The far northern Sangre de Cristo Mountains, from Hayden Pass north to the range’s terminus near Poncha Springs, are quiet. It’s probably due to the fact that there are only a few low 13ers and no other high, prominent peaks to draw the attention of the Colorado mountain crowd, especially when there are so many taller mountains nearby.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth exploring. As we have continually driven past them en route to other destinations further south, near Westcliffe, we finally decided to look at the area.
A quick glance at the map shows some interesting valleys and high alpine lakes on the range’s east side, accessed via the Arkansas River Valley south of Salida. The west side south of Poncha Pass seems steep and direct, with few obvious trails or places to set up a camp for the weekend.
Of the available mountains, we were drawn to Bushnell Peak, 13,105 ft., which coincidentally had a nice trail and several alpine lakes by the same name that filled the valley below to the east. We drove to Salida and then up the Hayden Pass road to the Rainbow Trailhead and hiked in.
After a five-mile hike along the Rainbow Trail and then the Bushnell Lakes Trail, we reached the first of the three Bushnell Lakes and set up camp. It’s a pretty spot. The following morning we followed a faint trail further up the valley, eventually going cross-country up to the east ridge of South Twin Sister.
Now on the main spine of the northern Sangres, we hiked up grass and rocks to the summit of Bushnell Peak.
The following morning we followed the same approach to the main ridge but headed north to the North Twin Sister. From there, we forged a new path to camp via the Stout Lakes Trail. It was a proper off-trail challenge in spots to connect the two drainages, but it allowed us to see a new valley and set of lakes. After all, part of our decision to visit this area was because we hadn’t been here before, and the Stout Lakes detour did just that.
After two nights and a few new summits, we packed up and headed out. We’ll probably return later to climb Red Mountain and Hunts Peak, two other 13ers north of Bushnell that we thought warranted another visit. We’ll see.