El Valle Creek
Mt. Maxwell is an easy Class 2 summit along the central spine of peaks in the extreme southern Sangre de Cristo Range. The summit lies on the dividing line between San Isabel National Forest land and private holdings. The next summit south, Mariquita Pk., is entirely on private land. Mt. Maxwell is most easily reached by it's east ridge. The road access is FR 437, and is classified on the San Isabel NF map as 4WD. Our visit here in 2004 found the road not too bad and passable for other vehicles that simply have some better ground clearance. If you can drive to above 11,000 feet, Maxwell can be completed in just a few hours. It also can be combined easily with Cuatro Peak.
Mt. Maxwell East Ridge Route
Short Day // A Wee Little Climb
RT From Mt. Maxwell Trailhead:
2.4 mi /
This trailhead could be primarily used for access to Trinchera and Cuatro summits along with Mt. Maxwell and possibly Mariquita Peak. From Walsenburg, drive west on US 160 and take the turnoff for La Veta, on SH12. Drive through the quaint, small town and continue south toward Cucharas Pass. This very pleasant road takes you through gambel oak terrain, into ponderosa forest and eventually more typical higher elevation aspen and conifers. If you do road bicycling, this is a great ride! Drive on through the little townsite of Cuchara, past the turnoff for the old Cuchara Valley Ski area and continue over Cucharas Pass. About 6 miles south of the pass, the highway makes a sharp turn back to the NW to get around North Lake. It then turns back south. After that turn to the south, watch for the turnoff for FR34 to the Purgatoire Campground on your right (west). There are actually two possible turns to this road in case you miss the first. Drive west and NW up the improved, graded dirt road. About .6 mile before the campground, or 3.75 miles from the highway, watch for the turnoff for FR437 to the left. Head up this 4WD road which will become increasingly rocky, but not too difficult. (Last time we were on it was 2004.) The road switchbacks relentlessly for miles to gain elevation. There's a good campsite at about 11,400 feet we estimated and then towards the end of the road, it flattens out some for some other camping possibilities.
As mentioned above, there's a good at-large spot on the side of FR437 at about 11,400 ft. or higher and then further up where the road levels out around treeline, there's some other possibilities. You can also camp at the Purgatoire Campground, which is a National Forest fee area. There are about two dozen campsites, some in forest and some in open meadow. The sites have tables & fire rings. There are vault toilets and a hand pump for water. This used to be called "The Potato Patch" campground. Campground elevation is 9,800 ft.
Year Climbed: 2004
The mileage and elevation gain estimates are based on assuming a start from 11,600 ft. With 4WD, you can actually drive a little farther than that. From wherever you manage to park, continue up the road until it ends, then work your way up west to a bench dwarf trees that will then open to the broad, lower, east ridge of Maxwell. Follow the ridge upward. It will progressively narrow. Much of the hiking will be over grassy tundra, but that will give way to more of an embedded rock - tundra mix and finally chiprock as you near the summit. A couple hundred feet below the summit, there will be some rocky outcrops that can be easily avoided on the south side of the ridge. Nothing need exceed Class 2. Time from car park to summit was well under two hours. In 2004, there was a small summit cairn and the remnants of a forest service sign, probably intended to mark the terminus of Federal land.
From Maxwell, it's .75 mile north on a connecting ridge to Cuatro. We have not done that ridge section so are unable to offer definitive information about the traverse. On GE, it appears that a descent to the connecting saddle will go easily and the first part of the upclimb to Cuatro will go at Class 2 on some tundra. But the upper part of the ridge is interrupted by a number of gullies and ribs that appear to offer some potential problems.
From Maxwell to Mariquita, progress is slow because it is a fairly rocky traverse, but it's still Class 2 and takes under an hour.
Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
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