Milwaukee Peak Overview
Spectacular Milwaukee Peak, the 241st tallest in Colorado, holds special meaning for me because I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The peak is nestled deep in the Sangre de Cristos and south of the famed Crestones. Its proximity to those landmark peaks means that it, too, is composed of Crestone conglomerate rock, the wonderful, knobby rock that many 14er climbers become familiar with. The standard route up Milwaukee features an extremely exposed ramp that you must traverse to reach the peak's upper heights. Milwaukee is a difficult peak to see from the two valleys that flank the Sangres, but it's quite visible from Music Pass on the standard approach, as well as from Humboldt Peak and Crestone Needle.
Milwaukee is traditionally accessed from the Sand Creek drainage. This drainage, Milwaukee Peak, and its surroundings are part of the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve, which created additional protections for this beautiful mountain valley and its two large lakes, Lower and Upper Sand Creek Lake. Many fishermen and campers were in the Sand Creek Valley when I visited in July of 2003, but only three people were there to climb peaks. Expect solitude during your climbs, but possibly crowds at the lakes and in the valley during the summer. Sand Creek is notable for being one of the only creeks in the Sangres that trends north-to-south, cutting a path directly through the heart of the range.
If you're ambitious, climbing Milwaukee could be just a part of your day. There's a fourth-class route up neighboring Pico Asilado via the connecting ridge, followed by some scrambling on Asilado's face. Heading the other way from Milwaukee, you could easily walk up Marble Mountain from the Milwaukee-Marble saddle, and then continue hiking the range crest all the way back to Music Pass. Other 13ers in the area include Music Mountain, Tijeras Peak, and Cleveland Peak.
Milwaukee Peak is most commonly accessed from the Wet Mountain Valley, though a long hike up from the San Luis Valley via Cottonwood Creek is still a reasonable proposition.
Music Pass Trailhead: To reach the Music Pass Trailhead for the eastern approach, drive to the town of Westcliffe in the Wet Mountain Valley. Drive south on SH-69 for 4.6 miles where the road begins to bend to the west. Turn west on Custer County Road 119, also known as Colfax Lane, and head south for 6 miles to a T intersection. To this point, the drive is the same as going to the South Colony Lakes Trailhead. However, rather than turning right at the T as for South Colony, turn left onto County Road 120. After a short jog, the road makes a hard right and is once again CR-119. Take this road for 5 miles, entering the San Isabel National Forest, to the to the Grape Creek Trailhead, a.k.a. the 2WD parking for Music Pass. The Grape Creek TH is where the Rainbow Trail intersects the road, and good parking is available. With a 4WD vehicle, you can continue for 2.5 rough miles, which includes driving over some odd rock ribs, to the Music Pass Trailhead, where there is a good amount of parking space. Please see the North Ridge route via Music Pass for more information on this approach and climb. While the Music Pass Road doesn't even compare with some of the Sangres' more infamous roads like the Como and South Colony roads, don't underestimate it either!
Cottonwood Creek Trailhead: Unfortunately, access via Cottonwood Creek has been closed. Please refer to the Red Tape section for more information. I'm leaving the old access information in the hopes that access will someday be restored.
For the western approach, first refer to the Red Tape section for information on private property at the trailhead. This route shares much of its approach with the Cottonwood Creek route up to the Crestones, which you may be familiar with. Drive on CO-17 to the small town of Moffat, 13.2 miles south of that highway's intersection with US-285 or 36 miles north of its intersection with US-160 in Alamosa. Turn east onto Saguache County Road T, drive 13.2 miles, and turn right onto Camino Baca Grande Road, which is just short of the town of Crestone. Take Camino Baca Grande Road for 5 miles as it passes through a rural residential development. Park near a large water tank on the east side of the road, but do so alongside the road and not on the private property adjacent to the water tank. Then locate the unmarked trail (it starts off as an old dirt road) on the west side of the road.
