Twin Pks A - 13,580 feet
Twin Pks A South - 13,534 feet
Twin Pks A - 13,580 feet
Twin Pks A South - 13,534 feet
|Putting the Twins to Bed|
Originally I had planned on gathering beta on and hopefully climbing Hamilton Peak, the Sierra Blanca's southern most 13er (an unranked one at that). There's a bunch of roads to the south of the peak that, on a map, looked like they'd give reasonable access to the peak. They all turned out to be private roads. With winds of 60 miles per hour predicted for Blanca I knew going over Blanca to reach it would probably be a bad idea as well. My friend Whiley was climbing farther north in the Sangre and recommended I climb the Twin Peaks just to the north of the Blanca group so after packing up from camp on Lake Como Road (and thoroughly de-dusting the layer of grit blown into my tent overnight; my mouth was crunchy in the morning) I drove to the Zapata Falls trailhead. Clouds over most of the Sangre looked black and ominous and the peaks themselves were mostly obscured by said dark clouds. I figured I'd be walking into a snow storm to reach the top.
The route up the Twins is easy enough; take the Zapata Creek Trail to South Zapata Lake, turn to the west/right, and hike up to the summits. The trail from the parking lot is good, though it is confusing and unclear near the bottom where it splits: left for Zapata Falls, right for Zapata Creek. I didn't see signs distinguishing this on either ascent or descent, but I didn't look that carefully either. (A trailhead report from about a month earlier mentions the sign is missing.) It was only 100 or so yards from the entrance to the Falls slot canyon through some brush to the Zapata Creek Trail so I made my way to the proper trail and began ascending into the mouth of the combined Zapata drainage. Along the way I crossed the creek and found a few old cabins, one of which was still in surprisingly good shape.
Most of the views on the lower part of the trail were obscured by trees but occasionally I'd get glimpses up canyon.
While the trail follows the drainage it does not follow directly alongside the creek. Generally the trail stays far above the creek on the northern side. A good map and other photos can be found on the Ellingwood Point North Ridge route description, if one wishes to see more. One of the neater features on the trail was a small shelf in between two slightly staggered layers of cliff, one above and the other below.
The peaks were nice and frosty when the clouds lifted enough to finally see them. Snow, however, had mostly managed to miss the Sierra Blanca. The Culebra range to the south was blanketed in snow but the Blanca were mostly dry. There was a little bit of snow (from patchy to maybe an inch deep) starting at 10,500 feet and it was all heavily faceted.
The snow would only pose a problem on a route variation I took, but more on that later. The winds throughout the day were howling but I stayed comfortable in just base layers, softshell pants, a light jacket, and windproof liner gloves. The trees did help some but it was still probably in the 20s and felt cool.
As I continued climbing on the trail I kept looking for both ways to gain the north ridge as well as descend it. I was pretty sure the ridge would go but only very low down closer to the parking lot. Much of it was steep talus fields and broken cliffs with ugly looking gullies, plus I was on the wrong side of the drainage to reach it anyway. It would be a far more probable descent route as long as one liked bushwhacking and potentially some scrambling on what looked like death choss.
At treeline I stopped to put on my hardshell jacket and a pair of ice climbing gloves. Without the trees to block the wind it was bitterly cold.
I hiked nearly to the lake and got my first views of a reasonable route up the peaks. The east slopes were really the only way up after miles of talus-cliff sandwich.
I hadn't really seen the lake from where I cut off the trail so I checked it out on the way up as I weaved across talus, boulders, slabs, and grass.
The route up was broken into sections of steep slopes with relatively flat, broad benches between them.
At one point I was scrambling up a Class 2+ slab (could have kept it to pure Class 2 but that wouldn't have been as fun) and was startled by a bighorn sheep not even ten feet to my right. He gracefully bounced down loose, steep terrain and across the grass to meet his flock. He was too quick for me to get a video of but I got some pics while they patiently waited and watched me climb.
From this bench there was an obvious grassy gully I could take to keep things simple but I wanted to spice things up a little bit. With snow already on the ground and more to come this might be one of my last opportunities for some fun and less sketchy scrambling. To the north/right of the obvious grassy gully was what looked like a Class 3 gully/slab combo with Class 2+ access.
I hiked across the talus field to below the cliffs. To access what appeared to be the only non-vertical rock there I'd have to ascend up a grassy ramp below a cliff and then turn 180 degrees to ascend another ramp on top of that cliff, whereupon I could access the scrambling.
Because of the north facing nature of this section there was more snow than in the open areas. The shadier parts had an inch or two in spots.
I got up to the bottom of the vague, slabby chimney and discovered a lot of the rock was covered in verglas not visible from below. The shady northeast aspect collected and concentrated what little melt there was. Typical! I contemplated going up it anyway but the ice was hard to see on the black rock and there was a cliff below me if I should slip, so I decided to climb back down and traverse across the steep talus to easier and presumably less icy terrain. If the chimney were dry it would probably go at about Class 3.
I down climbed back to below the first cliff and headed across option 2 towards option 1 in the photo above.
From this point the remainder of the ascent was a simple Class 2 affair on talus. The wind was relentless but not as bad as I had expected. At no point was I blown over, just lightly pushed around and cold. Slogging uphill on nearly uniform terrain I hit the summit and had views of the north ridge and ridge south to Twin's unranked subsummit, as well as incredible views of the Sierra Blanca 14ers - the views from the subsummit were even better though.
I spent about five minutes on the true summit taking photos and attempting to find a summit register in one of the three summit cairns (why there's three on such a low-traffic peak I don't know) before hiking south towards Twin's twin which took all of eight minutes and one second. The Blanca group looked spectacular and intimidating from the vantage point of this lowly unranked peak, better than its higher twin. The hike to this subsummit is worth it all by itself just for the views.
Absorbing the views momentarily I quickly dropped back towards South Zapata Lake. The winds were remarkably consistent and cold. On a summer day I would have spent some time up there gathering energy from the surrounding immensities of the mountains and San Luis Valley but today was a day to tag the top and go.
The top was the steepest part and I made short switchbacks down it instead of descending directly. Once through the first gully the angle relented for the majority of the remaining hike out.
The remaining hike out back to the falls and the trailhead was uneventful, as one would expect of a good Class 1 trail. The only thing I want to mention for those reading this as a beta report is that there's a few hundred feet of regain in the middle of the trail that might go unnoticed during the ascent - I didn't notice the drop on the ascent that I would have to reclimb on the way out, so be aware it's not all downhill from the top.
Once at the bottom, at the falls/lake junction, I split right towards the falls. I knew it was close and what better way to end a great hike with a waterfall? Though the flow was low there was no easy way to the falls as the rock hop to get there was almost entirely covered in thin, clear ice. Some old bolts and cables attached to the wall indicated a previous attempt to make the hike easier but many were missing. Unable to find a dry path to the falls I simply jumped in, mesh trail runners or not. The ice cold water felt good and though my feet eventually went numb I was only in it for five to ten minutes anyway, so no big deal.
I hiked back to my car and changed footwear to dry sandals. A barbecue place (Rendezvous BBQ) in Fort Garland caught my attention on the way to La Veta Pass so I stopped and had a brisket sandwich. It hit the spot and kept me topped up for the long drive home.
Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself)
¹Approximate location. I turned east not far from the lake but didn't go to the shore itself.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
|Comments or Questions|
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