ApproachRT Distance: 12.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 4300'
Please see the 'Getting There' section on the main page for driving directions to the Music Pass TH.
From the Music Pass Trailhead, take the good trail and ascend 800' to Music Pass where you enter the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. From the pass, there is a view of Milwaukee with Crestone Needle barely peeking up from behind it, though Tijeras Peak will probably attract your attention first. Descend the gentle trail for 400' to reach the Sand Creek valley floor. Turn right, taking the trail north, quickly passing by the turnoff for Lower Sand Creek Lake. After a total of 3.6 miles you'll reach Upper Sand Creek Lake. From the lake you have two choices. For the standard route, head north and descend 200' and locate the trail that leads to the basin at the head of Sand Creek (for the alternate route, please see the end of this section). The trail ascends a ramp to the right of a large cliff band before depositing you amidst some willows Once you reach the grassy upper basin, hike gentle slopes to the Milwaukee-Marble Mountain saddle. The view of Crestone Needle will astound you.
Take the ridge southwest and leave the crest once difficulties present themselves. There is an informal climbers trail on these slopes, but it's on looser terrain. It's probably more environmentally sound to pick your own way up the slopes, staying on rock when you can. Once you reach the high point of the slopes, you are near Milwaukee Peak's northern subsummit, a short janut away. Admire your first view of Milwaukee from up close, and switch to the southwest side where you'll find a trail leading to Milwaukee Pass (also known as Beer Pass).
Alternate Approach from Upper Sand Creek Lake
An adventurous alternate approach is available heading directly from Upper Sand Creek Lake and is the route that my party took during our summit bid. I have not hiked the standard route so I can't make a direct comparison. I will say this, I would take this route's biggest con (a section of sidehilling) over the standard route's (a section of willows) anyday. As a side note, we saw no remnants of the trail that's marked on the 1967 Crestone Peak quad in this general area, nor did we see any path leading directly from the basin below Milwaukee's east face to Milwaukee Pass (such a path would almost certainly be a tough, routefindy endeavor at any rate).
Leave the upper lake and hike northwest through open forest and start hiking/climbing on large conglomerate slabs east of "Milwaukee Creek." These slabs are a joy to climb on -- there's seemingly always an easy way through the difficulties and it keeps you off the more fragile terrain near the creek. After ascending ~600', the terrain levels out, and the views of Milwaukee Peak's east face are impressive. Once in the basin, hang a right and swing around below the steep cliffs of Milwaukee's east ridge. Make a long traverse north, maintaining as much elevation as possible, on open slopes, and then climb gentle slopes to the Milwaukee-Marble Mountain saddle, where you join the route detailed above.
From Milwaukee Pass, consider your future. You are upon the exposed crux ramp, but you cannot see the crux move from where you are. Descend into the notch just to the south and the scramble up a small 10' third-class wall that features some of the loosest rock in all the Sangres. Pick your way up this wall carefully, and then begin the walk across the ramp. The ramp is wide for the most part, but you must pass a short (perhaps 6' long?) segment where you have to select an uncomfortably small foothold, only a few inches wide. Hang tight onto the conglomerate rock on your right as you make this treacherous and committing move. For a taller person, this section can be crossed by using only a single, sketchy foothold, but for someone shorter the move requires two footholds higher on the face. Once past this crux move, the ramp will feel care-free; continue crossing it to its terminus. It's worth noting that on the way back, all three members of my party found the crux move to be significantly easier, so I believe it's more than simply feeling comfortable with the move after passing through a first time.
At the end of the ramp, climb a short pitch on your right to reach a grassy shelf. Here, I leave the routefinding to you, gentle climber. It would be difficult to describe the rest of the route anyway, and the routefinding adds a sense of adventure that total disclosure would spoil. There are a few gullies that seem like viable routes, though the easiest keeps the difficulty at class 3.This photo could offer a hint as to the position of the easiest gully. The routefinding past the gully is straightforward, and soon you'll reach the summit ridge. Milwaukee's apex is a few hops away. Enjoy this treasured summit, so close to all the activity near the Crestones while still offering a feeling of isolation.