Mt. Princeton P2K
Tigger Peak
Peak 12,581ft P300
Turner Peak P1K
Peak 12,580ft P300
Peak 12,792ft P500

Sun, Sep 1, 2019
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profiles: 1 2


Mt. Princeton

Mt. Princeton towers over the Arkansas River Valley in Colorado, one of the few 14ers whose summit can be seen from the town of Buena Vista where I've been hanging out for much of the past week. The most popular route is from the east where a 4WD road climbs to 12,000ft and can make this a fairly short outing. Roach's guidebook, Colorado's Fourteeners, suggests stopping at one of two lower places, 10,800ft where there are some telecom antennae, and 11,000ft where there are some campsites. Beyond that he warns there are few parking spaces and difficulties turning around. I drove to the 11,000-foot spot the night before and slept there, hiking up from that spot in the morning. Roach's warnings about driving further seem overblown or outdated, as it appears one can drive to the start of the Princeton Trail where there are several parking spots, or to the top on the SE Ridge of bonus Tigger Peak where there is ample parking. I was awakened shortly before 6a by a group of hikers coming up the road with headlamps, figuring it was a good time for me to get going too. I futzed around long enough that a headlamp wouldn't be needed, per my usual starting condition.

I hiked up the road with a group of 8-10 of my best friends whom I just met on the trail, eventually outdistancing them in the mile and a half of walking on the road. I found the start of the trail with little trouble, finding it easy at first as it traverses into the drainage basin east of Princeton's summit. The good earth trail soon deteriorated into an old mining trail through boulders. Most of the top 2,000ft of Princeton can be described as a rubble pile and the trail through it is one of the least developed I've seen on the Sawatch 14ers. In fact, it was basically a slog for two miles, even with the so-called "trail". The trail eventually climbs up to the SE Ridge, marked by couple of very large cairns where the trail turns sharply upwards. The ridge is no better, with numerous trail threads pretending to be helpful, all ending in more boulder scrambling. I spent a little over two hours on the 3mi+ effort, getting to the top sometime after 8a. Among the summit boulders were a number of rock windscreens, fine views in all directions (west - north - east - south), but little else to recommend the summit.

On my way back down, I took the extra credit detour to continue on the ridge up to Tigger Peak (a play on Princeton's mascot, the tiger). Another climber was coming up from the other direction to the southeast, and we met atop Tigger within a few minutes of each other. We exchanged pleasantries and continued on our respective ways. As I was heading down Tigger's SE Ridge towards the top of the 4WD road, I encountered a small herd of mountain goats, 5-6 in all with a young one in tow. They didn't seem too frightened when they saw me, looking quizzically in my direction but not running off, just making sure I wasn't there to cause trouble. I took a few photos of them before retreating, leaving them be on the southwest side of the ridge. When I got back down to the road it was another 1.5mi or so of road walking, only a few vehicles coming up while I was on it. It was 10a when I got back, far too early to call it a day, so I made plans to visit Cottonwood Pass that Eric had hiked a few days earlier while I was on Mt. Yale. The three miles of 4WD road below my camptsite were not too bad as I encountered only three vehicles coming up the opposite way. As they had the right of way, I was obliged to back up a few times to accomodate them passing. The longest reverse drive was probably only about 50yds; the trick is to note the passing locations while driving the road, especially on the downward trek when the other cars have the right of way.

Cottonwood Pass

This is one of the highest paved passes in Colorado, rising to over 12,000ft on the Continental Divide. It is the highpoint of County Rd 306 which heads west directly out of Buena Vista. It took about an hour to drive from the Princeton 4WD TH to Cottonwood Pass. There are four summits that I was interested in, two on each side of the pass. The highest was Turner Peak, over 13,000ft in height and a P1K. It was paired with Peak 12,581ft on the east side of the pass and it was to these two that I headed first, starting shortly after 11a.

The Continental Divide Trail crosses Cottonwood Pass, and I started east on the trail to begin. The trail lasted only a short distance before it turns north to drop to Texas Creek in a few miles. A use trail goes east about halfway up Peak 12,581ft, then becomes an easy cross-country effort on grass and rock slopes. I went over this first peak and then down to a saddle before the more arduous climb up to Turner Peak. It took almost 1.5hrs to reach Turner's summit where one gets a fine view of Mt. Yale and the other peaks I had climbed a few days earlier. Finding no register on either summit, I left one atop Turner Peak, feeling it deserved some love.

I returned back over Peak 12,581ft and then to Cottonwood Pass where I then took the CD Trail heading west. This is a far more popular trail and the one that most of the folks who park at Cottonwood Pass check out. Peak 12,580ft is only half a mile from the pass, though the trail switchbacks a good deal and takes about a mile to reach the highpoint. There were half a dozen folks hanging out at the top, so I took a few quick pictures and continued on the trail. The trail soon turns south to follow roughly along the Continental Divide here, bypassing Peak 12,792ft to the east. I left the trail at a saddle NE of the summit and hiked steep, grass & rock slopes to the top, taking about an hour from Cottonwood Pass. There are a number of additional peaks surrounding the Middle Cottonwood Creek drainage on the east side of the divide that would make for a fun, but much longer outing. This would be more of a full day effort, not one to start so late in the afternoon. Time to head back. It would take most of a last hour to make my way back to Cottonwood Pass where I arrived by 3:20p. The weather had held out nicely all day, mostly sunny skies with clouds developing after 11a, though never really threatening. A nice breeze kept things cool all day. After showering, I headed back to Buena Vista, my last evening in this neat mountain town. Over the next two days, I would slowly make my way towards Telluride in the southwest part of the state.


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For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Princeton - Turner Peak

This page last updated: Sun Sep 1 17:36:28 2019
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