Cotton King Peak – 13,490 and PT 13,130

RT Length:  18.96 miles

Elevation Gain:  6296’

It’s that wonderful time of year when I start and end hikes in the dark.  I’d slept at this trailhead, quite comfortable, and didn’t want to get up.  That’s the only downside to loving your sleep set-up:  you don’t want to get out from under the covers.  Eventually I got up, and was on the trail at 5:30am.

The Wild Cherry Trail is at the end of a fun 4WD road.  There’s plenty of parking, and I had the whole place to myself the entire night (and the next day/night as well, odd since it was a Friday/Saturday/Sunday).

I followed this class 1 trail as it meandered and switchbacked alongside Wild Cherry Creek (no creek crossings this time)

The creek was running, but still kind of frozen

I was slowing down as I made it to a meadow with some nice camping spots at 11000’

So.  Many.  Switchbacks.  I was not feeling it.  I was hiking slow, my knee still hurt from yesterday, and for some reason, I felt unmotivated.  I looked at my tracker:  I’d gone (almost) 5 miles.  I’m good at playing mental games to keep myself motivated.  I decided to hike to 5 miles, then turn back.  A 10 mile day is pretty good, right?  When I hit 5 miles, I told myself I’d just go to the lake, and kept hiking. 

Just after the meadow with the camping area I switchbacked a few times, then entered a rocky area.  There was still a trail here (there’s as trail all the way to Peanut and Cherry Lakes).  It was here I encountered snow.  Mine were the first tracks since it snowed last (a few weeks ago?)

I knew I was getting close to the lake when I saw the sign warning me not to camp or bring livestock within 300 feet of the lakes

I continued following the trail, just wanting to see the lakes before turning back…

Once I made it to the lakes I had a visual of the rest of the route, and there was no stopping me now (visuals help my mood tremendously).   Also, the sun had come up, which made everything better: I’m not a fan of gloomy days (which this one started out to be).

With my newfound energy, I was now aiming for this saddle

I could see a sort of plateau hugging the south side of Mt Owen, and that’s where I wanted to be

Here’s an overall look at my path to the Mt Owen/Cotton King saddle

First, at around 11830, before making it to Peanut Lake, I found a grassy hillside and ascended it north

This brought me to 12000’, and a boulder field.  I stayed high (left), and followed the boulder field southeast towards the Mt Owen/Cotton King saddle

There are some willows to navigate, but if you stay high, you can avoid them.  There’s also a game trail that picks up in the tundra.  It goes as a trail about 75 percent of the time, and is easily seen from below

Once on the saddle, I didn’t follow the obvious, snow-covered trail (for obvious reasons), but instead took the class 2 ridge south.

This is a good time to get a visual of where the summit of Cotton King Peak actually lies:  It’s at the end of the ridge to your left.  Looks can be deceiving:  There will be false summits.

Ok, so I continued up the class 2 ridge

Just before topping out there was a trail that went left.  There is currently a small cornice forming, but I was able to navigate the terrain with just my trekking pole (I had microspikes and didn’t feel the need to put them on)

Now I just needed to follow the ridge.  This is all class 2. Here’s an overview:

And some step-by-step photos.  Up the first ridge

Then I skirted the next false summit to the left, through a gully

I was convinced this was the summit, but alas, no. 

I followed the talus and rocky ridge east to the summit of Cotton King

I summited Cotton King Peak at 11:30am

Cotton King Peak: 

Earlier this morning I’d made a mental deal with myself that if I summited Cotton King, I’d come back for PT 13122 another day.  Well, I’d changed my mind:  I was getting both in today.  I turned and re-traced my steps back down the ridge.

The route up 13122 looked easy enough

But as I got closer, I realized the normal, class 2 route up to the summit was full of snow (circled in red).  I wouldn’t be able to summit that way.  Instead, I kept mostly to the ridge, on class 2 terrain, until my final move was difficult class 3 up a chimney to the summit.  Here’s the overall route.

And some step-by-step pictures

I kept this part class 2 by staying lower than I’d wanted to where the rock outcroppings were

For the final push to the summit, I aimed for the snow areas, just for a good visual, and then followed the tundra/rock gullies to the summit. This kind of reminded me of the gullies on the Maroon Peaks. 

Here’s the route I took.  You can clearly see the ‘summer’ route to the left, covered in snow just before the ledge.

I just looked for a break in the rocks, and followed those towards the ridge

Here’s the class 3+ chimney I used to ascend the ridge

I summited PT 13122 at 1:10pm

PT 13122:  

It looked like the true summit was further west, but I can assure you, the true summit is just as you gain the ridge. I walked over to the other side to check it out.

I know some people make this a loop, and continue heading northwest down the ridge, but I’d taken a look at the ridge down earlier in the day, and with the current snow, it didn’t look fun: either snow or cliffs to navigate at the moment. It would have been faster, in better conditions.

From the summit I made my way back to the Cotton King/PT 13122 saddle. 

Then I followed my tracks back to the trail staying high in the boulder field

And once on the trail I followed it back to the trailhead

I made it back to my truck at 5pm, making this a 18.96 mile hike with 6296’ of elevation gain in 11.5 hours.

I decided I’m giving myself a down day tomorrow, and I’m just going to stay tonight at this trailhead, then drive home and hit the treadmill tomorrow.  I had some spaghetti for dinner, read a bit, and enjoyed having cell service. 

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.

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: