Peak(s):  Santa Fe Peak  -  13,180 feet
Sullivan Mountain  -  13,134 feet
Geneva Peak  -  13,266 feet
Landslide Peak  -  13,238 feet
Date Posted:  12/06/2020
Date Climbed:   12/05/2020
Author:  daway8
Additional Members:   HikesInGeologicTime
 A surprise close call: Santa Fe to Landslide   

I was so sure that this was going to be a total gimme that I spent perhaps 5 minutes researching this route till I decided "yeah, whatever, I got this." These were 2 mere ranked 13ers plus 2 measly unranked ones. I mean Santa Fe even has a road going up to just shy of the summit and in summer you could reportedly Jeep partway to the others as well. Follow the road up to Santa Fe and walk along the ridge to tag the next 3 - simple. Plus my partner, HikesInGeologicTime had done these 4 earlier on when it was dry and said they were no-brainers (the return trip on Geo's part was to redo Santa Fe to remove any question about the validity of the starting point for the 1st peak on that previous trip).

So this trip was to be a boringly easy stroll that would be good only for easily inflating my peak count and staying in shape for the upcoming snowflake season. I downloaded a GPX track for Santa Fe for good measure but didn't worry about the rest.

Let this trip report serve as a caution to others: beware of taking "easy" peaks for granted. It all turned out fine but there was a little more spice than I expected on this route and now I have to go shopping for yet another pair of trekking poles...

This report will be more of a story rather than the detailed beta focused descriptions I usually write up but there will be some useful beta for anyone doing this peak group in winter conditions. That'll include a couple key points:

  • The trailhead (or lack thereof - and getting stuck)
  • A brief overview of the route (including where not to go if you want a boring stroll)

Route: Santa Fe Peak Road (starting just past Montezuma) to Santa Fe - Sullivan - Geneva - Landslide

Stats: ~12 miles; ~4k gain ~10 hours round trip (for full breakdown of times see the very end of the report).

The fun little ridge around Geneva

The Trailhead?

So first of all, there's not really a trailhead here, at least not under winter conditions. There's a very small pull off just up the road past Montezuma but the 3 or so vehicles plus a snowmobile that were there when I arrived had it pretty much full already. Having taken my Jeep on far worse looking roads when out with a 4x4 group I decided that I could surely make it uphill to the next pull off that was reportedly about a mile up the road.

Made it more like about 20 feet. Stepped out and walked up to the bend in the road. Nothing but snowmobile tracks and no signs of anything remotely suitable for a pull off anywhere near. So I decided to back up to where the few vehicles were parked and see if I could somehow squeeze in. I really do need to practice my backing skills...

Half an hour or so later I had gotten unstuck from the snowbank I backed into by using my shovel and a couple old towels to help get unstuck and get on the autosocks I should have already put on my Renegade. I managed a 20-point turnaround followed by additional maneuvering to get into a downhill position along a slightly wider part of the road above the snowmobile where I wouldn't block the road.

In retrospect I probably should have parked at the big, wide parking area off the side of the road about 0.8mi before Montezuma and just hiked the little extra distance.

The Route - Going up Santa Fe (peak #1)

So the first part of the road up to Santa Fe was packed down well enough by snowmobiles, skiers, foot traffic and some dummy with a Renegade that we didn't feel the need for snowshoes. But past the last house there were only ski tracks and we started to sink in more and more and finally decided to put on the snowshoes.

Just as we stopped to get snowshoes on Tornadoman and Jess caught up to us and decided to do the same. They got ready quicker and set out to pack the road ahead of us. Over the next couple hours or so we leapfrogged a few times and took turns packing down the trail the skiers had started.

Geo coming up with Tornadoman and Jess following behind. Road to TH goes off from center left; ski tracks off from center right.

The road goes to within about 50 feet or so of the summit but after reaching the ridge I decided to shortcut some of the snow-filled switchbacks and also ended up swinging to the right up a ridge that seemed like perhaps a more direct and easy route. Although snowshoes weren't needed for much of the route past the ridge we left them on since there was usually at least a little snow to walk and and that was easier than messing with taking them off.

