A Weekend in the Cimarrons

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The three horns, “El Punto”, and Coxcomb seen from “Porphyry Peak”, Middle Cimarron.

Saturday, July 30th – 13 miles, 6,200 ft (Map)

Unnamed 13,222 B (Ranked, 13,322′, #460)
“Porphyry Peak” (Ranked, 13,340′, #360)
“El Punto” (Ranked, 13,300′, #401)
“Heisshorn” (Ranked, 13,411′, #311)
Unnamed 13,377 (Ranked, 13,377′, #338
“Cox Beak” (Ranked, 13,206′, #480)

Sunday, July 31st – 9 miles, 4,700 ft (Map)

“Fortress Peak” (Ranked, 13,241′, #446)
Precipice Peak (Ranked, 13,144′, #530)

To cap off the month of July Steve and I motored down to the Cimarrons for a weekend of car camping and peakbagging poppycock. What can I say about the Cimarrons? While the Gores are rugged and quaint, and the Weminuche mythical and remote, there’s something that sets this area apart from the rest of the state. I’m not sure if it’s the lore present in the air, or the high rolling green tundra studded with craggy, Dr. Seussian towers, or simply the colors and unique rock common to the region. Regardless, ever since my first visit to the place, I had long awaited a return trip.

The plan was slightly ambitious, though nothing we knew we couldn’t pull off given decent weather and enough stubbornness. Steve had already hit four of the six peaks of the Middle Cimarron the summer prior, as well as Precipice Peak. He graciously offered to repeat “El Punto” and “Heisshorn” with me, and I felt fine about soloing the others he had already done. So day one began with a predawn trek along the Porphyry Basin trail. Steep elevation gain gave way to mellower ground, followed by the complete disappearance of the trail into a patch of bushes. After giving up the ghost on finding it again, we worked our way higher and enjoyed a surreal sunrise above treeline.

Sunrise in Porphyry.

Sunrise and silhouettes in upper-Porphyry.

The inner-marmot being properly channeled. That's Precipice in back.

Steve showing off his athleticism in the choss with Precipice in back.

Coxcomb Peak.

Coxcomb Peak.

Choss was the theme of the morning as Porphyry Basin is riddled with it, and the terrain leading up to the north ridge of UN 13,222 is no exception. After a two step forward one step backward perseverance clinic, we topped out on the ridge line just north of the peak.

The north ridge of UN 13,222. This one seems to always seems to show up on people's toughest 13ers lists.

The north ridge of UN 13,222. This one seems to always make its way onto people’s lists of toughest 13ers.

It goes as loose class 4, which we confirmed to be the case soon after leaving the saddle.

It goes at loose class 4, which we confirmed to be the case soon after leaving the saddle.

Some ledges littered with loose choss and ball bearings led to a chimney, then a slightly more solid summit ridge. From there it was an easy stroll to the true summit.

Uncompahgre from 13,222's summit.

Uncompahgre from 13,222’s summit.

Precipice and Dunsinane.

Precipice and Dunsinane.

One down, five more to go. A quick reversal of the route down and back into Porphyry, then a long traverse through the basin and up the loose north slope of UN 13,340 aka “Porphyry Peak”. A short ridge hop then led us to the indistinguishable summit. Two down.

Steve working talus fields up objective #2 with UN 13,322 in back.

Steve working talus fields up ‘Porphyry Peak” with UN 13,322 in back.

Though it harbored some nice views and unique topography I think we were both happy to be out of Porphyry Basin and into the rolling tundra of the Middle Cimarron proper. Travel became much easier along this leg of the loop. Forty minutes after leaving Porphyry we came around a corner and caught our first close-up view of the craggy and somewhat intimidating “El Punto”.

“El Punto”, which resembles the crumbling ruins of a 17th century Bavarian castle atop a strategic perch.

“El Punto” had always been one of my more anticipated 13er summits, thanks to loads of hype, both read and heard, regarding its treacherous nature. “That whole mountain is an unstable pile of sh*t!”, “That thing is a widowmaker!”, and “You’re gonna die!” more or less sums up people’s sentiments. Well, not to sandbag a route that certainly requires care, I was happy to find all of that a bit over the top. Steve and I scrambled up to the summit block, then edged out across the exposed (and quite solid) ledge, and gained the summit without much drama.

