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New Mexico

Little Costilla: A Comeback Tour

AdventuresDusty GilpinComment

Last year at about this time, a few friends and I headed out to Carson National Forest to mountaineer a route up Little Costilla Peak. As mentioned in the blog I wrote, the trip was excellent, but we were unsuccessful in summiting due to inclement weather and exhaustion. Our summit-deficient trip left us with an insistent desire to return again. So we packed up and headed that way for the weekend.

I believe the saying is, "Where the rubber meets the road..."

I believe the saying is, "Where the rubber meets the road..."

Last year, we camped at Black Mesa before hiking into our mountain. We decided to forego the pitstop this year and head straight for base camp in Carson National Forest. Right as we pulled into our campsite, we got a flat tire. Not a huge issue, but not ideal. We changed it out real quick and then I cooked dinner for the posse. I only mention these two chores because I think the hectic few hours before bed led me to my next misadventure...

Cooking in the tailgate to help block the wind!

Cooking in the tailgate to help block the wind!

I haven't spent a ton of time in the mountains, but I thought I'd spent enough to have seen the effects of altitude sickness. I was wrong. Kristen and I settled into our tent and dosed asleep after a mildly exhausting couple hours of chores.

I awoke to Kristen yelling for help and literally shaking me awake! I lunged forward, panicking and ripping off my sleeping bag. My eyes were wide open and dilated but I was unable to see, I gasped for breath and slowly regained my composure, and eyesight.

I'm typically a quiet and light sleeper. Kristen said that in my sleep I started snoring, which is uncommon. She nudged me to be quiet, but I slowly started gasping for air. She then started thumping me in the face with her index finger, but I still wouldn't wake up! That's when she yelled for help and I awoke.

Apparently, without any of our knowledge, one can suffer from Cheyne Stokes breathing and sleep apnoea when acclimating to altitude. It totally freaked us all out. We were unable to do any quick google searches to diagnose the problem because we didn't have cell reception. For the rest of the trip, I cautiously went to bed and only slept on my side. While it was only a singular occurrence, it totally tripped me out, especially since we were only going to be increasing our altitude and isolation for the rest of the trip.

Kristen and I on the hike into our base camp of Valle Vidal.

Kristen and I on the hike into our base camp of Valle Vidal.

Hiking into our base camp.

Hiking into our base camp.

Valle Vidal means Valley of Life in Spanish. It definitely isn't an understatement. Elk, antelope, deer, and animal tracks by the hundreds could be seen on our hike into the valley. Our base camp was a hike about 3 miles into the woods following a stream between two mountains.

Our campsite in the trees just on the edge of Valle Vidal.

Our campsite in the trees just on the edge of Valle Vidal.

Once we made camp, we decided to scout a couple routes up the mountain. Billy had a topographic map of the area and picked out a few routes. Since there is no real trail up the mountain, we did a lot of bushwhacking last year that really exhausted us. This year, we found a few game trails and easier ascent. This made all the difference for our trek the following morning.

(Top Row) Kristen, Hannah, Billy, Anna, Kristen (Bottom Row) Ryan, Aaron, and Chumpy

(Top Row) Kristen, Hannah, Billy, Anna, Kristen (Bottom Row) Ryan, Aaron, and Chumpy

Little Costilla, or Little C-eazy, has 4 ascending peaks. From the angle you hike in, you can't see the following peaks. There are times as you walk where you think, 'Oh! There it is, that's the top. I'm almost there." and then your soul is crushed when you reach the top of that section and see another section looming behind it. At one point, I was leading the walk. Someone radioed ahead to me and asked, "Is that the top?" I didn't even reply because I knew that radioing dissappointment below would be a morale-killer.

Kristen enjoying the view of Wheeler peak just south of us.

Kristen enjoying the view of Wheeler peak just south of us.

Despite the deceiving peaks, altitude, and heavy legs, we made it to the summit! Reaching our goal without a defined trail was really awesome. We were especially glad after not making it last year. The views from the top were wonderful, and there was still a ton of snow.

Our descent down was very steep, but as you lose altitude, you regain strength. We made it back to base camp for dinner, a little whiskey, and a warm fire.

The descent downward was pretty fierce.

The descent downward was pretty fierce.

The next day we made our hike out back to our vehicles. We drove through no man's land and made camp at Black Mesa (Lake Carl Etling Park). The park was packed because of Memorial Day weekend, but we really just wanted to rest, eat, and enjoy one more night under the stars. If you haven't seen a starscape at Black Mesa, you are really missing out!

Hooting and hollering on top of the mesa. The echo is pretty awesome, and I'm a total kid when it comes to that kind of stuff.

Hooting and hollering on top of the mesa. The echo is pretty awesome, and I'm a total kid when it comes to that kind of stuff.

Some of our group had to leave camp early and head back to the city. Ryan, Kristen and I decided that since we don't make it to Black Mesa often, we needed to hike it. We got to the trail at 6am and had a wonderful hike. Elk, turkey, lizards, deer, and antelope were seen and no other hikers had made it out yet. It was a great way to wrap up the trip!

