Peak(s):  Redcliff  -  13,642 feet
Date Posted:  01/16/2022
Date Climbed:   08/22/2021
Author:  MaryinColorado
Additional Members:   Trailrunner
 A Tale of Two Cliffs (Sort Of)   

Redcliff - 13,642'

In case the title befuddles you since this trip report claims to be only about Redcliff, allow me to explain. This redhead is going to focus 99% on Redcliff since that's the peak Trailrunner and I summited, but neighboring Coxcomb makes several cameos due to the fact that the three other members of the crew were on Coxcomb, and we had a front-row seat to their summit and rappel! So, some of that is shared within this TR.


Round trip mileage: 6.9
Elevation gain: 2,923'

Elevation gain/mile splits (roughly):
Mile 1 = 197'
Mile 2 = 515'
Mile 3 = 1,467'
Mile 3.5 = 741'
Return trek = all downhill, baby!

How It All Began

This weekend was almost accidental. Trailrunner reached out to me three weeks earlier to ask if I was off work on August 20th, and it just so happened I was. Plans were made, and as happens so often in Colorado, snow/precip and ice potential moved into the forecast, so the original plan of Castle and Conundrum on the way to the San Juans was scrapped for safety reasons as the forecast became questionable; however, new plans formed, and a glorious weekend was had! It was the type of outdoor weekend that fills your heart with joy not just because of the experience of it but because of the fact that a great plan actually came together so well and so successfully.

My better half (RyGuy) and I set out for the San Juans on the 20th and enjoyed a stunning sunrise summit of Mt. Sneffels on the 21st. Afterwards, we toured around a bit, driving up into Governors Basin and then stopping in Ouray for lunch. Then phase 2 of Weekend Peaking commenced with a drive to the trailhead for Redcliff and Coxcomb where we met up with the likes of Trailrunner, Tornadoman, and bmcqueen.

The Grand Plan

The guys would aim for Coxcomb, and Trailrunner and I would aim for Redcliff but time it so we could be at a good vantage point to watch the guys on final rappel off Coxcomb. (Despite the weight, I was excited to be sporting my DSLR and 200mm lens for this.)

A Dynamic Duo: Redcliff and Coxcomb

I think Coxcomb has to be one of the most recognizable peaks in the San Juans, and it was such a delight to see it and its redheaded neighbor up close and personal AND from a new vantage point. I was most accustomed to seeing them from their east-facing aspects especially from key vantage points on Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn, and frankly Redcliff so often struck me as "unclimb-able" from all vantage points due to what always appeared to be cascading cliffs on all sides. After Trailrunner asked me if I wanted to join her for Redcliff, I got to researching and was pleasantly surprised there's such a reasonable route for gaining the summit.

Coxcomb (left) and Redcliff (right) as seen from Wetterhorn. This happens to be the only good photo in which I ever previously captured Redcliff in its entirety, and unfortunately, with a change in weather came a change in lighting. So one is not truly able to appreciate that Redcliff has, well, red cliffs.

A First Look

At the trailhead the day before the climb, I enjoyed stellar views of both peaks. For perspective, here's a roughly drawn line of the route to the Redcliff/Coxcomb saddle.

I've been called a lot of things, but "great artist" isn't one of them.

One of the harder features of the route to see from this angle is a section between two cliff bands that takes you to the saddle, but what you can see is that this section of the route holds a lot of promise for being a scree fest.

Suddenly, Redcliff seems a lot more climb-able than it ever did before. Coxcomb, on the other hand ... good luck, gentlemen! (I knew they'd do well, but that type of climbing is far above and beyond my capabilities and desire at this point.)

And So It Begins!

Having a longer, more arduous day ahead of them, the guys set out pretty early. Trailrunner and I, on the other hand, enjoyed the luxury of sleeping in until about 5 a.m. We started in the dark with our goal being to arrive at the end of the established-trail part of the route by the time daylight hit. Heading south from our campsite, we picked up the Wetterhorn Basin Trail (226) at the end of the dirt parking lot. The start of the trail isn't hard to find; there is signage and a register.

