California Peak is another summit accessible from the Huerfano Creek trailhead. The hike is largely Class 1 trail and ridge walking. To make things more interesting, our suggested descent route makes this route a Class 2 hike with a trip by Lost Lake. The trailhead may be passenger car accessible, but it's better to go prepared with a higher clearance vehicle. California Peak can be paired with UN 13,577 and/or UN 13,660 for a longer day.
California Peak North Ridge Route
Medium Day // Take a Lunch
RT From Lily Lake/Huerfano Creek TH:
7.75 mi /
Please Note: During the summer of 2015, a landslide closed the road that leads to the Lily Lake Trailhead, and surrounding private property made it illegal to attempt to find another way around that landslide. Reports from summer of 2016 indicated that a temporary road was built around the landslide and vehicle access to the trailhead had resumed. It should not be assumed however, that this access will remain open. Further damage could result in closure again. It would be best to contact the Forest Service regarding road condition before planning a trip into here. Call 719-269-8500 for the Pueblo/San Carlos ranger district for more information.
From I-25, take exit #52 west and turn onto SH69 that goes through Gardner to Westcliffe. Drive to Gardner and then on the west side of the small town, the road makes a turn north. About a half mile west out of town, after the highway has made that turn north, take a left turn onto CR550, aka: The Mosca Pass Road. (If coming from Westcliffe, you will reach this intersection before arriving in Gardner.) Shortly after making this turn, a Forest Service sign indicates the Upper Huerfano TH to be 21.5 miles. In 7 miles, the road turns to graded gravel near "Red Wing." In another 4.8 miles stay left onto FS580 and enter a State Wildlife area. There appears to be not only picnic locations and vault toilets within the wildlife area, but also camping allowed. In 3.4 more miles, the road enters an area of private property with a sign indicating Forest Access. Another sign here indicates the Upper Huerfano TH to be another 5.3 miles. In .5 mile after entering the private property, stay left at the entrance to the Singing River Ranch. Remaining distances are measured from this ranch entrance. The road narrows but remains passable for 2WD. In another .8 mile, pass the entrance to the Aspen River Ranch. The road narrows more and becomes more rough. At 1.4 mile, there's a fence line and cattle guard in an open meadow area where some passenger cars have been observed parking. From the Aspen River ranch, it's 4.2 more miles to signs for the Huerfano and Zapata Trails, however, you will come to the landslide damage area before then. Continue 2 more miles to the Lily Lake TH for the upper valley summits or stop at the Huerfano TH for California Peak at these coordinates: N 37° 38' 20" W 105° 28' 16". In these last couple miles, there are at-large camping opportunities and some very limited camping room at the trailhead as well. Things are not very level at the trailhead.
Be advised that hiking to Mt. Lindsey requires one creek crossing with no bridge or log assist. Be prepared to wade and aware of the dangers of doing so in run-off season. In 2019, we hiked the entire trail to Mt. Lindsey and used the NW Ridge route. We found the trail to be steep but easy to follow all the way up to the NW ridge.
At-large campsites on National Forest land are available the last couple miles to the trailhead. Make sure you are not attempting to camp on any of the private property. There are a couple of fairly nice spots just beyond the Huerfano-Zapata TH. See coordinates below.
Huerfano Creek ›
N 37° 38' 13.43", W 105° 28' 16.50"
Year Climbed: 1986
Note: We completed this route in 1986, making California Peak one of our earliest 13ers. Since our information is rather dated, we suggest checking other sources.
The Huefano Trail west branch heads uphill through fairly dense aspen, making a few switchbacks. It then comes out onto an open meadow at about 10,750 feet elevation. There are several reports of people losing the trail and we think this meadow may be where things go wrong because on GE, the trail fades here. Once the trail enters the meadow, it heads southwest for some distance, then re-enters trees at approximately these coordinates determined from GE: N 37° 38' 23.81" W 105° 28' 39.33". Once it re-enters the trees, the trail swings back north and makes a long NNW ascent to the ridge above. It comes out near the ridge crest here: N 37° 38' 47.28" W 105° 29' 11.37", at 11,840 ft. elevation. Once you gain the ridge, turn south for the long, mostly tundra walk over multiple humps (at least 5) to the summit. Of the four 14ers, this summit has the best view of Lindsey.
For the descent, to make things more interesting, you can continue south along the summit ridge until the south and east ridge intersect. Follow the more defined east ridge down to about 13,100 feet and look for a descent route into the basin on the south side of the ridge. There are multiple chutes with rock outcrops in between to choose from. This is where you'll get into some loose talus and scree, but the drop goes quickly into the basin below. From above, you'll clearly see this basin below has a number of rock-glaciers on the south side of the basin with a nice tundra swath that descends to Lost Lake. Follow the path of least resistance to the lake. This makes a nice, isolated place to take a lunch break and cool your feet. From the lake, continue hiking downhill to the NE on steeper terrain, then veer more easterly to avoid getting onto the great rock glacier that descends off the California east face. There's a minor creek drainage coming from Lost Lake that can serve as a guide and north of the creek, but still south of the rock glacier, are some swaths through the trees that will lead almost all the way down to the road to help minimize any bushwhacking. You should come out close to the south end of the large meadow that is encountered early on when hiking the Lily Lake Trail. Once on the trail, then road, hike north back to your vehicle.
Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
Mountain Handbook ›
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