Peak(s):  Coxcomb Pk  -  13,656 feet
Redcliff  -  13,642 feet
"Heisshorn"  -  13,411 feet
Date Posted:  07/26/2010
Modified:  07/27/2010
Date Climbed:   07/24/2010
Author:  lordhelmut
 Airy summits in the Middle Cimarron   

Middle Cimarron of the Northern San Juans

Peaks - Coxcomb (13,656), Redcliff (13,642), "Heisshorn" (13,411)

Camp @ 11,200 feet in Middle Cimarron Basin

Day 1 - Coxcomb via West Chimney/Ridge, Redcliff via Southern Slopes

Quick thing about the San Juan Mountains. With my new job and remnants of unemployment debt I needed to take care of, I thought my trips to the San Juan trips would be very limited in 2010. Thus far, I've spent more time in them than ever before, their pull has proved too strong for my impulses, but reflecting on the magnitude of the trips, I don't have one single regret. Everything seems to work itself out when I head down there, I have a 100% success rate, not so much in terms of mountains climbed, but in having a good time. Whether its taking the train for an adventure into the Weminuche, nearly crashing my car trying to pick the best ski line around Red Mountain Pass, drinking a Modus Hoperandi with the sun on our backs in Yankee Boy Basin or just admiring the mind bending views the range has to offer, I can't think of a better place on earth. I've always joked that if I found gainful employment in Durango, I would cease from searching any further for an enjoyable life, but there is some truth to that. With that said, I found myself getting "dragged" into a further excursion in their reclusive Cimarron Valley with my good buddy Glen.

Glen and I met up in Summit County after work and made way for Gunnison Friday afternoon. Drive went quick and we were at the Middle Cimarron TH by 7:30pm. These route descriptions are all described in Cooper's 50 Classic Scrambles book, so I'll refrain from the gory details, just a little personal opinion and experience. Regarding the drive to the trailhead, allow yourself an extra hour if you are on a timeframe, it takes a while to drive 25 miles down the dirt road from rt.50.

We did most of the approach to our campsite in the dark :

full moon on a surprinsgly clear night

And found the perfect campsite around 11,200 feet give or take 50 feet around treeline and about 100 yards below the Coxcomb Trail turnoff. Glen set up the Hilleberg while I cooked some cheese and bacon bits quesadillas. We broke out of our routine of tortolini and decided to try something different this go around, along with a stack of Salt n' Vinegar Pringles.

a lit up Hilleberg with the moon through the trees

Alarm went off at 345am. For anyone who owns a Hilleberg tent, you probably know how much more difficult it is to get up in the morning. They definitely have the feel of backcountry luxury and seem to be worth every penny, just a FYI. After some cold breakfast and some water filtering, we hit the trail around 445am and veered off the Coxcomb Trail soon after. In the dark, it was difficult to remain on the trail, mainly cause there is no trail at first, you just need to follow the posts held in the ground by the cairn piles here and there. Having done this mountain two years ago, I knew the general vicinity of the route, so we just improvised till the sun popped up.

The morning came with its many perks....

Glen in between a silouhette of El Punto and Heisshorn

Red Sky climbing over El Punto

gaining the saddle to the South of Coxcomb

Upon reaching the saddle to the South of Coxcomb's South face, we had some really nice views of the San Juans. We decided to keep our elevation and traversed across the talus slopes to the SE shoulder. This saved dropping down a couple hundred feet and the talus was surprisingly solid, for the most part. We rounded the corner and found the alcove entrance to the West Chimney and eventually the summit ridge.

The Alcove and class 5 chimney

The climbing here was fun, exposed and involved some tricky maneuvers. Cooper calls this tough class 4 when dry, I disagree. This is exposed, vertical low and mid 5th class terrain in every sense of the word. Just a FYI. The initial climb in to the alcove is a short 4th class move, but upon your first couple moves in the narrow chimney, its 5th class, no beating around the bush. We climbed the left branch of the chimney, I'm not sure about the right chimney.

getting into 5th class move terrain

looking down the chimney crux - Glen

The chimney is barely wide enough for someone to fit through and involves some acrobatic moves with all 4 limbs. The exposure seems a lot worse on the descent and we decided to rappel the 80 or 90 feet to safer ground on the way back. Once we topped out on the chimney, we had the notch along the summit ridge to look forward to.

Glen checking out the cooler looking side of Wetterhorn

The views in all directions were distracting. I tried to wait till the summit to enjoy them, this ridge is damn exposed. Sheer couple hundred foot drop-offs on either side. This is an incredibly dramatic mountain and aesthetic climb, perfect intro to tougher 5th class routes.