The first 2 miles went by non-problematically, though there were parts of the trail confusing in the dark where washouts occurred, so the trail stops and picks up again on the other side. Some of the washouts are quite wide, so there were a couple times that we had to pause and make sure we were actually still following the trail and not just something that resembled the trail.

We sauntered steadily southward, and while we gained minimal elevation in the first two miles, we achieved maximum awareness that the elevation gain over the next 1.5 miles would be pretty steep.

Eventually the trees got thinner, and we came to something resembling a clearing. By now, daylight had crept in, and we saw the end of the trees was in sight. We'd need to take a southeasterly turn so as to face the reality of having to head upwards. Note about a social trail: there is a social trail and small cairn leading to the left of the main trail and into the last section of trees. As illustrated below, we took this social trail but then decided it looked more arduous to have to go up through the trees. So instead we aimed for clearer, higher ground that would allow us to go up and around this section.


After the "nah" above, we went up and away from the trees and up a short and slightly steep ravine (for lack of a better word).

The faint red dots illustrate a good path for departure from the established trail if, like us, one wants to aim for tree-less terrain.

Trailrunner is probably the reason for no accidental extra mileage and exploration here. I continued to see the Wetterhorn Basin Trail, and for some reason it looked to me like we should have stayed on it longer and that it was still going the direction we would want to go at least for a little while, but looks are deceiving. You can especially tell in looking at it on a map (imagine that!) that departing from it where the trees end is a good idea.

Once up the little ravine, we had even better visibility of the slope below Redcliff, better visibility of our intended destination, which was nice.

It was a bit of a marshy trek, in spots, but not too bad. I enjoyed the vegetation immensely and missed it when the scree began.

The 1,467’ ascent certainly got my attention in the 3rd mile. Given that we weren't in too much of a hurry due to our plan to rendezvous with the Coxcomb Crew on the saddle after their climb - which would take them longer - we lollygagged a little bit heading up the steep tundra, taking in some impeccable views along the way.

Exposed pinnacle structures off to the left, and the likes of Courthouse and Chimney Rock to the right
We took in views of the flanks of Coxcomb and wondered where the Coxcomb Crew might be at this point in time.

We took note of key landmarks on our way up, landmarks we wanted to remember for guidance but also landmarks to avoid on descent, such as slick mini-cliffs with some trickles of water cascading down. The tundra, though steep, was more pleasant than the wasteland that awaited us below the saddle. There is no good terrain here. ("No good can come of this!" - me) Once we left the tundra, we saw game trails a-plenty through the scree that were mildly helpful. I apologize for not taking any pictures, at any point, of the scree sections, but who knew I'd start writing trip reports? I certainly didn't.

Near our destination cliff band, we encountered this wonderful little ermine! "I'm as big as a hot dog, as cute as a button, and I'll rip you to shreds for food, steal your burrow, and line it with your skin for extra warmth. Love you lots!" (It's true, though...)

Honorable mention: helmets. Yes, we brought our helmets, and we donned them prior to entering the potential rockfall danger zone of the cliff band. But I think it's important to note that the scree was also steep enough that we were careful to stay out of each others' fall lines both up and down and kept our helmets on as a precaution.

Now what was I saying about scree? Bergsteigen's TR made reference to white conglomerate rock below the cliff band. Ok, that rock was really deceiving to the eye, if I do say so myself. It was surprisingly difficult to get a grip. So here are the options: trek up the white rock (not great), or trek up the scree fest next to the white rock. (Basically, it comes down to which version of "not better" you want to pursue.) I opted for the white rock on the way up. After this section, there's more steep and loose, but it’s a different kind of steep and loose and ends quickly enough. (It does not end quickly enough on descent, I assure you.) We reached the saddle without incident, but maybe not without some grumbles (mainly from me).

Once to the saddle, Mt. Sneffels - my peak of the prior day - was well in view!

Once you gain the saddle, though – my stars! Views for days! Coxcomb is the most compelling nearby feature, of course, but the likes of Uncompahgre, Heisshorn, Wetterhorn, and all surrounding terrain command your attention. We spent some time relaxing here, taking in the views, and I messaged RyGuy for a status on the whereabouts of the Coxcomb Crew.

