14er Ski Descents – Culebra Peak – March 9, 2008
Route: Northwest Ridge
Team: Christy, Ted, Jordan White, Frank Konsella, Brittany Walker
There are some things that all players in the 14er game must eventually confront. Sooner or later, anyone serious about finishing them, in any season or style, must pay a visit to Culebra Peak (pun)— the peak that resides entirely on a private ranch.
Often left until the end, the long drive, required reservation and entrance fee ($100 in summer) make it an easy trip to put off. For many, it’s only when it has become one of the last peaks left to do that you suddenly deem its cost and travel worthwhile. Once you realize it’s time to write this chapter of the story, the next step is to find others like you, so as to fill out the group to its required minimum size, and you put a team together and plan the day. That is, for a summer trip.
Winter access isn’t allowed, due to liability concerns, except in special circumstances, and for that you’ll have to contact the ranch and ask, or beg, for permission. So with the names of five fairly eager, if not desperate skiers in mind, Frank Konsella contacted the ranch, in November. Initially denied, then reconsidered and ultimately granted, it was a good thing he opened up the dialogue when he did, because it took nearly four months to get it all set.
After considerable second guessing over weather issues, we all met in San Luis. Between the five of us we had an estimated 180+ 14er ski descents, Brittany and Christy are frontrunners in the womens category and Frank and I are near the lead for next to finish too, and with several of the group meeting for the first time, there was a feeling that a cool team was being assembled.
I can’t say this day was particularly smooth though. We met Carlos, the ranch manager, at the gate early and from there took snowmobiles to the HQ, paid the $250 winter fee and reviewed a few things. After shelling out five bills– what a great boyfriend Christy has– for the day, the rookie sledneck that I am got the sled stuck in a hole from which we all had to help get it out. Further up the road, it rolled over while traversing a side hill. Sometimes I just don’t get along with those things.
Once the sleds were behind us we cruised up towards the long Northwest Ridge. The lower slopes were well covered for skiing and the weather was great, but as we got higher, it slowly took a turn. Reaching a slick spot that was tough to skin we put on our crampons, and Christy, while in transition, mistakenly put hers down in a bad spot and they disappeared down the mountain. That could have been the end of the day on some mountains, but luckily the terrain from here was mellow so she would just follow our steps. The next blow came in the weather, which had been deteriorating and was now a complete whiteout. We pushed on, following the ridge, walking on the scree covered snow, and in a short while we were on the summit. After a quick look around we could find no alternate ski line, we were forced to ski down our rocky ascent route. What a bummer.
After thoroughly trashing our skis on the rocks, and with occasional consultations with the GPS, we were back at the top of the lower slope, and skiing to the sleds. After adjusting to the vertigo due to the bad visibility, we descended out of the clouds and found the long finish to be really fun powder skiing. Some redemption was had.
We all said farewell to Carlos and hightailed it back to town. To Jordan, Brittany and Frank— sorry we had to bail on beers afterwards. We had to get going, Culebra is a long way from home.
Well at least that was done- now I could focus all my efforts on #54- Capitol.