Peak(s):  Blackwall Mtn  -  13,073 feet
Point 12,913
Wildhorse Pk  -  13,266 feet
Point 12,739
Cow BM  -  13,111 feet
PT 13,132  -  13,132 feet
Darley Mtn  -  13,260 feet
Engineer Mtn A  -  13,218 feet
Date Posted:  04/20/2022
Date Climbed:   08/21/2021
Author:  supranihilest
 Wild and Free   

The Cimarrón... Aside from the Weminuche this might be my favorite area in Colorado. The peaks are stunning and - translating the word cimarrón to English - wild and untamed. The juxtaposition of the rugged rocks and ridges with the vast expanses of grass between gets me every time. One can find anything they desire in the Cimarrón, from beautiful hikes to classic scrambles to demanding technical rock climbs. One might even be able to find and tame the spirit.

I'd been in Lake City for a while to help Whiley run the High Five 100, a 100-mile ultra that summits the five 14ers around Lake City (and then some) in a single push. Not only did she crush it but she set the women's course record, breaking the previous record by just shy of an astonishing 13 hours! To say it was an impressive effort is a vast understatement, as I think her record will stand for quite some time. After the race was finished I stayed in the area and continued working on the few peaks I have left. The previous year I did Sunshine Mountain A, Point 13,093, and 12er Dolly Varden Mountain from the end of North Fork Henson Creek Road, and I figured I could access a number of my remaining Cimarrón peaks from there, namely those in a rough circle around Wildhorse Peak. The road getting there is rough, especially towards the end, but nothing a 4WD vehicle with some clearance can't handle. I drove up the night before my hike and slept in the van, starting at around 7:20am the next morning.

From the end of the road there's a trail that goes southwest up the drainage. I followed it for a distance and turned northwest then west up grass towards American Flats as Point 13,093 towered above behind me.

Point 13,093 from North Fork Henson Creek. This peak is much easier than it looks, with the route on the opposite side of the viewpoint.
Coyote above treeline.

Initial travel was quite easy on the low angle, open terrain, and eventually I got my first inspiring views of the first group of peaks for the day.

Easy tundra in the huge expanse of American Flats.
First group of peaks looking wet.

The weather was starting off disappointingly cloudy and threatening. I wondered if I was even going to get a single peak today. I continued on knowing that being in the flats during a storm would be dangerous and just hoped that things would hold off long enough. Because of the gentle rolls and swoops of the terrain I didn't make a direct line towards Blackwall, opting to instead continue west and contour across several small drainages. Fortunately the suspect weather didn't last long, and before I was underneath Wildhorse Peak it had cleared to blue skies dotted with puffy little clouds.

Wildhorse Peak. If Wildhorse isn't one of Colorado's most spectacular peaks, I don't know what is.

Though I got close to Wildhorse I continued north in between Point 12,739 and "Dragon's Back", a sharp fin of rock that looks, well, like the spines on a dragon's back!

"Dragon's Back" looking ridiculous.
East face of Wildhorse.

From a small saddle southwest of "Dragon's Back" the route up Blackwall Mountain became obvious.

Blackwall Mountain and the downright bizarre rocks along its south ridge. The Blackwall itself isn't visible from here, as it's on the west face.

I continued across the tundra under Blackwall's unusual rock towers and the fin along the ridge and onto talus before beginning a direct ascent uphill. The talus here was tippy and annoying but it didn't last long, and once back on the upper stretch of tundra Blackwall's summit was a few minutes away.

The big fin on the ridge.
The fin is actually a couple of pieces of rock.
Back on the tundra.
Blackwall's summit. Note Redcliff and Coxcomb immediately to the right.

The views from Blackwall were incredible, perhaps some of the best in the San Juan. I didn't stay long because I had barely scratched the surface of my planned day, but to say that the views are phenomenal is actually an understatement.

Looking northeast with Redcliff, Coxcomb, Wetterhorn, Uncompahgre, and Broken Hill on the far right.
"Dragon's Back" through Wildhorse. Engineer Pass is somewhere in the distance.
"Dragon's Back".

I headed back down and around the fin, being careful on the loose talus. Instead of following the route I had taken back to the saddle near "Dragon's Back", which I skipped because it was above my solo comfort level. I made a more direct ascent up to the ridge north of the saddle, which housed some slightly more difficult terrain and my next objective, soft-ranked Point 12,913. There was some steep but easy scrambling to gain the tundra below the peak, and then a short and very loose Class 3 scramble to the summit. The peak consists of a number of small, crumbling towers and I had to climb up and down several to find the correct one. It ended up being small enough that I couldn't even sit down on it, so I didn't bother taking a break.

