Peak(s):  Fluted Pk  -  13,554 feet
Horn Pk  -  13,450 feet
Little Horn Pk  -  13,143 feet
Date Posted:  09/17/2017
Modified:  09/20/2017
Date Climbed:   09/16/2017
Author:  rajz06
 Of Horns, Great and Little  

Starting Point: Horn Creek Trailhead: ~9,100'
Peaks Climbed in order of ascent: Little Horn Peak (13,143'), Fluted Peak (13,554'), Horn Peak (13,450')
Route: Northeast ridge ascent of Little Horn, ridge traverse to Fluted and Horn, northeast ridge descent from Horn
RT Distance: ~11.35 miles (from GPX file)
Elevation Gain/Loss: ~5,740 feet (from Google Maps)
Group: Solo

Horn Peak is easily the most prominent peak driving into Westcliffe from the east. It dominates the skyline even amongst the giants of the Sangre De Cristo range.

The Majestic Horn Peak

Climbing Horn Peak by itself from the Horn Creek trailhead would be a satisfying day's work. But if your goal is to get two, or better yet, three birds with one stone, all you would have to do is add the two neighboring peaks that form a majestic cirque around Dry Creek.

Dry Creek Cirque

The only question that remained then was which of the three would be first one up. I decided on the lesser traveled approach by tackling Little Horn's northeast ridge first. I figured the descent off Horn on a well-worn trail would be a good reward for tired feet at day's end.

Trail 1342 branches off the main trail, heading directly for Horn Creek and eventually to the lakes that it feeds.

TR 1342 is the one

Just over a half mile along the trail, I took leave of the trail to make my way up the treed hillside to gain Little Horn's northeast ridge.

This where I left the trail

Through the woods we go

Finding game trails made the job of weaving through the trees easier.

Game trails came in handy

Following the faint trail

As I would soon discover, treeline on this ridge is not exactly an abrupt transition. The trees start to thin out around 11,500' affording the hiker the first view of Little Horn's northeast ridge leading to the false summit.

Almost at treeline


But, the trees were far from done. The best path from here drops just south (hiker's left) of the ridge, meanders through the trees and undergrowth, and follows another game trail that eventually regains the ridge.

And we're back in the trees...

No prizes for spotting this one

The most resolute pines had defiantly staked their claim at 12,200' on the south slopes leading to the ridge.

Those pines don't give up

The lower part of the ridge to Little Horn has more than its share of rock outcroppings, all of which I safely bypassed on "tundra" firma.

Skirting the rock outcroppings

At 13,000', there is less than 150 vertical feet left on the climb, but the fun now ramps up by an order of magnitude.

Now the fun begins

The ridge narrows and a notch leads to a headwall that blocks passage to the false summit.


I bypassed the notch by dropping to the south (climber's left) and skirting around some imposing rock formations.

Skirting around the headwall

I didn't have to skirt for long as I found a ramp that led me back to the ridge before the false summit.

Finding a ramp back to the ridge

The final pitch

One more hurdle separated me from an easy trudge to the first summit of the day.

One more hurdle

This may have been the lowest peak on this cirque, but it was a hard-earned summit. Views from this lowly 13er also did not disappoint. The smoke from the west coast fires that had filled the skies for weeks appeared to have been mostly dispatched.

The Crestones et al

Mt. Adams reaching for the skies

The winds had picked up through my ascent to this summit and were now blasting from the west straight toward me as I set out down the rocky ridge to the saddle with Fluted Peak.

Heading down to the saddle

The ridge to Fluted Peak is broken by ribs and riddled with rocky outcroppings, so the most efficient route stays below the crest; I hovered no lower than ~12,800' skirting most of the rocky ribs at their low points.

Staying just below the ridge crest

One of many rocky ribs

And another...

In contrast with the northeast ridge of Little Horn, the entire route to Fluted was rather tame and devoid of challenges; this would turn out to be case for most of the remaining ridge traverse for the day. Perhaps, I'd made a wise choice in ascending Little Horn first.

Contouring around the last of the ribs, I aimed for the high point on the ridge which turned out to be the confluence of three ridges at 13,400', one of which links with Adams Peak to the south.

