photo- California Peak by Zach Taylor 2015
13,849' California Peak
3/29/15

Ascent Route: north ridge

Descent Route: east face

Members of Group: Stuart Paul, Zach Taylor, and Rocco the Dog
     California Peak is a centennial 13er in the Sangre de Cristo range of southern Colorado.  It's distance from population centers and lack of the magic 14,000' elevation ensure that it sees little traffic.  California sits in the upper Huerfano drainage just adjacent to 14ers, Blanca and Lindsey, and its sister centennial Huerfano. 
     I first stumbled upon the idea of snowboarding the east face of California when I was looking over maps of centennials last year.  I noticed a big face dropping over 3,000 vertical feet directly off the summit to the east.  From a map it looked like a rad descent.  I began doing research into the descent and there was almost no information on the internet.  The only account I could find of the face being skied was by the centennial skiers at http://centennialskiers.com/31-california-peak-13849-ft/ .  I was intrigued by the shape of the line on a topo and by its relative obscurity in the ski and snowboard mountaineering world.  Riding the east face of California went on my short list that day.
      Fast forward to mid-March the next year and I was on spring break from school with the Sangres looking to have some maturing snow cycles and good corn.  My friend Stuart, his dog Rocco, and I decided to head down to the Sangres and harvest some corn while the corn harvesting was good.
       It was a bit early in the spring and neither of us had been out in the Sangres yet this year to see exactly what the snow was doing so we decided to ride a less committing line on Humboldt first.  After finding stable spring snow conditions on Humboldt we traveled to the Huerfano Valley to have a go at California.
     We drove as far up the Huerfano Valley road as we could until we hit enough snow to block our progress by car.  We geared up and skinned up the road for a few miles to find a good basecamp for the evening.
photo- View of Blanca from the Huerfano Valley.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2015.
photo- Stuart and Rocco skinning up the Huerfano Valley road.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2015.
     We found a nice patch of ground to camp on just below the Zapata trailhead where we would access the north ridge for our ascent the next day.  It was a beautiful evening and we watched the sunset over the high peaks of the valley while enjoying some good micro brewed beer.
photo- A picture of my tent in the Huerfano Valley.  Photo by Zach Taylor, 2015.
     The north ridge is the standard way to hike California in summer and we thought it would probably be the easiest way to get up California and access the east face in the spring too.  The ridge also afforded great views of the Sangres and the Sand Dunes.  It was a beautiful sunny day albeit a bit windy and we enjoyed the expansive views from the ridge.

     We got up well before dawn and began skinning up the road.  We turned off the road at the Zapata/lower Huerfano trailhead and began bushwacking west to gain the north ridge of California.  We lost the trail pretty quickly as we were in and out of snow but with a few compass bearings and some persistence in pushing through dense brush we were able to get up to an avalanche path that gave pretty easy access to the saddle between California and the peak just to its north.  The skin up the avalanche path at sunrise was spectacular.
photo- Stuart Paul skinning up the gully to gain the north ridge of California.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2015.
photo- Stuart Paul skinning on the north ridge of California Peak.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2015.
photo- A great view of the Crestones.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2015.
     Our line came into view as we made our way farther up the ridge and it looked quite intimidating from our vantage.
photo- The east face of California Peak.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2015.
     After a few hours of skinning/hiking up the broad, easy ridge we stepped onto the summit and looked out a beautiful 360 degree panorama of the snow covered Sangres.  I have spent less time in this range than most others in Colorado and seeing it on a beautiful, sunny, snow-covered March day was quite a treat.  
photo- Blanca and Little Bear viewed from the summit of California Peak.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2015.
photo- Views of Mt. Lindsey and the Sangres from California Peak.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2015.
photo- Zach Taylor enjoying the summit of Califonia Peak.  photo by Stuart Paul, 2015. 
     The morning was warming and before long it was time to figure our way down onto the face.  On a heavier year it may be possible to enter the face directly off the summit but the top 40 meters or so was dry when we were up there so I downhill skinned over rocks (ethics..blah) and Stuart more smartly probably took off his board and walked about 40 meters down the ridge to find a snow covered entrance to the face.  Looking down we were pretty stoked on our line.  The entrance was maybe 45 degrees and the rest of the face looked to be high 30s to low 40s.  A nice, fun pitch that was not overly intimidating for us.
     We had seen light snow and some wind a few days prior and our entrance had a pregnant looking windslab that was probably 10 meters across by 5 meters long.  Just big enough to send one of us for a tumble if it ripped out.  I very carefully dug my axe into the solid snow at the top of the ridgeline above the windslab, pivoted out onto the windslab and hopped onto the windslab self belaying myself with my axe.  I hopped a couple times and sure enough the wind slab ripped out and cleared a safe path out onto the face for us.  I dropped in making a couple steepish jump turns before the face opened up and the pitch mellowed.  Then I opened up my turns and enjoyed the great snow on the face.  Stuart dropped in behind me with Rocco and we leap frogged each other down the face.
photo- Zach Taylor kicking off a windslab before descending the east face of California.  photo by Stuart Paul, 2015.
photo- Zach Taylor dropping in the east face of California Peak.  photo by Stuart Paul, 2015.
photo- Zach Taylor and Rocco descending the east face of California Peak.  photo by Stuart Paul, 2015.
photo- A look at the east face of California Peak.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2015.
photo- Rocco the dog running down the east face of California Peak.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2015.
photo- The Sangres and Mt. Lindsey.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2015.
photo- Stuart Paul riding the east face of California Peak.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2015.
photo- Zach Taylor descending the east face of California Peak.  photo by Stuart Paul, 2015.
photo- Beautiful views of the Sangres.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2015.
photo- Stuart and Rocco at the bottom of the east face of California.  photo by Zach Taylor. 2015.
     The snow was a bit firm at the top and transitioned to corn pretty quickly.  The views and big terrain were awesome and we really enjoyed this descent all the way down to the valley floor.  We popped out on the snow covered Huerfano Valley road between where the upper and lower Huerfano trailheads are in the summer.  Tired and happy we skated back down the road to our car.  It was a great couple days of snowboard mountaineering in the Sangre de Cristo range. 
photo- Views of the Huerfano Valley on the way out.  photo by Zach Taylor, 2015.
photo- Looking out over the Huerfano Valley.  photo by Stuart Paul, 2015.