A little more forgiving than Cassi Peak, UN13,262 ("Golden Tops" on Mountain Handbook) when climbed in combination with Cassi will offer a little respite from the relentless boulders & rocks found on Cassi. The NE ridge is a Class 2 walkup, still with no tundra but more of a path through the rock and not so many boulders. A backpack trip is likely to obtain this summit, however it's possible for strong parties to combine this summit with Cassi and even Precarious as a day hike from Gothic, either by way of Copper Lake or Rustler Gulch.
If coming from either the Front Range or the Western Slope, drive to Gunnison. From Gunnison, drive north on SH135 to Crested Butte. Stay on this main road as it enters the town, driving on through a major intersection with stop signs. Continue north on what becomes CR317 to the base of the ski area which is the Town of Mt. Crested Butte. Continue on the same road and a little after the main village and passing numerous condos, etc., the road will change over to a graded dirt road. During summer months, water trucks douse the road to help hold down the dust. Driving this road just after one of those trucks has gone through can change the road to a squishy, muddy mess, briefly. Begin measuring mileages from the end of the pavement. At 2.9 miles the road crosses the East River. Continue on CR317 to the site of Gothic which has a small but nice visitor center (3.4 miles) where you can inquire about parking regulations, hiking and biking trails and the research that is conducted in this area. During summer months daylight hours, this road is heavily travelled and parking is restricted to designated areas.
Continue driving NW past Gothic another 1.9 miles to the Gothic Campground, (5.3 from pavement end). There are only 4 designated sites here. From June 15 to August 15, camping in primitive, undesignated sites anywhere in this section of the East River Valley is not permitted so this campground is technically your only option between those dates. From the campground turnoff, drive another .9 mile for the Rustler Gulch turnoff (6.2 from pavement end). If in a passenger vehicle, you should park here and plan on getting your feet wet to cross the East River. It is possible to drive down the road a little and park in some limited spots, but there's little sense in trying to continue across the river unless you have 4WD. The road that heads up Rustler Gulch is FR317.2B on CalTopo. The Gunnison National Forest map does not really show this road very clearly because it follows along the wilderness boundary. If you do have 4WD and the East River is not in high stage runoff, drive on down the rocky stretch through some close, tall willows and ford the river. Once across, there is another area where about a half dozen vehicles can park and even a campsite. The road will head immediately and steeply uphill for .7 mile to an intersection where you'll see a gate across the road that heads off to the right. Park here if there's any room to do so. Two or three vehicles might be able to fit in off the road just enough to let other vehicles by. Coordinates for this spot are: N38° 59' 57.31" W107° 00' 11.05". There's a stand of tall willows here. About .2 mile back there is a road that turns off on the right that goes to a campsite, but cattle use the same area when allowed to graze here.
Right after where FR317.2B crosses the East River, there's an area that can accommodate a limited number of vehicles and some primitive camping right off the road. Then further up the road a short distance is another primitive spot that could accommodate a single vehicle on the right.
For camping further away, try the Gothic Campground about a half mile before FR317.2B or some other primitive spots either back toward Gothic or further up the main valley of the East River. Keep in mind tha primitive site camping is not allowed June 15 to August 15 in the East River Valley area.
For this "approach" there are two possible start points. If in a passenger car, the start will be where FR317.2B turns off of FR317 to cross the East River. You will then need to walk up FR317.2B to the trailhead coordinates. If you have 4WD, the start will be about a mile up after having forded the East River at the trailhead coordinates provided. There's a fence line and gate across the road/trail there.
From the gate, walk north on the old road bed. In July, you'll enjoy a plethora of wildflowers that will distract you from the hiking. Heading up the well-used trail, walk through an open meadow before entering a forested section with a considerable amount of bog, exacerbated by the horses that pass through regularly. Gingerly walk through, trying not to get too muddy this early into the backpack and continued on into open, flower-filled meadows that prompted us to frequently stop and take photos. This was just a taste of what awaits in upper Rustler. In short order, you'll come to a creek crossing that probably will require boot removal. However, a trail heading off to the right along the creek into the woods and willows goes to a place where you might be able to gingerly cross on some small logs and get across the creek. Once across, this side trail continues and eventually leads back to the main trail, but not before taking you through an incredible meadow of more wildflowers where you may want to spend even more time taking photos.