The Cottonwood Creek Trail is quite good for the initial 3 miles, but after that it can be a challenge to follow. Most people can manage, but you may lose the trail from time to time, so be prepared for some bushwhacking. There is a cairned section of this trail that wends its way through large 'boilerplate slabs' and tougher terrain is amidst your class 2 route. After 3.5 miles, you intersect a trail, which you may or may not even notice, heading north for Cottonwood Lake and the Crestones. Stay on the main trail, which continues along the creek and under Pico Aislado's imposing north face. The trail switchbacks up milder terrain under Milwaukee Peak's northern subsummit before reaching a high-point near 13,400'. Here, this approach intersects the North Ridge route.
Another western approach up Deadman Creek will hopefully be possible upon completion of The Nature Conservancy's purchase of a 97,000 acre parcel of the private Baca Ranch. It is believed that this complex transaction will be complete by 2005, but according to an email I received from The Nature Conservancy's San Luis Valley Project Director, it could be completed in early 2004. This new approach would facilitate an easy class 2 walkup of Milwaukee Peak's gentle southeast slopes via Deadman Creek.
UPDATE: The Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is a reality, and it includes the Baca Ranch. I called the park in October of 2004 to inquire about the status of San Luis Valley access to Deadman and Sand Creeks. The park staffer said that trailhead options are being explored and access roads evaluated while they wait for the eviction of the last resident of the old Liberty township. Nothing, however has been decided, and it's a possibility that no trailhead will be established at Deadman Creek.
Red TapeSadly, Milwaukee Peak can no longer legally be accessed from the west via Cottonwood Creek. Your best access for this area is now via Music Pass.
The message reproduced below comes courtesy of Steve Bonowski at the Colorado Mountain Club:
CMC has been notified by the Manitou Institute that they are no longer granting access across their property as of August 1, as directed to the staff by the Institute board. Access is available to the area through North Crestone trail; Willow Creek; and a temporary access via the Liberty Road gate to the south. There is access available to the peaks on the east side via either the South Colony Lakes drainage or the North Colony side.
The amount of requests has become too large to handle. In addition, there have been significant parking issues on the private property; people are camping on the private property without permission; and signs continue to be removed at the trailhead. Land management agencies will be posting their own no trespassing signs.
CMC is working with local interests, including some from the spiritual community, to find alternate access around the private property at the CC trailhead. One potential route was identified last month, but it can be accessed only via another entity's private property. Further meetings are expected over the next several months.
Milwaukee Peak is located in the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve and is also a part of the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness. Typical wilderness restrictions apply. Contacting the managing agencies (see 'Mountain Conditions') is the surest way to get up-to-date information.
Leave No Trace suggests you observe these principles when traveling and camping in all public lands, especially wilderness:
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
4. Leave What You Find
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
6. Respect Wildlife
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
When To ClimbThe easiest time to climb Milwaukee Peak is June-October, but this varies year-to-year with the snowpack. In winter conditions, this route would require a variation to stay away from the precarious, and now icy ramps on Milwaukee's east face. Instead, one would attack the north ridge's crest directly, a technical climb. A winter climb would probably mean camping for at least one night in the Sand Creek Valley, given the longer approach.
CampingCamping is permitted in the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. Remember, you find a camping spot, you don't make one. Help sustain water purity by camping away from creeks and lakes.
Mountain ConditionsThe Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve main office (719-378-6300) (also available is the National Park Service's ParkNet page) is your best bet for gathering information on current snow conditions and other information. Milwaukee Peak is fully within the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. Management of the peak and its surroundings in the Sand Creek watershed went from the US Forest Service to the National Park Service on November 22, 2000 with the passage of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve legislation. All that said, the San Carlos Ranger District (719-269-8500) of San Isabel National Forest is responsible for the the Sangres east of the range crest, and may have more information about conditions at the Music Pass Trailhead and the roads that lead to it. Another good contact number for the east side is the Westcliffe Ranger Station (719-783-2079).
For weather information, the National Weather Service is a good place to start:
Milwaukee Peak experimental point forecast
- Great Sand Dunes National Preserve
- Milwaukee Peak trip report via North Ridge, 2003
- Milwaukee Peak, Pico Asilado & UN 13,030 trip report, 2005