Peak(s):  West Spanish Peak  -  13,626 feet
Date Posted:  03/31/2020
Date Climbed:   03/29/2020
Author:  spaceman_mort
 Spanish Peaks from the North   

I needed to get outside this past weekend and wanted to go somewhere where I wouldn't have trouble distancing myself from other folks, given the current social distancing construct. So I headed to the Spanish Peaks on Saturday afternoon to camp somewhere below treeline and the intent to possibly summit both east and west peaks on Sunday. Given that I started out with the intent to bag both peaks, I decided to approach from the north side of the massif, rather than the standard approach on the southwest ridge from Chuchara Pass.

On the drive in from Walsenburg, on the north side of the peaks

I drove through La Veta and targeted the head of the Wahatoya trail from the following AllTrails link as my parking spot. South from La Veta, the road turns to gravel, but is easily traversed in a 2WD vehicle.

The trailhead indicated on the AllTrails map is not marked, at least that I noticed, but there was a large turnout area to park in. I was, unsurprisingly, the only vehicle parked there, around 8,400 ft. The AllTrails route follows a 4WD road up the wooded mountainside and started out dry for the first half mile or so, but I soon ran into patches of snow that were probably 1-3 feet deep and I was able to continue without flotation for around two miles as the snow crust was firm enough to hold my weight. The snow patches then faded to full snow coverage and I put snowshoes on at around 9,800 ft.

The X on the map appears to be the start of the actual Wahatoya Trail, which routes to the saddle between East and West Spanish Peaks. Note that the Wahatoya trail does not follow the dotted trail line that you see in the photo once south of the X. The dotted line route is, I believe, still 4WD trail but it routes up into the eastern cirque of West Spanish Peak and would have been a steep ascent from the end point of the indicated trail.

The trail was snow covered, but solid enough to not require flotation for a while

Here is the actual trailhead, from here up to treeline was covered in punchy sun crusted snow

Beyond the 9,800 ft point where I donned my snowshoes, progress was very slow going. I continually found myself punching through the snow crust to over knee deep on north and northeast facing aspects. When I was on eastern facing aspects, the sun crust seemed to be hard enough to hold my weight. Any sign of activity from other humans had faded and the "trail" was only visible by a couple foot wide break in the trees. It took me over an hour to reach 10,500 ft and the sun had set, so I decided to set up camp on a flat spot along the trail.

Sunset glow near where I'd eventually set up camp

There was absolutely no wind and the overnight temps were above zero, so my campsite was quite cozy.

Sunday morning brunch and snow melting for water refill for the day's hike.

I slept in, and actually FaceTimed with my family on Sunday morning while having breakfast since there was good reception on the mountain in areas where there was line of sight to the valley below. It was a beautiful, sunny morning and I'd lowered my aspirations of summiting both peaks to choosing just one since my pace the night before was so slow and I'd imagined that the remainder of the route to treeline would be as rough as the inbound hike had been.

I set out for the day, leaving my tent and other heavy gear at the site and worked my way south towards the saddle between East and West Spanish Peak, but decided to ascent towards the west peak once I found an open snow field with a view above treeline.

My campsite is probably 1,000 ft below me at this point, on a flat spot in the trees

From the ascent beyond the above photo, I did not need flotation, so I cached my snowshoes. I knew that I needed to eventually reach the ridge to the east of West Spanish Peak, but wanted to avoid numerous undulations and unnecessary gain/loss of altitude. This proved to be a foolish plan, as every time I routed to the north side of a mound of rock, it turned out to be terribly loose and steep and I'd have made much quicker progress by simply ascending to the ridgeline and accepting the subsequent loss of altitude. At the bottom of the post, there's a snapshot of my Strava map and you can tell the difference between the ascent and descent (on the descent I routed directly down the ridgeline).

Approaching the eastern cirque of West Spanish Peak

Above treeline and on the ridge, the route was fairly easy to navigate. Snow drifts crested the ridge but were only a couple feet deep and I could either walk on rocks to one side of them or on top if the drifts were solid enough to hold my weight. From the location of the above photo, I traversed the ridgeline and other than not being able to find a discernible trail, the difficulty was all Class I/II.

The wind on the ridge and on summit was constant around 30 mph, and the summit had some gusts that were not very pleasant, so I didn't stick around for too long. I didn't take any photos at the actual summit since clouds had rolled in and visibility was poor for any nice photos.

View from not far east of the summit on the descent, looking toward the ridgeline I would hike to get back to my campsite

The descent was much more straightforward, I followed the ridgeline to the east of the summit until I reached the gulley that I'd ascended and dropped down to find my campsite. I packed up camp and plunge stepped back through the terrible, punchy snow until I reached the 4WD road again. After that, it was a quick descent to my jeep.

Once back on the 4WD road, the trail remained snow covered, but I did not need snowshoes

Back at the jeep, I had a nice socially distanced celebration of my day with a beer from the land of the sky blue waters

On the drive out, saying goodbye to the summit

Overall, it was a great overnight trip to the wilderness and I was glad I was able to bag a summit as well. I will be back someday soon to summit East Spanish Peak. Total distance hiking was 12.24 miles, 5,775 ft elevation gain, and 7 hours moving time...although it was 23 hours from jeep to jeep.

Strava route

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
03/31/2020 06:51
I enjoyed your report, Spaceman. When I do the Denver > Albuquerque drive I always look for the Spanish Peaks once I crest Raton Pass, they're obviously quite the landmark. Good for you for doing an overnighter!


Good times
03/31/2020 09:33
In these times, it€„¢s encouraging to read about someone getting out for a pleasant (other than the wind) hike on a cool peak that doesn€„¢t see much traffic. I think I first summited West Spanish Peak strapped to someone€„¢s back

RE: Nice
03/31/2020 12:19
@TomPierce, I used to live in ABQ and would see the peaks every time I drove past. I was excited to finally go explore the area.

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