Point 12,913 from a distance. Summit not visible.
Easy scrambling to get to the summit ridge.
Summit ridge from head on.
A mess of towers of nearly identical elevation.
Unpleasant rock to scramble on and not enough surface to sit down on.
Wildhorse from 12,913's tiny summit.
Wetterhorn, Uncompahgre, and "Dragon's Back".

I quickly scrambled back down the crummy rock and around to easier ground en route to Wildhorse, which was mostly tundra with some mostly avoidable rock in between the peaks.

Trash going down 12,913.
Mmm, Wildhorse!

A gully about halfway across Wildhorse's east face looked like it would give me the best access to the peak, otherwise I'd have to go way around and gain the less steep grassy side. Though the gully looked steep and gravely I figured I could claw my way up it.

Gully from a distance.
Gully from below.

There ended up being some steep and stupid loose Class 2+ to get up the gully, mostly near the top, but for the most part it was fine. Once at the saddle between gully and the backside the difficulty dropped back to a steep Class 2. A mix of tundra and decomposing volcanic Weminuche-granite-like rock took me the few hundred feet to the summit.

Upper reaches of Wildhorse from the saddle.
Rock and grass all the way to the top.
Short little summit ridge. The Blackwall on Blackwall Mountain is now visible.

Views were once again stunning, given Wildhorse's nearly 1,000 feet of prominence. The views to the far northwest and south-southwest showed just how much more work I had to do.

The Uncompahgre Wilderness is bizarre and amazing.
My next objectives Cow Benchmark and Point 12,739 left and right of center, respectively. Sneffels Range in the distance on the left.
Engineer Mountain A (hard to discern), Darley Mountain (red and yellow), and Point 13,132 to the south-southwest.

It was miles to get to Cow Benchmark, and from there it was miles to Point 13,132, and then another few miles to Engineer, then an unknown distance back to my van. I had my work cut out for me. I headed west and made my way to the Horsethief trail which would take me between Cow Benchmark and Point 12,739. I hadn't resolved to climb 12,739 yet knowing that every ounce of energy would be needed today, and I didn't want to necessarily waste it on a 12er I could reach from Ouray. I also didn't want to orphan it. I decided to see how I felt when I got there. Down Wildhorse's grassy backside I went.

Southwest slopes on Wildhorse. I love the intact tundra slope just tilting out of the ground.

The trail was long and somewhat winding and took me to a saddle above the Difficulty Creek drainage. To my dismay I'd have to lose a significant amount of elevation to stay on the trail. Whatever. I put my head down and kept hiking.

Above Difficulty Creek. Cow Benchmark is the blob on the left, Point 12,739 the blob on the right.
The trail was faint in spots.

This area was generally pristine, being far from any trailheads or roads. I was surprised to encounter a pair of backpackers, but otherwise saw nobody for the rest of the day until I arrived at Engineer Pass many hours later. The trail took me over several easy creek crossings and eventually split west towards Ouray and north towards Dexter and Cutler Creeks. I went west as the trail wound its way between Cow Benchmark and 12,739.

Difficulty Creek. Not very difficult here.
12,739's summit on the left.

At what I figured was the low point between the two peaks I made my snap decision: climb the 12er now, while I'm right here, instead of waste another day tagging it by itself later. At least it was an easy, non-technical stroll, though I hadn't even made it halfway through the total time, distance, or elevation gain for the day. The thought of orphaning it was just too much to bear!

Tundra and willows on the easy slopes of 12,739's southeast ridge.
Open terrain with the summit on the left.

While the south side of 12,739 was easy as could be, the northern bowl was rather insane, looking more like something had exploded and caused the entire mountainside to sluff off.

12,739's northern amphitheater.
Sneffels Range. Potosi, Teakettle, and Sneffels dominating the skyline.
Uncompahgre Wilderness nearly in its entirety.
Cow Benchmark and a half dozen ridge bumps minimum to Point 13,132 (not visible somewhere to the left).

I dropped back into the valley, taking a very slight, more direct line towards Cow Benchmark. Its north ridge looked tedious and with a high likelihood of significant cliffs, so I swung south and kept to tundra all the way up.

Terrain to Cow Benchmark. The cliffs and probable difficulties on the north side are obvious.
Tundra bowl heading south.
Cliffs on the north face.
Easy southeast side.

My route stayed at Class 2, and from the summit I finally had a peek of Ouray.

Point 12,739 looking small.
Towards Blackwall, "Dragon's Back" (spike near center), and Wildhorse.
Towards the southeast. Point 13,132, my next peak, is the big gray blob right of center.

The summit of Cow Benchmark is apparently a seldom-visited place, according to the ancient register. A couple of names from the first page, Bob Martin and Mike Garratt, are among Colorado's most famous peakbaggers!

Time capsule.

