Rito Alto Peak
Rito Alto Peak
From Hermit Pass, Rito Alto Peak is a Class 2, moderately rocky ascent that can be done quite quickly. The trick is getting to Hermit Pass. The road was once in very good condition, but is now a rocky, slow affair REQUIRING 4WD. To make the hike more sporting, we suggest parking along the Hermit Pass Road on a tight switchback just above Horseshoe Lake, but even driving to here will still be a chore.
Rito Alto SE Ridge Route
Short Day // A Wee Little Climb
RT From Hermit Pass Road:
4.6 mi /
From the Town of Westcliffe and the intersection of Highways 69 and 96, drive south on 69 a few blocks (about .3 mile) and turn west onto Hermit Road (CR160). Drive 6 miles to an intersection where you should stay left. From this point, it's about 9 miles to the summit of Hermit Pass if you can make it. The road quickly becomes a rough 2WD for the next 1.25 miles and then degrades even more to 4WD, high clearance advisable, if not required. The higher you go on this road, the rockier it becomes with a section or two near and above tree line that crosses through talus slopes of rubble. For our suggested climb of Spread Eagle and Peak of the Clouds, park at the coordinates provided which will be a wider spot in the road at about 11,970 ft. elevation and directly below a saddle to the north that lies between Pt. 12818 and Pt. 12,671. There will be a few remaining trees here. Additional parking can be found just a little farther at the tight turn at 12,060 overlooking Horseshoe Lake. The highest we have ever made it is another saddle at 12,620 ft., just west of Pt. 12,818 and about .6 mile east of the pass.
A little history here: In November of 1989, we drove this road to climb Rito Alto and found the road to be in surprisingly good shape. We breezed right up it. We returned in 1996 to find that it had degraded some, but still managed to drive it with no problems in a Jeep Cherokee Sport. Our next visit to here was not until 2009 - 13 years later. In that time, the road had degraded extensively. It had become a very slow seven miles of driving on what seemed like endless rock of varying sizes. That same trip, we also drove the South Colony Lake Road all the way to its end. Between that road and the Hermit Pass road, we had to replace the complete set of shocks on our Toyota T-100! Those two roads had wiped them out. Moral of this story - drive this road at your own risk. It grants access to a large number of 13ers, but you'll have to decide if the potential price is worth it.
Once the Hermit Pass Road gets onto national forest land, there are several primitive, campsite locations all along the drive up, especially at the lower elevations. The nearest designated campground with facilities is the Alvarado CG a little further to the south out of Westcliffe. On weekends, because of close proximity to the Front Range, competition for campsites makes it more difficult to find an open spot.
Click thumbnail to view full-size photo + caption
Year Climbed: 1989
From the suggested vehicle park on the switchback overlooking Horseshoe Lake at 12,060 ft., continue walking up the Hermit Pass road. The road makes several switchbacks as it ascends up the south flank of the mountainside through largely tundra terrain. It then swings back west passing below Pt. 12,818. Just west of that point is a saddle where a couple of vehicles can be parked if you've dared (or had the patience) to drive this far. From that saddle, the road turns more SW as it ascends to Hermit Pass on a final set of switchbacks. We have found this last section to be blocked by snowbanks well into July.
Once at Hermit Pass, Rito Alto lies to the NW. It's a simple plan to just follow the ridge NW to the summit. There may be some faint trail, but it's not much needed. Just follow the ridge. The terrain is a mix of sparse tundra with lots of embedded rock, tilted at times and fractured into layers. At times, it becomes a little rubbly. It's not the easiest walking but there are no obstacles. When the ridge reaches about 13,600 feet, the angle tapers for the summit stretch, still to the north a short distance. Being the highest summit around for some distance, Rito Alto offers some outstanding views of the central portion of the Sangre de Cristo Range. You can gaze down upon Rito Alto Lake and the large tundra basin SW of the summit that leads down to the lake. It's also easily possible to continue north on the ridge from Rito Alto to "Peak of the Clouds" and even Spread Eagle Peak. If not continuing on to those, then return as you came. You may want to check out our route for Hermit Peak and Eureka Mtn, south of Hermit Pass. These could also be easily included in a day hike from Hermit Pass.
Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
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Rito Alto Peak
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