Our suggested route for UN13,122 uses Hermit Pass as the 4WD vehicle access and a short and easy backpack trip to Rito Alto Lake where you can establish a base camp to reach this summit along with UN 13,062, UN 13,060 and UN 13,028. The hike up UN 13,122 is steeper but easy Class 2.
From the Town of Westcliffe and the intersection of Highways 69 and 96, drive south on 69 a few blocks (about .3 mile) and turn west onto Hermit Road (CR160). Drive 6 miles to an intersection where you should stay left. From this point, it's about 9 miles to the summit of Hermit Pass if you can make it. The road quickly becomes a rough 2WD for the next 1.25 miles and then degrades even more to 4WD, high clearance advisable, if not required. The higher you go on this road, the rockier it becomes with a section or two near and above tree line that crosses through talus slopes of rubble. For our suggested climb of Spread Eagle and Peak of the Clouds, park at the coordinates provided which will be a wider spot in the road at about 11,970 ft. elevation and directly below a saddle to the north that lies between Pt. 12818 and Pt. 12,671. There will be a few remaining trees here. Additional parking can be found just a little farther at the tight turn at 12,060 overlooking Horseshoe Lake. The highest we have ever made it is another saddle at 12,620 ft., just west of Pt. 12,818 and about .6 mile east of the pass.
A little history here: In November of 1989, we drove this road to climb Rito Alto and found the road to be in surprisingly good shape. We breezed right up it in a Jeep Cherokee Sport. We returned in 1996 to find that it had degraded some, but still managed to drive it with no problems in another Jeep Cherokee Sport. Our next visit to here was not until 2009 - 13 years later. In that time, the road had degraded extensively. It had become a very slow seven miles of driving on what seemed like endless rock of varying sizes. That same trip, we also drove the South Colony Lake Road all the way to its end. Between that road and the Hermit Pass road, we had to replace the complete set of shocks on our Toyota T-100! Those two roads had wiped them out. Moral of this story - drive this road at your own risk. It grants access to a large number of 13ers, but you'll have to decide if the potential price is worth it.
Once the Hermit Pass Road gets onto national forest land, there are several primitive, campsite locations all along the drive up, especially at the lower elevations. The nearest designated campground with facilities is the Alvarado CG a little further to the south out of Westcliffe. On weekends, because of close proximity to the Front Range, competition for campsites makes it more difficult to find an open spot.
Here is a very short and easy backpack approach that can net five or six 13er summits in three days (or two for strong parties) and also has the advantage of offering a beautiful campsite in a prime wilderness setting. The mileage we offer and elevation gain ( or loss in this case) is measured from the summit of Hermit Pass. Many vehicles will not be able to make it all the way to the pass. Whatever your mileage and elevation gain are to the pass should be added to our figures to obtain a total mileage and elevation gain/loss.
From the summit of Hermit Pass, the driveable road ends, but the original road still remains, somewhat covered now in grass, flowers, etc. It takes a downward, contouring route to the west and at 12,700 ft., switchbacks three times and then reverses direction, heading east for about .35 mile where it begins to give out. On the San Isabel National Forest Map this is Trail #747. A pack trail continues on down and forks at 11,880 ft. At that fork, continue straight west to reach Rito Alto Lake. The left fork gains an unnamed pass and then drops over into San Isabel Creek. This is how you can access UN13,054 on Trail #747. Back up on the road, at the third switchback at 12,560 ft., you can depart the roadbed and head straight down a broad ridge and slope aiming for the trail junction at 11,880 ft. By descending this way, you'll be crossing almost all tundra terrain until you reach the trail junction. As you approach that junction, low evergreens and some willows will begin to appear. At about the same elevation as the trail junction, if you walk north some, there are some benches amid the low conifers that offer some nice campsites.
From the trail junction, for Rito Alto Lake, continue down the trail (now trail #745) losing more elevation. Shortly, the trail does some brief switchbacking, then descends more to another section of switchbacks between 11,600 and 11,400 ft. where you'll enjoy a great view looking down on Rito Alto Lake and also seeing an impressive headwall cliff to the left. The trail goes along the west side of the lake and there is at least one very nice campsite on the left side of the trail by following a short spur trail up an embankment. Expect to see horse-packing groups passing through here from time to time.
The best camp location is the one mentioned above at Rito Alto Lake. As the trail drops to the lake and heads around the west side of the lake, it passes through an open area with willows and crosses a couple of small streams. It then enters open conifer forest and comes to another stream crossing. This stream will be coming more from the NW. The suggested campsite will be a little before that stream crossing. It will be on the left and up a small slope. The nice, level campsite has room for a couple tents. The nearby stream provides a good water source.
For climbing UN13,054, we suggest establishing a campsite on the benches just north of the trail junction. We found evidence of previous use here. Some rock outcrops help create the benches which provide smaller, level areas where you can pitch a tent. Good water is still close by. Deer and elk abound in the basin above that you packed down through, but watch out for aggressive marmots. Hang your food if you can find a place to do so.
From your campsite at Rito Alto Lake, walk north, down Rito Alto Creek about 1mile to a crossing of the creek (easy after summer runoff subsides) to the east side at N 38° 06' 00.71" W 105° 40' 37.60". Continue north, then NW down the trail another .3 mile to a crossing of Cotton Creek. From that easy crossing, continue west another another mile to a drainage/avalanche chute that leads north toward the summit of UN13,122. There may be a few muddy spots to deal with during monsoon season, made worse by recent packhorse traffic, all along the trail section. After the crossing of Cotton Creek, watch for the third prominent avalanche chute coming down from the north. Coordinates are N 38° 06' 19.50" W 105° 41' 43.22". (10,800 ft. elevation) We located this with little difficulty and began the ascent. From here, your summit is not too clearly visible.It's about 1.5 mile to the north and west.
Climbing up the avalanche chute presents the usual problems of fallen debris – rocks, logs, etc. It is also steep – as usual. No rest for the weary in that department. Gain about 1, 300 feet before you begin to work your way out of the broadening gully and over to a west ridge. Contour NNW, below the ridge that connects UN 13,122 to UN 13,490 over open, tundra-covered and flower-laden slopes toward the east ridge of the UN 13,122. As we contoured into the upper basin, southeast of the summit, we saw numerous game trails, but no wild game, and flowers were everywhere, especially asters and Rocky Mountain Penstemon. We crossed one particular area where the hillside had sloughed off leaving open dirt and rock exposed. There seemed to be no real reason for this to have occurred where it did. Intersect the east ridge at your place of choice and follow it west to the summit. Most of the route to the summit is a fairly easy tundra walk with some rock until you arrive at the summit.
From this summit, there is a nice view looking down on Cherry Lake, where you may see some backpackers/campers. There's also a good view of UN 13,062 to the south across the valley. For your return, go back as you came. It should be noted that UN 13,490, (Cotton King Peak) to the east could be climbed together with UN 13,122 by way of the connecting ridge. It's a rather long ridge walk but can be kept at a Class 2 rating. The same summit could also be gained from where the Rito Alto Lake trail crosses Cotton Creek. On the west side of the creek, a trail #749 turns off to the north and follows Cotton Creek all the way to a pass at 12,500 ft., just east of the Cotton King summit.