Once again my next set of peaks looked terribly far away, with lots of up and down to get to any of them, so off I went down Cow Benchmark's long southeast ridge. Along the way I was able to avoid all the bumps but one, bypassing on the southwest side of each on tundra. The one I wasn't able to entirely avoid contained a tiny amount of Class 2+ scrambling across a talus and boulder field before returning to tundra. I could have possibly scrambled up and down each ridge point but it would have been a fair amount of pointless elevation gain and loss.

The ridge point I couldn't entirely avoid on tundra.
Second half of the ridge.
Easy rock along the ridge, with a trail!

Eventually Point 13,132 came into view, looking far less like a Cimarrón peak and more like a junky Sawatch monster. Below it a huge herd of sheep grazed, creating a racket of baaing.

Darley Mountain and Point 13,132.

With Point 13,132 looking more like a gigantic heap than anything enjoyable, I steeled myself for a rather unfun climb. I contoured around to the east side, which was at my elevation. The western side looked doable as well but would entail dropping far into the valley and reascending the other side, which I obviously didn't want to do. I hoped the steeper east side would provide a reasonable route. I continued along the ridge over one more bump before reaching 13,132.

Last set of ridge bumps. 13,132 is way around on the right off frame.
Northeast face.

Once I had gotten close to 13,132, a route did make itself clear. What also made itself clear was what a pile of junk the peak was. I wasn't expecting anything nice or fun on this one.

Faint trail through a tiny notch below the cliffs.

The entire peak was basically just stacked dinner plates, though as I climbed higher I was pleasantly surprised to find it wasn't anywhere near as loose as it looked. Route finding was moderately difficult and there was some enjoyable Class 2+ scrambling up steep talus and gullies to the summit ridge. I made my way towards a prominent notch in the upper ridge, since cliffs blocked a more direct line.

Typical terrain on 13,132. While this looks heinous, it was way nicer in reality.
The notch.
Class 2 summit ridge.
Much of the ridge from Cow Benchmark, with the one prominent bump visible.

I dispatched 13,132 with relative ease, and actually liked it! Aside from Wildhorse it was the most fun peak of the day. Sometimes the gems can be a little rough, but this is a peak I'd do again. I didn't waste any time on the summit, however, since Darley looked like it might be somewhat difficult, and guess what - I still had about a gazillion miles to go. (OK, a little more than nine miles, but I had to guess as best as I could.)

The scramble back down 13,132 was slow and careful owing to the loose rock, but was no less fun than the ascent. Darley's north ridge looked steep and scrambly (sorry, I managed not to take a picture of it, but the huge summit block is visible in previous photos) so I traversed around the east side until I found a somewhat nice grass slope that led to the south ridge. Once on the south ridge things deteriorated into a mess of talus and scree, eventually turning to scrambling over or around very loose, scruffy towers on the ridge. An obvious high point appeared at the visible end of the ridge.

Grass on the southeast side of Darley.
Initial south ridge climb.
Trash city with high point visible.
Fortunately the point in center is just slightly higher than the sketchy looking block on the left.

When I reached the high point it became clear that it was just a false summit and that the true summit was a bit farther north along loose but easy Class 2 terrain.

Summit from false summit.
A pile to be sure, but nothing serious.
South from whence I came. Engineer Mountain A, my last peak, is on the right with Engineer Pass Road below.
Point 13,132 and Cow Benchmark.
Wildhorse and "Dragon's Back" with the usual Cimarrón suspects.

The prospect of spending much time on Darley's sandy mass wasn't very enticing so I retraced my steps back down the south ridge and continued across its two southern sub-summits before dropping down onto Engineer Pass. Here I was subject to the shock of about ten million OHVers screaming about on unmuffled vehicles and making a racket and kicking up a cloud of dust thick enough to choke even the hardiest of creatures, so I pulled my buff over my face and did my best to ignore the obnoxious scene around me.

Engineer Mountain A on the right. The rocky little bumps along the ridge amount to nothing.
Engineer Mountain A from Engineer Pass.
Looking towards Animas Forks and the cluster of 13ers around Hurricane Pass.

Engineer Mountain looked quite boring so instead of going both up and down the same boring northeast ridge I walked on the road to the south side and up an old eroded road that went straight up to the summit.

Wow, what a route.

Engineer proved to be by far the easiest peak of the day, and by far the least interesting. I couldn't wait to get away from the zooming crowds and noise.

Darley Mountain. Some of the roads that old miners built are ridiculous.

On the way down I took the northeast ridge back to the pass and then continued north, once again contouring around Darley and then 13,132 before reaching American Flats and turning east.

Initial hike off the pass. I had to contour left then right to get around the giant drainage and reach American Flats across it.
Incredible scenery as far as the eye can see.

Along the way I hiked past American Lake, a tiny lake near the headwaters of Henson Creek. The sun was beginning to set and I wasn't going particularly fast, so I took a moment to drink in the colors of the evening.

