Peak(s):  "Crestolita"  -  13,270 feet
Milwaukee Pk  -  13,522 feet
Pico Aislado  -  13,611 feet
PT 13,020 A  -  13,020 feet
Date Posted:  10/14/2019
Date Climbed:   09/24/2019
Author:  SnowAlien
Additional Members:   Grizzly Adams
 13ers of Cottonwood creek  

Crestolita via Analemma route

September 23rd, 2019

Trailhead: Cottonwood Creek
4 miles ~3,100 ft backpacking, 2 miles and ~1,900 ft of climbing; ~8.5 hours including setting up camp

Pico Aislado has been on my bi-centennial to-do list seemingly forever, only preceeded by Obstruction peak, 7 years and counting :) Most parties prefer to hike it from the Music pass (which also requires high clearance 4x4), but when combined with Milwaukee and UN 13,020A and going over the passes on the way back, it becomes a huge day - something to the tune of 6,000 ft. Shawn and I were talking about doing this group last fall, but after the 5-day Weminuche Johnson Creek extravaganza, he ended up in a boot. A walking boot, for 2 months, and all scrambling last fall was canceled. Thankfully this year, he took my advice for La Sportiva Raptors, and as a result, 2 weeks after the end of our 9-day Weminuche adventure, we both found ourselves near the Cottonwood Creek TH on a Sunday night. Since Shawn lives in Durango, the western side of the Sangres is much more accessible to him (saves a few more hours of driving), and I needed Crestolita, which is also accessible from Cottonwood creek TH. In addition, we only had 2 days to fit all the peaks in, needing to be back at work on Wednesday.

Route selection issue obviously came up. I sent Shawn a report on SW ridge from this site, which he soon counted with "Analemma" route from Summit post. I knew my cause was pretty much lost after that. Packed just for one overnight, the pack felt surprisingly reasonable, and with 7.20 am start, we were making great time on the Cottonwood trail. After about 3 hours on the trail, we turned right at the split, and went another 3/4 mile, looking for a suitable campsite. I also wanted to preview the possible descent on Crestolita's southern slopes. After setting up the campsite, we retraced our steps back to the split, and headed up towards the Cottonwood lake. Now, I haven't been back on this trail since the winter of '14, so it was a walk down the memory lane. The trail still felt pretty steep, and the waterfalls were gushing, even in September. We located the Analemma route from the SP description, and at the non-alpine hour of 1pm started heading up. I since then have put up a route description on MP, so I just add some pictures here.

Crestone Needle from Cottonwood creek approach
Gushing waterfall in late September - you know it's been a great snow year
Big roof above the Cottonwood lake and the start of the route
Shawn starting out on Analemma
Carefully traversing to somewhat easier terrain
Shawn with Broken Hand peak behind him
Shawn returns from a scouting mission

Albeit steep, climbing was straightforward and enjoyable, and in about an hour we were on the summit. Bonus - we could see our campsite from the ridge, just a mile and 2,000 feet down!

Road to campsite
Class 2 descent straight down to camp
Pt 13,020A on the left

Milwaukee, Pico Aislado, UN 13,020A and backpack out

September 24th, 2019

4 miles ~3,300 ft climbing, 4 miles and ~3,100 ft (descent) backpacking; ~11.5 hours including packing up camp

Next morning, around 7.30 am we left our camp only to discover that the faint trail goes nowhere after 0.2 miles. Oh well. We crossed the creek and tried to find a trail on the other side. Still nothing. After a little willow bashing we finally got above the treeline. But as we were hiking in the basin around 12,600 ft, I spotted some rocks stacked on top of each other, like a wind shelter. Oh wait, it's not a wind shelter, it's a constructed trail. A good one! We were happy to find it and took it all the way to the saddle with Milwaukee.

Hiking with the valley behind me
Shawn on well-constructed, but little-used trail which took us to the ridge
Trail helpfully traverses across the cliff

But even with the good trail at the end, the approach felt long, and we finally arrived at the notch with Milwaukee around 9.45 am and took a little break. Now the fun begins!

Approaching the saddle with Milwaukee

We read in other reports that there was an exposed ledge to cross. But once we got to the notch, nothing looked particularly friendly and a little loose, so we just headed up. Shawn took the ridge proper, and I went a few feet to the right (north) and the climbing didn't exceed Class 4 for me. This maneuver allowed us to gain the next ledge, where things got a bit interesting.