The road up to Santa Fe had sometimes lots, sometimes very little snow.

Tornadoman and Jess soon caught back up to Geo and I on the summit of Santa Fe. If you ever want a good tale, ask Tornadoman to recount his Culebra trip with Brad...

Well Geo had already done the other peaks and having resolved the nagging unease about whether or not that previous summit of Santa Fe was really valid or not, decided to go back and wait in the Jeep. Tornadoman and Jess also decided they were good for the day and so it was left to me to go on solo and beta-less.

I opened my PeakFinder app to verify that I was eyeballing the right peaks and then, having no real beta beyond Geo's comment that they were easy, I set out with no GPX tracks, no route description, no photos - nothing but my trusty GAIA app and my own own two eyes to guide me (yes, I did have my InReach in the top pouch of my bag as an emergency fallback - thankfully I didn't need to use it).

Sullivan - Peak #2

So it was, as expected, an easy no-brainer to go over to Sullivan. The road continues partway there but I mostly stuck to the ridge. I think there was a snowfield in a spot or two that was stiff enough that I almost pulled out my microspikes but decided I could make do by kicking my heels into the snow for the relatively short distance that I had to cover such snow.

Looking back to Santa Fe from Sullivan.

Geneva - Peak #3, where the fun begins

Geo had warned me in advance that the drop from Sullivan to Geneva (the other ranked 13er besides Santa Fe) is a real pain.

So I basically took one quick glance to line myself up and then mostly looked at the ground in front of me so as to not have my motivation level crushed by the hundreds of feet of drop and regain ahead of me. It's not that it's really all that bad as these types of climbs go, just that with the other 3 having already decided to go back I knew it was critical to quickly push through this section so as not to be demotivated by the abrupt elevation changes.

This may have played into why I totally missed what is supposedly a very trivial trail off to the right of the peak. In my quick glance I noticed only that it was steep, rocky and with a variety of snow fields on that side so I opted to go pretty much straight up and over the ridge. The closer I got to the ridge the more my eyes started to grow a little wide and I thought to myself, "uh, I'm not so sure this is going to be a gimme peak..."

The ridge to Geneva.
I believe this is looking back along one of the the false summits before Geneva.

In fact I started to get rather uncomfortable as I noted how steep and narrow the ridge got at the top with jagged rocks sticking out at various angles from the snow coated ridgeline that was showing the first signs of what will likely develop into some wicked snow cornices later in the season (snowflakers beware!!!).

The top of the ridge looked dicey in spots as it would ripple and bend and go up and down but the steep snow covered sides didn't look too appealing either so I opted to stay pretty much on the top, or a little to one side or the other based on what seemed most stable. At a couple of spots I did a brief butt crawl, poking at the snow and testing all the rocks before committing since there were some spots where a fall could have been ugly (only got a few sample photos because I hadn't been planning or expecting going into to this to do any sort of write up).

The actual summit of Geneva was very indistinct, perhaps partly so because of all the snow building up. I made sure to stand on top of every potential high spot including cautiously stepping up on a very firm snow fin to make sure I had the summit covered. The photo below was taken in the vicinity of those potential Geneva summits (GPX tracks mark the two main spots that seemed most likely to be the high point to me).

Near the Geneva summit(s). Is that darkish line of rocks to the right the actual trail perhaps? Oh well... Landslide is ahead off to the left.
Somewhere near the Geneva summit(s) looking back over towards Grays and Torreys.

Landslide - Peak#4

So once on Geneva it didn't make sense to not go over and tag Landslide, since it was so close and had a much more trivial amount of elevation dip/regain. There was another cornice in the making that at this point was just a snow fin which was exceptionally hard on the wind blown side and located such that the terrain on the left was not passable and the terrain on the right looked likely to be deep snow.

Some critter had been leaving tracks all along the ridge including this spot and I decided to follow, keeping in mind that my body weight was surely much greater than whatever had left those tracks. But I decided that, given the angle of the ground and it's distance from the nearest drop-off that I would most likely not be in significant danger. The snow fin was very firm the whole way with just enough softness in the top quarter inch to give some traction.