Aiming for the ridge

Connecting ridge to Mt. Adams

From here the namesake flutes on the summit ridge were all that was left between me and the highest point of the day, which was atop the third flute.

The flutes of Fluted Peak

Any notion I might've harbored of staying on this summit was quickly dispatched by the raging winds that now showed no mercy; it was an incessant lashing from the west, and all I could think of was that I couldn't wait to get my back to that battering ram. Despite that, this was a special station in a special range, so I enjoyed the views.

Horn - Great and Little

Fall colors drape the valley

Closeup of the Crestones

Majestic Horn Peak was my next goal, so I started down the north ridge of Fluted, aiming for the point where it meets the west ridge of Horn. This ridge traverse was longer than the one between Little Horn and Fluted, but quite straightforward as I stayed on or just below the crest for the most part.

Ridge to Horn Peak

On the ridge crest

After skirting around one rock formation, I aimed for the highest point on the ridge.

Aiming for the high point on the ridge

After regaining the ridge, the Final pitch to the summit of Horn Peak was a relatively easy scramble over rocks.

Final ridge scramble

The winds were still blowing and it was clear my stay on this ridge was not going to get even remotely comfortable. But I had worked hard to get to this station and wanted to savor the fruits of my labor.

The previous two summits in the foreground; sheer ruggedness in the background

Closeup of Rito Alto to the northwest

My descent from Horn Peak was misguided as I figured I could shorten my return by aiming straight down the east slopes.

Heading down the steep east slopes

The terrain was steep and loose in sections, forcing me to re-evaluate my approach. I ended up doing a significant amount of sidehilling, passing a loose gully in the process and eventually connecting with the lower northeast ridge just above treeline.

Sidehilling around the gully

I was finally grateful to be on a trail instead of slipping and sliding over uncertain terrain. All in all, my choice of approach on this loop had played out well: a fun scramble up the first peak, an enjoyable ridge traverse to the second and third despite the nasty wind, rewarding views of the Sangres, and even an early glimpse into fall colors to boot. Not too shabby.

Fall is almost here

P.S. Upon further research and spurred by comments (see below), I've added what I believe will be a better descent option from Horn Peak: i.e. descending via its east ridge and eventually finding a good spot to descend north and cross Hennequin Creek and connect to the trail. I've shown this option in the image below in white. Alternatively, one may be able to drop south from lower on the east ridge and connect with the Dry Creek trail which would shorten the return trip even more. Some good options for the next adventurer to consider...

East ridge descent option shown in white

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

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 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41

 Comments or Questions

Excellent loop!
09/18/2017 06:43
Looks like some fun scrambling with great views! Thanks for sharing, Raj!


09/18/2017 17:49
I did this same loop earlier this summer! I chose to stay on trails though - took Horn Creek trail up to the Horn Lakes and ascended the grassy slopes of Little Horn. From there, just like you I stayed on the ridge to Fluted and the big Horn. But from Horn peak summit I dropped due South (ouch my knees!), and caught the Dry creek trail back to the TH. A bit rough of a loop to kick off the summer hiking season, but oh well.


09/18/2017 21:06
Thanks, Doug! It was a fun outing, no doubt.
Natalie: Descending the south slopes of Horn doesn't seem too pleasant, but I can't imagine any loop being "rough" for you!


09/19/2017 14:33
When my friend & I hiked this loop last October - we started the loop as Raj; bushwhacking to the ridge. Your pic 4 & 5 look rather familiar! After doing the loop which had plenty of fun, optional scrambling - we descended more or less as Natalie describes. Hitting the Dry Creek Trail just a bit below the farthest east lake. Thanks for the trip down memory lane! Nice TR!


09/20/2017 20:47
TMTYS: Now that I've studied the terrain in some detail, it looks like descending via the east ridge (rather than the northeast ridge) of Horn would be a more expedient option to connect to Horn Peak trail. I've shown this in image 41, for what it's worth.


Great Report
10/02/2017 15:53
I read another report on this loop on the 13ers site and thought it looked great. Now I know it is something I have to do. Thank you!


Nice report!
06/15/2020 13:58
Thanks for the detailed info and gps track.

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