Drift Peak (UN13,900) is a soft-rank summit located on a ridge south of Fletcher Mountain. The peak can be accessed from either the east or west side of the range. With relatively close, passenger car access, the summit can be completed as a day-hike. It combines well with Fletcher Mountain, but the connecting ridge goes at 5th class at a crux notch unless you use a 3rd class downclimb on the north side that requires a 3rd class re-ascent to the ridge. Various routes on the peak vary from Class 2 to Class 5. Gerry and Jennifer Roach offer some of these other possibilities in "Colorado's Thirteeners."
The trailhead for the Blue Lakes on Monte Cristo Creek uses the same directions as for Quandary Peak, initially. If coming from Breckenridge on SH 9, drive south from the center of town approximately 8 miles where you turn right (west) onto "Blue Lakes Road #850.
If coming from Hoosier Pass on SH 9, drive north from the summit of the pass just over 2 miles to the left turn (west) onto Blue Lakes Road #850.
Once on CR 850, drive past the large, day-use parking lot for Quandary and drive west past numerous private cabins. Continue from SH 9, 2.3 miles to parking below and east of the dam for the upper reservoir.
When you initially turn off of SH 9, there is almost all private property, so no camping. The first real opportunity to camp will be at the lower reservoir where a road turns off to the left and drops down to cross Monte Cristo Creek, then heads for the south side of the lower reservoir. There are a few primitive campsite possibilities along this road. The closest other possibilities will be found on CR851 which leads to McCullough Gulch. See the McCullough Gulch TH for more information.
This trailhead would be primarily used for access to Trinchera and Cuatro summits, (and also "English Saddle," a high 12er north of Trinchera). From Walsenburg, drive west on US 160 and take the turnoff for La Veta, on SH12. Drive through the quaint, small town and continue south toward Cucharas Pass. This very pleasant road takes you through gambel oak terrain, into ponderosa forest and eventually more typical higher elevation aspen and conifers. If you do road bicycling, this is a great ride! Drive on through the little townsite of Cuchara, past the turnoff for the old Cuchara Valley Ski area and just under 2 miles before reaching the summit of Cucharas Pass, turn west (right) onto FR422 and drive the steep, graded dirt road to the Blue Lakes Campground. There is no sign for this turnoff, but it comes just before the highway makes a sharp left curve. As you drive up FR422, there is no "official" camping but there are some picnic areas. It's about 4 miles to the Blue Lake CG. At the 4-way intersection where you can turn down into the campground, turn left onto FR436. Drive a few yards and find a place to park if in a passenger car. Or, you might inquire with the campground host to see if there's a better parking option.
From Alamosa, drive east on US160 through Ft. Garland and over La Veta Pass. About 15 miles east of the pass, watch for the SH12 turnoff to the town of La Veta. Follow the directions as above.If you have a map, there is a good short-cut option on CR450 that will save several miles of backtracking.
For another longer but possible access to Trinchera & Cuatro, see the trailhead titled "Mt. Maxwell Trailhead." This access could also be used to reach summits like Mariquita and De Anza B.
If you have 4WD with good clearance, it's possible to drive on up FR436 to timberline or above. It's a slow 2.1 miles to a small but good campsite at the last trees. The road is in worse shape in 2019 than when we last drove it 10 years before. Along the first .4 mile, there are several (4?) designated, primitive, no-fee campsites. The road is slow going up to the "North Fork TH" at 1.3 miles up. There are sharp switchbacks, it's narrow and quite rocky, but we got our Toyota Tundra with a 6.5 ft. bed up it okay. Though rocky, there were no major clearance problems. There are numerous berms as well to divert runoff. The next .8 mile to a couple of campsite locations is less rocky and a little better condition. Beyond treeline it gets quite rough.
There are two designated, Forest Service campgrounds; the Blue Lakes and the Bear Lake, just a mile beyond Blue Lakes. Both are accessible by passenger cars. Both have vault toilets but no water. Campground host available at both and firewood for sale. Blue Lake CG has 14 - 16 sites and mostly forested. Bear Lake has 14 sites, some of which are more in open meadow. Just a short distance up FR436 from the Blue Lakes CG, there are 4? primitive spots if the FS has not closed them. Further up FS436, if you have 4WD, there are more primitive sites. See coordinates below. There is not any good level spot to camp at the North Fork TH.
