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. 

Mt Owen – 13,340

RT Length: 12.21 miles

Elevation Gain:  5049’

I was in a hurry today: I offered to help a Girl Scout Brownie troop (7–9-year-old girls) earn their hiking badge, and I needed to be home in time to meet them at the trailhead for their hike this evening.  So, while I’d initially wanted to make this a loop with some other peaks, I settled for just doing Mt Owen today.

I drove to the Cherry Creek Trailhead, and was surprised at the condition of the road.  The last 2 miles is certainly 4WD.  I drove to the trailhead in the dark, and the first area of sand caught me by surprise. It had my tires spinning until I put my truck into 4WD. I backed up and took the side road.  There are at least 3 different side roads off the main road that look relatively new.  If you have the option, take the newer road, as the older road has been washed out and this is the workaround.  They always re-connect.

I gathered my gear, set my ‘halfway point’ alarm so I wouldn’t be late to my event tonight, and I was on my way.  There was a Subaru parked skewed in the parking area with a couple of boondockers, so I was doing my best to be quite as I made my way towards the trailhead.

The trail begins at the east end of the parking area, and is very well marked.  There’s a place to register, so I tried, but the pen was frozen and there wasn’t a pencil, so what I wrote only showed up as indentations on the paper.  If you do this hike soon, it’d be nice if you dropped off a pencil…

I followed the class 1, Wild Cherry Trail for 2.5 miles as it paralleled Wild Cherry Creek and the started to switchback northeast, skirting the mountainside.

After 2.5 miles, at the middle of the last switchback, I left the trail and followed the drainage north to the ridge.  I stayed to the left of the drainage, but in the daylight, on the way back down, I realized it would have been much easier to stay to the right, on the tundra and grass instead of in the trees.  The bushwhacking wasn’t too difficult here, but there were a ton of downed trees, especially directly in the drainage.

It was obvious when I made it to the ridge.  I could see PT 10995 to the left, and followed the ridge towards Mt Owen to the right

The ridge was easy to follow.  There were even game trails that were clearly evident.  I followed the ridge northeast.

Through a break in the trees I could see the rest of the route to Mt Owen

I continued to follow the ridge

I made it to treeline, and instead of summiting unranked PT 12318, I skirted the mountain to the south, staying at about 12250’ (time was of the essence today….)

This was grassy tundra, and easy to navigate

If you stay around 12250’, you won’t have to lose much elevation as you make your way to the 12318/Mt Owen saddle

From the saddle, I gained 1100’ in .8 miles to the summit.  Here’s the route I took

And some step-by-step pictures.  It started out as tundra, and then became a bit rocky, but all class 2

I summited Mt Owen at 8:40am

Mt Owen:  

We’ve had some snow recently, but it hasn’t been sticking much in the Sangres. It’s always interesting to see the difference between the snow on the north versus south sides of the peaks in early season.

I was 20 minutes ahead of schedule, but that wasn’t enough time to make this a loop, so I turned and re-traced my steps back to treeline.

This small rock outcropping is a great visual.  Stay just above the rock and you’re at the perfect elevation go skirt the mountainside and head towards the ridge down.

Make sure you choose the correct ridge to hike down. It’s the one nearest PT 10995, which is the largest point you can see, making it easy to notice, but also easy to miss if you haven’t been paying attention.

Here’s the route from the ridge back down to the trail

And some pictures of the ridge

Once at the lowest point on the ridge, I turned left, and headed south, following the drainage back towards the trail.  Once again, if you’re doing this, stay in the grassy area.  I… stayed in the trees.  I didn’t have a great visual, but I could hear the creek ahead of me, so I just aimed south, towards the creek

There was a little bushwhacking involved, but I easily found the trail, and followed it back to the trailhead.

I made it back to my truck at 11:30am, making this a 12.21 mile hike with 5049’ of elevation gai in 6 hours, 50 minutes. 

And now, back home to hike with some enthusiastic young adventurers!