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
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.