A relatively easy Class 2 summit that can be completed as a day hike from the Zapata Falls TH or add in Twin Peaks, UN13,660 and California Peak for a two or three day backpack and enjoy a remote, Sangre de Cristo valley. As a day hike, UN13,660 and California Peak could still be completed along with UN13,577, but that pairing might be best done from Huerfano Creek. The South Zapata Creek TH can be reached by passenger vehicles.
Directions: If coming from I-25 and Walsenburg, on US160, about 6 miles west of Blanca turn north on SH150 and travel about 10.8 miles to BLM road 5415; turn east and travel another 3.6 miles on a graded, gravel road to the trailhead. The road makes five switchbacks lower down, then farther up the hillside, switchbacks two more times before arriving at the trailhead/campground.
To reach the road to the trailhead from the Great Sand Dunes National Park, travel about 6.1 miles southwest on Highway 150 from the visitor center to an intersection. Veer left. Do not turn west onto County Road 6N. Continue south on CO150 another 2.8 miles to the turnoff on the left for BLM 5415 to the Zapata Falls Trailhead and Campground as described above.
If coming from the north and US 285, follow US 285 south to Poncha Pass and continue south to Villa Grove. Five miles south of Villa Grove, turn off to the left onto SH17, which is the more direct route to Alamosa. It's 30 miles to Hooper (you may nearly miss this little town) and from Hooper, continue south another 6 miles to County Road 6N where you will turn left (east). Drive 16.4 miles east to where 6N intersects with SH150. Turn right (south) and go 2.8 miles to the turnoff on the left for BLM 5415 as described above. Follow it 3.6 miles to the trailhead/campground. There is a separate parking area for day-use and backpackers on a short loop. There is picnicking as well and vault toilets. The campground does not have water but does have vault toilets. It is first come, first served. There are 23 sites available and it appears most can accommodate trailer units of various types. Here's a link to more info: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recare...
The South Zapata trail #852 is 4.8 miles long. It begins at the end of BLM Road 5415 (the Zapata Falls road) and ends at South Zapata Lake.
To view the falls, hike one-half mile from the trailhead to Zapata Creek, going up an old roadbed and wade upstream into the narrow cave to view the falls. The 30 foot high waterfall cascades within a narrow chasm. Watch for falling rocks. The water is swift and deep in early summer. When you first arrive where the canyon narrows up and would have to wade in, there is a trail that gains the ridge on the right, above the falls for viewing. That trail immediately forks. The left takes you to the viewing area. The right fork gets you to the main Zapata Lake trail. In 1995, there were no clear signs as to where the South Zapata Lake trail began. We followed the viewing trail up onto the ridge, then had to cut south a little to pick up the Zapata Lake trail.
The trail proceeds from the waterfall up South Zapata Creek to South Zapata Lake. A little above the falls, the trail crosses the stream. Again, in 1995, there was a very large log fallen across the stream and a significant height above the water. If the log is still there, you can try using it. If not, you'll have to wade unless the Forest Service has place in a bridge of some kind. The trail is steep in many places. About 2.25 miles up the trail, North Fork South Zapata Creek Trail #868 begins. This trail does not show on the Trails Illustrated map.
The trail is open for the following uses: Horseback riding, hiking, and backpacking.
There is a designated National Forest campground at the trail head. Fee required. This is a relatively new campground and will not appear on older maps.
