Saturday, July 9, 2011

Comanche and Venable: Sangres Loop

~15-16M (an extra couple miles on the Rainbow Trail)
~1M elevation gain
Comanche Peak (Sangres): 13277'
Venable Peak: 13334'
4 hours moving, ~5 hours total

With the monsoon weather moving in, it seemed like a good time to check out the Sangres; which, sadly, are under drought conditions and fire restrictions.

I've had my eye on the Comanche-Venable loop, which seemed like a nice exploration of 2 of the gorgeous drainages to the west of Westcliffe, CO. The loop supposedly had a decent trail, with two sets of alpine lakes, amazing views, and a chance to scramble up the namesake 13ers.

Most intriguing to me, however, was a section of trail dubbed the "Phantom Terrace", which is a singletrack carved into the side of Venable:

This section is clearly a no-go when snow, moisture, or weather are present. Fortunately, the trail was manageable and exhilirating. But I was also glad to be done with it!

Here's a short video:

The rest of the run/hike was spectacular as well: very green and full of wildflowers.

The scramble up Venable was steep grassy tundra with some rock obstacles to slow you down, and Venable is less impressive from the backside climb -- just a ho-hum endeavor. Comanche, on the other hand, is a fun charge straight up the ridge (form right to left, shown behind me):

The lakes themselves are a righteous destination as well, especially for fisherman. The Venable trail was rockier than the Comanche trail, and ultimately the descent below Comanche lake on the trail was straightforward and fun.

All in all, a beautiful area. Check out the map: there's a trail heading up each drainage (at least 10 different ones) to some impressive peaks from the East, and notable descents on the west side as well. With more route planning and familiarity with the terrain, some huge combined loops could be made.


  1. That video is awesome, and that is one crazy trail! I think I would have yelled too. lol

    I have to admit to kind of liking stuff like that, in moderation. Some of the Fruita and Durango trails are singletrack above steep dirt slopes that would definitely hurt to fall down, but are really cool. There's a bit of that at the very top of the Devil's Thumb trail (which is a great trail).

    The east side of the Sangres was so green when I visited, it barely looked like Colorado (I went up the Huerfano River valley to run Lindsey). I think it must trap moisture headed west or something.

  2. Watching that video had me wondering what the hell you were doing filming it while walking what looked like to be a knife's edge. Was it as sketchy live as it appeared in the vid? Guess so, since you let out a holler when you turned the corner!

  3. Glad you guys liked it, I couldn't tell how much depth would be perceived in the video. Also, I had no intention of looking at the screen while filming, so didn't know how it would turn out. I couldn't bring myself to film the beginning of it until I got comfortable with the whole thing -- which, with good weather, is really 'just a walk.'

    I'm not huge into exposure and knife edges like some legitimate climbers are, this was right at my edge of still being fun, and having the wall to the other side was comforting (the only threats would be weather or rockfall, so it's important to know also how the weather was the day before). I've been on 'high penalty for failure' mt bike trails where I *always* walk the bike out of caution -- but those examples were always wider and less dramatic vertical.

    The yell was spontaneous because I was glad to be done with it, but all the sudden at the top of the corner was a wide-open saddle with great views and completely benign terrain. I hadn't expected that, and it was awesome!

  4. Damn! Don't sneeze on that trail or it is one quick descent. Wow!