The saddle is gentle and enjoyable, and at last we see our last 500' or so of ascent. (The angle from here makes it look a lot shorter. I'll include a picture further down in the report that shows the saddle and Redcliff from a more southerly vantage point, highlighting the steepness and distance of this last bit of the route.)

The original plan was to potentially go the rest of the way to Redcliff's summit with the guys, but since we didn't see them on Coxcomb yet, we decided to go for it. Upon initial glance, the “ramp” at that choke point from saddle to scree looked daunting, and we also thought we had 500' of horrifying scree in front of us. Turns out, however, it was chunky, pleasant, and non-problematic with few weebles and wobbles.

Trailrunner making her way up relatively stable dinner plates. There are faint game trails (and possibly a hiker-created social trail) throughout which are a little helpful.
Looking back at the saddle and of course at Coxcomb, but also prominently to the left is mighty Wetterhorn, another one of my favorite peaks!

Redcliff summit gained, the narrowness of it made me gulp a little bit. I can't say I'm the greatest with heights sometimes, so we sat down and spent some time drinking in the stellar 360-degree views of beautiful terrain and other peaks we've climbed. I remained in awe that we were actually here given my earlier comments that Redcliff had always looked impossible when you view it from other angles. But here we were!

On the summit
Great views of Precipice, Courthouse, and Chimney Rock
Uncompahgre and the Three Horns (official band name) - Matterhorn, Wetterhorn, Heisshorn
I spy American Basin and Handies!
The basin below was looking impossibly luscious

In the meantime, I got a message back from RyGuy while we were still on Redcliff's summit. The Coxcomb Crew's whereabouts were obtained, and everybody was well. We descended back to the saddle a while later. Sometime after that, we heard a faint, "Hey, I see them!" We looked up, and the Crew was finally visible on Coxcomb's ridge. Hurray!

From left to right: Tornadoman, RyGuy, and bmcqueen. We all had a proper stare-off.

We watched them make their way to the summit, navigating a significant "v-notch" along the way that required ropes. Did I take about 200 photos of them as they progressed? Yes. Yes, I did. (Consider yourselves spared!) And at last:

YEAH! Congrats, gentlemen!!

From the summit, RyGuy took this great photo below illustrating the guys' vantage point looking toward Redcliff. For those of you with impeccable eyesight, you don't need my help pinpointing where Trailrunner and I are on the saddle, but for the rest of us, I've added a lovely red circle. (And if you can't see that, then you might want to make an appointment with your ophthalmologist.)

This photo provides great perspective on what I alluded to earlier about how my photo of Redcliff from the saddle looked a little deceiving in relation to the fact there are actually a few hundred more feet to go. So, in looking at this photo, that should now make more sense, visually. To the left of the saddle, as well, you can see the exit/entrance to the route's scree fest.

The Coxcomb Crew's situation now epitomized everything you always hear good mountaineers say: getting up there is one thing, getting back down is another. In their case, getting back down would involve a 165' rappel from the summit. My camera lens came in handy for observing the Crew's rope tosses, and since Trailrunner and Tornadoman had walkies, Trailrunner was able to communicate said observations and note any important details to them that might be helpful.

Trailrunner moving in for a closer look
Tornadoman was the first one down successfully. Here is RyGuy making his way. Note that bmcqueen is unseen sitting behind the rapp station so as not to kick any rocks down onto RyGuy.

All three guys down from the mighty cliff of Coxcomb, at long last the full crew was reunited!

Left to right: the one and only bmcqueen, Tornadoman, Trailrunner, RyGuy, and yours truly, MaryinColorado

While the guys headed off to summit Redcliff, Trailrunner and I made our way back down so that there would be space between us and them to minimize exposure to potential rockfall - or should I say the kicking of rocks, which was inevitable.

