California Peak

one of the 100 highest peaks in Colorado

California Peak
This photo of California Peak was taken while climbing to Mt. Lindsey
(California Peak is that dark peak in the center)

California Peak is located along the spine of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains directly north of Mt. Blanca. Access from the west is through the Zapata Ranch subdivision, a gated community, or up the hill from Zapata Falls. Access from the east is from the Upper Huerfano Valley via the Zapata Trail or via Lily Lake. Bill and I chose to climb the Zapata Trail, which leaves the valley about a mile north of the trailheads for Mt. Lindsey, Mt. Blanca and Lily Lake.

The trail starts off pretty steep up through some heavy timber, crossing several small creeks as it goes. Up about a mile it levels out in a beautiful meadow. Here you go through a gate in the barbed wire fence and almost immediately lose the trail. There are markers (cairns) but they are few and far between. On our descent we followed the trail easily and found exactly where we lost it on the way up. We entered the meadow and headed south onto a small rock pile and couldn't see any more markers. If we had continued south for another fifty yards or so we'd have found the trail easily but we didn't. Instead we headed out into what looked like an easy sloping meadow to the northwest and headed straight for the saddle we could see on the ridge above. Miscellaneous overgrown jeep trails in the area were not helpful. We ended up bushwhacking another mile up the hill into a large area of blowdown and spent a lot of energy climbing through the tangled fallen tree trunks. However, at the top of the blowdown we found the real trail and followed it up onto the saddle on the ridge. At the crest of the ridge we found a sign marking the boundary of the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area. From this point, the Zapata Trail continued on over the ridge and down. We turned south and went up a reasonably easy grass slope.

As we went up, the grass gave way in spots to bowls of talus. The view to the northwest was out over the Great Sand Dunes, Kit Carson Mountain and the Crestones rising behind. We were watching clouds forming below us on the west side and blowing up and over us, only to clear the ridge and dissipate again on the east side.

California Peak
California Peak from the San Luis Valley

It was a different climb. We would come over a knoll only to descend for 200 feet and climb 300 feet up another knoll. Most of the way we were kept company by the dropoff immediately to the east of us. At times we contoured west to go around a knoll or two but that edge was with us almost all the way to the summit. The problem: which knoll is the summit? Finally we reached a place where there was only rock above us and no vegetation. We traversed to the west, actually spiralling upwards towards what turned out to be California Peak itself, finally. You'll know that you are there because it is more stark with looser material than anything else around. There is a summit cairn and the register is kept by the Republic of Texas Mountaineering Club. We signed, had lunch, took pictures of the surroundings and headed back down. I think it's about 8 miles roundtrip and we were 7 hours. Up on the ridge the wind just blows, so be prepared.

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where we lost the trail
The meadow where we lost the trail
the saddle on the ridge
The saddle on the ridge
looking southeast
Looking southeast towards the Iron Nipple and Mt. Lindsey
the Great Sand Dunes to the north
The view north from the crest of the ridge
Nipple Creek
The creek in the center is along the trail leading to Mt. Lindsey and Huerfano Peak
Blanca Peak
Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point at the top of the photo
Blanca's north face
A close-up of Blanca's north face
Iron Nipple
The Iron Nipple with Mt. Lindsey behind
the cirque to the west
The cirque to the west with Zapata Ranch below on the valley floor
looking east
The view east across Huerfano Valley to Greenhorn Mountain
Blanca, Ellingwood, Little Bear
Blanca, Ellingwood and Little Bear from the summit
Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks from the summit
California Peak area mapComo LakeComo Lake RoadSierra BlancaZapata Falls National Recreation AreaTraversesMount LindseyLittle Bear PeakBlanca PeakEllingwood Point
California Peak area map logo
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Map courtesy of National Geographic Topo!
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