LoJ: #518 (Pre-LiDAR #499) / 13,161' Babcock Peak

Range › San Juan Range
Quadrangle › La Plata
Summit Location › Peak Route Icon N 37° 25' 46.41", W 108° 04' 45.65" (Not Field Checked)

Peak Summary

Note: Yet another revision to the La Plata group has led to a higher ranking for Babcock. G&M used the USGS map elevation on the "east" summit of 13,149, hence a ranking of #524, but the "middle" summit is obviously (once you climb it) the highest of the three summit points of Babcock, evidently missing a contour line on the USGS map. So Roach & LoJ have given Babcock's middle summit an extrapolated elevation of 13,180 and a rank of #499. Lidar has now measured Babcock as being 13,161 ft, lowering its ranking to #518.

The easiest access to Babcock is to hike up Boren Creek from the La Plata Canyon road. This makes access possible for passenger vehicles. We rate the climb a strong Class 3+ with some moderate exposure. Finding the right route can be difficult. This is a challenging summit no matter how you approach it. The hike to the peak along Boren Creek goes by a very photogenic waterfall and the wildflowers in the upper basin are abundant.

Babcock Peak South Couloir Route

Class 3
Medium Day // Take a Lunch
RT From Boren Creek TH: 6.8mi / 3,880'
  • Trailhead
    • Boren Creek TH

      From Durango, CO, drive west on US160 to the turnoff on the north side of the highway for CR124. This will come just after the intersection for CO140 and after crossing the La Plata River. Drive north on CR124. At 4.5 miles, the pavement ends and the road becomes good quality graded gravel. At 5.0 miles, you'll pass the first camping area. At 5.6 miles will be the Snowslide CG with sites on both sides of the road. At 6.1 miles will be the Kroeger CG. At 6.4 is the Miners Cabin CG. In 2012, we stayed at this one. At 7.5 miles is the La Plata City Dispersed CG. At 8.2 miles, you will come to FR794 and Boren Creek. Park along the main road (CR124) or drive up FR794 just a little and park out of the way where you can find a spot. When we were last here in 2012, ATV's and similar vehicles could have driven much farther up this road, however, it appeared to not be receiving maintenance any longer due to fallen logs across the road we encounter farther up.

      For those who might want to access Tomahawk Basin because of its proximity to the north side of Babcock and Hesperus, Moss and Lavender, here are some additional directions: From Boren Creek, continue north on CR124. Immediately after crossing Boren Creek, the road becomes much more rough, however, clearance was not much of an issues and we saw several passenger type vehicle continuing this way. You'll just want to take it slow. We would advise having a cross-over type vehicle with some better clearance. At 8.6 miles, there will be a sign indicating you're entering private land. At 8.7, there's an old stone chimney on the side of the road. At 8.9, there's a turnoff for a private residence. At 9.8 miles, there was a blocked road that we believe led to the old Lewis CG. At 10.4 miles, FR798 turns off to the left for Tomahawk Basin. This turnoff is easy to miss. IF you come to a small campground with a sign that refers to it as "Darby," you have driven past the turnoff for Tomahawk. The Darby CG has two sites, at best. The second site is difficult to reach in your vehicle because of the road condition. There are no facilities at this site other than a grated campfire ring.

      This same CR124 continues all the way up into Cumberland Basin. At the intersection where FR498 turns off to the right and heads into Columbus Basin on the north side of Lewis Peak, there' are a couple small primitive sites here. Continue up the main road another tenth of a mile and there's a very nice campsite on the right in the trees.


      The main campgrounds that show on the San Juan National Forest map are the Snowslide and the Kroeger. We have listed others above. Beyond those listed, we did not really see any other primitive sites. There is a lot of private property along this road, so please don't presume that an apparent open spot is free for the taking. Please respect private property rights.

      Campsite Locations

      Primitive Site › N 37° 26' 36.66", W 108° 01' 43.86"
      This site is just beyond the turnoff for Columbus Basin, so is getting near the head of Cumberland Basin.
      Miner's Cabin › N 37° 22' 51.52", ,W 108° 04' 39.04"
      Elevation 8,950 ft.
      Snowslide CG › N 37° 22' 15.28", W 108° 04' 41.55"
      8,840 ft. elevation
      Kroeger CG › N 37° 22' 34.76", W 108° 04' 36.10"
      8,905 Ft. elevation
    Peak Icon Route Map Photos

    Route Info Babcock Peak South Couloir

    Route Description

    Year Climbed: 2012

    If you are referring to Mountain handbook for more beta on Babcock, there seems to be some differences regarding the west, middle and east summits and which may be the true. We follow the opinion of LoJ that indicates the middle summit to be the high point.