Glen set up the rappel at the notch and we dropped the 20 or so feet to the col, left the rope there and traversed the rest of the exposed ridge to the summit.

I'm coming back for atleast Courthouse and Precipice

Glen checking out the edge at the summit

We saw some people on both Wetterhorn and Uncompaghre, as well as a group meandering up Redcliff. Since we didn't have enough rope to reach the saddle between the two, we had to backtrack and traverse around Coxcomb on its northern slopes, more on that later.

It was still early and clouds weren't threatening, so we retraced our steps back to the alcove entrance. Glen belayed me back up to the rappel station and he decided to solo it (he's a much better climber than me). Upon reaching the top of the chimney, we used a sling already in place with a locking biner, reinforced it with our 2nd to last sling and made the rappel down to the bottom of the chimney. Since we had time, we rappelled down the alcove entrance to the talus slopes below, greeted another group going up and made our way for the northern slopes of the peak towards the saddle with Redcliff.

Rappelling the chimney.

Note to all climbers : DO NOT TAKE THIS ROUTE!!! The northern slope of Coxcomb is a mud/rock slide waiting to happen, ending in a massive cliff into West Fork Basin. If you don't have enough rope to rappel from the summit to the saddle and you want to climb Redcliff, my suggestion is to retrace your steps all the way back to Middle Cimarron and climb up the middle of the cliff bands, that holds a weakness, to gain the saddle between the two peaks. It's a lot longer but a lot safer. Its actually not longer cause it took us 2 hours to traverse this loose crap.

Anyways, enough of the drama, we made it and it sucked, but a lesson learned, or something like that. F'ing mud. We charged up Redcliff, signed the register, ate some grub and made our way for the weakness in the cliff bands at the saddle, making it back to camp around 1pm, just as it began to drizzle a bit.


After a hearty quesadilla meal, some Dales and New Castles and the rest of the chips, we took a load off for a bit while it began to pour. It rained from 2pm till about 7pm, on and off pretty hard. We hit the sack around 9pm, but not before I got a nice shot of the sky turning red with a small break in the clouds to the North....

painting the sky red

Day 2 - "Heisshorn" and pack out

Alarm went off at 4am, but we slept in till about 6, on the trail very soon after. The skies had cleared and we set our sights on "Heisshorn" (or unnamed pt.13,411). As we reached the hills below the pass linking Middle and East Fork Valleys, we were greeted with some otherworldly views of the basins and most strikingly, Precipice Peak.

shelf above Middle Cimarron

Precipice Pk - one hell of an aesthetic looking peak

Wetterhorn/Matterhorn from the saddle

Heisshorn - knife edge

"Heisshorn" actually didn't look too bad till you view it up close and are on the middle of the ridgeline. There are 3 sections of note : 1) The exposed knife edge 2) The even more exposed knife edge that goes straight up and finally 3) The sketchiest class 4 section I have ever encountered on a mountain to date beneath the summit block. From the saddle till halfway up the ridge, Glen and I were joking, quoting movies, laughing, enjoying life. Without even needing to acknowledge the intimidating view of the rest of the route, things got silent pretty damn fast. "Heisshorn" is a peak I'm glad I did and I'm 150% sure I'll never do again. I had a vision as I was downclimbing off the summit of plunging 1500 vertical feet to my death. What made this so scary was the fact I was leaning on a ridge spine that could've made this happen for me. For the first time in my life, I got a slight sense of vertigo, at a bad time and reached my comfort level, if not immensely exceeded it. I think Glen might've too, which is saying a lot, cause he doesn't spook easily in the mountains. He handled it better than me cause he's a better climber. There were no close calls and we climbed it extremely cautiously and conservatively, but the rock was so unstable, nothing was 100% certain.

Glen w/ the rest of Heisshorn

Matterhorn and Nellie Creek basin

extremely exposed

Middle Cimarron Valley

Like I said, extremely exposed


The Heisshorn and its exposed summit

We reached the summit a little before 9am. The views were probably the best of the entire region, being smack dab in the middle of it all, but to be honest, I was so uneasy, I didn't want to linger and lose any sort of concentration. There were 14 names since 2007 when the register was implemented. This comes as no surprise, had this mountain been any more popular, I'm convinced the majority of the rock would've shed off bit by bit and it would no longer reach 13,000 feet anymore, its that loose!

