Coxcomb Peak (attempt) – 13,656


RT Length: 17.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 5544’

NOTE:  I’ve since summited this peak successfully.  that trip report can be found here.

I told myself as soon as someone posted a successful summit for either Coxcomb or Peak 15 I’d attempt it as soon as the weather was good (they’re my last 2 class 5 bicentennials). A conditions report was posted for Coxcomb where the couple summited but the woman had to be belayed up. I’ve done several class 5 peaks solo, and I’ve talked to two men who’ve done Coxcomb solo, so I felt confident I could summit this peak solo as well.  Now I’m not so sure.

The weather was perfect and I had the day off. The only problem? I needed 2 60 meter ropes for the final rappel, and I only had 1 50 meter rope. I went to REI and Mountain Chalet and bought 2 new ropes (REI only had 1, but on the positive side I got to use my dividend).


Then I spent the afternoon practicing my double fisherman’s knot. That’s how you tie two ropes together so they don’t come undone.


Confident I had the knot down, I wanted to practice rappelling with the two ropes, and I also wanted to break them in before using them for the first time in a scary situation (yes, a 175 foot rappel is committing, and can be scary, especially if you haven’t rappelled all season). I decided to go to Red Rock Open Space to break them in.


Success! I practiced setting up the anchor, tying the ropes together, and rappelling on easy terrain at least 9 times to break the ropes in. Yes, they were heavy to carry, and coiling them was no fun, but everything went smoothly. The weather forecast for the weekend was phenomenal: sunny skies with no chance of rain. I decided to drive to the trailhead the next afternoon and attempt Coxcomb peak the following day.

Most of the drive in to the trailhead was on a 2wd dirt road.


Then all of the sudden I came upon stopped vehicles along the road. A rancher was moving a herd of cattle, and the first vehicle in line didn’t feel comfortable driving alongside the moving herd so he decided to stop and park his car until the herd had moved (despite the rancher continually waving him on: the cattle would have been fine if he’d just drove slowly past). I wasn’t in a hurry so I wasn’t too bothered by the extra time spend sightseeing cattle. A lot of the other drivers were though.


The last 2 miles to the trailhead were 4WD and included a fun creek crossing.


I made it to the trailhead, parked my truck, and got out and took a look around.


I wanted to get a visual of the route for tomorrow’s hike. I took some pictures of the trail entrance, trail register, and the way I wanted to head out tomorrow. Then I ate my dinner, did a little knitting, and generally enjoyed the view as I relaxed in the bed of my truck.


The next morning I was on the trail at 4:40am, armed with my helmet, harness, 3 climbing ropes (2 60 meter ropes and one 30 meter half rope) and my climbing shoes. My pack was completely filled, and I’m guessing it weighed 40lbs. I only took the essentials.

The trail starts at the east end of the parking area and heads south.


I followed the class 1 trail for 2 miles until I came to a steep section



At the pass the trail diverged into two and then kind of ended. I could tell I just needed to get around the small outcropping. I decided to go up right and descend on the left on my way back down. Both sides were easy.



The trail picked up again after I climbed this area.


After 3.3 miles of hiking I came to the top of the pass.


From here I continued following the class 1 trail, losing 400’ in elevation as I went



At the bottom of the pass I left he trail and headed east


My goal was to gain the ridge and follow it to the base of Coxcomb Peak


The ridge was full of loose talus



The talus eventually gave way to a little bit of tundra


Then I came to a rocky class 3 section


Which brought me to the base of the crux of Coxcomb. Wow! The approach had been much easier than expected. The entrance to the climb starts at the small gully. I’ve seen a few reports on how to climb this area, and every report rated the difficulty different. Some gave it class 3 (it’s NOT class 3, but there could have been a rock slide since that person posted conditions), some gave it class 4, and some class 5. The couple that summited last week said this was the most difficult part of their climb.


I walked up to the gully and tried to devise a plan. I decided to put on my climbing shoes and just go for it. I tried to ascend, but there just weren’t enough foot/hand holds. I tried and tried and tried. Then I tried ascending to the left but those rocks are loose and kept crumbling in my hands. I wasn’t about to put any physical weight on them.   I tried the gully again, and then the rocks to the left again. I spent over an hour trying to figure this problem out! If I were only a few inches taller this wouldn’t have been an issue. Hmph. I sat down to think. Here’s a close-up of the gully


All I needed were a few more footholds. That’s when it came to me: there were rocks all around! I’d just fill the gully as far as I could and use those rocks as stepping stones. I dropped my pack and spent the next 45 minutes or so filling the small gully with rocks. I even put in a chockstone for a handhold. When I felt I’d done enough I tried climbing a few feet to see if the rocks were stable. Success!


I put my pack back on and started to climb but my pack was heavy. It made me top heavy and I couldn’t pull myself over. Drat! I sat back down to think. I could see a rappel set up at the top of the gully. I decided to take my 30 meter short rope, attach it to my backpack and my harness as well, leave my backpack below, and climb up the gully without gear. Then I’d use the rope to pull up my pack. If I wasn’t able to pull my pack up I knew I could just rappel back down with the sling already in place and the rope I’d attached to my harness (I was glad I’d brought the 3rd rope!).

