California Peak is one of Colorado's 100 highest mountains, ranked as #84. The mountain is located in the Sangre de Cristo range, near the Blanca group, with a splendid view of the Blanca Group, Mt. Lindsey, Great Sand Dunes and the Crestone peaks. The mountain is easily accessible from the trailheads in the Huerfano river valley, and is said to be the easiest thirteener in the Sangre de Cristos. I would state that Huerfano Peak is a slightly easier thirteener, although none of the mountains offer any difficulties.
Note: Class ratings are in reference to YDS (Yosemite Decimal System).
California Peak directly from upper Huerfano trailhead (summer/autumn)
For detailed and accurate description of the trailheads, please refer to the guidebooks listed above. This page will roughly describe how you get to upper Huerfano trailhead.
Exit towards Walsenburg from Interstate 25, follow Colorado 69 for approx. 25 miles to Gardner. Turn west onto a paved road towards Redwing. From this intersection, upper Huerfano trailhead is 22,3 miles away.
When the road Y-forks after 12 miles from the intersection, turn left. From here on, the road quality begins to deteroriate. Pass Singing River Ranch, Aspen River Ranch, enter San Isabel National Forest before you arrive lower Huerfano trailhead, which is identified by a "Zapata trail" sign. Continue for another mile towards upper Huerfano trailhead, where the road ends. Although it is possible for a number of passenger cars to drive all the way to the trailhead, the last section (a few miles) will feel like a 4WD road.
Note that this direct approach does not follow any trails up the mountain.
From the upper Huerfano trailhead, follow the Lily lake trail southbound. Pass the sign-in register and continue for a few minutes until you reach a large, open meadow. There is a popular campground on your left hand side, nearby the stream further to the left. From the meadow, you can see California Peak sharp up to your right (you might have to leave the trail and get out on the meadow to see the peak).
Locate a boulder ridge across the meadow, going up to the right. You need to get up on this ridge, but the best way is to go around on the back side. Cross the meadow and follow the trail to the ridge's back side. Leave the trail next to a stream crossing (might be dry) and follow the boulder upwards for a little while. Change direction gradually towards the left, and when you get onto the ridge you will see the stream from Lost Lake straight ahead, across the valley ahead of you. Maintain a good route without losing too much elevation as you cross the valley, heading towards the stream. Hike up on the stream's right hand side, on solid rock, moderately steep a few places. Then follow a grassy slope up towards Lost Lake.
As you are facing the centre of the basin, California is the peak up to your right. Head up the grassy slopes in the middle of the basin and identify a short gully (to your right) that runs up near the end of California's east ridge. A very short section of extremely loose scree must be passed on your way to the ridge foothills. There is actually a tiny trail running across the scree, but it is hard to see when you arrive from below. Stay on the left side of the gully while hiking up, if handholds are desired. The gully is not very steep, but the scree is loose. As of now, a cairn on the ridge marks the top of the gully, as the gully is difficult to see when coming down the ridge.
The reminder of the hike up the ridge is easy. You have a magnificient drop on your right hand side, and superb views from the top towards Blanca Peak and Mt. Lindsey. You will find a logbook on the summit.
Alternative routes from the basin to the top runs up a long couloir (loose scree) further up to your right, or from up the centre of the basin.
This hike wasn't supposed to happen. After days with severe headache, I felt the urge for a pain-free day. Especially after the 8 hour hike to Mt. Lindsey the day before, where the headache almost drove me insane. But as always, I change my mind when the headache disappears, so Aug 25 2002, 05:50AM, Petter Bjørstad and I left our campsite in Huerfano river valley, on our way to California Peak.
It was a magic morning in the mountains, with sparkling stars on a cloud-free sky. In short time, the sunrise wiped the stars off the sky, and we looked forward to the sun to rise above Iron Nipple, providing temperatures compatible with wearing shorts. The original plan was to follow the route described by Roach in his book, but as this was our last day, and we had to go all the way to Denver, we decided to take a shortcut. From our campsite on the meadow, we could look straight up to California Peak summit, 990m higher up.
Our campsite neighbour, Steve, had pointed out the direct route to the summit. We had little problems finding the beginning of the long boulderfield that eventually led us to Lost Lake. The sun hit the lake just as we arrived, and we could study the California Peak ridge from the basin. It was yet another unbelieavble day in the mountains. Not a cloud on the sky. We found a gully that took us directly up on the ridge, and from there on it was a simple hike along the ridge towards the summit. We arrived the summit 2 hours, 45 minutes after leaving the camp as the first visitors in over a week.
We had decided to try out some new medication, in case I got the headache again. And at 4000m, it was time to try out Dexamethasone - a steroid that is typically used for emergency care, treating shock management, allergy and spinal cord injury. Exactly what my head needed now. I ingested the pills and after a 10 minute chemical battle between the forces of good and evil, the headache was gone. Not a drug to mix with snacks and popcorn on a Saturday night, but for the first time, I could truly enjoy hiking above 4000m. After a quick rest at the summit, we took the same route down to the basin, and a new route down the forest and was back at camp, 4,5 hours after leaving it. This peak concluded our project, and we returned to Denver after breaking camp.
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