|Venable Peak and the Phantom Terrace|
Venable. I still breathe a sigh of contentment from that epic backpacking trip I took with 2 friends in the Sangre De Cristo mountains in southern Colorado. The friends were Owen Frey and Nick Rieth. We worked together at the time and had arranged for a short trip away before cold weather and heavy snows kicked in for the year. We had camped overnight in a county park at the bottom of the mountain, just west of the small farming community of Westcliffe, Colorado. We arose, cool in the fall morning air and backpacked up the mountain, all day long.
|Camping at the County Park|
We followed the drainage that turned into a stream up to camp beside a mountain lake at 12,000 feet, just below 13,000 foot Venable peak that night. On the way up, I remember sitting along the trail eating lunch when I saw a flash of color zip by me, it was Owen, who’s sleeping bag had come free of his backpack and was rolling down hill toward the steam. He caught it right at the ledge, just before it tumbled down into the cold water. Owen had never been seen moving that fast before or since.
|The trail followed this stream most of the way up|
|Nick & I at the Wilderness Boundary|
|Taking a break along the trail|
|Seriously fast reactions to save the day|
We entered a wilderness area and noticed the trail became more rough with lots of loose 6 inch rocks everywhere you stepped. At 11,000 feet we reached an alpine lake where a fire was still smoldering beside the trail from someone who camped there the night before. We put out the fire and wandered around the ruins of a mountain cabin there. It was SO very peaceful with awesome views. I found Nick following at the zig-zag line of the trail inching far above us on the right side of the mountain. We looked at each other and smiled, then leaned in to it and climbed the beast.
|Venable Peak view from Alpine Lake at 11,000|
|Campsite at the upper Alpine Lakes|
|Smiling Nick has no comment|
|Owen tying a fly|
|Nick at the Phantom Terrace|
|The view down|
|More of the Phantom Terrace|
|Owen leads off|
Morning dawned bright and cold. I’ll never forget the sunrise colors. We strode along for another 30 minutes up hill before coming to the beginning of the Phantom Terrace. It was a narrow path, cut 2-3 feet wide that followed a strata line across the east face of Venable peak. It was 1000 feet above us to the peak and a 1000 feet below us to the alpine lake we passed yesterday. The trail tilted downhill and clung to the mountain side. At first it seemed wide and easy, but as the morning breeze picked up, I was gripping the rock wall with both hands, inching along with my backpack seemingly hanging over the abyss. There was a place where the rock trail had fallen away, with a big stretch across the gap while clinging onto cracks in the rock. I made it, somehow and continued along. A few feet later, I looked back to see Nick just walking along like he was on a sidewalk, his large, tall backpack swinging left and right with no apparent fear of falling. I made it to the top, exiting the narrow trail by an old sign post, and picked up a broken sign that laid on the ground. Nick finished OK, right behind me. Owen strolled along, his internal frame backpack the better choice for balance along these ledges than our external frame, top-heavy packs designed for flatter trails back east. Owen took a photo of us.
|We reached the pass|
|Me, the Wet Mountains to the east are behind me|
|Owen taking a break|
|The view south to Crestone Peak|
|Pika-ville and Marmot World|
|The view west across the San Louis Valley to the dark line of the San Juan Mountains|
The break at the top was long and rewarding with clear views west across the San Louis Valley 3000 feet below us and all the way to the San Juan mountains miles away across the high desert valley. We were north of the Great Sand Dunes and could see the ragged peaks of Crestone, Humbolt and Mount Adams south of us. Pikas and marmots squeaked from the rocks. Birds coasted on thermals above and we listened to the never ending wind. We followed the ridge-line south to another 13-er, Comanche Peak, then turned back east and downhill.
|The trail back down|
|Owen is lost in the Aspens along the trail|
|On down, down and down|
|We were all lost in Aspen Glow|
Thanks to Nick and Owen for supplying some of the photos and for spending that great time outdoors together. Venable will always be a favorite trail for me. One day, I plan to go back, setup a camp at the 11,000 foot lower Alpine Lake and day hike the area above treeline for a few days with ultralight gear.