From the trailhead at the upper reservoir, a trail begins at the NE corner of the reservoir that leads into the unnamed, steep-walled basin on the west side of Quandary Peak. The trail angles uphill WNW, passing through some willows, then crossing the lower tongue of a talus field. Once past the talus, the trail heads more NW on a tundra slope, cutting through some more willows and staying on the right hand side of the creek, following the remnants of an old mining roadbed. After a while, the trail crosses to the left side of the stream, passes some meanders and becomes wedged between talus fields on both sides of the narrow valley.
When the trail comes to something of a headwall, the stream descends from the right, but the trail follows a narrow, tundra gully more to the left and crests out at a small pond. Here is where you now have the two options. If you continue in the bottom of the drainage NW for a little longer, you can scramble on out through rock outcrops and talus to the left and emerge onto a flatter plain below the SE ridge of Fletcher which connects over to Quandary. Gain the ridge west of an unnecessary bump and then hike on Class 2 rubble to the Fletcher summit.
Alternately, (and this is how we did it), from the vicinity of the same small pond, begin immediately to leave the drainage bottom, heading more to the left and hiking up rubble and past some rocky outcrops, following a wider gully that may hold some snow until you once again emerge onto the high plain that sits below the Fletcher summit on its' south flank. Stroll across a combination of tundra and smaller rubble and embedded rocks toward the Fletcher SW ridge and a saddle. A low, rounded ridge marks the south terminus of this high plain with a PT. 13,515 marker on the survey map. Keeping that ridge on your left, use it as a guide for reaching the SW ridge. There are any number of ways to go up, but for now, you may want to avoid the yellowish slope farther right that holds the kind of scree best for descending, but more of a pain to go up.
Once on the SW ridge, it is again, a Class 2 rocky stroll to the summit where you can enjoy an impressive view of Quandary and its' Class 3 west ridge. Stronger and more skilled parties may want to consider the rugged traverse to Atlantic Peak, north. Otherwise, descend by either route you ascended or make use of the yellowish rock/scree slope for a quicker descent back to the plain. Or, if looking for something challenging, consider a trip over to the summit of Drift Peak, a soft-ranked summit to the south that offers a very sporting route.
Tim and Carrie Cooney as of 2017 have not climbed Drift Peak since it is a "soft-ranked" summit. It's one we hope to get to in the near future. The following account is provided by our son, Shaun, who climbed it in 2016 with one other companion. The following is his account of a traverse from Fletcher to Drift, staying on the ridge.
We climbed "Drift Peak" as part of a late afternoon climb with Fletcher Peak. If conditions are favorable and you're feeling up for an interesting ridge traverse, the combination of Fletcher Mountain and "Drift Peak" makes for a quick, half-day climb from the Monte Cristo/Blue Lakes Trailhead.
From the summit of Fletcher Mountain, follow the easy ridge down to the Fletcher/Drift saddle. Ascend the ridge crest over enjoyable class 2+ terrain to reach a prominent point on the ridge. Pick your line over or around this point, downclimb a bit, and regain the ridge crest. Continue along the ridge through a slight notch-like saddle and head toward the next (large) high point along the ridge. At this point, if you continue up to the next high point, you'll be headed toward the large notch & a 5th class downclimb/rappel. If you prefer to avoid the extremely exposed 5th class downclimb, follow Bill Middlebrook's route on 14ers.com and look for an outcropping of rust colored rock, which is the key to bypassing the notch and keeping the traverse at Class 3. Because Bill's route takes you on the north side of the ridge, you may find conditions less than favorable for traversing the recommended gully in early summer (or even fall, after fresh snows) as the gully will easily hold pockets of snow that may complicate the traverse. This was the case when we climbed the peak, so we opted to go straight through the notch, rather than attempt to descend, traverse, then re-ascend continuous 3rd class terrain with several inches of soft, fresh snow.