Walking quietly in the woods, gazing at stars, and seeing wildlife all reinvigorates me. We try to get out of town every other month or so, but it never seems like we do it often enough. Trips like this really help me brainstorm new ideas, exhaust me physically, and get me off my phone for a while. I'm super thankful for my friends and wife that encourage me to get out into nature often. Now that we're back into the fast pace of work, hopefully I can apply a few of the sentiments I had while on this trip into my work at the store. We'll see what happens, thanks for trekking along with me! Come by the store and swap stories with us, and know that we always love seeing photos of our gear on your adventures!

Little Costilla

AdventuresDusty GilpinComment

This last weekend I got to go on a really wonderful camp-cation. Six my friends loaded up and headed toward northern New Mexico. We didn't want to drive straight through, so we decided to pitstop at Black Mesa on the way and stay the night. While at the Mesa, we swung by 3 Corners and took a look at the dinosaur footprints. Black Mesa is a must-see, the stars at night are incredible, and definitely worth the 6 hour drive. If you're headed that way, stop by No Mans Land in Boise City for some great beef jerky!

From left to right; Chumpy McChumperson, Kristen Vails, Cassidi & Wes Martin, Billy & Anna Wiginton, and Aaron Arneson (seated)

From left to right; Chumpy McChumperson, Kristen Vails, Cassidi & Wes Martin, Billy & Anna Wiginton, and Aaron Arneson (seated)

Black Mesa was the only night we had an opportunity to 'cook' dinner, so we prepared some hobo meals. If you aren't familiar with hobo dinners, grab a meat, some veggies, some slices of fruit, and throw them in a tin foil bag on top of a fire. Let them cook until the meat is done and enjoy! Doesn't look incredibly appetizing, but it's fantastic.

The next day we drove 4 more hours west until we got to Carson National Forest. No trail was provided, but Billy (with map in hand) guided us 2 miles deep in the woods between Ash Mountain and Little Costilla Peak where we would spend our next two nights.

As we approached our camping location, we happily started to notice a few flurries of snow. Within minutes we were hastily trying to set up camp in a thick fog of snow. As Kristen's dad, Tony, would say, "Welcome to springtime in the mountains!" The first night we camped the temperature dropped to 28˚. It was a very restless night as we had expected lows to be in the 40s.

Despite the snow, we arranged our campsite, built a fire and boiled water for our dehydrated dinners. Our cozy little home away from home would be at 10,000 ft. for the next two days.

The next day was our hike to 12,500 ft on Little Costilla Peak. With an intermittent 3 hours of sleep each, we slowly but surely made our way to the sub-summit at 12,000 ft. We rested, enjoyed the view, and ate a small lunch. Our ultimate goal was taunting us only 500' above, but with weary legs and lungs and an impending snow storm on the horizon, we decided to make our way back down to camp.

This photo pretty much sums up our hike on Little Castillo. It was steep, thick, uneasy terrain, surrounded with downed limbs. We hiked along a beautiful snowmelt creek that was our constant source of water.  Billy is pictured here scouting out a passable approach.

This photo pretty much sums up our hike on Little Castillo. It was steep, thick, uneasy terrain, surrounded with downed limbs. We hiked along a beautiful snowmelt creek that was our constant source of water.  Billy is pictured here scouting out a passable approach.

The summit of Little Costilla Peak to the left, Billy Wiginton (for scale) to the right.

The summit of Little Costilla Peak to the left, Billy Wiginton (for scale) to the right.

View to the west, our snow storm looming behind us.

View to the west, our snow storm looming behind us.

As soon as we got back to camp, chores had to be done; gathering and cutting firewood, building a fire, hanging bear bags, preparing dinner, filtering water. Simple tasks can quickly add up after a long hike and elevation change. We stoked a fire all night long to help push back the cold as we slept off the exhaustion.

We woke up the next morning and prepared for our trek back out our cars. This view is to the south with a distant Wheeler Peak in the background. I don't think we could've picked a better location for camping. We were surrounded by trees, had a beautiful view of a valley, and had a constant running supply of water 200 yards from our campsite.

We decided to head south toward Clayton Lake where we would make camp our 4th night. We drove through barren rolling hills for hours and out of nowhere was a beautiful, clear lake.

We dropped off our supply and headed into the town of Clayton where we enjoyed a hot dinner at the Eklund Motel. We enjoyed our hostess' stories of wild west shootouts and outlaw hangings. I wouldn't have wanted dinner anywhere else, as it was the perfect atmosphere for our adventure.

We also ran by the store and picked up some of New Mexico's finest. After setting up camp, we savored the warmth of our fire and restfully enjoyed our cool refreshments and cheerful company of friends.

On our way home we decided that there was only one place good enough for our on-the-road lunch, The Big Texan. The fanfare and pomp of this honored Texas establishment was the cherry on top of a wonderful weekend. We filled our bellies with steaks and beer and ambled down I-40 back to our homes and comfortable beds.

As a seasoned camper/hiker but very novice backpacker/mountaineer, this was an absolutely amazing trip. I have spent very little time mountaineering and anxiously look forward to the next opportunity to backcountry camp. In hindsight, I was adequately prepared for the distance but not the altitude change. No one of our party became sick from the elevation, but I was very surprised at how quickly we drained on our hike upward and likewise very surprised at how quickly we regained our energy on our decent from Little Costilla Peak. Other than that, I wouldn't have changed a thing about this trip. The scenery was incredible and the company was wonderful. Here's to the next adventure!