Lifes Adventures

Sangre de Cristo

The Sangre de Cristo (or “Blood of Christ”) Mountains are an amazing expanse of thirteen and fourteen thousand foot peaks spanning about 250 miles from Colorado into New Mexico.  They are home to some of the largest elk and bighorn sheep herds in the world, as well as to endless amounts of recreation including skiing, fishing, rafting, The Great Sand Dunes, and more.  It is believed that the range earned its name in 1719 by Spanish explorer Antonio Valverde y Cosio because of their spectacular red glow at sunrise and set most likely due to the optical phenomena called alpenglow. 

The range is younger than its neighboring Sawatch Range having been formed 27 million years ago.  They are considered to be fault-block mountains with major fault lines located along both sides of the range.  The Blanca Massif is unique in its composition to the rest of the range in that it is made of older Precambrian rock. 

4. Blanca Peak – 14,345’ - The Navajo Indians hold Blanca Peak in high regard as it is important in their lore and religion.  Known as the sacred mountain of the east, the dawn or white shell mountain Blanca Peak is one of the four sacred mountains that create the Dinetah (Navajo land) borders.  The first recorded ascent of the peak was in 1874 by the Wheeler Survey, but upon their arrival at the summit they discovered a stone structure possibly built by Utes or Spaniards.   

Blanca Peak is the 3rd most topographically prominent peak in CO and is the major peak in the ever impressive Sierra Blanca Massif.  The other 14’ers that are part of the massif are Mt. Lindsey, Ellingwood Point, and Little Bear Peak.  The eastern slope of Blanca Peak rises from the shores of Lake Como where the standard route for ascent begins. Another possible route is reserved for technically skilled climbers who would like a challenge.  The peak can also be climbed in the winter, but is also reserved for experts.  

7. Crestone Peak – 14,294’ – The next five peaks are commonly referred to as “The Crestones” due to their relative proximity to Crestone, CO.  The town was originally a small mining town, but is now a suburb to the large land development of Baca Grande; which is an epicenter for new age and world religions including the construction of Hindu, Zen, Carmelite, and Tibetan facilities.  The name Crestone is derived from a Spanish term meaning either the crest of a helmet in which to place feathers or and outcropping of ore.  Crestone Peak has two summits of nearly exact heights that are known as the twin summits.  After years of debate it is now official that the western summit is 34’ higher than its eastern rival.   

Crestone Peak and its neighbors are considered to be some of the most difficult and dangerous 14’ers to climb.  It was once thought to be impossible to climb and was one of the last 14’ers to be successfully climbed.  The first recorded successful attempt was by Albert Ellingwood and his companion Eleanor Ehrman in 1919.  The easiest route is a long class 3 trek that is popular for climbing enthusiasts.  The alternate routes vary in difficulty from class 3 to class 5.8, in summary this is not a peak for beginner peakbaggers.

19. Crestone Needle – 14,197’ – The Crestone Needle was also first climbed in 1919 by Albert Ellingwood and Eleanor Ehrman by way of Crestone Peak.  Ellingwood would also return in 1925 to scale the mountain via the class 5.8 Ellingwood Arete, which is now considered a classic technical climb.  The easiest route is considered to be a class 3 and is typically not climbed by a novice.

23. Kit Carson Peak – 14,165’ – Previously Kit Carson Peak was mostly private land as part of the Baca Ranch, but the ranch was bought out in order to expand the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.  This peak is normally climbed after Challenger Point from the west or from the east by the South Colony Lakes access.  The peak offers challenging and misleading terrain that can cause problems for the beginner climber. 

34. Challenger Point – 14,081’ – Challenger point is the northwest shoulder of Kit Carson Peak and is normally climbed in combination.  The peak was named in memory of the seven astronauts of the Space Shuttle Challenger that disintegrated shortly after take off in 1986.  A local climber by the name of Alan Silverstein led an expedition to place a 6x12 inch memorial plaque at the summit that reads: 

Challenger point, 14080+’
In memory of the crew of shuttle challenger
Seven who died accepting the risk,
expanding Mankind’s horizons
January 28, 1986 Ad Astra Per Aspera 

The last being a Latin phrase meaning “to the stars through adversity.”  There are several routes with varying levels of difficulty; however, none are considered to be easy. 

37. Humboldt Peak – 14,064’ - This fairly easy 14’er is not always considered to be part of “The Crestones”, but as a Crestone it is the least challenging of the group.  It is a class 2 climb, but with its long approach and ample elevation gain it is bit a more difficult trek.  The peak was named by miners in 1874 in honor of explorer, mountaineer, and geographer Alexander von Humboldt.  This all around iconic man of his age is remembered with dozens of namesakes scattered throughout the world including; Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA, the Humboldt Current off the coast of South America, the Humboldt penguin, Humboldt, South Dakota, Nebraska, Tennessee, Kansas and so many more. 

41. Culebra Peak – 14,047’ – The southernmost 14’er in CO is the only one on private land and in this has a very rich history with documentation spanning back to the late 1600’s.  Culebra is a Spanish word meaning “harmless snake” and the area containing the peak has never been owned by the American Government or National Forest Service making it the last pristine wilderness in Colorado.  The peak is now owned by a Texas couple who allow public use of the lands for a fee of $100/person with a minimum of five persons per group.  The only legal trailhead for access to the peak is on its western slope starting at 9,240’.  For a more detailed history on Culebra Peak please visit the website.

42. Ellingwood Point – 14,042’ - Ellingwood point is located only ½ miles from its neighbor Blanca Peak, and is typically climbed at the same time.  There are technical and non-technical routes available making it a popular peak for all levels of climbers.  It receives its namesake from the ever popular mountaineer of the West, Albert Ellingwood whom we have discussed in previous descriptions.

43. Mount Lindsey – 14,042’ – As are most of the Sangre de Cristo peaks Mount Lindsey is a fairly difficult peak, but can be done by an intermediate hiker.  The most popular route is via the Lily Lake Trailhead and is a class 2/3 scramble.  There are also class 4 and 5 routes available closer to the peak reserved for the more experienced climber.  The peak of Mount Lindsey is often referred to as the upper pyramid due to its shape and foreboding nature to the approaching eye. 

44. Little Bear Peak – 14,037’ – Don’t be fooled by Little Bear’s low standing on the list of Colorado’s 14’ers; what it lacks in height is made up in difficulty.  Little Bear Peak is often referred to as the most difficult and dangerous 14’er in the state.  The easiest and most popular route starting from Lake Como is a class 4 climb with loose, wet rock dominating the terrain.  This rewarding peak is part of the Sierra Blanca Massif and when climbed with the other massif peaks, Blanca and Ellingwood, is considered to be the Grand Slam of the Colorado 14’ers.

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