My original plan was to attempt a climb of 14er La Plata Peak. I had my gear ready to go and an early alarm. When I woke up, I checked the weather readings at the stations close to my destination. The closest stations ranged from -13F to -26F and there was still a couple more hours of darkness for the temperature to drop. It was already below 0F at my house and I'm not exactly in the coldest location in the area. The idea of spending hours in an exposed environment at those temperatures didn't sound too sane so I went back to bed with a new plan.
I decided to head east to the lower and warmer Wet Mountains. In my last blog post I wrote about a hike to Tanner Peak in the northern end of the Wet Mountains. I wanted to explore more peaks in the range and this seemed like a good opportunity.
This time my destination was Curley Peak. Curley Peak is the next summit south of Tanner Peak and the highest summit in the northern part of the range at 9600'. I was told that the views were better than Tanner Peak and trails were in better shape. Most of the hike to Curley Peak is on the warmer, eastern side of the range so I expected a pleasant hike.
There are a few ways to reach Curley Peak. I started my hike from the East Bear Trailhead on the Tanner Trail, the southern end of the trail that ultimately reaches Tanner Peak. I've also seen this called the Bear Gulch Trail. After a drive up an interesting, hairpinned dirt road with nearly sheer drops and no guardrails, I reached the trailhead a little after 10AM. This was much later than my usual start times but this wasn't a terribly long hike. It was also a balmy 18F at the trailhead, much better than the 0F at my house when I left.
The trailhead is just over 10 miles outside of Canon City. Since Canon City is usually considerably warmer than most place in Colorado, I was expecting much of the hike to be snow free. The trailhead sits around 7400', about 2000' feet above Canon City, also the same elevation of my house. While there was less snow than at my house, the shady areas along the road near the trailhead had patches of snow.
The trail started out with some interesting scenery. Right from the trailhead, the road and trail passed under large sections of cliffs. Part of the year, the cliffs are closed to climbing due to a nesting population of peregrine falcons. The trail travels through Bear Gulch for the start of the hike. Traveling through the gulch is interesting enough as it passes under the large cliffs that were visible at the trailhead the majority of its route.
|Cliffs visible from the trailhead
|Traveling beneath cliffs
|More trailside cliffs
|Snowy trail in the gulch
|First look at Sangres over snow covered trees
|A rare mostly snowfree section of trail
|Typical snow cover on the crest
|The trail passed by several meadows
|Snowier section under heavy tree cover
|Sangre views are common in the meadows
|The first summit of Curley barely visible ahead
|The first summit just barely poking above the trees
|Looking down the rocky summit toward
the trail I hiked
Just a short distance away were other summits of Curley Peak.
|Looking down the Wet Mountain Range
|The Sangres with Humboldt, Colony Baldy, Crestones,
and Kit Carson to name a few
|The Crestones framed by Humboldt
and Colony Baldy
|Pikes Peak in the distance
|View into the plains
|Cliffs of one of Curley's other summits
|Long stretch of the Sangres over the cliffs
I downclimbed the small pinnacle and headed to the other summit. Reaching the top required a little bit of class 3 climbing from the side I approached. The views were similar to the first peak. The first summit had better views to the south, this peak had better views to the north. Below I could see the cliffs that were visible from the other peak. I'm not sure which of these is the the true summit. I didn't linger too long before returning to the trail.
|Sangres north of Hayden Pass including
13ers Bushnell, Twin Sister North, and Hunts
|Southern Sawatch including Shavano naer the right
|Low mountains below Curley
My return hike followed the same route. I did manage to fall trying to walk on the strip of grass between the doubletrack. For traveling over flat terrain at the time, it was a relatively hard tumble, but nothing serious.
|One last look of the Sangres from a small outcropping
before dropping back into the gulch
Just to the left however, the sun brightly illuminated the cliffs above. As I left the most sheltered area of the gulch I could feel the temperature warm. I didn't really get back into the sun until I reached the trailhead.
|View into Bear Gulch. This picture is early afternoon and a clear day
and you can see how dark the gulch is.
|Another look at the Sangres over the cliffs of Curley
|Close up view over the cliffs