The downclimb off the ridge from the summit was about as serious as it gets. We had to scale a knife edge littered with loose rock, a 1000 foot freefall to our right and series of steep ledges to our left. I let out a breath heard from the Weminuche when I reached the first sign of "stable ground". No such thing exists on this mountain. Glen didn't show as much blatant anxiety as I did, but he definitely agreed this was a sketchy mountain. Its guidebook worthy and an exhilarating climb, just don't make a habit of going back for seconds, your luck will run out, as well as solid rock to grip on to, I get chills just thinking about it. If you enjoy crapping your pants, then this is the mountain for you. You can crap your pants till your hearts contempt and I honestly don't think your partner below you will mind being crapped on cause he'll/she'll be glueing him/herself to any sort of solid hand and foothold.

The gentle slopes of Uncompaghre to the East calmed my nerves, even more so when we reached the saddle.

Uncompaghre Peak from the West

We reconnoitered for a minute to discuss our interest in "El Punto". The talus riddled slopes and our hunger levels had us at a mutual "f**k that". We were both burnt out with loose rock and wanted to get home at a reasonable hour for a change. We also agreed that you don't HAVE to climb everything in a guidebook. Bottom line, we were on safe ground, we were content, there was no reason to add "El Punto" to the list for the weekend.

El Punto from the saddle

We got a nice parting shot of "Heisshorn" on the way out

Heisshorn from down low in the valley

And made way back to camp to pack up and head out.

Most people say hikes out are uneventful, but this afternoon was the exception. It was a damn fine pleasure, sans the cows and their poop. The sun was still shining, the flowers were in prime bloom and we had some cold beers in the car to look forward to, as well as some pizza at Amica's in Salida.

Shots of the hike out.....

Coxcomb on the way out


3 things to remember regarding the Cimarron. 1) Don't traverse around Coxcomb to Redcliff 2) Don't underestimate the "Heisshorn" and 3) Don't miss out on this basin, its amazing

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Comments or Questions
Doug Shaw
07/26/2010 22:13
Those are some truly amazing photos you came away with. Cheers!

f'ing A
07/26/2010 23:19
That took 4 hours to upload 30 pics. Unreal.

Presto - Hoppy Trails indeed, bout to get some more hops right about now. I hear through the grapevine you are a fan of Bull&Bush. I've only had the Man Beer and am looking to try more in the near future.

Doug - Thanks a lot man, its truly an amazing basin. Nuff said...

good call on skipping ”el punto”
07/27/2010 00:22
Your pictures are amazing, I wish I would have got more pictures of the area. I almost took that class 4 move with gut wrenching exposure, I then saw some class 3 slabs on the left side of the ridge. A couple of awkward moves later I was on the class 3 slabs.

Heisshorn was loose but nothing compared to El Punto. It's a wonder the summit block is still standing. I remember one move I was about to climb up when I noticed I was holding the hand-hold in my hand. I have no desire to ever climb El Punto again.

On a side note how would you compare the difficulty of Heisshorn to Ripsaw Ridge

07/27/2010 00:38
Thanks man. Heisshorn's rock below the summit and the exposure on those knife ridges were unmatched when compared to the Ripsaw. The Ripsaw's rock quality, when climbing class 4/low 5 terrain, is very solid, some of the most solid rock I've ever seen. You don't have the pucker factor you do on Heisshorn and the uncertainty, the 2 things that had me going the most. That being said, when you have to traverse across loose gullies or downclimb to find easier ground, the looseness of the talus is similar to that of the talus field directly above the saddle on Heisshorn. Not fun.

El Punto looked like an incredibly heinous time and we wanted no part. I have no desire to climb all the 13ers, so the decision to forego it was pretty easy.

Lastly, I had a feeling there was more logical ground to the left side of that ridge, I just didn't have the courage to get over to it. That would be a long, painful fall.

Precipice Pk...
07/27/2010 00:54
...looks like something from another planet, particularly with the lighting you captured. All the photos are spectacular, but that's the one that really got me.

And the report, as usual, is outstanding. You have a way of painting really vivid images with your descriptions... as awesome as the photos are, you could almost visualize all of this even without them.

Oh, and I'm right there with you re: Durango. In fact, even if I can't find a ”real” job, I've pretty much decided that I'll wait tables if that's what it takes to call that place home. Having the San Juans in my backyard would be well worth it.

Got vertigo?
07/27/2010 03:21
Another great report, Brian. You've really been after it lately!

Modus Hoperandi? Dales Pale Ale? Sounds like you guys cloned my fridge. I like your style.

Great photos, enjoyed the heck out of them.

Here's a shot I dug out just for you and Glen. Hope you like it.

Thanks for taking us along once again on an incredible adventure!


Great Report Brian
07/27/2010 03:39
Thanks for posting. Still very envious sitting here in front of my computer. Things are settling down... hopefully I can get out soon and finally meet up with you guys.

