Sleeping Sexton and its Northern Neighbors

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The Maroon Bells and Sleeping Sexton summit, seen from the top of the Sexton’s “crown”. Click photos to enlarge.


Sleeping Sexton (Ranked, 13,460′, #238)
Unnamed 13,039 (Ranked, 13,039′, #615)
Buckskin Benchmark (Ranked, 13,370′, #343)
Unnamed 13,020 B (Ranked, 13,020′, #627)
Unnamed 13,336 (Ranked, 13,336′, #365)


13.2 miles
7,700 feet
14.5 hours

On Sunday Steve and I tied together a nice run of peaks starting with the Sleeping Sexton north of the Bells and ending with the unnamed duo northwest of Willow Lake. True to form, it was a long and somewhat tedious linkup, but a nice way to take advantage of a picture perfect weather day in the Elks.

To continue the tradition over on of naming long ridge runs around Maroon Creek after the highest peak in the set and tacking “-al” onto the end, we arrived at the elegant and perhaps somewhat provocative sounding, “Sextonal Traverse” (sɛkstonəl for all you phonetics freaks out there). In all seriousness this ridge run is not nearly as cool or grand as its big brothers (the Pyramidal aka “Megamydal” or “Maroonal” traverses) but it was a nice way of combining some lesser-climbed Elk 13ers from Maroon Lake.

Morning light on Sleeping Sexton (right) and North Maroon from the Buckskin Pass trail.

Pyramid Peak across the way. The wildflowers are in full bloom up there right now.

Following the route photo from Furthermore’s .com TR, we broke off the Buckskin Pass trail and headed up grassy slopes to the start of the Sexton’s east ridge. Intermittent class 3 scrambling up the white gully from there led us to a few hundred feet of ledges, and then the summit of the “crown” that sits atop the Sexton’s head.

It had been a few years since I had done a scramble in the Elks. Climbing the white gully was a good reminder of how loose these peaks are.

From the crown, the true summit of the Sexton looks close (first photo in this TR), but looks are a tad deceiving in this case. To get to the true summit one is required to drop 200 feet off the west side of the crown and locate a narrow ledge which provides passage through an otherwise impassable cliff band to the base of the summit block. This ledge is the key to the entire route.

Steve making his way across the exposed ledge. I’d advise one to avoid eating breakfast at Waffle House prior to crossing this thing.

Possibly the best part about the Sleeping Sexton is the views afforded from its summit. North Maroon looks close enough to reach out and touch.

Sleeping Sexton summit.

With several more peaks on the agenda we tried not to linger for too long. Reversing our route required a return trip across the ledge, which is almost as tricky to find on the way back as it is on the way up.

Can you see the ledge? Neither could we.

Heading back across the ledge (Steve is in the shadows top right).

After regaining the crown we continued north along the ridge towards our next objective of the day, UN 13,039. Although we felt like we were making good time, 039 is farther away than it looks and there are several class 3 sections and a little class 4 that blocks easy passage. Even still, we wondered if Sleeping Sexton would require less overall effort as a ridge run from Buckskin Pass than via its east ridge. It’s a tossup I suppose.

UN 13,039, Buckskin BM (big grassy mass), and the Willow Lake 13ers in the distance behind it.

Some interesting scrambling below the summit of 039.

We made a quick pit stop to shake the gravel out of our shoes on 039’s summit, and then indulged in the short class 3/4 climb down to Buckskin Pass. After chatting with a few people at the pass and one particularly territorial goat, we made good time up the most straightforward terrain of the day in Buckskin Benchmark’s grassy south slopes.

Buckskin Pass and Benchmark seen from below 039’s summit. For a brief while, loose Elk rock gave way to cruiser grass and rolling tundra. The Sextonal is a traverse of many faces.

“Go back to the Front Range you gapers!”

A long summit stay and a dose of Red Bull and we were ready to tackle the next portion of the day – the traverse between Buckskin BM and UN 13,020. We couldn’t find any beta on this section but had studied some possible bail options down into Willow Lake basin should one have been necessary. Though we never wound up having to bail, the ridge is bisected by several large cliff bands which we had to drop elevation and skirt around. One section in particular really gave us fits – an extremely loose slope of dirt and small rocks sitting on top of hard pan above a less-than-ideal runout. The POMRanian himself was caught muttering execrative comparisons to El Punto and other various obscenities under his breath, which is really saying something.

