With a backpack trip up and over Hermit Pass, UN13,031 (Menos Alto Pk.) can be climbed from Rito Alto Lake along with UN13,065 (Mas Alto Pk.) and UN 13,062 (Alto Pk.) for a nice half-day hike from a splendid campsite by the lake. The backpack distance will depend on the 4WD and clearance capabilities of your vehicle. Stock 4WD vehicles should be able to make it most of the way up the pass, but the road has become relentlessly rocky. All three summits located above Rito Alto Lake and surrounding Mas Alto Lake are Class 2.
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 in a Jeep Cherokee Sport. We returned in 1996 to find that it had degraded some, but still managed to drive it with no problems in another 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.
Here is a very short and easy backpack approach that can net five or six 13er summits in three days (or two for strong parties) and also has the advantage of offering a beautiful campsite in a prime wilderness setting. The mileage we offer and elevation gain ( or loss in this case) is measured from the summit of Hermit Pass. Many vehicles will not be able to make it all the way to the pass. Whatever your mileage and elevation gain are to the pass should be added to our figures to obtain a total mileage and elevation gain/loss.
From the summit of Hermit Pass, the driveable road ends, but the original road still remains, somewhat covered now in grass, flowers, etc. It takes a downward, contouring route to the west and at 12,700 ft., switchbacks three times and then reverses direction, heading east for about .35 mile where it begins to give out. On the San Isabel National Forest Map this is Trail #747. A pack trail continues on down and forks at 11,880 ft. At that fork, continue straight west to reach Rito Alto Lake. The left fork gains an unnamed pass and then drops over into San Isabel Creek. This is how you can access UN13,054 on Trail #747. Back up on the road, at the third switchback at 12,560 ft., you can depart the roadbed and head straight down a broad ridge and slope aiming for the trail junction at 11,880 ft. By descending this way, you'll be crossing almost all tundra terrain until you reach the trail junction. As you approach that junction, low evergreens and some willows will begin to appear. At about the same elevation as the trail junction, if you walk north some, there are some benches amid the low conifers that offer some nice campsites.
From the trail junction, for Rito Alto Lake, continue down the trail (now trail #745) losing more elevation. Shortly, the trail does some brief switchbacking, then descends more to another section of switchbacks between 11,600 and 11,400 ft. where you'll enjoy a great view looking down on Rito Alto Lake and also seeing an impressive headwall cliff to the left. The trail goes along the west side of the lake and there is at least one very nice campsite on the left side of the trail by following a short spur trail up an embankment. Expect to see horse-packing groups passing through here from time to time.
The best camp location is the one mentioned above at Rito Alto Lake. As the trail drops to the lake and heads around the west side of the lake, it passes through an open area with willows and crosses a couple of small streams. It then enters open conifer forest and comes to another stream crossing. This stream will be coming more from the NW. The suggested campsite will be a little before that stream crossing. It will be on the left and up a small slope. The nice, level campsite has room for a couple tents. The nearby stream provides a good water source.
For climbing UN13,054, we suggest establishing a campsite on the benches just north of the trail junction. We found evidence of previous use here. Some rock outcrops help create the benches which provide smaller, level areas where you can pitch a tent. Good water is still close by. Deer and elk abound in the basin above that you packed down through, but watch out for aggressive marmots. Hang your food if you can find a place to do so.
UN 13,062 (Mas Alto Peak) is the first summit in a sequence of three peaks. Mileage and elevation gain provided for UN 13,062 assume completing this summit only. Mileage for the other two sequenced summits (UN13,060 - "Alto Peak" & UN 13,031 - "Menos Alto Peak") assumes completion of the entire sequence. The following is taken from our trip account with some minor modification.
