researching the hike on this site that there was impressive elevation gain to be experienced on the last quarter of the hike. And this turned out to be absolutely accurate.

The first three miles of the hike or so are absolutely great. The trail is very well defined, there are several places that make for great photo opportunities, most of the trail below treeline is relatively smooth and gentle and this portion of the hike actually seemed to fly by. I really enjoyed the many twisted bristlecone pines, both alive and dead....they made for a really neat visual distraction. There is a small portion of the forest part of the hike that has some switchbacks (about 6 or 7) just before you hit treeline, but they are long, gently sloping switchbacks, nothing like what you experience on the Belford ascent or even on Huron's standard route. I made treeline at 6:55 am, less than an hour and a half for the first three miles. This is a decent pace for me, I am usually quite slow....but my pace did slow a lot from this point on during the ascent. The next several pics are of the trail and views below treeline.

An early shot of West Spanish from one of the small meadows

West Spanish Peak casting it's long shadow over the Cuchara Valley.

There were quite of few fallen trees, most were already cut out and removed. This was one exception, but the trail was diverted around this big tree.

Looking down to the SSE over Trinidad and the mesas at Raton Pass, dropping down into NM.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but, is this Culebra and Red?

Interesting fungi

Another cool looking shroom.

Another pic towards Cordova Pass, that small bare spot is the first large meadow I hiked through about 300 yards from the trailhead.

I assume this large cabin is part of the Cordova Pass Ranch property. I know this place has some amazing views!

A twisted bristlecone pine. These trees fascinate me with their distorted shapes.

The trail below treeline was well defined and in great shape.

More typical trail conditions

This trail does have some switchbacks, but the switchbacks are gentle and broad. And there's not too many, no more than 10-12 throughout.

Early peek at the Blanca Massif to the WNW.

Once you hit the last mile of the ascent it gets a lot more aggravating and difficult. The slope above treeline is very steep, loose and the trail is not as well defined. I brought my trekking poles on this hike and I kind of wish that I had just left them at the car or just stashed them at treeline. I slowly trudged my way up the loose SW ridge, taking frequent hydration and photo breaks. I heard rocks falling at one point but quickly realized that they were being knocked down by a few bighorn sheep that were in the gully further to the south and slightly below my elevation. There are a few spots that were solid during the ascent, but really, about 90% of the last mile is very loose. Some sections were like walking up on croquet balls, other sections were more like walking up a gravel hill, and there were places that the rocks made it feel like I was walking uphill on a pile of dinner plates....I knew that as bad as it seemed on the ascent, I was going to hate this portion of the descent even more. The wind was still pretty strong, that wasn't helping, but I was kind of thankful that it was blowing enough to keep it cool and kept the flies and mosquitoes from being too much of a nuisance. The following pics are of the steep, loose ascent above treeline on the SW ridge.

This cairn marks the start of the not-so-fun part of this hike.

A photo towards the La Veta Pass area from the start of the ridge.

The summit looks close....this was a lie. lol

This is pretty typical of what you deal with for about 95% of the ridge while above treeline.

This area is what I considered to be the crux of the route. Lots of scree, ended up on my butt more than once in this general area.

Looking at the slog that lay before me.

There was a few spots that relented somewhat and gave me solid footing and a break from the 1 step up-slide down a half step aggravation.

Not a ton of vegetation above treeline, but this was one plant that was fairly common

As were these alpine flowers. They attracted some type of small bee/fly that I heard a lot, but never really bothered me much.

Looking down at about 80% of what I had hiked so far. The bare spot in the upper right is the meadow I traversed early in the hike.

So much steep, so much loose....yuck.

Another decent place that wasn't as bad. The trail is hard to discern at times on the ascent. But it hugs some rocky walls a few times.

Some of the rock looked like the rock I often see pictures of on The Crestones. That conglomerate was seen several places along the trail.

Finally, at 8:53 I made the summit.

The last couple hundred yards of easy walk to the true summit.

The summit cairn in the lower left of the pic and the view to the south.

The views from the summit made the strain of the ascent well worth it. The lava dikes that the Cuchara Valley/La Veta area are known for were quite prominent in all directions. The Blanca Massif, the Crestone Group, Greenhorn Mountain and the entire Culebra Range are dominating the west and north views. The skies were too hazy to be able to see Pikes Peak, but I know it is visible because when we hiked Pikes a few years ago we could see the Spanish Peaks pretty easily. I could also see across the San Luis Valley to where I think San Luis Peak is...but I may be wrong about that. One thing I also thought was cool was that I could see the top of Capulin Mountain and Sierra Grande, as well as some of the other ancient volcanoes on the other side of Raton Pass, in New Mexico. It was hazy, but I found them after quite a bit of searching.