On the way back though I decided it would be better to have microspikes on which I left on until at the top of the ridge on the far side of Santa Fe.

Landslide summit
The path between Landslide and Geneva.

Geneva take 2 - the close call

So having lived through the first pass over that somewhat gnarly ridge around Geneva I figured I might as well repeat the route on the way back. To put a more objective classification to it I'd say it pretty much stayed class 2, but at times highly consequential class 2, perhaps pushing a little into class 3 for a few short stints since it was steep enough that, with snowfields mixed in, it's really not a good place for a fall.

Speaking of falling... that brings me to the brief blood pumping little incident that inspired the title of this trip report. I had made it back past the Geneva summit(s) and was working my way carefully along the remainder of the ridge to where I would drop much further down to the saddle than I wanted to at that point in the day. But before I could worry about that too much I had to finish negotiating the ridge.

Everything on the ridge had proven to be very stable so far - all the way to Landslide and thus far on the way back. There was very little rock that had moved and what little had shown any movement had moved very little. So perhaps I was just complacent by the time I rested my hand on a large rock for stability as I walked along just off the side of the ridgetop.

The rock was similar in size to a microwave but shaped more like a giant arrowhead. It happened so fast that I don't recall the precise details but I'm pretty sure I had only lightly rested my hand on that rock for balance when I heard that awful sound of rock scraping on rock.

My automatic instant reaction was to try to stabilize the rock to prevent it from falling but, unlike minor little rocks I've bumped on other mountains and caught before they could fall, there was no stopping this beast. That horrible rock on rock noise declared that gravity was going to win this battle. In the second or two that it took for it to crash to the ground I barely had time enough to give up trying to stop it and just get out of the way. But one of my trekking poles got caught in its short but dramatic flight path and was snapped in half like a toothpick. I shudder to think what might have happened had my leg been in its brief flight path...

I took the photo below after my heart stopped thudding furiously and before figuring out how to safely stash the broken pieces of my trekking pole. The remainder of the hike I finished with one pole in hand and the pieces of the other one in my pack.

The arrowhead shaped rock with snow on its tip pointing towards the dirty snow is the rock that snapped my trekking pole in half.

If anyone would like to visit this flying monster arrowhead there's a waypoint called "Rock fall pole break" in the GPX tracks at the end of the report (given the adrenaline flowing through my weary body at that point that was the only name I could come up with).

The Return

Following that brief but dramatic little incident, I was still left with that overly long descent to the Geneva-Sullivan saddle, then that painfully long climb up Sullivan, then a less dramatic but still annoying drop and rise between Sullivan and Santa Fe. By this time the sun was getting much too close to the horizon. I stopped and rested on Santa Fe, and got some food and water in me but started to get worried about how rapidly my body temperature seemed to be dropping despite there only being a fairly tame breeze. I had decided not to wear some of the warmest base layers I wear in the middle of winter and was starting to regret it.

I switched to some thicker gloves with handwarmers inside and in the pockets on the back of the hand, made sure all my zips were fully sealed and decided to get moving to generate body heat. I still had layers available in my excessively heavy pack but didn't want to overheat after I got moving. But it was disturbing to think of how cold I was just then and how cold I could have quickly gotten if I had been injured by that falling microwave sized arrowhead. At which point I would have been alone on the mountain with the sun going down and potentially needing to find out if that SOS button on the InReach really works...

Fortunately my body temperature stabilized after I got moving. I reached the top of the ridge on the far side of Santa Fe with a precious minute or two of sunlight to soak in before swapping the microspikes for snowshoes. But the temperature seemed to nosedive really fast and my body temp was dropping with it so I finally busted out some of my heavy duty backup layers, stuck a headlamp in my outer chest pocket and booked it downhill.

Sunset from the top of the ridge before Sant Fe.

