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Coxcomb Peak
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Coxcomb Peak

Coxcomb Peak

Page Type: Mountain/Rock

Location: Colorado, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 38.08000°N / 107.53°W

Object Title: Coxcomb Peak

Elevation: 13656 ft / 4162 m


Page By: peakwolf, Kiefer

Created/Edited: Sep 7, 2003 / Sep 16, 2003

Object ID: 151843

Hits: 15717 

Page Score: 88.96%  - 28 Votes 

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Coxcomb Peak sits at the northern end of Colorado’s spectacular San Juan mountains. At 13,656 ft. it is in the list of top 200 highest peaks in Colorado. Coxcomb is not an imposing peak, like its neighbor Wetterhorn which is topped by a jagged tooth, yet is a very popular technical climb full of interesting problems. It is often used by the Colorado Mountain Club’s Basic Mountaineering School as their high peak graduation climb. Coxcomb’s summit is a mesa-like castle, volcanic in orgin and likely once composed the neck of a great volcano. The surrounding rock has weathered, leaving the hardier lava neck to jut skyward from the crumbly base. The climb has several challenges including a loose gully, a low class 5 chimney climb and a rappel to get around a vertical notch on the summit ridge, all that before the summit can be accessed via an exposed ridge walk. The first ascent of Coxcomb was in 1929 by a party lead by Henry Buchel. They were able to get around the “notch problem” because they spoke with an unsuccessful Colorado Mountain Club party that had attempted Coxcomb a couple days before, but were stumped at the notch as they didn’t have a rope.

Getting There

From Gunnison follow highway 50 west across the Blue Mesa Reservoir. Pass Little Cimmaron Road and turn left (south) onto Big Cimmaron Road. Continue on this road, passing large private ranches and the Silver Jack Resevoir, until you get to Owl Creek Pass. This part of the trip comprises maybe 15-20 miles of good gravel road. Turn left (south again) at a very sharp hairpin bend, just before Owl Creek Pass proper. There is a sign for West Fork. If you are coming from the west, you can turn onto Owl Creek Pass Road from route 550 (it’s either a left if you are coming from Montrose or a right if coming from Ouray). This is also called Ouray County 10. Head toward Owl Creek Pass and turn right. The road just after this becomes a little rougher but any SUV or truck should be able to make it to the Wetterhorn Basin trailhead. I saw a Subaru Outback in the parking lot. There is one creek ford that might be problematic in the spring, but in mid-summer it is shallow. The road ends in a flat meadow and has a reasonable amount of parking. See the route section for a description of the actual hike/climb. Although Coxcomb can be done in a long day (emphasis on long), it is best done as an overnight backpack, or even better a 3-day trip. The Wetterhorn Basin is spectacular and it would be well worth it to spend some time there, possibly combining a climb of Coxcomb with one of Wetterhorn.

Red Tape

As of summer 2003 there is no “fee demonstration” toll box or toll booth here, so parking is free. If you don’t want to see more of these fees, that basically tax you for using public lands, I suggest writing to your representatives.

When To Climb

There is no winter route on Coxcomb that I know of. There is a single established route and it can only be done safely when the rocks are clear of snow and dry. Be even more aware of thunderstorms than usual. The ridge is very exposed, and would be dangerous when the rocks are wet. And trying to hurry a rappel while lightening is smashing the surrounding ridges is no fun. The best months for climbing Coxcomb would be July, after the snow is gone, through September, before the rocks are coated in verglas.


Bring standard mountaineering gear. The technical gear that might be useful is discussed in the route description. This peak is best done as a backpack,also see the route for more information on where the good camping is. I found it really useful to carry a light summit-type pack or have a pack that has a removable fanny pack for the climb. The climbing COULD be done in a cinched down backpacking pack, but you'll have a lot more fun if you have something smaller. There are no fees at this time.

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John PraterUntitled Comment

John Prater

Hasn't voted

I climbed the North Face of Coxcomb over Memorial Day weekend of 2000. We went to the Redcliff/Coxcomb saddle (climbed Redcliff first), then climbed talus up to the cliff band of Coxcomb. We roped up and climbed the obvious weakness in the cliff band. You're climbing on red rock in somewhat of a right-facing dihedral here, and I recall the crux being climbing left out of the dihedral at the top. This places you on loose, sloping class 2/3 terrain briefly. Above, I continued up a chimney (4th to low 5th class?) and belayed where the chimney turns to the right. This pitch might have been close to 50m. A short second pitch up the chimney (4th to low 5th class) dumped us out right at the summit cairn.

The excitement came on the descent. I placed a sling right below the summit and rapped down the chimney. I searched for a while for another anchor before spotting some slings up and left of the chimney. We had to ascend a bit of snow to reach those slings. A second rap from those slings placed me on the class 2/3 loose crap. Finding a suitable rap anchor here was difficult. I finally draped a sling over a solid boulder with barely a lip on the back side, and we carefully rapped off that. Yikes! This was way sketchy, from my point of view anyway.

Note that we had a single 50m rope on this trip. The route we took avoided any snow (for the most part). There was a bit of ice in the chimney, but it was avoidable by stemming.

I climbed Coxcomb again 3 weeks ago. We went up the standard southwest chimney route this time, but we planned to descend the North Face so we could more easily combine it with Redcliff. We packed two 60m ropes to avoid the "sketchy" rap. The first rap anchor I had placed 4 years ago was still there and had been backed up with another sling. However, we managed to downclimb east-northeast (?) from the summit over 3rd to 4th class terrain to reach our second rap anchor from 2000. From here, we did one 60m rappel to the bottom of the cliff band (ie, to hiking terrain). I checked out the "sketchy" rap anchor I had used in 2000, and about 4 or 5 slings had been added to it! I guess the route has seen a bit of traffic since I was up there. My recommendation is to take two 60m ropes if you plan to descend the north face. I'm not sure if two 50m ropes would reach.
Posted Jul 22, 2004 2:12 pm
peakwolfUntitled Comment


Hasn't voted

Morgan sorry I didn't get to you in time. The trail is #226 and the approach I described is from the north, heading south to Coxcomb. The trail is named on the Trails Illustrated map as Wetterhorn Basin trail. If the map is wrong please let me know and I will change it. You do hike in along Cimarron creek.
Posted Nov 13, 2004 4:49 pm
mpbroUntitled Comment


Hasn't voted

If I understand you correctly, you are talking about the trailhead near the headwaters of the West Fork of the Cimarron River. I believe this trailhead is named "West Fork Cimarron", and not "Wetterhorn Basin". I was confused, because I thought you were describing the approach from the south, through Wetterhorn Basin proper. If I'm wrong about this, please let me know!

Posted Jul 21, 2004 8:05 pm
mpbroUntitled Comment


Hasn't voted

Jacobs and Ormes, in Guide to the Colorado Mountains (tenth edition) describe the North Face route as follows: "At about 11,400', leave the West Fork Trail and hike up the small drainage coming off the north face. Alternating bands of snow, and a couple pitches of 5.2 rock, lead up just east of the summit, for a short scramble to the top."

This looks like an excellent alternative to the SW Chimney, especially for day trips. Anyone have additional info? Seems that much of the snow could be avoided by going to the Redcliff/Coxcomb saddle, but perhaps the snow is considered part of the route's fun?
Posted Jul 21, 2004 8:56 pm

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