Be sure and visit Zapata Falls either before beginning your hike or after completing it. Above the falls, the trail will cross S. Zapata Ck. In 1995, when we visited here, there was no way to cross except on a fallen tree, suspended up to 15' above the creek or, wade across. The trail then climbed steeply, gaining a small ridge which it followed for a while. The trail then continues contouring up the valley on the east side, crossing below some cliffs and two minor drainages. (About 2.25 miles up the trail, another trail turns off to the east #868) for the north fork of Zapata Creek where there is a small, unnamed lake.) The trail to South Zapata Lake stays well above the valley bottom. At about 11,360, the trail crosses to the other side of the creek. There was a nice, primitive campsite near here, if packing in, (about 3.6 miles) before the trail crosses to the west side of the creek. If you like the cover of trees, this is the best place to camp. Up at the lake, there are only willows for cover or windbreak. Or, continue on to Zapata Lake. The trail is mostly forested until about 3/4 mile below the lake. As you approach the lake, there will be willows. There are no sheltering trees at the lake. Suitable camping sites are limited, for the most part toward the northwest side of the lake as you approach on the trail. When we visited here in late June of 1995 (preceded by a heavy snow winter), everything around the lake was still covered in snow. Another camping possibility will come at 11,800 ft. as you exit the last large stand of trees and before you reach the final smaller group of trees a little north of the lake. We're providing some coordinates for this possible location but did not actually utilize this spot and are relying strictly on GE view & data, so this location may not work out. N 37° 35' 52.49" W 105° 30' 46.44".
Some primitive sites as mentioned before in the upper basin. There's not any good camping above the lake.
The route we chose for the most part followed that suggested in G&M, except that now, with the demotion of Pt. 13,660 to unranked status and the promotion of Pt. 13,656 to ranked status, the distance you need to ridge walk has been shortened. If camped below and north of S. Zapata Lake, walk on up to the lake on the trail, then work around the east side of the lake and continue up valley along a smaller stream that empties into the lake on this SE side. Avoid the tongue of a huge rock glacier coming from the SW and follow sparse tundra, talus and perhaps snow upward in a SE direction for a while (quarter mile or so). Then, begin to swing more directly east and begin the more difficult ascent to the ridge high above that lies between Pt. 13,618 and UN 13,660. As you ascend, you'll need to head in a more northerly direction if you want to avoid coming out at Pt. 13,618. We came out on the ridge about a quarter mile NW of the point, which placed us very close to 13,656. Depending on exactly where you come out, turn left or right to reach this newly ranked summit. As you climb toward this ridge, the tundra will soon play out and you will find yourself on mostly larger, broken rock talus that is reasonably stable. It should not slow progress too much.
Once on the ridge, you can also follow it NW to the UN13,660 summit. The ridge seems quite narrow at points offering a nice "sky-walk" experience with impressive views in any direction. The ridge walk to this unranked summit remains on mostly larger, broken rock. Decide if you want to continue on to UN 13,577 along a connecting ridge to the east. Round-trip time to there and back from UN 13,660 will require about an hour. For the descent from UN 13,660, head back SE along the ridge toward Pt. 13,618 for about .2 mile and then turn WSW down a pronounced couloir that drops all the way to South Zapata Lake. The couloir is bordered by rock walls on either side and in early season can offer a nice snow glissade down, otherwise it may tend to be a "bowling alley." The descent is on mostly unstable talus of varying sizes. As you near the lake, there is some tundra again.
UN 13,660/13,656 can also be climbed by at least two other routes. The first would be from California Peak to UN 13,577 south, then west to UN 13,660, then south .4 mile to UN 13,656. All of this ridge is easily manageable but long. A second way to climb UN 13,660/13,656 would be the Lily Lake Trail up the Huerfano Creek drainage. From Lily Lake, you can ascend to the ridge that connects UN 13,577 and UN 13,660 and climb either summit. Bill Middlebrook has a nice summary of this Lily Lake route on 14ers.com.
This route description includes a trip over UN13,660. We have sequenced UN 13,577 with UN 13,660. One-way mileage and elevation gain for UN 13,577 are measured from the summit of UN 13,660. Round-trip mileage and elevation gain assume completion of the sequence. Follow the approach route for UN 13,660 first.
From the summit of UN13,660, head east along the ridge to UN13,577. Along the 400 foot drop, you'll encounter large, broken rock fragments that will slow your progress. Once at the saddle, the ascent will come more easily and rapidly on mostly smaller, broken rock. Round-trip time from UN13,660 will be about an hour.
If contemplating a hike over to California Peak, the connecting ridge north will go easily with one unranked, unnamed sub-summit along the way.
For descent, return to UN13,660, walk south along the ridge for about .2 mile and choose a large couloir that drops back down directly to Zapata Lake. If filled with snow, this can be a very rapid descent. If not, it will be more of an unstable, talus descent.