Peak(s):  California Pk  -  13,849 feet
PT 13,577  -  13,577 feet
PT 13,660 A  -  13,660 feet
Date Posted:  04/19/2020
Date Climbed:   03/22/2020
Author:  CaptainSuburbia
 California Peak Triple Play   

With the end of the winter climbing season, I decided to turn my focus back to 13ers. The centennial California Peak seemed like a good spring choice with easy access and an avalanche safe route. After rounding up a couple of climbing friends we all met at the Zapata Falls trailhead near The Great Sand Dunes National Park. We chose this trailhead because we knew the access road would be dry. The standard route is from the Huerfano Valley side, and we figured the road to that trailhead would be blocked several miles short of the trailhead.

Day: March 24th, 2020

Peaks: California Peak, Pt 13577, Pt 13660 A

Trailhead: Zapata Falls

Route: West Ridge

Mileage/Vertical Gain: 12.35 miles/ 5718 feet

After a couple of hours of truck sleep my 2 climbing partners (Annie and Keyton) and I were on the Zapata Lake trail just before 4 am. The trail was mostly dry at first before slowly transitioning into all snow with a solid boot pack. A couple of miles into the climb we passed the California Gulch and turned west on the North Fork South Zapata Creek trail. The trail wasn't visible because of snow, but we knew it was here. We bushwacked west and a short distance later we cut left up an embankment to gain the lower ridge of California. The North Fork South Zapata Creek trail veered to the right up the drainage. Next, we came to a steep headwall which led to a narrow non-technical ridge.

Beginning of ridge
Twin Peaks

Knee deep postholes started to become more common so Keyton and I donned our snowshoes while Annie soldiered on without (having left hers in the car?). We eventually popped out of the trees to the wide-open west slopes of California.

Twin Peaks again on the right

We worked our way up the slope hitting rock bands and grass patches whenever possible to help Annie out. I'm pretty sure she regretted not bringing snowshoes.

Annie postholing

About halfway up this section, the ridge mellowed out into a flattish area with more deep snow to cross. To this point, the climbing had not been very steep. Looking ahead from here we could see that was going to change.

California Peak coming into view

The rest of the way was much steeper (but not too bad) and snowshoes were not necessarily needed. I kept mine on though as the traction was useful.

The Great Sand Dunes in the distance

We found staying as far right as possible kept us out of talus and on firm snow. It was from here that we saw the Blanca mastiff with Ellingwood and Little Bear for the first time and were blown away. This amazing view would be in our sights for the rest of the day.

Blanca, Ellingwood and Little Bear
Approaching the summit

Soon after we were at the false summit with just a short jaunt remaining to the summit of California Peak. From the smallish snow-covered summit the views were beyond amazing in every direction. We now could also clearly see the rest of our route to Pt 13577 and the bicentennial Pt 13660 A.

Lindsey on left and Blanca/Ellingwood on right
Summit of California looking south at the rest of our route

And that was that! California was done without too much effort, and it was now time to turn south and head for a couple unnamed but ranked 13ers. Point 13577 was our next objective and can be seen in the photo above as the second bump coming from California. We got tired of referring to these peaks as numbers so we named them. Pt 13577 we called "Island Peak".

Keyton making his way down the southeastern ridge of California
4 14ers in this pic

Following the initial steep drop down Californias southeastern ridge, there was a small plateau. Next, a steep snow slope with an option to stay in rocks led us to the saddle with Pt 13400.

Pt 13400 dead ahead

At the Pt 13400 saddle we opted to not climb the point, but to sidehill it instead. This point was neither a ranked nor unranked 13er, so saving our energy and skipping it seemed like the best option. Sidehilling over talus was a little tedious but we were able to quickly make our way to the saddle with "Island Peak".

Pt 13400 and "Island Peak" saddle

From the saddle, it was an easy talus climb to the summit of "Island Peak". The views from the summit were even more magnificent than from California with the Blanca Mastiff on the right and Lindsey on the left. We were mesmerized by the enormous cliffs below Ellingwood and Blanca and the frozen Lily Lake.

"Island Peak" South Ridge
Blanca, Ellingwood and Little Bear
Left to right - Huerfano, Iron Nipple and Lindsey Peak
Looking back to California Peak

After a short rest while soaking in the amazing scenery we turned west and started towards our last peak, Pt 13660 A. This peak we dubbed "Little Elly ". We knew from research that the West Ridge to "Little Elly" went class 3 and would be the most challenging peak of the day.

Ridge to "Little Elly"

It didn't take long to descend the talus slope down "Island Peak" to reach the small adjoining saddle. Here we contemplated putting crampons on, but decided against it and headed up.

Halfway up "Little Elly" looking back at Keyton and Annie

The snow was solid so we walked on it as much as possible. At about the 3/4 mark we came to a snow gully and crossed it very gingerly using axes for support.


After the gully crossing the climbing got a bit more difficult with a couple of short class 3 sections. The rock was good and solid though so there was nothing to difficult. There were definitely a few spots where slipping on the snow-covered rocks would not have been good.

Keyton looking like a mountaineer with California in the background
One of the class 3 sections
Keyton topping out

Once on the summit of "Little Elly" we were again greeted with a stunning panorama. Little Bear really looked impressive from here, and the ridge to Ellingwood Point looked interesting albeit very difficult.

Blanca, Ellingwood and Little Bear
California Peak
Keyton looking happy with the 3 peak day
Lindsey, Huerfano and Iron Nip again

Although it would have been easy we didn't linger long. We all knew this was only the halfway point and we headed back down "Little Elly" towards "Island Peak".

This class 3 section was a bit more challenging on descent

At the saddle with "Island Peak" we decided not re-summit. Instead, we sidehilled all the way back to the slopes of California which we then summited for the second time.

Summit of California
One last view of the Blanca Mastiff and our route

Besides lots of postholing in the soft snow, the return trip to the Zapata Falls trailhead was uneventful.

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

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Yeah buddy
04/20/2020 10:13
Sick trip and report dude. How did the looooong west ridge of 13,660 look as a descent option? I wonder if you'd even be able to cross the creek, I remember the trail for the nearby Twin Peaks being far, FAR above the creek with no reasonable way of getting down to or across it. Seems like it could be an interesting option if it were viable.

Big trio
04/20/2020 16:41
For snow season... I am in the position of having done 13,577 but neither of the others. I'll be back, views up there are great!

Well done
04/21/2020 07:05
Nice write up buddy!! You love climbing through all that snow haha.

04/21/2020 09:23
Ben - Thanks! Wish you could've joined. That ridge definitely looks doable (thought about it myself haha). There is a ravine at the bottom though so you'd have to exit left before and bushwack to trail. Another option is to go into that basin from 13660 false summit and hike out on the North Fork South Zapata Creek trail.

Tornado - Yeah big snow day for sure! I imagine that route would be a breeze in summer. Good luck finishing those off.

Vadim - Thanks buddy! I'll get you out in the snow next winter.

04/21/2020 17:51
I thought that the views from California are some of the best I have seen. Your pictures validate that. Thanks for putting this one up.

How much time?
04/27/2020 22:55
I love everything about this trip report except for the "start before 4 AM" bit !!! I'd like to try this hike, but having not been in the area before, starting in darkness isn't that appealing. How much time did this take you car-to-car ? Was your pace fast, medium, or slow, and how much of it was affected by snow? (I'm assuming there's less snow now.) Thanks so much, and GREAT PICS by the way!

04/28/2020 09:04
Thank you! We were slow. Took about 14 hours. The snow on Cali slowed us quite a bit. From a recent condition update I don't think you'll find much snow on Cali any more. Good luck!

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