West Fork Trail with overawe of peaks
Fortress Peak just below the summit
is a low 13er located in the Cimarron range of the San Juan Mountains. It is mostly Class 2 hike with a very brief section of class 3 scrambling per some reports. I found my approach to be class 2. There are many 13ers located nearby, but cliffs on both sides of Fortress Peak make it impossible to combine Fortress Peak with its neighbors, either Redcliff
or Precipice Peak
. The rock is loose and technical climbing would be very dangerous and unprotected.
The summit offers excellent views in all directions, especially over Chimney Rock and Courthouse on your way up, Redcliff and Precipice Peak. Once on the top you get great views south towards Uncompahgre Peak and Wetterhorn.
I hiked up the peak in the fall, so no wildflowers. West Fork Valley is a popular place for wildflower seekers during the peak summer months.
Alternate Names: "U 3"
Guide to the Colorado Mountains with Robert Ormes (sort of a Bible of Colorado Mountains) briefly mentions the peak: “For Peak 13,241’ (Fortress Peak), leave the West Fork Trail about a mile from the trailhead and climb around the right - hand side of the prominent buttress to the ridge above".
Colorado Rank: 446
Parent Lineage: Redcliff
Road to Owl Creek Pass
: West Fork Cimarron River, elevation: 10,750 feet
There are two ways to access the upper West Fork of the Cimarron River. One comes in off US 550 from a little north of Ridgway and the other comes in from US 50 and goes by Silver Jack Reservoir. This is a well kept graded dirt road passable by passenger vehicles. It is very popular in the autumn when aspen are changing colors.
From US 550 turn east onto Country Road 10, well marked for Owl Creek Pass. Stay on CR 10, eventually you will turn onto CR 8. A little further up the valley, the road makes a sharp switchback and begins gaining elevation more seriously through open scrub oak terrain. It takes about 45 min to drive to the top of Owl Creek pass. Consider stopping at the “True Grit” meadow with nice views of Courthouse and Chimney Rock. True Grit film from 1969 with John Wayne was filmed here.
At the top of Owl Creek Pass, there’s a small, unofficial camp area on the north side of the road. Continue down east to the first turnoff you see, less than a half mile from the pass. The turn off is well marked for the West Fork of the Cimarrown (=FR 860). Drive up this usually good road that offers several possible campsites all the way to the Courthouse trailhead (about 1.7 miles from CR 8). A short distance past the trailhead, passenger cars will need to stop. The main road veers to the right and becomes much worse.
If you have 4 WD with good clearance, continue south up the road as it goes up a steep, rocky section. in 0.75 miles, it drops down a little and makes a sharp left to a ford of the West Fork. There are some good campsites here. From the stream crossing it is another 0.7 mile to the trailhead. It is the end of the road.
If coming from Gunnison by way of US 550 turn south on County Road/Forest Road 858 that goes to the Silverjack Reservoir. It's 22 miles on a graded, dirt road.
Route up Fortress Peak
Traverse below cliffs
As any mountain there are several routes up it. Fortress Peak is a little bit tricky because it is guarded by steep walls and cliffs on many sides. West Ridge
provides a relatively easy access and not too challenging: class 2+.
provides a good description and you can use their link to obtain their information (they provide maps, GPS co-ordinates etc.).
I missed this route, and found a little different approach, which I would rate as class 2, possibly 2+. I followed the the West Fork trail for a greater distance than the one mile recommended in above mentioned link. I suddenly realized that I saw Redcliff and went too far west, so I left the trail and started bushwhacking south and east on mostly grassy slopes with some fallen trees. I had to cross several drainages. The walking was easy even though it was off the trail. Eventually, I ended up on a high meadow with a nice overview of the western slopes of Fortress Peak (see photo on the left). I could even see the route described by Climb13ers, but could not get there. Between my meadow and their route was a very deep gorge with nearly vertical wall. So, I continued further up and was able to find a relative easy way through the cliffs on mostly grassy slopes with some scree. I had to cross several drainages with frozen water (October). I traversed below some cliffs with caves (see photos right) and joined the faint trail in the scree going up the slopes. The views were spectacular especially over Redcliff, Precipice Peak, Chimney Rock with Courthouse and higher up of Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre Peak.
The summit is decorated with a nice cairn and summit register.