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Topic: TR: Colorado Sangres< Next Oldest | Next Newest >
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cweston Search for posts by this member.

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PostIcon Posted on: Jul. 30 2013, 9:00 am  Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

This was supposed to be an out-and-back from Music Pass over Milwaukee Pass (aka Cottonwood Pass), but ended up being a trans-Sangre hike from Music Pass to Crestone. But more on that later.

7/24 Day Zero: We drive uneventfully to Westcliffe, take a warm-up hike to Venable Falls, and camp at the (lower) Music Pass trailhead. It storms fairly intensely around 8:00. (It had also rained a bit earlier in the afternoon.)

7/25 Day 1: We hike the tedious 2.5 road miles to the 4wd trailhead, and make Music Pass fairly early in the day. We make camp at about 1:00 at the head of Sand Creek, at about 11,300. We nap and have an early dinner, then take an hike up to Upper Sand Creek Lake. It's pretty threatening but never really storms much. The Sand Creek Lakes, IMHO, are not really destination-worthy: the forest that one climbs through to get there is dark, dank, and dull, and the lakes themselves are merely scenic in an area filled with jaw-dropping scenery. But we needed something to do :)



7/26 Day 2: We wake up to a beautiful day, and head up. It's not too bad of a haul to the saddle above sand creek (overlooking the South Colony drainage), and this saddle just might be the best trail-accessible view in the area. As I said, jaw-dropping views of Broken Hand, Crestone Needle and the S Colony Lakes.

From there, it's higher and higher on a well-built but somewhat exposed trail to Milwaukee Pass (ca. 13,300), which is a notch a couple hundred feet below the summit of Milwaukee. More jaw-dropping views. I was practically accosted by a marmot at the very crest of the pass.






We drop a bit down the sketchier trail on the Cottonwood side before having lunch, figuring we've made it far enough off the pass early enough to be well safe of the anticipated afternoon storm. But at 12:30, the storm hits. We descended another ca. 1000 feet in torrential hail. (The Cottonwood Creek trail is completely non-existant through the upper Cottonwood basin.) When we finally decided to pitch a tent, we had to wait about a half hour for it to let up enough to do it without completely soaking the tent.

The storm finally passes, we get warm in our (mostly) dry bags, and the rest of the day is gorgeous.



7/26 Day 3: We head out early to climb Broken Hand peak. We're a little spooked by how early it stormed the day before. (We had considered climbing Humboldt instead, but decided we didn't have time.) The area between our camp and the slopes leading to the saddle between Crestolita and Broken Hand are very brushy and still dripping wet--yuck. There are a couple "false saddles" on the way to the true saddle, which is a little demoralizing for my daughter. The view of the Crestones and Cottonwood Lake is stunning from here. We head up to the summit of Broken Hand from this saddle. Beautiful. We hurry some, trying to beat the storm that would actually never come this afternoon, so we ended up with a lot of time to kill in camp the rest of the day.







7/27 Day 4: This is the day we're supposed to go back over Milwaukee Pass and out to the car. It rained steady all night, and we woke up to completely socked it conditions. I knew at 6:30 when I looked out the tent that there was no way we were going back over Milwaukee--when it rains all night and is socked in like that in the morning, it's generally not going to just clear up. (We later learned that there were blizzard conditions this afternoon above 12,500--Milwaukee Pass is at 13,300.) She was adamant that we should go--knowing that this was a reckless (to the point of suicidal) decision, I talked her into dropping down the Cottonwood Creek trail to Crestone instead. (I figured we could pay one of the "colorful" locals in Crestone to shuttle us back to the car.)


(This is the only pic from this day)

The Cottonwood trail has been essentially abandoned for many years, because private land blocked access and the owners decided to not allow use. The NPS or NFS has very recently acquired land or rights or something so that the trail can be accessed again. The Cottonwood Creek drainage is absolutely spectacular--deep gorges, beautiful waterfalls, moss-draped Douglas Firs and huge aspen stands. But the trail is hardcore--very hard to follow in places, blowdowns everywhere, tricky creek crossings, and it one spot it drops hundreds of feet down sheer rock faces that were horribly slippery when wet. (We went down on our butts.) Cottonwood Creek gains about 5,000 feet in about 6 miles.

Oh yeah--it started raining about 10 minutes after we started down, and rained steady the whole time.

When we finally made the trailhead, there was no one around and the roads were confusing, so I called my wife and had her call the Sagauche county sheriff to send someone to pick us up. (Don't forget to leave all of that kind of information with someone at home!) It was a SAR guy who picked us up--he was the one that told us about the blizzard going on above.) We headed into Crestone for a meal and to formulate a plan.

(Crestone and Westcliffe are 15 miles apart, but it's 125 miles by road.)

Lot's of SAR types were hanging out at the bar/restaurant--several praised us for making a smart, conservative choice. Apparently a guy died up in that area about a week ago. This was exactly what my daughter needed to hear, since she thought I was being ridiculously cautious. We were able to hire a ride. We got back to the car after midnight and drove home through the night.