To approach the notch, locate a surprisingly strong climber's trail on the SE (left) side of the ridge crest. It makes a few small switchbacks while gaining the next high point. Scramble up to this point, then down a bit before being confronted with the obvious gash. If you stay right near the ridge crest, the downclimb offers excellent hand and foot holds, with the last several feet being the most difficult due to an elongated reach as you work your feet down to a small bench. If you are a confident climber, this short section (20' at most) can be downclimbed without protection, but the exposure is severe and the consequence of a fall could easily be fatal. If opting to set up a rappel, select your anchor carefully as many rocks on this section of ridge are not 100% secure. We were able to locate a good anchor that was just to the left of the start of the downclimb, but because the downclimb took a slightly diagonal line, it ended up being directly above when finished. Proceed down this section with care to a small bench, just above the last drop to the low point of the notch. Downclimb the last few feet into the notch. A rope is not needed here. A partner assist is adequate for anyone with a shorter reach. From the notch, breathe a sigh of relief, put away your climbing gear (except helmet), and begin clamoring up the ridge once more.
In dry conditions, there may be a possible 4th class bypass on the north (right) side of the ridge that bypasses the 5th class section by dropping you down a sloping crack just off the other side of the ridge from the rappel into the gully below, then follows a short, rubble-filled couloir up the opposite side back to the ridge crest. At the time we climbed this both sides were covered in several inches of fresh snow and recently formed drifts, so it was difficult to see if there might have been difficulties obscured under the powdery whiteness.
From the notch, the rest of the ridge goes quickly to the summit. Ascend to the south, true summit, contemplate whether your exhilarating traverse was worth the unranked status, then ponder your route down.
From the summit, we attempted to follow (in reverse) Gerry Roach's "East Couloir" route described in the Colorado Thirteeners book by descending down the ridge by what we thought was about 300 yards to the first, prominent (more or less) east-facing couloir that seemed to correspond to how the route was drawn on the topo map in his book. In hindsight, this is the WRONG couloir, and closer inspection of a full-size topo map indicated that we descended at least one couloir too early (it's nearly impossible to see the detail necessary to ascertain this using the reduced size map provided in the book with the route line drawn over the contours). To follow Roach's route, you'll want to descend the ridge past the first couloir you come to, over a small point, and then on to one of the next two couloirs you will come to. If you're feeling up for an interesting descent, we found our route went without exceeding 3rd class with an occasional 4th class move.
The route we took started out on the east shoulder of the 1st couloir you come to after leaving the summit to the south. As it became obvious that the couloir would cliff out and getting into it was no longer even an option, we began to slowly work to our left (east). Careful routefinding kept the difficulty minimal with only a few short sections of 3rd/4th class downclimbing. We generally stayed well away from the edge of the couloir, but followed it's general trajectory down into the basin and were able to aim for a small areas of interspersed tundra near the bottom of the small "ridge" we descended. Once afforded a view at the bottom, we concluded it would also likely be possible to take a descending traverse directly from the summit following an E/SE trajectory across what looks like a series of ramps. On the summit, there were indications that this route might have been taken by at least a few intrepid souls.
Once in the basin, we decided that with darkness approaching, it might make more sense to intersect the trail we'd ascended earlier in the afternoon rather than bushwhack through the terrain near the reservoir in low-light, and we would recommend this descent to other climbers as well. To intersect the trail used to access Quandary's west ridge and Fletcher's SE ridge, descend through the basin below, past a small lake on the NE side, and aim for the first band of continuous tundra you see which wraps around the large ridge to your left (east). Follow this tundra, descending slightly where the terrain leads you to do so. Your goal is to aim for the flat tundra area in the adjoining basin at about 12,300' where the topo map shows an old cabin (you would have passed this cabin if using the same trail to climb Fletcher earlier). The last portion as you round the nose of the protruding ridge may force you to lose a bit of elevation and possibly regain a bit back depending on the line you take, but no more than about 60'. Be careful not to drop too low, as you'll end up in cliffier terrain. Too high will force you up into rockier terrain. Once you've entered the inviting confines of the basin, cross the creek up near a patch of willows and regain the well-signed & easily identifiable trail. Follow this back down to the reservoir.