HUERFANO — No, this is not an article pertaining to Colorado’s recently passed legislation legalizing the use of marijuana. Rather, this article focuses on a way to get “high” on foot. Being above tree line in the southern Rockies is exhilarating. Breathtaking views, alpine wildflowers, elk and bighorn sheep are but a small taste of what one will experience in this part of Colorado. Plus, few or no people! But getting there on foot can be a long hard trek. So are there any shortcuts or should one throw in the towel and jump in a Jeep? The answer is yes, well sort of. Here in Huerfano County, we can boast of a few but amazing 14ers (14,000 foot peaks), several great 13ers, and numerous other high mountain peaks, to climb. But there are limited ways for hikers to access this alpine wonderland. So this writer is about to share with you a way to get high pretty fast, but it will take a bit of work. From La Veta take Highway 12 about 12 miles south to the village of Cuchara. One might want to stop to shop in Cuchara and to enjoy a nice beer and pizza at the Dog Bar (yes poochie is allowed on the outside dining deck, with a leash). But do this on the way back down Hwy 12. From Cuchara continue south another three miles to the Cuchara River Recreation Area
and take a right. Holding off on the urge to picnic and fish, follow this United States National Forest Road #422 for approximately three miles to USFS Road #413 and take a left. (Note there is a blind curve above this road so be careful before making the left and look for oncoming vehicles.) Road #413 is rough, but it is accessible with a two-wheel drive vehicle. The higher the clearance the better and the fewer oil pans left on the road. Follow USFS Road #413 for just over one mile to where it dead ends. Along this one-mile stretch, one will spot several of what the USFS calls ‘dispersed campsites.’ These campsites have no water, facilities or improvements, so they are free. Thus it is crucial that campers come prepared to be self-contained and haul out all waste. Park where USFS Road #413 dead ends. Keep in mind that you are about to hike on an unofficial USFS trail. That is, this trail does not appear on most maps and has no official name or number. It is not maintained by the USFS, but this writer can state that somebody has recently been undertaking some nice, albeit limited, trail maintenance. As one faces the end of the dead end road (basically west) you will see a tributary of the Cuchara River flowing to the north. Hike down to the river, cross it using a few well-placed logs that are there (one at a time please, for safety) and then turn left or south. One will spot a trail, running basically north and south, just beyond the river. Follow its steep incline to the south (left) for about a half mile, keeping an eye out for another tributary of the Cuchara River coming in from the west (your right). On this part of the trail, from the road, one will enjoy a variety of wildflowers which include columbines (our State Flower, so do not pick, or else), heart- leafed arnica, chiming bells and angelica all along the creek. You are now past the part of the trail with the most mud (wear hiking boots!) and obstacles. Heading up a fairly steep incline to the west, the trail stays mainly to the right side of the drainage. The grand prize is just a short quarter mile up as one reaches tree line around 11,500 feet, with the ridge top a bit higher at 12,080 feet. Your goal, the 12,630 foot peak immediately to the south is unnamed. Feel free to give it a name that you see fit. Soon the main trail fizzles out a bit as one reaches the fragile alpine tundra. As noted, the tundra is fragile. It can take hundreds of years to grow back when damaged by hikers. So try to stick to a rock trail or to an obvious main trail as much as possible. Continue west up to the ridgeline of the Culebra Range of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. You have made it! You are now atop another of the several unnamed peaks in the Culebra range. From here one can see Trinchera Peak to the south and Teddy’s Peak (named after President Theodore Roosevelt) to the north. Time to frolic in the alpine among wildflowers and vistas. Keep an eye peeled for elk and bighorn sheep. Or rest, lie down to watch clouds, and bask in the sun (that, without sunscreen, will fry you to a crisp). You did it! Be smart and get back below tree line by noon, because lightning hurts! So now, keeping in mind that this is an unofficial trail, pack all of your stuff out so as to minimize your impact. The next visitors will thank you. Editor’s note: Aside from the USFS San Isabel National Forest map, hikers should carry the following topo map: Trinchera Peak. Total elevation gain to the ridge line is approximately 1,300 feet over 1.5 miles. I rate this short hike as moderate due to the rough trail caused by downfall and no official USFS maintenance.