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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.