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Cottonwood Peak (13,588'), Colorado

Gina Pasquale

Trip Participants: Gina Pasquale, Steve Doorn and Tasha, the climbing wolf dog

Round trip beta (for mere mortals): 13 miles, 5000' elevation gain, 9 hours; 3-4 hour drive from LA to trailhead

Getting tired of crowds on the Centennials? :-) Don't want to drive 6 hours to a trailhead? Want some REAL solitude in the wilderness? Check out the Colorado Sangre de Cristo range.

I decided to write this trip report since some people were wondering about access on the western slopes of the Sangres in Colorado.

Steve and I wanted a quick trip to view aspens in Colorado this weekend. We decided on Cottonwood Pk, which is the northernmost "high" 13'er in the central section of the Sangre de Cristo range. We left LA around noon on Saturday. You want to turn at road GG, which is right at the intersection of Hwys. 17 and 285, just south of Villa Grove. We thought we might take a dip at the Valley View Hot Springs, but they didn't have any signs up, so they must not be open to the general public. We made camp for the night at the well-signed Major Creek Trailhead, which had plenty of room. Tasha was happy with our choice of camp, since a hunter had recently left some deer parts that she quickly found and munched on the rest of the night.

Things have changed since I last explored this part of the Sangres back in '92. The good news is they designated lots of new wilderness in this area. The bad news is you can't use a 4WD to get to a high car camp/trailhead anymore. So, the trailheads are kinda low which makes for longer hikes than are mentioned in the older climbing guides.

After listening to rain and slush falling on the tent all night, we headed for the Hot Springs Trailhead, which is now at 8600'. This turned out to be a perfect fall hike, through mature stands of aspen groves. Although we were about 1 week late for the peak aspen color, there were plenty of bright yellow aspens to delight us! This long hike takes you through several distinct layers of alpine forest: pinon/juniper, scrub oaks, aspen groves, then spruce trees, before reaching treeline.

To reach Cottonwood Pk, follow the (now) unused jeep road all the way up. DON'T be tempted by any trails going up on your left, especially the sucker trail at 10,800. I know it's a sucker trail, because I'm the sucker who followed it! When you get close to treeline at 11,400', take the right "fork" which takes you directly to the saddle at 12,300'. Then hang a right and follow the ridge all the way to the summit.

Gary was right, it's no longer summer up there. It's not fall up there either! By the time we reached the ridgeline, the icy winds started up, then the snow, then the whiteout. What fun! Don't underestimate these humble 13'ers. I did and almost froze up there!

It started to clear on the descent, and we were treated to a fantastic aspen display below us in the appropriately named Aspen Gulch, just south of the ridge. We decided that we must come back to this area next year (albeit a week earlier) for fantastic fall color viewing.


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