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.
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.
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.
- Coxcomb Peak trip report
This is a report by Doug Cook of a Sept. 2000 climb of Coxcomb peak.
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