01 July 2015

Uncompahgre: Coxcomb Pass

Uncompahgre National Forest



DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5 | DAY 6

(Day 5 of 6) It was a chilly night, but only because my flat spot was next to a little leftover snow and the ground next to it was still quite cold. Today is all valleys and passes and just seeing how far I get. Packing up, I cross the creek and swap my shoes for the hikers. It is just easier to wade it than to find a crossing spot. The trail drifts upward again, away from the trees and back into views.

Middle Canyon
Looking down Middle Canyon.

Middle Canyon
And back along the trail in Middle Canyon.

low pass
Trying to leave Middle Canyon.


The trail becomes hard to follow as it hits a small side canyon heading out of the canyon and the posts got lost somewhere once it started to climb, but there are some cairns to follow. After a brief flat, I keep on climbing but the trail gets increasingly rocky and steep and there are no more cairns. Somewhere around here, there is a general cornering. Looking back, it looks like I should have stuck to the grass, where I would have found a big cairn and a bit of dirt track climbing. It is a long way down, so I just take note of where it is going and keep on following the track I am on. It soon gets to crossing along easily on grass, too.

Blackwall Mountain
The very northern flanks of Blackwall Mountain.

bland grass and cone
It looks like the trail is climbing up over there.

Cow Creek and Wetterhorn Basin
The land is soft and grassy here, but that does not last long.

My route dwindles after a patch of snow and suddenly does not work well as I get to overlooking the Wetterhorn Basin. The side of the mountain becomes covered in large rocks and difficult to traverse. The map indicates I am more than a kilometer off trail now, so maybe being just a little bit too liberal with following it. Turning back, there is a well established trail heading out of the snow in a direction a bit more like the one I need to reconnect with the trail.

Coxcomb Peak above Wetterhorn Basin
Coxcomb Peak over Wetterhorn Basin from far off trail.

Wetterhorn Peak above the basin
Wetterhorn Peak over Wetterhorn Basin while getting closer to the trail.

The posts marking the trail must have started up again at some point because one stands at the top of the saddle where it enters into Wetterhorn Basin. They dot the way down into the basin to the junction below. The trip down is surprisingly slushy through a couple large, shallow snow fields. Posts continue down the basin after the Middle Canyon Trail rejoins the Wetterhorn Basin Trail. It is a long, easy, straight downhill before finally reaching the first of the creeks. Clusters of white flowers are blooming enthusiastically along the way but there are only a very few small waterfalls.

Wetterhorn Basin
Following the posts down Wetterhorn Basin.

Wetterhorn Basin
Across one of three creeks in Wetterhorn Basin.

Coxcomb Peak
Another creek needing to be crossed. The pass beside Coxcomb Peak does not look too difficult to climb through the snow patches.

I very nearly manage to hop the creeks and get to hiking up again. I could see this trail traveling high on the canyon from my off trail vantage point, but here it is good to have the posts. One is mysteriously full of bolts and small pieces of removed signs. The next junction is a little further, and I turn to follow a mixture of old, rough posts and new, clean posts, up a hill that should have switchbacks. The posts stop and a trail develops at the top and I follow it roughly, avoiding the snow fields. I had made a route plan while looking across at the snow and manage to execute it fairly well.

a hill with snow at the bottom
Looking back down the hill to the snow bound junction and the drop of the Wetterhorn Basin.

pond in the snow
A bit of water along the climb.

The last few switchbacks up the top are very clear and a cairn marks the top. Looking down the other side, I am very happy to have chosen the direction I did. A bowl of snow is below me and after a few hundred vertical feet, a trail pops out from under it. Things seem to get quite steep at the edges. I take a while just to enjoy the high pass, then decide to simply walk to the west to get a good look at the positions of the few rock outcrops, pick a spot, grab up everything, and glissade. The snow is solid enough at the top as I walk out to the edge of my chosen spot, but it is a bit too soft for a really good slide down and I am a bit too wary. Still, it is certainly faster and easier on the knees than any of the alternatives.