The area around Milwaukee Pass and the upper Cottonwood drainage is simply stunning. The view of the Crestones from Broken Hand Peak is unbelievable. It's incredibly rugged terrain. The one-way trans-Sangre hike that we ended up doing is absolutely classic, if you could arrange transportation. (The simplest option would be to spend the night in Crestone and hike back over Veneble Pass.) But Cottonwood Creek is intense. (The fact that we hiked down it definitely gave us some cred with the locals.)

One can now hike all the way up Sand Creek from a couple miles south of the Cottonwood Creek trailhead and make a loop, which would be an absolute classic hike, spanning every elevation and ecosystem the Sangres have. I must do it some day.

Tons of pics Here.
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PostIcon Posted on: Jul. 30 2013, 10:21 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Nice TR. I keep saying I have to explore the Sangres, but I haven't been there yet.

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PostIcon Posted on: Jul. 30 2013, 10:29 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

"She," BTW, was my daughter--I didn't mean to be cryptic about that...
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PostIcon Posted on: Jul. 30 2013, 12:17 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I like Sand Creek Lakes. Great fishing and have seen BIG Rams there multiple times. I did Milwaukee years ago, got chased off by thunder right at lunch time.

Crestone is a town that is REALLY coming into its own. Some great restaurants in a setting I think is as spectacular as any town in Colorado.

I always suggest folks foregoe Venable Pass and hike the Phantom Terrace.

Thanks for sharing man, glad you had fun.


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PostIcon Posted on: Jul. 30 2013, 2:40 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(double cabin @ Jul. 30 2013, 11:17 am)
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I like Sand Creek Lakes. Great fishing and have seen BIG Rams there multiple times. I did Milwaukee years ago, got chased off by thunder right at lunch time.

I love Crestone. Where else could you walk into a bar and find someone to drive you 125 miles at 8:00 pm? Plus, it's simply the best people watching place I know.

Yeah, I don't fish. so that's not part of my calculus. Don't get me wrong, they're pretty (and I've seen sheep in that area also), but Upper Sand Creek Lake is at about 11,800. Other lakes and basins in the area at that elevation strike me as much more spectacular.

Let's face it--it takes a lot to stand out in that part of the Sangres.

Milwaukee Pass is a great route--I would definitely do it again. And you're pretty-well assured of solitude if you camp in the main Cottonwood Basin rather than at Cottonwood Lake.
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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 01 2013, 8:33 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I remember researching Cottonwood Creek and reading old TRs, but never went that way. When I was in the Cottonwood Basin I looked for a trail but didn't see one. It would be nice if a trail opens up to relieve some of the pressure on South Colony Lakes.

Crestone Needle isn't a very tough climb. One short section is exposed, but I bet you wouldn't have had a problem with it.

This is a great story. Thanks for sharing.
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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 01 2013, 10:00 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(toejam @ Aug. 01 2013, 7:33 am)
QUOTE
I remember researching Cottonwood Creek and reading old TRs, but never went that way. When I was in the Cottonwood Basin I looked for a trail but didn't see one. It would be nice if a trail opens up to relieve some of the pressure on South Colony Lakes.

Crestone Needle isn't a very tough climb. One short section is exposed, but I bet you wouldn't have had a problem with it.

This is a great story. Thanks for sharing.

The trail is really, truly non-existent in the basin. It is well engineered coming down from Milwaukee Pass into Cottonwood basin, and pretty-much steadily exists (if a little thin) once you get down to, say, 10,800 or so in the lower, timbered part of the basin. The trick (descending) is that you need to cross to the south side of the creek between the lower basin and the narrow gorge just above the confluence of the creek coming down from Cottonwood Lake.

I would do Crestone Needle, and possibly will some day. I prefer class 2 scrambles but am OK with class 3. My daughter would have been way beyond her comfort zone there, though. The steepness of Broken Hand really freaked her out, especially down climbing.

I'm not sure how they'd ever be able to make Cottonwood Creek into a "regular hikers" trail--there is a section that climbs right up polished rock slabs. It's class 3 climbing, and there'd be no way to change that, short of blasting a trail out of the rocks, which the NFS certainly isn't going to have the budget to do any time in the foreseeable future.
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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 01 2013, 10:42 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

To clarify, there are a few things the USFS could do, if they had the budget and the inclination, to make the route much easier to follow. They could mark a route through the basin with cairns and/or posts, brush out the route, cut out deadfall, mark the junctions, etc.

But, that's still not going to change the fact that one has to navigate the class 3 section in the rock slabs, and it would take a huge investment to do anything about that.
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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 01 2013, 2:52 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Here is a nice blog entry about the complete Sand Creek/Cottonwood loop.
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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 02 2013, 10:10 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

cweston,

thanks for the TR, blog URL. A friend moved to Crestone and I've been thinking of visiting there. Your report, DC's comments, make the Sangres sound like they have a quiet side. Always thought they'd be scenic, just wondered about amounts of trail traffic there.
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PostIcon Posted on: Aug. 02 2013, 7:45 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic.  Ignore posts   QUOTE

You can definitely find solitude in the Sangres. Maybe not at Willow Lake or South Colony Lakes, but OTOH, those places are so beautiful that it's worth going there anyway.
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