If camped near our suggested camp spot by Rito Alto Lake, you may want to scout things out first, if you have time. "We decided to leave our campsite more directly from our tent and begin ascending through forest for 600 feet before coming to a dry drainage for Mas Alto Lake. This took us to the north side of a prominent knoll of 12,200 ft. and into a lush meadow area filled with flowers and grass. We half way expected to see some elk or deer here, but were not so privileged. From here, we then walked across the small valley and headed toward a prominent bulge on a SE ridge coming off the summit of UN 13,062. Along the way, we walked past an interesting, decomposing, conglomerate pinnacle of rock. The terrain gradually increased in steepness as we walked over a tundra/grass/rock mix. As we approached the first summit, there was a band of exposed rock that we thought might provide a significant obstacle, but when we got to it, we easily found a route through and continued on to the summit. All along this hike, clouds were swirling and drifting around the upper valley, sometimes obscuring the high summit of Rito Alto Peak across the way and sometimes affording a glimpse. There was just a little light drizzle, but not enough to get us wet and as we progressed upward, the clouds began to lift some. We arrived at the first summit in well under two hours with low clouds still obscuring at times, the ridge over to UN 13,060. There were not enough winds to clear this pattern out, so the clouds tended to just drift around." This is typical for the Sangre de Cristo Range. Winds coming from the west cause moisture-laden air to rise on the west side of the range and linger above the mountain tops. On the east side, those clouds will dissipate as the air begins to sink and warm up.
UN 13,060 - Alto Peak is located directly south of UN 13,062 - "Mas Alto Peak, along a connecting ridge of about .4 mile. This summit is sequenced with UN 13,062 - "Mas Alto" and UN 13, 031 - "Menos Alto Peak, to follow. One-way mileage and elevation gain are measured from UN 13,062. Round-trip mileage and elevation gain assume completion of the three summits in the sequence from a campsite at Rito Alto Lake.
From the summit of UN13,062, simply follow the connecting ridge south to UN13,060. There will be some elevation loss to the saddle and you'll need to regain about 330 ft. to reach the summit. The descent to the saddle is mostly straightforward. The main difficulty comes in the vicinity of the saddle where there is an extra point or bump on the ridge that the USGS map does not really reveal. The main section of saddle becomes rocky with slabs and outcrops of rock which continue for a while as you head up to UN 13,060. If you're looking for some fun scrambling, try staying on the ridge crest for some possible 3rd class scrambling. If you want to avoid the difficulties, in the vicinity of the low point of the saddle, follow a tundra ramp down on the east side that takes you below the rocky outcrops. After dropping 50 feet or so, contour along to the south and start planning an ascent route back up to the ridge through slabs and large embedded rocks with tundra ledges in between. Ascending back up will be steep at times but it's all secure. Once back on the ridge, stay on the west side for an easy finish to the summit. From here, you'll enjoy a closer view of Mas Alto Lake and you'll have a good view of the remaining route to UN 13,031.
UN 13,031 (Menos Alto Pk.) is sequenced with UN 13,062 (Mas Alto Pk.) and UN 13,060 (Alto Pk.).One way mileage and elevation gain are measured from the summit of UN 13,060. Round-trip mileage and elevation gain assume completion of the sequence. It should also be noted that using Google Earth, the western point at N 38° 04' 50.11" W 105° 41' 00.78" measures about 10 feet higher than the eastern summit. Using this route description you will cross both summits anyhow.
From UN 13,060, proceed south following on the crest of the connecting ridge. Elevation loss will be about 360 ft. to the first saddle. Ascend up to a minor point that measures about 12,980 ft. From here, the ridge turns a little more SE to yet another point that could be regarded as the western summit of UN 13,031. Most of the terrain to here is easy sparse tundra with chiprock or embedded small rock. On Google Earth, we measured this point as being 13,038 ft. verses 13,024 for the eastern summit. You will likely just go over this summit anyhow so if by some chance it is actually higher, you will have tagged it. From this western summit, follow the ridge now east to the 13,031 summit marked on the USGS map. This last stretch will be more rocky than the earlier ridge, but not problematic.
From this eastern summit, you can gaze over the edge and precipitous drop down to Rito Alto Lake to the NE. For a descent, head NNW from the summit on talus and scree all the way to Mas Alto Lake. It's an easy descent. We did not notice any good camping around this recently-thawed lake. From Mas Alto, continue NNW to a small tarn where things will begin to green back up and re-enter the hanging valley west of Rito Alto Lake that you passed by earlier in the day. Reconnect with your ascent route and head on back to camp, passing back through the fairly open forest.