Saguache County High Point Trip Report

Crestone Peak

Date: November 12, 1998
Author: Steve Bremner

My initial destination -- the town of Crestone, CO on the western slope of the Sangre de Christo range. From the outskirts of this quaint, out-of-the-way town (12 miles down a dead end road from highway 17), I proceeded south into the Baca Grande Chalets on Camino Baca Grande towards the Cottonwood Creek trailhead. After 5.6 miles continuing straight (undistracted by the many side roads) I turned left at a T intersection and in 100 yards I came to Cottonwood Creek.

We began hiking up the Cottonwood Creek Trail at 0530. The trail was quite good for the first hour (3 miles?) at which time we came on a large cabin ruin on our right. From here on the trail was poor. Anticipating the trail going left and up to Cottonwood Lake I turned left too early on a spur trail. This trail actually only led to a horse camp site next to the trail. However, spotting a cairn beyond the site I thought it may still be the trail I sought. This was the only cairn I would see as I proceeded undaunted upward and onward in the direction of the Crestones.

I was left of the trail, and I knew that, but I also knew that if I continued in an upward direction, generally north, that I could always traverse east and connect up with the trail.

The going was arduous, but not overly difficult. After 1500 feet of elevation gain we came into the basin below Crestone Peak -- our route ultimately more direct than if we had found the true trail. At this point I took out the guide book and topo map to study the rocky faces of the Crestones. Only after some reflection was it apparent which peak of the multitude of jagged peaks along the horizon was Crestone Peak. Identifying the "red" couloir (there was nearly no snow on the south side the Crestones) that was the key to the route I'd planned, I also was able to trace the Crestone Needle-to-Peak traverse route. For my intended route, the guide book recommended going to the right of the couloir and scrambling up Class 3 rock before the terrain naturally led one into the couloir. When I started up the route cairns marked the easy way.

Atop, the peak conditions were heavenly -- the time 1000, the temperature 42F and the wind maybe 7 MPH. The sun was shining and the views extended from the Blanca group to the south, to Pikes Peak to the NE, and the San Juans to the west. We lingered for half an hour just basking in the perfectly glorious conditions before resuming the downward climb. It had taken us four and a half hours to reach the summit from the trailhead. To reach the trailhead was again four and a half hours, even though it was downhill -- an indication of how difficult the route finding turned out to be.

The "true" trail on the way back, though initially easy enough, was soon difficult to follow. There are a series of cliff expanses where the trail is simply not there. One must do ones best to lose the required elevation. Keeping the creek close to my left, I knew I was on track and soon came on a well-worn path and a few consecutive cairns. This fortuitous happenstance was short-lived, however, and once again we were crashing through terrain with cliffs and problem-solving on how to drop elevation through treacherous ground. Traversing right (west), I eventually reached the route I'd ascended that morning and dropped easily to the trail on Cottonwood Creek, ultimately reaching my vehicle by 3 P.M.

A relatively early return was key to my next endeavor, namely to climb Mount Adams, Challenger Point, and Kit Carson Peak the next day. From Cottonwood Trailhead I drove about ten miles, through the town of Crestone and then east into the National Forest and to the Willow Creek trailhead. Though I didn't have enough daylight (sun now sets at 5 P.M.) to reach Willow Lake, I was able to assemble my pack and gear to hike for half an hour up the trail where I established camp at 4:40 P.M. on the Willow Creek Trail.