OverviewThe Northeast Ridge of "Heisshorn", first climbed in the 20's (along with "El Punto") is a deceiving scramble. We made the mistake of thinking after climbing Coxcomb the day before, this would be a nice break from the complexities of the scrambles in the region. From below, you can't blame us for our logic. Most of the rock on Coxcomb was solid and the ridge from below looked straightfoward enough. Even upon gaining the saddle between it and "El Punto" and a surreal view of the Uncompahgre Group, you still are oblivious to the arduous task ahead of you. It wasn't until we were halfway along the ridge when we realized this wasn't going to let us grace the summit that easily.
To date, I have never come across a mountain with a ratio of looseless to exposure. I have seen mountains with more exposure and have climbed on looser rock, but never had to deal with both so intensely. A rope would do you next to no good, as the anchors are so few and far between, it'd probably be a greater risk. My best advice is test literally everything you tread on with your hands and feet, as well as whatever you breathe on. The right side of the ridge below the summit is about as exposed as it gets before being considered technical. Unfortunately this is where the rock is splintered and at its sketchiest. Cooper gives a lot of good advice in his 50 Classic Scrambles Book. This page is actually pretty worthless since he has that included in his book, just figured I'd provide some free descriptions if you don't want to pay 25$ for a book. Its worth it though, with plenty of other scramble gems around the state included in there.
Getting ThereStart from the Middle Fork Trailhead at 10,050 feet. The trail is extremely easy to follow the entire way into the upper reaches of the Middle Cimarron Basin. Some landmarks along the way are the Porphyry Basin turnoff, around halfway up the trail. Remain on the Middle Fork, cross a stream, and continue heading south up the valley. Around 11,300 to 11,500 feet, there is some solid camping spots with tree coverage, plentiful water sources and amazing views to the north and south. If you plan to climb both side of the Middle Fork, try to nab a spot as close to the Coxcomb/Middle Fork turnoff as possible.
From here, you have the luxury of being able to climb Coxcomb/Redcliff or "El Punto"/"Heisshorn" in half a days work, if you are in any kind of shape.
Route DescriptionIf camping high around the Coxcomb/Middle Fork trail sign turnoff, continue heading South up the valley towards the obvious, jagged ridgeline that is "Heisshorn". You begin to gain some decent elevation the further up the basin you head, then swing left in a Southeasterly direction towards an obvious saddle. Once above treeline, the valley opens up and you follow the trail stakes for guidance to the saddle.
The route is obvious from here, and the view from the saddle looking over at the Uncompahgre Group is really something else. Wetterhorn definately dominates the landscape to the SW and Matterhorn looks a lot more imposing as well. Uncompahgre simply dominates the Eastern skyline, as it does from just about any vantage point. This is a good place to take a food break and contemplate your future on "Heisshorn".
This is another solid spot to grab some more food and get some nice shots of the Cimarron valley, but don't reflect on your weekend just yet, the hardest climbing has yet to come.
From this last shot, you begin some semi-loose talus hopping. Most of these blocks aren't too bad and the exposure hasn't even kicked in yet. Once passed this section, the climb gets a lot more narrow and involving of your utmost attention. There are 3 major sections to look foward to. First is a rather tame knife edge, where you stick to the crest as much as possible, bypassing any difficulties to the left or right. Then the knife edge continues, except begins to get steeper. The last section directly below the summit block is about as loose and exposed as it gets. You may have found looser (Elks) or exposed (Lone Eagle), but imagine if those two I mentioned were combined. How many ascents of Lone Eagle's summit ridge would be done if it had the rock quality and kitty litter scree of the Elks? Take that image and you pretty much get "Heisshorn". I remember I was downclimbing off Hagerman Peak a few years ago and was traversing an exposed ledge traverse with those white, splintered rock as my footing. The entire ledge gave way underneath me and I had to react quickly to find safe ground, real quickly. Just a friendly warning, if anyone ever downplays "Heisshorn" claiming it to be "no big deal", you might want to call the suicide hotline for them. Dave Cooper warns of the "extremely unstable" nature of the rock around this section and when he makes claims such as this, its usually for a really good reason, just something to keep in mind when mentally and physically preparing for this climb.
If you don't want to listen to my words, just watch this quick clip of me climbing the "crux" and a pano of, as Glen calls, "the ridge".