    For Babcock Peak, park just off the main road, just after crossing Boren Creek or a few yards up the Boren Creek road. If you are wondering would be possible to drive up the Boren Ck. road you will soon find an answer. Very quickly the road becomes quite rocky and stays that way most of the distance up the canyon. It also stays very narrow with virtually no turnout places or wider areas. Higher up, a fallen tree, parallel to the road forces any vehicle over to the side and tilting heavily. Only ATV’s, and short wheel based 4WD’s should attempt the road. There are 4 sets of switchbacks. Just a short distance up from the beginning of the road, most vehicles with decent clearance could drive to a level camp spot, but it is marked NO Camping.

    Hiking up this road, we arrived at the old mine site near timberline at 11,300 ft. in 1:20. We supply this info so you can estimate your time. At this old mine site, there is a large, flat area where you could easily camp and turn around if in a vehicle. From that point on, the road quickly disappears. Identify the correct couloir to ascend at this point. The best way to do this is to identify the east and middle summit. Difficult to do with confidence from this vantage point. The couloir we used is the one left of the middle summit. This couloir has a dogleg in it so you cannot see all the way up it versus the next couloir to the right. Another way to identify the correct couloir is that it is the 3rd counting from the right. Finding the right couloir is critical in making the correct summit. See our photo gallery for help.

    Begin working your way up the steep, mostly open hillside toward the base of the couloir. At first, you will be walking on tundra laden with flowers which will then give way to rocky rubble as you approach the couloir. You will need to angle upward toward the left from the mine to reach the couloir and the steep talus slope below it. Once you enter the couloir, the real fun begins. For a short while, we worked our way up on more very loose rubble, stacked, small boulders, etc. Then we came to a snow-filled section about 300 feet up from the entry point to the couloir. The snow was still quite firm and without crampons, we did not feel secure hiking directly on the snow, even though we had our ice axes. So we wedged ourselves in between the snow and the rock on the right side and worked our way up, sometimes using the pick of our axes to pull up on or using our hands on the rock wall on the side. Often, we had one foot on the snow and another on the rock. Talk about “mixed climbing!” There were plenty of dangerous loose rocks to worry about putting down on each other, so we had to be slow and very careful. This is certainly helmet terrain.

    As you ascend, keep a watch out for a small side gully that enters from the east side beyond the dogleg where the couloir bends left. It appears that Coopers preferred route begins near the dogleg. The small side gully we refer to is beyond that point - so climb higher. This will be about 200+ feet down from the West Babcock - Middle Babcock saddle. About 150 feet down from the head of the main couloir you've been climbing in, there is a section that “pinches” with a small trickle of water running down. Right in the pinch there is one large chockstone and a pile of other rocks behind it. On the left side of this "pinch," there is a short, nearly vertical wall. If you arrive at this point, you have gone past the small side gully. Go back down to find it. Only go up past the "pinch" if you have a strong desire to mount the west summit, which can be done in about 10 minutes from the west-middle saddle with a brief, 3rd class type move that's not too exposed. If you're curious about climbing Middle Babcock from that saddle, what we found there was a near vertical wall of rock, soaring up another 100 – 200 feet. We did not see any non-technical route to the summit from the saddle but when we were there, the weather was bad and clouds were swirling around and partially obscuring our view at times.

    At the side gully that enters in from the east, scrambled up that short gully about 50 feet. Cross over a rocky rib and then descend a short distance into another more prominent gully before ascending more on 3rd/almost 4th class, steep terrain before exiting that gully through a narrow crack and emerging onto the south facing slopes of Middle Babcock. The "more prominent gully" we believe to be the one Cooper refers to.

    From the south facing slopes, it is mostly 3rd class scrambling in a shallow trough that will lead to the summit. We came out on the summit ridge about 200 feet or so east of the high point. There were a couple of 3rd/4th class moves along this ridge. We found a small summit cairn, shelter of sorts and a register. It is now that you should see that this summit is easily higher than either of the other two. If not, then you've climbed the wrong one.

    To go down, we followed our ascent route carefully back to the narrow slot and gully, but instead of dropping immediately back into the main couloir, we followed a secondary couloir on the east side until it finally merged with the main one farther down. It was steep and dangerous going and we had to be careful not to put rocks down on each other. This was definitely helmet terrain. Some sections were very loose gravel & sand while others were more loosely stacked boulders of medium size. Once you finally reach the bottom of the main couloir, pause for a well-deserved break and celebrate being free of all the hazards. The remainder of your descent and trip back to your vehicle should be far less stressful. Enjoy the abundant wildflowers on the trip back.

    Additional BETA

    Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
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