Photo #9...
07/27/2010 03:54
...has endless possibilites in the sense that it could easily be used in a tourism poster, a beer or gear poster, a mountain film festival poster, etc., etc.

This is a stellar report, Brian. I keep reading these and feel like you've maybe reached an apex but you keep topping yourself.

Soon, we'll all be using DGO as a basecamp. I can feel it.

nice one
07/27/2010 22:41
Nice TR and pic's of a cool area! I hope to go in there this fall with Carson for some 13ers, but not these ones. ;)
And I understand the feeling of sitting on a summit and then realizing what you've just climbed, but for me it psyched me out of what was next. Mental part of climbing is always a challenge!

07/28/2010 03:26
Sarah - Precipice Pk definately stole the show over the weekend, and thats saying A LOT.

Jim - Views in those basins are typical San Juan grandeur, but I prefer vantage points in the Cimarron. Good to hear you enjoy quality beer.

Scott - whenever you are ready for some Gore excursions, be sure to let me know.

Pap - The pull of DGO might prove too strong in the not too distant future. One day.

Doggler - you don't even know how close that was to becoming a reality

Dbaker - lots of potential in that region outside Middle Cim. I plan on heading back to the West Fork region by the end of the summer.

Matt - Beer to be proud of indeed. If you were forced to pick, Milwaukee's Beast Ice or Fat tire?

Kevin Baker
07/28/2010 05:22
Great trip, guys! Your description of Heisshorn makes me apprehensive about it, but the reports on 14erworld make it sound not near as bad. Did you guys pretty much stay on the crest of the ridge? Sounds like there's easier ground by traversing left at times. Dwight made El Punto sound pretty straight forward in his report. The scrambling is brief, but that little ledge traverse to the summit block is scary! Can't wait to get up there someday for Coxcomb. Here's Kirk Mallory's description of the final bit to the top of Heisshorn:

”We climbed up loose dirt at first, which quickly led to larger loose rocks. The ridge began as a steep rocky slope, but quickly narrowed as we got higher. We stayed on the crest as much as possible. Route-finding didn't seem to be too difficult. If something didn't go, our second choice usually did. Some towers were bypassed on the left; others on the right. We also went right over the tops of some. The last part below the summit was steep and exposed, starting as a slab with decent holds but ending on a pile of very loose rocks.”

Eph 2 5
Great trip report
07/29/2010 04:27
I hiked up Pt. 13,206 northwest of Wetterhorn and directly south of Coxcomb a couple weeks ago. I spent a lot of time looking down into the Middle Cimarron studying a possible route to the saddle northeast of Heisshorn. I believe that's where you went. Is that an easy hike to the saddle (class 2 or less)? Is there a trail all the way? Great picture of Uncompaghre from the saddle. I was wondering what it looked like from there.Thanks.

07/29/2010 05:53
Kevin - I guess you can say people's comfort levels differ. I have a hard time trusting splintered rock that creaks when you lean on it with any sort of force. Its a narrow ridge, specially right below the summit. Like Mallory says, if one didn't go, choice #2 usually would. We summited so I guess we found a way, but it wasn't incredibly appealing. Anyways, Coxcomb is a fun climb, much more fun than anything I've done in a while.

Eph 2 5 - class 2. Yes. Trail all the way. Yes. The trail systems around the Cimarron are pretty obvious and entensive. Linking basins is straightfoward. The climbs on the other hands, are a bit more complex and exposed.

11/30/2010 17:28
”If you enjoy crapping your pants, then this is the mountain for you. You can crap your pants till your hearts contempt and I honestly don't think your partner below you will mind being crapped on cause he'll/she'll be glueing him/herself to any sort of solid hand and foothold.”

That's one of the coolest things I've ever heard.

Amazing climbs btw.

01/19/2011 03:38
As usual. It's not just the pics and narrative. You're doing the stuff we all think about and finishing with beer to be proud of.
Pap, Wooderson, methinks Precipice sounds good over Labor Day.

Modus Hoperandi!
02/05/2011 00:22
8) Man, you know you've got my attention when you start your trip report out with that yummolicious brew! Great photos of Coxcomb (that's one I'd do again too) ... I know you're having problems downloading the Heisshorn ones (I'll check back later ... your description of the climb certainly grabbed my attention ). Thanks for posting. Hoppy trails!

good trip
07/04/2011 17:30
was just looking at all your reports Brian. Trying to get some ideas. this was a fun trip. hit me up when you have some time. I start Paramedic school in september and would love to get out before then.Talk to you later,

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