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

Mom, Solo Colorado 14er Finisher, Outdoor Enthusiast, Traveler, and Girl Scout Leader with an MBA in International Business and Marketing. I value adventure, growth, courage, wisdom, integrity, accountability, and family. I enjoy yoga, wine, whiskey, traveling, reading, and the outdoors. I strive to be the person who inspires and motivates myself and others to succeed.

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