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Cottonwood Creek Trail #861

Difficult
 3.5 (2)

A reclusive alternative to Crestone Peak South Face and Crestone Needle South Face.


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Map Key

4.4

Miles

7.1

KM

57%

Runnable

12,312' 3,753 m

High

8,439' 2,572 m

Low

3,873' 1,181 m

Up

0' 0 m

Down

17%

Avg Grade (9°)

39%

Max Grade (21°)

Dogs Unknown

While this access route to the Crestones is much quieter, wayfinding is a bit more laborious along this trail, especially through the willows in the last half mile or so.

As far as I can tell, it is legal as of now to hike this trail. In years past, you had to secure permission to use the trail, but the Tashi Gomang Stupa has opened the road for temporary access. Do your part to keep it clean and quiet. Don't enter the private property on either side of the road, or beyond the trailhead.

Need to Know

If you're using this trail to access Crestone Needle or Crestone Peak, keep in mind they are both class-3 14ers. Bring a helmet, know the route, and do your research. These are not easy mountains. It's too easy to veer off into class-4 or class-5 terrain if you aren't careful. Crestone Needle is supposedly the hardest down-climb of any of the Colorado 14ers.

Description

The trail starts out on a private road south of Crestone, leading to the Tashi Gomang Stupa. Be careful not to enter the private property beyond the trailhead's small pullout, or on either side of the road.

The first three miles or so unravel along a bona fide trail through pine and aspen, and a thick undergrowth. Some of the trip reports I read said downed logs obscured the trail, but that wasn't the case for me. It looks like someone has been busy with a chainsaw in here. There are a few overgrown areas, though, so pay attention not to follow a game trail too far off track.
The elevation doesn't gain much yet this low in the canyon, but soon, the going gets a little rougher as the trail cuts across boulder fields. Cairns, though, dozens of them, blaze a good trail. Keep your eyes open, there were a few places in this section where I almost lost the route.

The elevation slowly gains ground through the boulders. At 3.3 miles, Cottonwood Creek meets with another unnamed creek. Here, the trail follows the water as it veers left. This is where things really get dicey.

A wide switchback wraps an easy contour to the base of a waterfall and a narrow class-3 move which clambers up the terrain left of the creek. The cairns lead here, but the other option is to head up the class-2 boulderfield to the right and wrap back around to the cairns on top of the boulders.

Above the waterfall and beyond the boulders, a meadow brings you to the base of another large rock wall. Following cairns to the top (nothing exceeds class-2), the forest quickly gives way to the willows. Through here, really keep your eyes open, because if you get off trail you'll end up face-deep in their ruthless branches. As you slowly work your way through the elevation, the Crestones come into view at the head of the basin. When you see Crestone Peak's Red Gully, you're getting close.

The trail tapers out in the last quarter mile, but continue above the boulders towards the cliffs below Crestone Needle. Eventually, the threaded game trails will empty onto the main trail.

From here, follow the main trail left for Crestone Peak. But for Crestone Needle, the trail wraps the north side of the lake then continues east. After 1/3rd of a mile, the trail turns towards a narrow gully, then gains 400 feet to the top of Broken Hand Pass. From Broken Hand Pass, turn left along the ridge to the Crestone Needle route.

Contacts

Shared By:

Zander Göpfert with improvements by Caroline Cordsen

Trail Ratings

  3.5 from 2 votes

#8

in Crestone

#22527

Overall
  3.5 from 2 votes
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50%
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Trail Rankings

#8

in Crestone

#1,823

in Colorado

#22,527

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3,458 Since Aug 22, 2018
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Photos

A small runoff pool near Cottonwood Lake.
Mar 4, 2015 near Crestone, CO

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