Bottom of the summit block on

Bottom of the summit block on “El Punto”. I had heard plenty of nightmare stories about this section of the peak. According to Steve the peak has gotten easier since he climbed it in 2015. Or the difference could have just been mental. Who knows.

Airy moves on crumbly rock.

Airy moves on crumbly rock. Solid holds can be found by those who look for them.

El Punto Summit

“El Punto” summit.

Again, don’t get me wrong. “El Punto” ain’t exactly your grandma’s peak. It’s exposed, it’s looser than most peaks I’ve been on, and it requires graduate level scrambling skills.

Exposure off

The exposure off the summit block’s east side.

We made our way down the peak’s west side via a shorter alternative to the gully I had seen in previous trip reports. Once at the bottom of the summit block we angled due north and scrambled up and over a small bulge, then descended off the other side down a shorter gully. This route avoided most of the rockfall potential from the peak’s summit block down into the primary gully most parties seem to use.

Once back on the tundra we cruised across the basin over to the base of the day’s next challenge – “Heisshorn”.

Steve trying to recreate the cover on the old Cooper's 50 Classic Scrambles book.

Steve trying to recreate the cover shot of the first edition of Cooper’s “50 Classic Scrambles”.

“Heisshorn” is another peak I had heard horror stories about, mainly in reference to its looseness and general demeanor as a sharp ridge line of boulders teetering precariously against one another held together by nothing but air. Well, again, I don’t feel that it quite lived up to that level of hype. It is loose, but solid lines can be found and the scrambling never exceeded class 3. I don’t know, maybe I’m just becoming numb to travel on loose, exposed terrain. The San Juans have a way of doing that to a person I suppose.

The summit pinnacle on

The summit pinnacle on “Heisshorn”.

What we felt was the crux pitch, just below the summit.

Steve climbing what we felt was the crux pitch on “Heisshorn”. This section is just below the summit.


“Heisshorn” summit with Wetterhorn behind.

We figured alcoholic beer on the summit of

Switching it up.

Another careful reversal of our route led us down to the peak’s base, where I said a temporary goodbye to Steve and set off for the final two peaks of the loop (which Steve had already done).

“Heisshorn” Columbines.

Contrary to what other reports seem to show, I elected to skirt around the southeast side of “Heisshorn” (thanks to Steve’s influence) and into upper-East Cimarron creek, then ascended from there. This worked out well and I topped out on UN 13,377 about an hour after leaving “Heisshorn’s” base.

Summit of UN

Summit of UN 13,377 looking northwest at Redcliff (right), Coxcomb (center), and “Cox Beak” (mound in foreground).

“Heisshorn” from UN 13,337 and the workaround visible on the right.

Five down. An easy ridge stroll (interrupted by one small cliff downclimb) led me to the southeast ridge of what is basically a barnacle on Coxcomb’s backside, known as UN 13,206 on USGS maps, or “Cox Beak” to whoever placed the summit register. I like “Cox Beak”, personally. It has a nice ring to it.

“Cox Beak” from the connecting saddle to UN 13,337.

A few distant thunder claps to the south hurried me off the summit of “Cox Beak”. I worked my way back to the trail but not before coming upon a hundred foot cliff band that’s entirely invisible from above and seemed to bisect the entire southern portion of the basin. After getting through that I met Steve along the trail and we slogged out, then spent the evening regaling each other with inspiring tales of heroism and bravery in the face of extreme and imminent danger*.

(*Actually, we just soaked our feet in the creek and drank beer for awhile sans heroic tales, then relocated over to West Cimarron, boiled some tortellini, and drank some more beer. When enough tortellini and beer had been consumed to achieve ample sufficiency, we traded it in for the night.)

Gloomy morning of day 2 from the summit ridge of

Middle Cimarron gloom on the morning of day two.

A 4am wakeup the next day had us walking south up the West Cimarron road, with “Fortress Peak” and Precipice Peak on the brains. Steve had done Precipice, I had done neither. We wound up overshooting the most logical line up Fortress and took a quite illogical one instead. Difficulties were eventually overcome however, and the summit gained.

Redcliff Peak to the south.

Redcliff Peak towering over us to the south.

The heinous mess we worked our way through to obtain the summit. If that isn't path of most resistance, I don't know what is.