I quickly got plenty warm, enough to start pulling open zippers and pulling off hoods. It got pitch black well before I made it back to the Jeep and so I started singing Christmas carols to keep me from dwelling on how long of a day it seemed to have been already and how long of a trudge (though thankfully downhill) I still had to go. Geo had gotten in a nap before I got back to the Jeep and I excitedly recounted the little adventures I had after we had parted ways on Santa Fe as I shed gear and layers into the back seat. "Wow, it was an easy and boring hike when I did it," Geo said. It was upon comparing notes that I discovered that, um apparently the trail doesn't hold to the top of the ridge for Geneva...

So all in all this was a much more interesting trip than I had expected and provided some very useful reminders that I will certainly keep in mind as snowflake season approaches:

  • Don't underestimate even the "easy" peaks.
  • Do research even the "simple" routes, especially in winter.
  • Don't forget how rapidly the temperature can drop once the sun sets.
  • Do make sure you always have more layers than you think you'll need.
  • Don't try to go up snowy roads without proper traction devices already on your wheels.
  • Do stash various recovery tools in the vehicle just in case.

Of course there are plenty more that could be added to this list but these were some of the especially relevant reminders that come out of this pre-season conditioning hike.

This hike was a wake-up call that I was getting complacent about too many things and need to step up my game before going into what will hopefully be an active and successful snowflake season.

Note on the GPX file: For some reason my GAIA app barfed and totally stopped tracking once I got back to Santa Fe, thus the stats off the file will show as lesser than I reported.

My Times:

7:30am finally start after getting the Jeep unstuck, turned around and out of the way.

11:45am summit Santa Fe with Geo. Tornadoman and Jess not far behind.

12:17pm I continue solo as the others turn back.

12:42pm Sullivan summit

12:54pm Sullivan-Geneva saddle

1:41pm Geneva 2 (the furthest potential summit that I identified)

1:58pm Landslide summit

2:13pm return

2:29pm Geneva summit(s)

3:02pm Geneva-Sullivan saddle (now with one trekking pole...)

3:34pm Sullivan summit

3:58pm Santa Fe summit

4:06pm Start down from the top of the ridge

5:46pm finally back at the Jeep

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

Comments or Questions
12/07/2020 08:16
...that the easy, boring trail up Geneva might be totally covered in snow by December? Not me, that‘s who! :X

Glad you made it back all right!

Nice meeting you...
12/07/2020 14:34
Glad that the falling rock wasn't serious (except for your trekking pole). Did you eyeball a way down from Landslide directly into the valley? It seems a lot of the trip reports involve people looping those peaks and descending either straight down from Landslide/Geneva or taking a trail down Webster Pass. I don't know how that would have gone with the snow. Also- your sunset picture is really nice!


Nice writeup
12/07/2020 16:07
sdkeil and I had similar experience up there last winter. Overall a pretty easy walk, but between posthole fun lower down and negotiating Geneva, not a boring group of peaks by any means!

Snow factor
12/07/2020 19:29
Snow and winter make things harder. I expected a similar "easy 13er day" on Hassell the same day but slogged out similar conditions, steep deep snow, except got to the trailhead fine. Saw similar mix of tracks, coyote and something else. Finished after dark too. Somehow got 8th fastest strava time on a CDT segment, in snowshoes.
I keep an old doormat and towels in my car for traction in case of getting stuck.

Re: Nice meeting you...
12/07/2020 19:39
Likewise! Unfortunately, since I took an unusually lazy approach to researching this route (like hardly looking at it, which is unusual for me) it never occurred to me that I might be able to drop down and make a loop of it so I didn't get a look at that path and don't seem to have caught it in any photos. I see now that supranihilest has a trip report with GPX file from a mid-May hike in 2019. I'll have to take a closer look at that if I ever decide to snowflake these.

Re: Anna - yep, it was pretty easy overall but Geneva was the wild card I wasn't expecting. Had I looked at some of these reports ahead of time and known what was coming it probably wouldn't have been too bad but I was expecting Decalibron ho-hum-ness so it took me by surprise (of course so has Decalibron on certain days...)

Geo: yeah, me too! :-)

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