Within Colorado there is a clear distinction between the fourteeners and thirteeners. Other than the obvious , height, there are NO technical fourteeners in Colorado (unlike California). There are however, multiple technical thirteeners: Lizard Head Peak, Teakettle Peak, The Index, Peak 15 and of course, Coxcomb Peak to name but a few.
This moderately technical peak is located in the sub-range of the San Juan Mountains called, The Cimarrons. The Cimarron Range is a wildly spectacular place. The rock, being mainly volcanic is intense red at sunset. In the autumn, this contrasts nicely with the yellows and oranges of the aspen forests down below in the valley, around Silver Jack Reservoir and up on Owl Creek Pass.
The Cimarrons also hold two other distinctions. The old John Wayne film, 'True Grit' was filmed there, the easily recognizable summit of Chimney Rock in the background. The other distinction being, the states hardest twelve thousand foot (12,000') peak is located here, Turret Ridge- a scrappy lichen-covered mess that runs around 5.9.
Because of how Coxcomb Peak presents itself from the lower valleys, it resembles a cock's comb found on a rooster. It was first climbed (unsuccessfully) on August 14th, 1929 by Forrest Greenfield and Dwight Lavender. They made it to within a few meters of the true summit before being stopped by a sizeable gash in the summit ridge. Not having a rope with them (and obviously not expecting the gash), they had to abandon their summit bid. Two days later, a group of eight individuals (CMC members) led by Henry Butchel were able to successfully repel into the notch, leaving the rope behind for the short climb out, thus claiming the first true summit.
Due to its' relitively easy technical pitches, it is frequently used as a graduating climb by the BMS (Basic Mountaineering School) for the Colorado Mountain Club.
At 13,656', it is considered a bi-centennial peak (top-200 highest) and is typically highly sought after. It is located on the borders of Hinsdale and Ouray counties within the Wetterhorn quadrangle. Coxcomb Peak maintains 796' of prominance.
There isn't much red tape to speak of concerning Coxcomb Peak. Middle Fork Trailhead is located in an easement of the Uncompaghre National Forest. So dispersed camping is allowed. The peak itself and the surrounding terrain lies in Wilderness Area. So the rules in the area are a bit more strigent concerning motorized travel & camping and such. At the trailhead, motorized travel is of course, permitted and there are OHV roads in the area. Just use good judgment in regards to that. Remember to keep dispersed campsites at least 300' away from routes and trails and go easy on cross-country terrain.
Overnight camping is not allowed in day-use only areas.
Ouray Ranger District
2505 S. Townsend Avenue
Montrose, Colorado 81401
(970) 240-5300 www.fs.fed.us/r2/gmug
Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre & Gunnison National District
2250 S. Main Street
Delta, Colorado 81416
As said, Coxcomb Peak is a short but easy to moderate climb. The technical pitches are split by an easy but exposed summit ridge walk. Access the climbing on the southwest face. A single 60m rope is sufficient.
Pitch 1: Scramble up to the base of the southwest face on talus and scree. Look for a large boulder (should be about 1/2 way across or roughly in the center of the face). This boulder marks the start of a 4th class chimney. Scramble up this to the technical portion. The chimney is rated 5.2 with average holds. Climb about 80' to the summit ridge. The climbing, even for 5.2 is not at all hard. TAKE YOUR ROPE WITH YOU. You'll need it for pitch 2. Walk east along the exposed summit ridge to a prominant notch.
Pitch 2: At the notch, set up a rappel and rap down 30' into the notch. Leave the rope behind. The summit is a few minutes away on class 3+/4th rock. Climb back out of the notch on 5.6 rock. Leaving the rope behind affords you a top-rope if you didn't want to simply climb up and out. There is a good rock at the top to sling.
Protection: Just take a light alpine rack. Don't bother taking multiples, not necessary. If you feel better doing so, double up on .5 and .75. Extra webbing/slings might be a good idea if you have to back up the anchors.
Of course Coxcomb Peak can be easily day climbed. But considering the relitive solitude and scenery of the Cimarrons, and that several options exist for camping at the trailhead and local environs, consider an overnight stay to truely enjoy the forest and wilderness.
There is also dispersed camping located at the actual Middle Fork Trailhead (10,014'). Picnic tables and sites are there. About three miles up the trail, there are a few primitive camping spots in the meadow and at the boundary of the forest.