From this meadow, the open trail continues north and then begins to turn east into the upper basin. Continue up to where the trail has decidedly turned east and stop at a place where the creek, not too far below, cascades over some rock outcrops. Walk down and hop across the creek and hike up into a stand of trees and explore around. There was a faint game trail through here and a lot of fallen timber. Head upward and eastward through the timber. Near to where you exit the timber on the east side is a campsite, just the right size for two tents, with an old fallen log for cooking and eating and an old fire ring. See our field checked coordinates (2019). This makes an excellent base camp for the six 13er summits you can access from this valley and is out of the way of the day hiking foot traffic that frequents this valley. A game trail of sorts leads east from the campsite, then turns north through lower willows back down to the creek for an easy crossing and to regain the main trail.
The upper basin of Rustler Gulch is so verdant and filled with wildflowers, you'll not likely find any campsite unless you want to trod down a bunch of flowers. The camp location described above is the only really decent campsite we found that would do minimal damage to the abundant wildflowers.
We climbed Cassi Peak as part of a 3-summit day that began with Precarious Peak. To reach Cassi from Precarious, we descended the SW couloir of Precarious until we could exit it and then begin a trek along the bottom of the cliffs on the south face of Precarious as we headed generally SE and then south to access Cassi. It is not required to climb Precarious in order to reach Cassi, so Cassi could be done alone or in combination with UN13,262 (Golden Tops) from Rustler Gulch. However, the mileage and elevation gain estimates provided assume a climb of Precarious first and then descending the Precarious SW couloir and traversing over to Cassi.
For Cassi Peak, we swung to the south some from the base of the cliffs on the Precarious south face and then began ascending along a route that took us by three snowfields where we could take a break from the rocks. The soft snow was not much easier to gain elevation on though, so we resigned ourselves to the monotonous struggle up the rubble and loose boulders that led all the way to the summit. Our route basically had us gaining the north ridge of Cassi about 200 feet below the summit and following along the ridge to finish. It was not a pleasant peak or ascent. The rubble never relented. There's any number of ways you could obtain this summit on the west side, but all of them will be rocky unless you come early season and find more snow than we did. In that case, an ice axe might be useful.
To descend Cassi to the saddle between it and Golden Tops we followed the SW facing, connecting ridgeline until forced off of it and into two distinct gullies on the west side of the ridge. The first gully was a short one, but very steep and loose and you must take care in descending it. This leads to a broader and easier gully that will dump you out a little below the saddle that connects the two summits. Negotiate this final gully without too much problem, and then regain the saddle. From the saddle, either head west back down valley or continue on to Golden Tops.
This route description assumes a traverse from Cassi to UN13,262 (Golden Tops). The mileage and elevation gain estimates are based on a traverse from Cassi. Be sure and read about the descent from Cassi to the connecting saddle. This route description will pick up from the saddle and is simple and straightforward.
From the Cassi - Golden Tops saddle, begin the ascent along the NE ridge of Golden Tops. From a distance, there appears to be a path of sorts leading along the ridge to the summit. It turns out there's not actually a defined path, it's just the way some scree has developed along the ridge. But this final ascent is at least a little easier than the previous Cassi. It was still almost all over rock and rubble, but somewhat more secure than the previous, the rock being generally smaller and there were some areas of small scree and dirt, which gave the appearance of a path. The traverse between the two summits should require no more than about an hour.
From the vantage point of the east summit, this particular peak has a twin summit, a significant distance away and separated by a large, nasty looking gash. All of the beta we had indicated that the east summit you arrive at first is the highest, but the other appears to be of equal height. The register is on the eastern summit. Make your own decision as to whether or not to amble on to the other summit. Lidar evaluation has placed the east summit as the true high point.
For the descent back into Rustler Gulch, we headed back down the NE ridge and found ourselves tempted to depart the ridge and head down a substantial couloir before getting back to the saddle. But we found that gully to be very steep and the dirt/scree to have been hardened so as to make footing difficult, so we continued on to the saddle. Conditions may vary and a snow descent might be nice if you have the right equipment.
From the saddle, head NW into the basin below and you'll find yourself on a huge rock glacier that extends down valley like a giant tongue. This provides a nice opportunity to hone your rock-hopping skills but if you've already done Precarious and Cassi this same day, you'll likely lament having to descend down this uninvited hazard. The best option is to get off the rock glacier to the right hand side at a fairly early opportunity and drop into a developing fork of the main stream. At least down here, you'll eventually find some tundra instead of boulders and further down, lush flowers begin to appear. If you continue to the end of the rock glacier, there will be a very steep and fairly precarious drop onto the tundra below. Once you reach the stream flow, the rock will relent and you can enjoy much more pleasant hiking back to the trail.