Peak(s):  Cottonwood Pk A  -  13,588 feet
Date Posted:  11/23/2015
Date Climbed:   11/09/2015
Author:  moneymike
 Type I or Type II fun?   

Type I or Type II fun? Most of my ski mountaineering trips easily lie within the type II fun category. The kind of fun that isn't really fun at the time, mostly laborious and often painful, but becomes fun in my memory when it is all over. The character building, story worthy kind of pain...I mean fun.

I suppose, there's often a brief moment of Type I fun (fun that's fun at the time) during the type II fun trips. Like the brief portion of the trip when you're skiing and not climbing up or hiking out. However, it's mostly type II fun...well, for humans at least. A day in the backcountry with the pooch is enough to convince me that dogs only experience type I fun.

Anyway, enough philosophizing. Here's a little beta for skiing Cottonwood Peak in the Sangre de Cristo range, from the east (Cloverdale Basin).

After an enjoyable type I ish ski descent of a Sangre peak a week earlier, I decided to head back to the Sangres for another round of some type II fun with, hopefully, a little type I mixed in. The northern Sangres appeared pretty white from my vantage point in Fountain, CO. So, I decided on Cottonwood peak.

I will leave out the details of my first attempt at Cottonwood Peak, where I discovered at the trail head that I had forgotten my ski boots, and I will skip to the successful attempt the following day.

After two hours of driving, I arrived in the small village of Hillside. From Hillside, you take CR 198 west. After 0.2 miles, veer right at the fork. After 2.9 miles, you will come to another fork. A sign at the fork indicates that you turn left for Ducket, turn right for the Lutheran camp, and go straight for Ballman reservoir. You want to go towards Ballman, however, you don't want to go straight (it's a fork, you can only go left or right. Going straight will take you off the road).

Veer right at this fork if you have four wheel drive. I noticed a pull-out on the left side of the left fork that might be ideal for 2wd vehicles. On second thought, if you don't have 4wd, you might not want to bother with this peak.

At 3.4 miles (or 0.5 from the last fork), the 4wd begins. The road starts out rough and stays that way. If you don't like what you're experiencing, or are towing an atv, you can find parking after 0.2 and 0.3 miles from the start of the 4wd road.

I will warn you, this is a rough road, and it is consistently rough. Don't expect to be driving more than 5mph. The good news is there are no real crux moves. It's rough, but consistent. If you can handle the first mile (or perhaps even the first half mile), you can handle the rest. My Xterra with off road tires had no trouble. The only question is, how far can you go before you get stopped by snow? I got to around 10,000 feet elevation. This is above Ballman reservoir and below Rainbow lake.

In little over an hour, we skinned and hiked our way along the wide open 4wd road to the upper cabins.

Cottonwood to the right

Can't see a continuous skiable line? Neither can I, but let's keep going

Past the cabins, we followed a defunct 4wd road to tree line (with a couple detours to skirt fallen trees).


Once at tree line, climb up and slightly right toward silver lake.


Silver lake below Cottonwood Peak

But don't forget to look behind you and see the cool views of the valley and Pikes Peak in the distance.


And don't forget to take time to play in the snow. That's why we are here!


Stay well to the left of the lake and once past the lake, veer right into the willows.

"What? Go into the willows? Are you some sort of masochist?"

No, getting through the willows is easy. Look...


Head up and to the right. A snow filled gully allows easy skinning to the saddle point on Cottonwood's NE ridge.



Once at the saddle, follow the ridge to the summit. The ridge is an easy class 2 hike through easy talus.

The right side of the ridge has some cliffs, but nothing a competent primate would consider dangerous. A dog however? Penny is not clumsy and probably more than capable of avoiding walking off an obvious cliff, but I get very nervous every time she walks close to a cliff. And I'm not sure she understands that the snow at the edge of a cliff might not be supportable. So to save myself a little stress, I took a less efficient route on the face to the left of the ridge.


Eagle Peak




Looking south towards the Sangre 14ers

Looking south

As for the descent, I had to take a not-so-continuous path down the face, sticking close to the SE ridge.



Before I descended to the saddle, I found a continuous line leading into the basin


In retrospect, I would say this peak is not a "skier's" mountain. The unsupportable thin snow pack took a toll on my skis and on Penny's feet. I would definitely put this in the type II category. In spite of scraped up feet and legs, I'm sure Penny enjoyed every minute of it. Type I in her mind.

Always plenty of mining history in Colorado's mountains

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

 Comments or Questions

You inspire!
11/23/2015 14:08
Your dedication to getting a ski out of a climb is inspirational. Well done!


Oh sh!t
11/23/2015 17:19
Mike, I love this area. I wouldn’t say Cottonwood is "not" a skier’s mountain, it just needs some good conditions on the south side and a bit of wind-luck throughout the winter.

BTW, do you hate you skis? It’s November!


My trip reports inspire?
11/25/2015 10:01
Thanks jmanner. I usually just aim for "not the biggest waste of time on the internet." Thanks for flattering me.

BillMiddlebrook: That peak just needs a bit of "wind luck?" That sounds like a politicians way of saying "that peak gets wind raped from all angles." No disrespect to that area, it’s great in there. Check out that peak on the left of image 1.

And, no, I don’t hate my skis. Let’s not use the h word. Let’s just call it "type II love."

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