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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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” 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.
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.
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”.
“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.
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).
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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…