Descending scree ranks pretty high on my list of "do not like". and upon reaching the cliff band section again on descent, I thought of the white rock, "Fool me once, shame on me," and opted for "scree skiing" next to it. Turned out to be pretty low quality scree skiing, and I desired a marginally better version of "not better", so I switched back over to the white rock and gave the cliff a lot of hugs. It wasn't elegant, but it got the job done. I wouldn't say it was the fastest descent ever, but once we hit tundra again, it was smooth sailing. We descended roughly the same route as our way up, again opting not to plow straight through the trees. Once back to the Wetterhorn Basin Trail, our tired selves were highly motivated to make it back to camp at rapid speed. Given the easy nature of the trail, this was easy to accomplish.

Kind of a neat view on descent of some color contrast between higher and lower elevations of Redcliff. I think the light turquoise may be a type of shale, but I'm no geologist, so I shan't be quoted - or trusted - on this matter.

It was time for one last look up toward the westward faces of these beautiful, unique peaks on what turned out to be an absolutely perfect weather day, all around.


Trailrunner, Tornadoman, and bmcqueen would stay another day with the goal of climbing another one of the peaks in the area. Sadly, RyGuy and I had to make our way back home. We were all so happy for a good, fun, SAFE weekend; the best kind there is! Bonus for me: RyGuy was so tuckered out that, for the first time ever, I was allowed to drive his Jeep off-road. YEAH! Happy to report that the Jeep survived, and so did we. Win win!

Closing Thoughts

This redhead officially approves of Redcliff. All other wonderful dynamics of the day/weekend set aside, the peak stands on its own merit. It lures you in with a really pleasant, easy start and then gets your attention with the steep as well as just enough scree to dislike. Overall, the trek is enjoyable and beautiful; you certainly can't argue with the views. Especially if you have stood on the likes of other nearby peaks such as Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn, it's nice to appreciate seeing them from a different angle and also think about having seen Redcliff from them.

And now when I see Redcliff from the other angles I'm accustomed to, I'll think, "Hey, I've been up there," and no longer wonder how that's even possible. What a privilege.

As with all things beautifully outdoors, please practice Leave No Trace principles, but by all means take photos and leave a trip report. Happy climbing to you all!

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35

Comments or Questions
01/16/2022 12:39
That‘s especially a really cool photo of Unc and the Three Horns!

01/16/2022 12:44

01/17/2022 18:24
@greenonion - It's a great line-up, that is for dang sure!

@Sbenfield - Thank you! I assume you are the same Benfield that just posted a pic on the CO 13ers page. Looks like you had a gorgeous day in the Sangres!

Another nice one...
01/18/2022 08:27
Enjoyable read as always. Trailrunner is a good partner, isn't she? One of my fav people on the site.

Nice report
01/18/2022 18:37
The zoomed photo of Ryan, Brad, and Andrew on Coxcomb's summit (image #23) is especially cool.

01/19/2022 06:56
She is, indeed! We are friends and have done a couple of peaks together, too. Always a good time!

01/19/2022 06:59
Thanks, and I agree! It was my 2nd time hiking with the full DSLR+200mm lens setup. I was regretting the weight of it but then super pleased to be able to get good pics of the guys on Coxcomb once they were visible on the ridge. And weather cooperated to make hanging out on the saddle really pleasant, too. Win win!

Beard pics
01/19/2022 12:01
Are great, just not enough of them!

Nice report.

01/19/2022 13:15
The ermine was worth it!!

13ers > 14ers
01/21/2022 13:52
Mary, I appreciate that you're not rushing through the 14ers, instead doing 13ers and then writing about them. You've almost done more of the "little guys" than the big ones! Not many people who care about the 13ers, relatively speaking. Gotta say that I like that. Keep it up!

01/21/2022 19:52
Thank you, I appreciate that! Honestly, I just really love getting out on peaks I think I'll enjoy. There is a lot of appeal to me of the 14ers, of course, and wanting to chip away at "the list", so this year's "dry season" I hope to turn a little more focus to them than I did last year. But, as you know, so much to love about 13ers! Really looking forward to continuing having "a distraction problem".

01/22/2022 15:54
Great TR. Also, nice pic of the ermine/stoat! Probably related to the one Amy and I saw coming down from those peaks in 2016.

01/26/2022 14:07
Thank you! That ermine was pretty darn cool. It's only the 2nd one I've seen, ever, in Colorado. They're probably all over the place, but they are so darn stealthy! Such a neat animal, though.

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