Coxcomb Pass
The top of the pass beside Coxcomb Peak.

lots of snow
There really is quite a lot of snow on the trail here.

now tracked snow
The untracked snow now has about a 200 foot slide followed by some foot steps toward the trail when the slide stopped.

Between the efforts of a creek and the snow, I lose the trail again, so just wander to the edge of the grass and look out. There seems to be a series of cliffs to navigate if the trail cannot be found. The map indicates where to look for it, so I drift off to my left until finding it in the form of another set of posts that start up in the middle of some snow. It takes a second, much shorter, glissade, but eventually I am at the same level as the post, but on dirt, and then even find the trail again.

even more snow in a bowl
How does it keep having even more snow? At least this is not along my path.

Middle Fork Cimarron River
Looking down the Middle Fork Cimarron River. The snow will come to an end soon.

The Middle Fork Cimarron River has plenty of waterfalls as it gets started and this time I get to see them much more closely. In one section, I also get to navigate trail that crosses back and forth across the creek below a waterfall.

ball of blue flowers
Flowers are blooming here, too.

pair of waterfalls
A pair of waterfalls over one of the many cliffs along the way down.

trail into the splash and outflow of one waterfall
Following the trail as it gets up close and personal with one of the waterfalls.

The trail lined by posts leads down the cliffs and across the meadow to the Middle Fork Cimarron River and the Middle Fork Trail just across it. My shoes are soggy from the snow and I do not want to stop and get out the neoprene, so just step in in my wool socks. The cold of the fresh snow melt hits instantly and it is bitter. It is a bad choice.

waterfalls all over
Snow melting about as fast as it can leads to many waterfalls below Coxcomb Peak.

It is an easy walk along very clear trail down the canyon once I hit the Middle Fork Trail. Just have to find a place to camp and marvel at how long it can take to wander over a little 10 mile stretch that is often poorly marked and scattered with snow. There seems to have been a lot of avalanche activity in the canyon and the snow full of pieces of trees still stretches down into and across the river below.

Middle Fork Cimarron River
Hanging out with the Middle Fork Cimarron River.

dirty snow
The still green remains from one avalanche that has nearly melted away.

another waterfall
Still waterfalls along the sides.

My only encounter along this trail is a woman showing some friends from Arizona the joys of backpacking. She is very excited but I am not sure they are in their element. I deliver bad news saying I only came down and would not want to be trying to climb up toward Coxcomb. This trail looks clear, but I forget to mention that. She gives me the bad news that once I get below the trees, the campsites are very few and very small.

another avalanche leaving
The remains of another avalanche bridge the river.

Many of the creeks are dirty as they come in, but I need some more water. Picking a clear one with a lot of water to slush through, I change out of my wet socks into the neoprene and keep to it. This is a good choice because the creeks are getting bigger as I head down and these are a bit harder to cross on rocks than they were in the other fork. Some are uncomfortable reminders of the dangerous crossing yesterday, but none turn out to have quite the pressure of water moving through under the white water that that one had.

another waterfall
Quite a lot of water coming down the side of the canyon that just had to be crossed by splashing through.

Middle Fork Cimarron River
The Middle Fork Cimarron River is getting bigger.

It is true that the campsites are hard to find once down in the trees. Not only is there not a lot of small flat spots, but most of them are surrounded by standing dead trees. There is quite a lot of the trees. I think I have found a spot looking from the trail, but spinning around in it, there are six standing dead trees nearby. The edge of a meadow offers a flat spot without close standing dead trees and a water source without so much suspended dirt in it. It is a good spot to finish up the day.

tall trees with many fallen
A few fallen dead trees while walking through the forest with many standing dead trees.

three waterfalls
Some more waterfalls on the way down.

Continue reading: day 6




©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 17 Aug 2015


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