26 May 2014

Stardate 2014.400

Turret Ridge, West Fork Cimarron River

Rose of Cimarron

Well, here I be, in front of a screen on a three-day weekend. What's this all about? So far, it's been a wet, windy, muddy and lightning-infested weekend. I'm a bit bored, reminiscing about fun stuff. Sooooo..., how about a climb? Coxcomb Peak? It's one of my favorites. The climbing is lower 5th-class in a spectacular location. I've climbed it only once. On the other hand, I've spent a lot of time in the Cimarron area and have enjoyed Coxcomb's diverse seasonal moods.

Redcliff 13,642 ft (L) and Coxcomb 13,656 ft from the summit of 12,152 ft Courthouse Mountain at sunset

end of the season for these sunflowers on the slopes of Courthouse Mountain

Coxcomb is a stately mountain at the head of the ridge separating the West and Middle Forks of the Cimarron River in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Rising to 13,656 feet, Coxcomb makes Colorado's high 200 list at number 171. Several miles to the east, Colorado's sixth highest, Uncompahgre Peak, pierces the sky at 14,309 feet. Wetterhorn Peak, a little over a mile to the southeast, rises to 14,015 feet and is Colorado's 49th highest peak.

Coxcomb and Snowcatcher proposal area

Alpine Sunflowers, Middle Fork of the Cimarron, Red Cliff, Precipice Peak

The San Juan Mountains, often referred to as the American Alps, tickle the belly of southwest Colorado's wide open sky. The range consumes a large area and in my opinion is Colorado's eminent range. It's a mountain utopia where the tundra blanketing the alpine appears to have its own shade of green. Myriad wildflowers grace the landscape throughout the lush monsoon season of July and August. The rusty brown, red and yellow earth tones of fading fall tundra provide yet another patchwork of color as well.

Coxcomb Peak's Northwest Face

Frosty Lupine in the Middle Fork of the Cimarron

Geologically, exposed strata of Precambrian granites can be found as well as sedimentary Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic Era rock. Topping things off are glacial till deposits of the Pleistocene Epoch. As stated by geologist Donald Baars, "the San Juan Mountains are, then, the antithesis of the Grand Canyon in that a greater section is exposed in a mountainous rather than canyon setting. Both are magnificent."

Preparing to rappel into Coxcomb's summit ridge cleft

West Fork of the Cimarron River from Coxcomb's ridge cleft 12,152 foot Courthouse Mountain and 11,781 foot Chimney Rock  in photo center

Climbing out of Coxcomb's ridge cleft

Coxcomb's first known climbers summited in 1929. In that year, San Juan mountaineers Dwight Lavender and Forrest Greenfield made it to the large cleft along the summit ridge. Two days later, Henry Buchtel and party, armed with a rope, cleared the crux cleft and cruised to the actual summit. In August of 1965, Dick Yeatts, Mike Stults, Dick Guadagno and Martin Etter set a route on the north face of Coxcomb. There are two (probably more) routes — the north face and the southwest chimney. I have not found any record of a first winter ascent, although, by now, there's a good chance it's been pulled off. Throughout the year, climbing problems may include wet, icy, snow-covered rock, thunderstorms (almost daily during the monsoon season), climbing exposure, loose rock and avalanche.

Looking down Coxcomb's summit ridge toward cleft (top center photo)

Hamming it up on Coxcomb's summit

Easiest access is via either the West or Middle Fork of the Cimarron River. The West Fork makes for a delightful day trip. The Middle Fork is longer and the climb could be done in a day. However, backpacking in to take in all the upper Middle Fork has to offer may be better. It's a magnificent area even if you don't climb.

Fairy Primrose, Coxcomb, Red Cliff, Middle Fork Cimarron River

The Middle Fork of the Cimarron

13,642 ft Redcliff (L) and 13,656 ft Coxcomb wide angle from treeline while ascending 12,152 ft Courthouse Mountain for a sunset view.


Descending chimney on Coxcomb's southwest side

1 comment:

  1. Although I've never been to the summit of Coxcomb and likely never will set foot there, the Middle Fork is among my favorite places in the world, thanks to you...


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