July 2019, ~6 days, 10 hours; Solo + Unsupported
The Sangre de Cristo Range is a long chain of mountains starting (going South to North) between La Veta Pass near Fort Garland, CO to Poncha Pass, near Salida, CO. It’s around 75 miles long as the crow flies. This range rises straight from the valleys that flank it without any foothills, making a very dramatic spine of mountains.
Simply put, the route follows the very crest of this range starting with ascending the Southwest Ridge route to Little Bear Peak from Highway 150/Lake Como Road and staying on the very ridge of the range until descending off of Methodist Mountain towards Salida, CO.
Dozens of peaks comprise the very spine of the range (70 – 80 peaks, depending how you count), including five fourteeners, and two Colorado centennial peaks. This spine also includes two of the Four Great Fourteener Traverses: Little Bear/Blanca, and Crestone Needle/Crestone Peak (both rated easy 5th Class). The route will thus link these two traverses together.
Many other semi-technical traverses can be found on this ridge of similar quality. Most of the route is off-trail – perhaps a few miles of trail in the total line. Talus, tundra, and forested areas will all be passed through.
The total elevation gain/loss of the route is between 50,000′ to 60,000′; the equivalent elevation gain/loss of two summits of Mt. Everest from sea level, back to back.
This map holds my route, Nick Clark and Cam Cross’s route, labels to major peaks, and all my beta notes.
Brendan Leonard and Jim Harris
The first time I ever heard of anyone trying to link the Full Sangre de Cristo Range was when reading about Brendan Leonard‘s and Jim Harris‘s trip going North to South, starting in Salida in 2013. Read their story in Backpacker. Brendan writes about trying to be the first to attempt doing the full range. After ten days, they bailed off of California Peak due to torrential downpours – the same weather system that caused massive flooding here in Boulder, CO.
In 2016, Cam Honan did a variation of this route (his trip report is here) – I don’t know his exact route, but I believe he dropped off the ridgeline near Milwaukee Peak, then traveled to the base of the range on the west side and into/across the Grand Sand Dunes National Park, before re-ascending to the ridge. I’d love to see a GPX. ~8 days. Not quite sure of the style, but he notes that Paul Mags joined him for the last push to Ellingwood/Blanca Peak. I don’t believe the Blanca/Little Bear Traverse was done.
Nick Clark and Cam Cross
In 2018 Nick Clark and Cam Cross completed the first (known/documented) traverse from Lake Como, to the TH for Methodist Mountain (starting with Little Bear Peak, and doing the Little Bear/Blanca traverse) staying pretty much on the ridgeline the entire time (except to source water), in about four days, 11 hours. Their trip report is worth a read.
They noted having a few food/water caches along the way. Researching their track, it does seem they missed a few minor peaks, but stayed generally on the very crest of the spine of the mountains, including the two 14er traverses. Nick describes their line as such:
hike, climb and maybe jog a little from Lake Como to Methodist Mountain in as expeditious a manner as possible, while staying on the range’s central ridge for as much of the route as feasible and/or practical.
Among other things, Nick writes about terrible blowdown in some areas below treeline, highlighting that the cruxes aren’t just what’s found on the high peaks and knife edge ridgelines.
I went solo and unsupported, packing all the food I needed for the entire trip with me from the start and only sourcing water either from lingering snowfields I found along the way, or from creeks/lakes if I needed to drop off the ridgeline itself. The north side of the range is more difficult to source water from, than the (higher elevation on average) south side.
I brought enough food for about five days – about 4750 calories/day, although I was out for over six.
I am attracted to the purity of going unsupported, as well as its simplicity. I also am enamored by how committed you are required to be, knowing that there is no relief to be had in the form of an awaiting bag of food/supplies, as well as the planning that needs to be done to put together a kit that will get you through this type of route.
I certainly believe I can do this all without food caches, and in this time frame – but only barely. Five days of food – around 4,000 – 5,000 calories a day weighs quite a bit (around 13lbs), and my pace will suffer greatly from that – especially at the start, no matter what else I bring with me when it comes to gear.
The Mosquito/Tenmile Range Traverse that I did in 2018 would be the most similar trip in Colorado to the Sangres Range Traverse, although the former was shorter at 81 miles, had less elevation gain at 29,000’+ and took me less time: 3 days, 19 hours. Mosquito/Tenmile though, stays at a higher average elevation (maybe 1,000 feet higher on-average, roughly).
The Sangres Range Traverse differs greatly in the Nolans 14 linkup, as dropping down into the valley with its relative safety and copious water sources just won’t happen in any part of the line.
I anticipated my pace to be around 20 miles/day, and gradually get faster as the weight of my pack gets lighter. I don’t anticipate that I can beat Nick/Cam’s time, but I can get close.