Views north from Buckskin BM’s summit. Snowmass, Cap…well, you know what those are.

UN 13,020 and traverse from the summit of Buckskin BM.

On the 020 side we had two or three instances where we thought the ridge would finally solidify and ramp up to the summit, only to come across a 50+ foot deep cut in the ridge line. We patiently worked our way through each of them and eventually came upon the granitic summit of 020.

Steve downclimbing into one of the many notches.


A look back at the rotten traverse from the summit of 020.

We made a quick pit stop on 020’s summit to shake the gravel out of our shoes again, then took off for the final objective of the day. The descent off 020 entails a straightforward talus bash, then from the saddle the terrain turns to loose dirt and scree up 336’s south ridge. When you’re looking up at the big rock formation from the saddle, you want to head around it to the left (west), not the right.

UN 13,336. Onward ho.

336’s summit with a massive chasm between our position and the ridge crest. After reversing our route back and around to the west side of the aforementioned block, we were able to easily gain the ridge and then the summit. The taming of POMRanian continues.

West Maroon Creek and its 14er monarchs from 336’s summit.

We topped out on 336’s summit at 4pm and took a long break to refuel and admire the evening beauty of the Elk range. We marveled at the seemingly untouched Willow Lake basin and how (ironically) only a mile and a half and 2,000 vertical feet separate it from the Maroon Lake parking lot. East Snowmass Creek looked intriguing as well. Hitting Willoughby Mountain from there as a day hike or leisure backpack would be fun someday.

Walking out the easy trail at 6pm with 336 behind.

The descent from 336 went quickly and we were able to stick to trails from the 020/336 saddle all the way back to the car. A nice reprieve for the feet after a day of talus hopping.

Sievers and surrounding greenery.

Willow Pass parting shot, a la the Swiss Alps.

Up and over Willow Pass, we connected with the Buckskin Pass trial and schlepped on down Minnehaha to Maroon Lake. The 8pm finish didn’t deter us from throwing down some camp chairs and drinking a beer (the fact that we had to be back at work in Denver the following morning seemed irrelevant at the time).

All in all this was a fun loop and a nice way to link up some obscure-ish Elk 13ers. If you’re looking for a higher volume of scrambling however you might want to check out one of the other traverses in the area. If quality scrambling is what you’re after, you might want to check out a different range entirely 😉

Map Code

Map of the route.

Thanks for reading…

10 thoughts on “Sleeping Sexton and its Northern Neighbors

  1. Steve

    You captured the day well, Ben! I think Sleeping Sexton is one of those distinct 13ers – definitely in the upper third of the “law of thirds” (one third sweet, one third mediocre, one third slogging tedium). From Buckskin BM, the prudent course for the others is to drop via the trails and I’d never touch that ridge again…though of course I’m glad we did it that way and not by the trail – just the masochism of the POMRanian.

    1. Ben Post author

      Agreed on Sexton being in the top 3rd. I’d probably put it in my top 20 or so because of uniqueness, position in the state, and the views from the top. And yes, that Benchmark traverse was surprisingly crappy, even by Elk standards.
      Thanks for being an awesome partner up there 🙂

  2. Floyd

    All that scrambling on that rock makes me wince. Some places are better served under a layer of snow. Unfortunately, that ledge on Sexton seems to live up to the reputation and I don’t see that being passable in early June, . You’re putting down some big days this summer. Keep at it. For us mortals, Willow Lake begs of a tent and a couple of days to burn.

    1. Ben Post author

      Scot, indeed it was a lot of scrambling on crap rock. But you’re right, I think Sexton is a summer peak. Steve and I were actually worried when we topped out on the crown that snow on the west side of the peak would make the ledge impassible. We lucked out, but if there was snow/ice in that spot you’d more or less be hosed. Willow Lake would be an awesome place to camp out, and easy to get to. East Snowmass Creek looked like an untouched oasis as well.

    1. Ben Post author

      Thanks Brando. Was a fun one for sure. Lemme know if you ever wanna throw the rock shoes on the shelf for a weekend and join on one of these 13er linkups 🙂

  3. Vadim Beliaev

    Awesome trip report with great pictures. Followed your route description to do this Traverse the other day. Such a nice day with 5 peaks!
    Thanks for posting this!

    1. Ben Post author

      Hey Vadim, good to hear from you! What did you think of the ridge between Buckskin BM and 020?

      Glad the report was useful. Would be nice to see you in Slate later this summer 🙂


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