Looking North over La Veta and towards Greenhorn Mountain. Hoped to see Pikes Peak, but skies were too hazy today.

The Blanca Massif is always impressive.

Cool lava dike formations below

Looking SSW towards the Culebra area and over Monument Lake area.

Looking down in the general direction of Cordova Pass.

Not sure if you will find it, but I was able to spot the top of Capulin Mountain and Sierra Grande in the volcano field of NE New Mexico.

Mt. Mestas and Highway 160 to La Veta Pass and Ft. Garland.

Another view to the area on the south side of the peak.

Another shot of what I think is Culebra Peak

Looking back on the final portion of the ridge on the ascent and west towards Trinchera and the other 13ers of the Culebra range

Down into La Veta

Zoomed in on one of the more prominent lava dikes.

Greenhorn Mountain

Looking due east over East Spanish

and the ugly, yet impressive looking ridge that runs down the NE side of the peak

One last shot on my way out. A beautiful and iconic peak.

After taking a lot of pictures, calling my wife to let her know I made it safely, and eating some snacks to refuel, I started the descent at 9:15. I would have like to have stayed longer, but the wind was starting to get on my nerves and I knew I still had to drive home after all this. The descent was relatively uneventful. I did end up slipping and falling on my butt three times, but there was a lot of choice words on my down just due to all the loose rock, close calls on my ankles and just the general frustration with every step causing rocks and scree to shift and make me question my footing. I arrived back at the trailhead at 11:20, just over 2 hours on the trip down. I changed into some more comfortable clothes for the drive home, and arrived back at the house in Texas exactly 24 hours from the time I left...5:20 pm CDT. My wife pointed out that crazy timing as soon as I walked in the front door. It was a quick trip, but I am glad I was able to go. I've been wanting some elevation therapy for a while.

Now for my thoughts, experiences, advice and insights for this hike: First, Cordova Pass Campground is a very nice, well kept area. It has plenty of good camp sites and does have clean vault toilet facilities during the summer and fall time of the year. There is a nominal fee of $7 as of August of 2019, but well worth the price. The road to the campground from Cuchara Pass is in relatively good shape. There are a few small sections of washboarding and some potholes, but nothing that any vehicle can't handle.

You are going to want to take plenty of water or other hydration. There wasn't a single source of water on the hike. There may be water sources during a different time of the year, maybe during a good snow year or during the spring and early summer meltoff. I took 3 liters or so of watered down sports drink mix and I still had a full liter when I got back to the car at the end of the hike, but it wasn't too terribly hot on this day also.....

The hike itself is pretty straightforward while below treeline. The forest portion of the hike is great. Well kept trail and many opportunities for amazing photo ops down into the valley and out toward to plains, as well as all the Sangre big dogs. The three miles in the forest flies by, but once you hit treeline the personality of this hike changes on a dime. The ridge is very steep and loose, the ascent was just slow and aggravating with all the one-step-up-half-step-slide-down crap for 99% of the ridge. There are a few areas that the rock is solid and the slope relents, but not much of the time. For the most part it's a long steep slope up everything from scree-like gravel, to bowling ball size rocks, to dinner plate flat rocks that slide easily. The descent is exponentially worse though. Going down the ridge reminded me of the descent on Bross, only worse. One positive note on the descent is that it is easier to see the trail on the way down. I still think the hike is worth the effort, the views over plains and the panoramic views of nearly all the Sangres to the North, west and south are unparalleled.

Anyway, I hope some of the information on this report comes in handy for someone. It's a challenging, sometimes aggravating, but ultimately rewarding summit that flies under a lot of folks' radars. Happy hiking and be safe out there, thanks for reading.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Dog friendly?
08/29/2019 10:11
Just yesterday I was thinking about how I wanted to get to the spanish peaks before summer ended. I would car camp as well. This was a great review and has inspired me to get out there, thank you!!!

Great Report on a Great Peak
08/30/2019 19:05
West Spanish was my first âœbig❠mountain and this trip report is spot on. Great pictures and great narrative.

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