The heinous mess we worked our way through to obtain the summit, even though there was a cruiser class 2 ramp less than a quarter mile away.

We hit the summit and considered our options. Steve decided to descend back to camp to give 12er Dunsinane Mountain a go. Since I hadn’t done Precipice I was bent on trying to get over to it. Problem was I had reliable beta that the direct traverse between the two doesn’t really work. From the summit of Fortress I could see a possible workaround down lower provided I could descend into the correct spot and routefind my way back to the ridge line.

Turns out I was able to connect the two peaks in about an hour and a half by dropping roughly 1,000 ft down the west ridge of “Fortress”, traversing below its northern cliffs, and regaining the “Fortress”/Precipice connecting ridge beyond all the difficulties.

Views north to Precipice Peak. The workaround takes the grassy ramp on the nearside of the dense patch of trees, up the weakness in the cliff bands, and gains the ridge north of all the hoodoos.

Views north to Precipice Peak from the summit of “Fortress Peak”. The workaround takes the grassy ramp on the nearside of the dense patch of trees, up the weakness in the cliff bands, and gains the ridge north of all the hoodoos. From there it’s an easy stroll over to Precipice.

Precipice Peak not looking too far away now.

Back on the ridge with Precipice suddenly looking close.

Namesake summit cliff.

Approaching the summit block and namesake summit cliff.

Summit of Precipice with Dunsanine Mountain down below.

Summit of Precipice at 10am with Dunsinane Mountain, Courthouse, and Chimney Rock down below.

I really enjoyed the summit of Precipice. Not only does it have a super unique finish, but I also felt it’s the most traveled of the eight peaks we hit over the weekend. The relative familiarity of it at the tail end of a string of obscure peaks was welcoming. I spent a good thirty minutes on the summit, calling the wife and soaking in the views of this awesome area one more time.

A rain drop signaled it was time to leave, so I picked my way down a fairly hellacious gully back to the road. A creek crossing and short walk had me back at camp, where I indulged in another root beer and waited for Steve to return from Dunsinane. Turns out he wasn’t successful, but at least he got some good views of Precipice from the north. That pesky 12er seems to turn a lot of people away for some reason.

High Alpine Brewing in Gunnison put a nice exclamation point on a fine weekend in the northern-San Juans. Steve, it was a pleasure as always. Onto whatever’s next…

A parting shot.

A parting shot – one more of “El Punto” and resident flora.

Beta sources: Furthermore’s 14ers.com report, Monster5’s 14ers.com report, and first hand info from TravellingMatt over on 14ers.com. Thanks guys.

6 thoughts on “A Weekend in the Cimarrons

  1. Steve

    You really captured the beauty and sort of mystical or surreal sense the Cimarrons evoke, Ben. Looking forward to more San Juan sojourns!

    1. Ben Post author

      Surreal for sure. I’m still not convinced we actually climbed any of these peaks. Take care of that knee!

  2. Floyd

    That’s a heck of a big day on that Saturday and congrats on solving the mystery of that traverse. I was fairly convinced that it would go, but add a 6-12″ layer of snow and we were unable to solve that mystery. Dunsinane is a stiff little PITA. That’s another I’d like to give another try someday.
    You seem to be in a league with hardened peak-baggers with your endurance. If we ever get out together, I think I may need to weigh you down with 8-9 days of food on your back – the great equalizer in my opinion.
    Congrats again on a very successful weekend and continued success on a busy summer.

    1. Ben Post author

      Scot, maybe we can all head back together and try Dunsinane again, and I can become the first person to ever summit it on the first try. Sounds like I may be carrying all of my Dad’s and his girlfriend’s crap into RMNP so the 9 days of food won’t be necessary 🙂

  3. Natalie M

    I haven’t looked much into the area besides Coxcomb and Redcliff, but this certainly piques my interest. Refreshing to hear that El Pinto and Heisshorn are not that bad after hearing of all kinds of horror stories. You guys always seem to be a step or two ahead of me in your explorations (which works for me, haha). Nicely done, as always.

    1. Ben Post author

      Thanks Natalie. I definitely don’t mean to sandbag them, there are some objective hazards for sure. But they’re not the absolute horror shows that people seem to depict. I hadn’t explored anything in there other than Coxcomb/Redcliff either prior to this trip. It’s definitely a place worth visiting beyond those two peaks at some point 🙂


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