(G & M: #376)
UN 13,317 is a Sawatch, Class 2 summit that lies on a long ridge west of Mt. Princeton. UN 13,078 is another summit nearby that we have sequenced with UN 13,317 for a nice days hike that traverses a high ridge with outstanding views and at the right time of the summer, prolific wildflowers. The start for this hike is the trailhead for Green Timer Gulch, located along South Cottonwood Creek, west of Cottonwood Lake, out of Buena Vista. The trailhead is accessible to passenger vehicles in most conditions.
UN 13,317 West Ridge Route
Medium Day // Take a Lunch
From UN 13078:
1.80 mi /
From the town of Buena Vista, turn west from US285 onto CR306, also known as the Cottonwood Pass Road. Drive 7.7 miles on pavement to an intersection and turn left (south) onto CR344 for Cottonwood Lake. Drive 3.6 miles on graded, gravel road to the east end of the lake where there's a picnic ground. West of the lake, thee's a forest service campground. See details below. From the east end of the lake and the turn off for the picnic area, drive west another 3.35 miles on graded gravel to the Hope Gulch TH. The turnoff can be easy to miss. Continue another .95 mile for the Green Timer Gulch TH, (#1436) again on the south side of the road. The road drops steeply down and leads to an attractive, at-large camp area. Higher clearance vehicle may be desirable to access this area. A foot-bridge across South Cottonwood Creek begins the trail. The Green Timber Gulch trail eventually crosses a ridge west of UN 13,078 and drops into Poplar Gulch which comes out just outside of St. Elmo. The entire trail is sometimes referred to as the Poplar Gulch Trail and is designated as #1436.
The Cottonwood Lake CG sits a little beyond the west end of Cottonwood Lake and is forest service maintained. There are 28 sites. Water and vault toilets are available. As with most such campgrounds, they tend to fill completely on summer weekends. This is a first come, first serve campground.
Beyond the campground, (west) there are several at-large, primitive sites including at the trailheads for Hope Gulch and Green Timber as well. Additional sites may be found farther west up the road. Be aware there are private property parcels along this road.
Cottonwood Lake CG ›
N 38° 46' 58.22, W 106° 17' 24.75"
Elevation 9585 ft.
Primitive site ›
N 38° 46' 33.63", W 106° 18' 25.87"
Elevation 9690 ft.
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The Green Timber Gulch trail leads south (once you've crossed the creek) and veers away from the creek for a while into a very nice meadow area with several nice camp spots, if you were willing to carry your gear here. Then it veers west, crosses Green Timber Creek and begins switchbacking up the mountainside. This trail is very similar to many others in the Sawatch. It begins with a steep climb out of the valley and then begins to level off higher up. In a little over an hour and twenty minutes, we were able to hike the three miles to tree line and continued to follow the trail as it headed for the saddle west of UN 13,078. As you near the saddle, you may wish to depart from the trail to save a few steps and begin contouring up to the west ridge of UN 13,078. This is a broad, flower-strewn, (in earlier summer, many Old-Man-On-the-Mountain) grassy slope with a trail continuing toward the summit. It is pretty much, hands-in-pockets stuff all the way to the top, with it only becoming a little more rocky in places. It takes about another hour to arrive here from treeline.
We mention again that the Poplar Gulch/Green Timber Trail continues from the saddle south to St. Elmo and can be utilized by motorcycles or mountain bikes, of which we saw several indications. Enjoy the view from here and contemplate whether or not to continue on to UN 13,317.
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UN 13,317 is sequenced with UN 13,078. One-way mileage and elevation gain are measured from the summit of UN 13,078. Round-trip mileage and elevation gain assume completion of the sequence.
At the summit of UN 13,078 you can see much of the ridge traverse ahead which consist of a nice 700 ft. drop to a saddle at 12,340 ft. on some broken rock, then a climb back up to a false summit at 13,299, followed by a long stretch of rocky ridge, some of which is partially hidden from your view. It is a good mile and a half to the next summit and will require a significant amount of time. There will be little difficulty until you reach the higher ridge just west of the 13,299 summit. There are some rock formations to work around, but nothing difficult. Once you reach the no-count summit continue east, where you will have to deal with some more slow-going over the now more narrow ridge. Then there is the final rocky ascent to the summit of UN 13,317. Enjoy nice views into both valleys north and south and view many Sawatch summits to the west.
The following is how we chose to descend from UN 13,317: "From the summit, the long trek back across the slow ridge compelled us to consider another return route. So, we decided to head north from our summit toward appealing, grassy slopes just below us that would drop us into the head of another drainage called Robey Gulch. Once in the gulch, we determined we would cross the creek and contour north attempting to follow a faint open line through thick stands of aspen that would lead us to the front side of the mountain west of Robey Gulch. Once on this side, we would contour gradually down, back to the trail we had started out on. This plan went quite well until we began the contour on the front side of the mountain. We followed numerous deer/elk trails, one of which stayed fairly consistent in contouring across the mountain and gradually dropping down. But at times, we encountered downed trees that made going difficult and would often lose the faint trail only to find it again. At just about the time we were beginning to question the sanity of our plan, we saw the meadow below us that we had hiked through early in the morning. Trusting the deer/elk had paid off. We returned to almost exactly the place we had hoped and so we hiked on back to the truck easily."
Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
Mountain Handbook ›
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