Shawn sizes up his route on the upper ledge

Shawn decided that he liked what he saw and headed up (looked like, while I just wasn't feeling it. I needed a warm-up :) This was the first trip for my new La Sportiva Raptors, which I could tell didn't climb as well as my old Akyras (but I like them better for cushioning). So I kept walking the ledge to see what I find. Just around the corner there was a loose, angling downclimb, which led me to the grassy terrain around the corner. I should have turned hard right and joined Shawn on the ridge proper, but I just headed straight up. The start was a steep chimney, which required some thoughtful moves, but the rest was fun class 4 with lots of options. I had to yell at Shawn to wait for me to get past this section (obviously his route was more efficient). We were a bit bummed the climbing was over so quickly, when we reached the summit in 25 minutes from the notch. We were just hoping we will have more fun on Pico Aislado.

Me climbing up to the ridge (photo by Shawn)
Topping out on the ridge

We noticed some familiar names on the register, which we missed by a day or two and took a 30 minute break. Shawn could even make a work phone call. Feeling unfulfilled, he also suggested running up the interesting-looking North ridge up Music and back, but thankfully I had already hiked that one via its South ridge from Tijeras and vetoed the detour. :)

Summit by 10.10 am with Pico Aislado up next
Walking the ridge to the summit
Heading towards Pico Aislado
On the ridge to Pico
L->R Music, Tijeras and the Cleveland group
Pico Aislado

Near the saddle we stopped to evaluate our options. We read there was a route called the "Wedgie", but it looked like it was shortening the scrambling by not going to the summit directly, and also required some elevation loss to get into it. So I decided to start on the right, next to the gully/notch, and move more left once the climbing gets more difficult (the upper section looked potentially problematic). I forgot what his reasoning was, but Shawn decided to start on the "Wedgie", so our paths briefly split.

Halfway up the face, I was fully expecting to see Shawn next to me or above, but he was nowhere to be seen. Then I suddenly see him down below quickly climbing up to me, so I decided to wait for him. He informed me that "Wedgie" looked too easy, so he downclimbed and came over. Climbing definitely got more interesting pretty quickly!

Shawn's view of me
Zoom-in - climbing didn't exceed Class 3 up to this point
Shawn catching up to me
Ridge back to Milwaukee

After a short break (for Shawn), he was ready to take it up a notch. Climbing progressively got more difficult, and I started looking for an easier line, trying to stay in the Class 4 range, but the rock quality was great.

Staying on the ridge proper
Near the summit on Pico
Topping out on Pico

After hanging out on the summit for close to 40 minutes (it's surprising we accomplish anything with such extended summit stays), we headed towards our final objective, UN 13,020A. Somehow I had a "brilliant" idea of staying on the ridge (mostly to avoid talus), while Shawn took the gully to the left. Only one section gave me a little trouble (and I also managed to trundle a huge rock), but the rest was class 2+.

Rugged ridge descent off Pico
Probably some climbing routes on that buttress
Pico ridge in rearview mirrow
Ridge to UN 13,020A
Done with climbing, now just for 5,000 ft descent

On the last summit by 1.30 pm, we took a short break and started heading down. Although the descent was steep, loose and unpleasant at times, it wasn't terrible as we found some grassy ramps. I think we were getting tired and ready for trail miles more than anything. From the unnamed lake near 11,800 ft, we were able to find segments of a faint trail and sporadic cairns. We got back to camp around 3.30 pm.

Descent gully
Unnamed lake
Campsite with a view

Although the days were still warm (t-shirt weather), it was noticeable how much colder the nights got in just 2 weeks since the Weminuche trip. The change of seasons was palpable. We packed up the camp and headed back by 4.30 pm. Shawn hasn't done Crestones yet, but decided not to stay another night. He liked the Cottonwood trail so much, he wanted to hike it again sometimes :) After booking down the Cottonwood trail, we made it back to the cars at 6.45 pm, before needing the headlamps. Another fine Sangres adventure on the books!

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

 Comments or Questions

Nice one!!
10/14/2019 09:19
Really enjoyed your report. Love the pics. We did Crestone Peak from the Cottonwood Creek trail a couple of years ago - so awesome up in there and we really marveled at the peaks you hit. Looks like it was a great adventure!


Great report
10/14/2019 13:05
Those are on my list, thanks for moving them up a bit. Great photos !

Grizzly Adams

A quickie
10/16/2019 21:20
but well worth the drive. I'd say route selection was spot on again and the rock quality made all of them possible. Analemna is a great route, I forget how many feet we figured it was but it felt like it was over way too soon. The Wedgie looked fun but I had to turn back and get back on the ridge after seeing you start up, maybe next time. After a four hr plus drive I'm usually not real interested in overnighters but these are a great group of peaks with so many more close by that I'll be willing to fight the crowds and mosquitoes for a few of them next year.

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