Cottonwood Pk and Thirsty Pk loopThe plan was to hike up the west ridge of Cottonwood. We would then traverse the ridge to UN13123 and Thirsty Pk. If weather and endurance was on our side then we would extend the trip to include Lakes Pk.
Had to get an early start since there would be a lot of time spent above treeline. Up at 4:30, meet at 5 in Poncha Springs. Fairly short drive of 35 minutes to get down to the Hot Springs Creek trailhead.
We started the hike a little before 6am. The initial hike up through meadows inundated with wildflowers was a great start. The trail up through Hot Springs Canyon was pretty nice with only a few deadfall obstacles which were easier skirted. The final push up the slopes to the west ridge was fairly steep, but our persistence paid off with great views to the north and south.
The ridge hike was straightforward and we were on Cottonwood Pk summit around 10:30.
The traverse over to UN13123 and down to Garner Pass was on loose talus, so not the quickest or most pleasant.
The ridge climb to Thirsty Pk was much nicer with larger, more stable talus/boulders. Great views from all 3 peaks in 360 degrees, especially from Thirsty Pk down to Brush Lakes.
We didn't have the endurance to continue on to Lakes Pk, so we retraced our steps back down to Garner Pass. The drop from the pass was on fairly loose and braided scree. We lost the trail at one point and followed a ridge down to the valley floor (cairns but no sign of worn trail). At the valley floor we found signs of a trail and followed it down into the deep aspen forest in Garner Creek Canyon. The trail disappeared at times and there was significant water crossing and blocking the trail. Many mosquitoes, almost in a boggy environment. We probably had to pass over around 1,000 downed trees. Not sure if this trail was abandoned by the Forest Service, but it sure looked like it. We eventually exited the valley and ended back at the parking lot around 4:45pm.
Total time was about 10.5 hours. Mileage from GoogleEarth was about 11.5 miles. Probably at least 6,000 vertical feet.