I looped the rope around the straps of my pack, attached the other end to my harness, and easily climbed up the gully. Success! Wow, I felt great! That had been the crux of the route for the couple who were here last week, so I now felt confident I’d be able to make this summit. I hauled up my pack, which took quite a bit of upper arm strength and balance not to fall back down the gully as I was lifting the pack up.


I coiled up my rope, attached it to my pack, and continued on. The next section was class 3, and only lasted about 50 feet or so


This brought me to a class 4 section I had to upclimb. I was able to do this wearing my pack


I’d made it to the base of the chimney area, also rated class 4.


From my research I’d learned to take the ‘easier’ chimney to the left. Um, this did not look easy! I spent a lot of time determining if I was even in the correct area, and backtracked a little just to make sure. Yep, this was it. I decided to just start climbing. Boy, was this tiring work! My pack made climbing so much more difficult, but I wasn’t giving up. I made it about half way up the chimney and wasn’t able to stem with my pack on. I decided to retreat and try again.


Taking off my pack had worked last time, so I decided to try that again. I rigged the rope the same way I had last time and started up. Wow! This was so much easier! I made it about ¾ of the way up the chimney when the hand/foot holds gave out. This was definitely difficult class 4 (if not class 5). The pictures I’d seen of others climbing this part made it look so much easier! They looked like they just walked up this section. They’d been roped in, and about a foot taller than I am, but still, it didn’t seem fair. From here I just needed to stem for about 20 more feet which would put me in the upper gully, and then I’d need to exit via the right side. The problem? I couldn’t see any anchors set up, or even any places to set an anchor, and without a visual of the last part of the gully I didn’t feel comfortable committing to this part of the climb, not knowing if I’d be able to rappel down. I knew if I went any further I would not be able to climb back down, so rappelling was my only option. It was here I made the decision to call the climb for the day. I just didn’t feel like I could commit to continuing on without putting myself in unnecessary danger. I kept thinking how infrequent this mountain is climbed and how I’d be stuck for weeks, if not months (or longer) if I wasn’t able to downclimb.

Note: On my drive home I came up with the idea of tying all my ropes together, carrying an empty pack up, and then hauling the ropes up behind me. The only downside to this scenario is if the ropes got caught on something while I’m trying to haul them up (a very real possibility). I need to do more research and find out if there is a sling set up in the gully, or if I just need to commit. Also, I need to practice stemming in a climbing gym with a full pack. That’s not going to be easy…

Here’s how far I made it up the chimney.


I made it back to my backpack and set up a rappel to head back down. At least I was getting some use out of my 60 meter ropes today.


Here’s a picture of the route


I rappelled back down, changed back into my hiking boots, and retraced my steps back down the ridge and back to the trail.




I followed the trail back up the pass, cursing the weight of my pack the entire way



As I was coming back down I noticed blood along the trail, and a few guys with horses down below.


I made it to the bottom of the pass and the oldest man there talked with me for a bit (he looked like a grandpa out with his grandsons). He wanted to know if there was more snow further along the trail. The blood I’d seen had been from one of his horses: it had spooked on the rocks and snow and flipped over backwards when it lost its footing. It had injured its hoof. I was confused as to why they were even contemplating continuing on? They had an injured animal! The man agreed with me and I’m pretty sure he decided to head back.   A little further along the trail I met up with a woman who said when the group had passed by their campsite earlier this morning one of their horses stepped on their dog (the horseback riders horse stepped on the horseback riders dog) and caused an awful commotion. And one of the boys had lost his jacket. So the group wasn’t having a great day.

Here’s my route back down the mountain to my truck





The entire route down I ruminated on the days experiences and tried to think if I could have done anything differently. I also considered the need for a climbing partner on this route: someone taller than me who could belay me from the top. This idea doesn’t sound appealing, but it is the safest option. In the end I decided I needed more stemming practice, and I need to actually speak with people who’ve accomplished this route.

I made it back to my truck at 2:40pm, making this a 17.4 mile hike with 5544’ of elevation gain in 10 hours. Here’s a topo of my route


And just for fun here’s a close-up of my problem solving skills. I worked this problem for a long time!


When I pulled up my gpx file I found I made it to 13,560’, which means I was less than 100 feet from the summit when I turned back. Ouch. On to the next trailhead!


Author: Laura M Clark

Laura has summited over 500 peaks above 13,000' solo, including being the first woman to solo summit all of the Colorado 14ers, as well as the centennials. After each hike, she writes trip reports for each one and publishes them on her blog, which is read by fans all over the world. Author of Wild Wanderer: Summiting Colorado’s 200 Highest Peaks, which is available to purchase on Amazon.

2 thoughts on “Coxcomb Peak (attempt) – 13,656”

  1. I am totally at sea with the courage and fortitude with which You tackle every an all obstacles set before,whether successful or not.I have yet to see You give-up on any of Your climbs.It’s true You may leave but always return with better and more accurate solutions to overcoming that which may have been frustrating for you at the time.I love the idea that You put Your safety first and realizing that their are other days.You always have a way of weighing out through the common sense that permeates in Your postings.Their is so much that people can learn just by reading Your postings. Thank You Miss Lady Laura. You Are.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: