Crestolita – 13,270

RT Length:  14.33 miles

Elevation Gain:  4842’

I started from the Cottonwood Creek Trailhead at 4:30am.  This trailhead tends to fill up in the summer, but on this fall day my truck was the only one there. 

I started out following the class 1 trail east

The trail is easy to follow for the first 4 miles

Then I came to what looked like a wall of rock.  This wall goes for about three quarters of a mile, and should not be attempted in wet conditions. There are plenty of cairns here to mark the way.  If you don’t see a cairn, you’re off route.  You head straight up.

After 4.6 miles I came to a junction between Trail 743 and Trail 861.  It’s not obvious, and there are no signs, so you need to be looking for it.  I was at 11255’.  One trail goes left, the other right, and crosses the creek.  Don’t go right, go left and continue following the trail.

This trail led me to a camping area, with a boulder the size of a house.  The goal is to make it to the upper basin.  There are trails that go on each side of the boulder that will get you there.  There are a lot of cairns in this area. 

If you take the trail to the right, there’s a pretty cool cave to check out, but be careful:  there was a rather large hornets nest at the entrance this time.

I followed the cairns northeast, through rock fields and willows.

There were a few class 3 moves to do to make it to the upper basin, but plenty of cairns to guide the way

I went behind this rock, and caught up with the trail to Cottonwood Lake, now heading east.

I followed the trail until I was at 12430’, and then turned right, starting up tundra

My advice to you is to go straight up the gully, as it stays at class 2+.  I however, did not do this.  I went up the right side.  This goes at class 4, and was unnecessary.  In addition, it included a drop of about 40 feet on class 4 terrain.  I’ll show pictures of the route I took, but I really recommend taking the easier gully.

My route:  Solid line up, dotted line down

Here are some pictures of the route I took up.  Once again, I do not recommend this

I don’t recommend this route, because this is where it led me:  That arrow points to a 40-foot class 4 chimney I’d have to descend.

I seriously considered turning back at this point, and trying again with the gully.  After some careful consideration, I realized I could navigate the current terrain. I gingerly climbed down 40 feet, then up another 40 feet

Here’s looking back at that chimney, and the route I took both down and then back up.  Both sides were steep, and I was glad to be wearing my microspikes.

From here, I could now see the route to Crestolita to my right

This took some navigating, but the terrain remained at 2+, with some added exposure.  First, I headed to the saddle

At the top of the saddle I turned right

Then it was a fun scramble to the summit of Crestolita

I turned back and saw a bighorn sheep watching me.  She watched me for so long I eventually left her there and kept going.

Here’s the last bit before the summit

I summited Crestolita at 9:25am


I took the gully down.  There were several options to make this happen.  When I had options, I went right, and wasn’t disappointed.  Here are some pictures of the way I took down. 

First, I made my way back to the saddle

Then turned left, and followed the tundra until it turned into scree

At the base of the gully, I picked up the trail again and took it towards Cottonwood Lake

I once again rounded the large boulder, then followed the cairns back to the trail

Back at the 861/743 ‘junction’, I followed the trail back down the granite slabs, and through several transition zones back to the trailhead.

I made it back to the trailhead at 1:30pm, making this a 14.33 mile hike with 4842’ of elevation gain in 8 hours. 

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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