Cooper Peak is one of several reclusive twelvers found in the northwest corner of Colorado's famed Indian Peaks; just outside the southern boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park. It belongs to a group of mountains which rise above the isolated and majestic Hell Canyon and Roaring Fork drainages west of the Continental Divide. Although over-shadowed by their more famous neighbors to the north and south, the summits of Watanga Mountain (12,375 ft.), Hiamovi Mountain (12,395 ft.), Marten Peak (12,041 ft.), and Cooper Peak (12,296 ft.) exemplify the solitude and isolation that this little corner of the Indian Peaks offers. Compared to the surrounding summits these mountains see few visitors; they are on the edge of one of Colorado's most heavily utilized wildernesses but people rarely come to see these lesser summits. This is a good thing. The canyons are rugged, the lakes are serene, the summits, although often posessing a hikable route, often harbor a severely glaciated aspect with precipitous cliffs and smooth buttresses. Cooper Peak fits in well amongst these little giants.
Cooper Peak lies between Hell Canyon and the Island Lake/Gourd Lake drainage that feeds into the large Buchannan Creek. It is difficult to get to, being 10.2 miles distant from the Monarch Lake Trailhead. A camp at Gourd Lake offers the best options for climbing Cooper peak as the summit is then only four miles from camp. The valley above Gourd Lake has a most delectable feeling of utter remoteness, no where else in the Indian Peaks have I felt so far away from everything.
Cooper Peak's most distinctive feature seen from Gourd Lake is its marvelous South Buttress. This beautiful sweep of Front Range Granite rises spectacularly from the open benches above Gourd Lake; it is Cooper Peak's version of Hiamovi Tower. Besides being gorgeous the buttress is reported to offer a sweet short fourth class climb.
Cooper Peak's easiest route is via the Marten Peak-Cooper Peak saddle. From the saddle the route up Cooper ascends a boulder strewn ridge up what Gerry Roach terms the "mini-coulior"; for what it is worth this is a fun little route. The saddle also offers decent access to Cooper's sister Peak, Marten Peak. Although Cooper Peak can be "hiked" from this saddle Marten requires a scramble. Together these summits make up a pleasant set of twins which could (and maybe should) be done together. Because of Marten's close proximity I shall describe this summit in a section to follow.
Marten Peak Overview (12,041 ft.)
Marten Peak is Cooper Peak's magnificent twin located just to the west of Cooper. Seperated by seven-tenths of a mile along a passable ridge it would normaly be climbed along with Cooper. Although Marten lacks the stature of Cooper Peak it has more of a presence. Its craggy slopes and distinctive summit cap make it stand out amongst the surrounding peaks. The summit cap requires a short scramble to surmount and for this reason I failed to ascend this mountain on my trip up Cooper (I was with dogs). As soon as someone creates a Marten Peak page I will gladly surrender this material to them. Until then I present the views of Marten I had from an ascent of Cooper.
To get to Cooper Peak one must get to the Monarch Lake Trailhead. Monarch Lake is located about a mile to the Southwest of the much larger Lake Granby. The trailhead is reached from Denver by following Highway 40 over Berthoud Pass to the Highway 34 junction. Continue on Highway 34 for five miles. Turn east onto Arapaho Bay Road which runs along the south shores of Grand Lake. Follow this road for 10.1 miles to the well signed trailhead. This trailhead serves a vast trail system (the Cascade Trail, Hell Canyon Trail, Gourd Lake Trail, Buchannen Pass Trail, Crater Lake Trail, and Arapaho Pass Trail) . Access to Cooper Peak is granted via the Buchanan Pass Trail to the Gourd Lake Trail.
Maps and Such
Warning, the terrain around here is complicated.
Below is a Topo! map with Cooper Peak routes highlighted. Software by National Geographic, annotations by Jon Bradford.
Here is a summery of the Indian Peak Wilderness Rules and Regulations.
-Motorized vehicles are not permitted, including bicycles or hangliders.
-A permit is required for camping in the wilderness area between June 1 and Sept. 15. Permits are issued for 19 travel zones within the Indian Peak boundaries. Permits are $5.00 at the following offices. For information or to apply for a use permit, contact the U.S. Forest Service, Boulder Ranger District, 2140 Yarmouth Ave., 303-541-2500, or the Sulphur Ranger District, 9 Ten Mile Drive, P.O. Box 10, Granby, CO 80446, 1-970-887-4100. For recorded information, call the Indian Peaks Wilderness Information Line at 303-541-2519.
-Only a certain number of groups are allowed in each travel zone for overnight camping. Camping is limited to two weeks in any four-week period; the two weeks can be in any travel zone.
-Organized groups (maximum size of 12) must have permit for camping or hiking at all times.
-Campsites must be at least 100 yards from lakes and streams.
-Fires are prohibited east of the Continental Divide. Fires are allowed in certain areas west of the divide.
-Dogs must be leashed.
When To Climb
Cooper Peak could well be rendered inaccessable by the deep snowfall the Indian Peaks recieve in wintertime. The ten mile approach in deep snow would require a magnificent effort. June thought October/November would be much more pragmatic for those wanting to partake of this regions isolation.
Excellent camping is found near Gourd Lake. There are several campsites along the western shores of this pristine mountain lake that will not dissapoint. For those not able to make it so far in there are some less inviting campsites along Buchannen Creek. From June 1st to September 15th all camping requires a permit.