Hiker Box hiked the Wind River High Route this summer, as did a few other hiker friends, and after talking about how I’d probably hate it (too much talus), I said, “I just want a long high route that has a bunch of wide open rolling ridges!” Well, it turns out that what I want is apparently to hike the CDT again, but in the meantime HB suggested a trip to the Sangre de Cristo range. He spent five days on the crest with Guthook last summer, and suggested that we hike along the ridge to the north of where his last trip was.
We both looked at the ridge on Caltopo and picked out a chunk that looked do-able. Based on the topo map we figured it would be decently wide. I pointed out one or two spots where I thought it’d get narrow– but it didn’t look too narrow, plus we figured that if it got too sketchy for me we would just bail off the ridge and hike along some trails instead.
Labor Day weekend was the perfect weekend for this. Heading down to the Sangres, we had less traffic than if we’d been going west on I-70. HB’s friend Parker and his friends Andy and Michelle joined us for this trip. This was going to be a pretty short trip, mileage-wise, and we only had about 6 or 7 miles to hike in to where we planned to camp, so we took it pretty easy and took lots of breaks, including one great stop where HB, Parker, and I helped out a woman who was doing some trail maintenance. She had her dog with her so I made sure to get in a lot of puppy time.
We set up camp near the start of the climb up to the ridge and hung out in the meadow until the sun went down and it was cold. HB and I usually backpack with just the two of us, sometimes with Mags, or solo, and so it was fun to be out with a group. We all swapped jokes and adventure stories and spent a lot of time talking about ski season (SOON!).
Our tent was super cozy and warm all night and we didn’t have a very big day planned so we got to laze around a bit. We all took our time eating breakfast, drinking coffee, and packing up before we headed towards the pass. This first mile or so was on trail, nicely switchbacked, and HB took the lead. A few switchbacks from the top of the pass, we stopped to regroup and headed off-trail towards the ridge, traversing below a pretty big rocky hump in order to avoid some extra up-and-down.
We had a bit of rocky terrain in this first little stretch of the ridge but overall it was nice and grassy and not too challenging for me. There were a few spots where I had to slow way down, but nothing scary. We hit the saddle and hiked up to the next lump on the ridge. I looked back and was pretty surprised… from this vantage point, the ridge looked a lot more imposing than it actually had been! HB has been insisting that most of the time, jaggedy ridges look a lot scarier from far away, and it turns out he was right.
We looked ahead to where we could see one of the 13ers that we’d be summitting… And immediately I got nervous. Uh-oh. This one looked pretty scary. The ridge was very rocky and jagged and there was a sharp drop-off to the east. HB and I looked around and identified a couple potential bail-out points in case we got there and it was too much for me. But first we did have to navigate some more rocky ridge. There was a little bit of exposure and scrambling here but again, nothing overwhelming. I was nervous on a few sections but I took my time and HB stayed just ahead of me for the few spots where I wanted someone to hold my hand.
At the saddle before the big climb the five of us talked about the route. Andy described it as “child’s play.” For someone who has no problem with super exposed routes and class 4, it sure was! I was definitely intimidated, but he and Michelle were pretty adamant that I’d be able to get through it all right. So we went for it!
Andy took the lead, and I followed right behind him, with HB behind me and Michelle and Parker taking up the rear. Andy easily picked out a good route and suggested that I try to stay on top of the ridge, rather than dropping down to my left where I could ignore the exposure. I was able to stay up there for most of the ridge, which was wider than it looked from afar, and only dropped down once my legs started to shake. And suddenly we were at the top of the peak! Woah!
I really couldn’t believe that I’d made it up there! I was really grateful to Andy and Michelle and Parker for the peer pressure. I know that if it had just been me and HB, we would have turned back without trying it. HB is great about helping me push my limits very gently but every once in a while you need someone to give you a harder shove. The exposure was definitely scary but I just kept telling myself that I know how to walk, and I wasn’t going to suddenly fall sideways off the mountain for no reason. (I also developed some great fear goggles and just blocked the steep drop-off from my brain. Pretending it wasn’t there helped a lot, too!)
We took a few photos at the summit and then headed down. Fortunately the rest of the ridge didn’t look quite as intimidating. There was still a lot of talus ahead, on our next big climb, but the ridge looked a LOT wider so it wasn’t as nerve-wracking to look at. All of the scary stuff was also easily bypassed by hiking slightly below the crest of the ridge, too– but I made myself stay up on top to give myself more “exposure therapy.”
When we reached the last hump on the ridge before we intersected trail again, we stopped for a quick snack break, and discussed the rest of the plan. HB and I had proposed that we hike the ridge to the trail over the pass, and follow the trail down into the valley where we would camp. The next day would involve hiking trails over two passes if we did that. After a discussion we decided to continue the off-trail adventure in order to skip one of the big climbs. But first, there was a 13er just north of us on the ridge that everyone wanted to bag. We dropped our packs and set out. I got about 1/3 of the way there and realized I was very tired, so I turned around and went back to wait with our packs and enjoy some solitary reading time.
Eventually everyone else returned from the peak and we plotted our escape route. We hiked on the ridge for a short ways and then dropped off the side and followed a grassy ramp down into the basin where we were planning to camp. From below, the route we followed looked almost impossible.
We had another great night camping. Again, it got pretty chilly, but we were cozy in our tent. In the morning we were packed up a little more quickly, and soon set off to push our way through some willows in order to intersect the trail we’d follow for the rest of the day. Once we were through the willows, it was smooth sailing. I saw five marmots as we hiked up and over the pass. On the other side of the pass, back in the basin where we’d camped the first night, the aspen leaves were already much more yellow than they’d been two days before! We cruised down back to the trailhead, and celebrated with a freezing-cold brief swim in the creek by the parking lot. Successful scrambling trip!