American Lake.
Ridge Stock Driveway, which took me into North Fork Henson Creek drainage.

From the lake it was an easy hike back down the drainage back to my van, which I reached after 13 hours of hiking, tired but satisfied as always. I hadn't expected the day to be so successful, and was glad to have bagged this many peaks. This could have easily taken several days from various trailheads but I strive for efficiency. The faster and more efficient I climb, the more I can climb. The drive back to camp near Lake City was a bit long in the dark, and aside from a large boulder that had fallen across the road and I had to squeeze around, it was uneventful. I slept great that night, my dreams running wild and free...


Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself)
Trailhead: End of North Fork Henson Creek Road (Hinsdale County Road 24/FS 870)

Total distance: 25.91 miles
Total elevation gain: 9,448 feet
Total time: 13:03:09
Peaks: Six ranked thirteeners, one ranked twelver, one soft-ranked twelver

  • Blackwall Mountain, 13,073'
  • Point 12,913 (soft-ranked)
  • Wildhorse Peak, 13,266'
  • Point 12,739
  • Cow Benchmark, 13,111'
  • Point 13,132
  • Darley Mountain, 13,260'
  • Engineer Mountain A, 13,218'


Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
North Fork Henson Creek Road Blackwall Mountain 2:23:27 2:23:27 4:32
Blackwall Mountain Point 12,913 0:48:23 3:16:33 0:00
Point 12,913 Wildhorse Peak 0:32:10 3:48:43 4:32
Wildhorse Peak Point 12,739 2:16:00 6:09:14 4:16
Point 12,739 Cow Benchmark 0:58:50 7:12:20 7:14
Cow Benchmark Point 13,132 1:42:53 9:02:27 8:10
Point 13,132 Darley Mountain 1:08:51 10:19:28 0:00
Darley Mountain Engineer Pass 0:24:40 10:44:08 0:00
Engineer Pass Engineer Mountain A 0:16:30 11:00:38 2:24
Engineer Mountain A Engineer Pass 0:11:42 11:14:44 0:00
Engineer Pass North Fork Henson Creek Road 1:48:25 13:03:09 Trip End

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

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 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 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85

Comments or Questions
04/20/2022 16:31
Another stunning report Supran. This might tempt me to actually go play in the choss.. in an unknown land.. I have never been to

Well done!

Heck ya
04/20/2022 16:38
This all looks so excellent. Especially the Wildhorse part. Added to the list!

Heck ya marvelous!
04/20/2022 16:50
@Skimo: You definitely should. You've got the skills, and most of the Cimarron is quite easy. It seems like most of the difficult stuff is on the northwest side, Coxcomb, "El Punto" group, Turret Ridge, Chimney Rock...

@Steve: Great! These peaks are awesome, especially the Wildhorse area, like you said. One of my favorite trips of the year, and possibly ever, so I'm happy when I can inspire others to do the same!

04/20/2022 18:21
Wildhorse and Blackwall are a couple of my 13er favorites because of the views...and we had a sheep watch dog staring us down from a ridge away when we went up Wildhorse, which we approached from American Flats and descended the gully you ascended when we went to Blackwall.

Big day Ben...thanks for sharing!

Sheepies on the steepies sheeples in the steeples
04/20/2022 20:46
I've had a few encounters with sheepdogs too. They can be pretty aggressive! Thanks for reading, Darin!

A grand day out!
04/21/2022 09:57
Thanks for sharing this awesome day! Adding WIldhorse to my list of scenic beauties to visit.

Chicago Transplant
Dragons Back
04/21/2022 10:43
Dragon's Back is pretty fun, if you want a partner I'd repeat that one. I need 12975 up there anyway!
Sheep Dogs are my nemesis, I have had them chase my car 3 times so I don't want to meet them outside of my car like ever, lol.

Boggy B
04/21/2022 14:48
I think I read that the range was named for bighorns ("wild sheep"). Sadly, probably eradicated by the domestics long ago.

(EDIT) That from my copy of Peaks of the Uncompahgre 2nd ed. (Burch and Paulson), citing this link, and also, uhh, this one. So there you go.

Yeah the view from Blackwall wins Top 10 Hoodoos every year.

Wild ramblin dragons
04/21/2022 15:42
@RamblinGypsy: you're welcome! Go ride the Wildhorse, it's your rodeo! Yeehaw!

@Mike R.: Whiley and I both still need it, and we'll happily take you up on it after we finish off the 13ers, and repeat 12,975 if you still need it by then.

@Mike D.: great context as always, thanks for frequently contributing additional info to my TRs. I rarely see any bighorn anywhere in Colorado, which I find tragic.

Bighorn spotting
04/21/2022 19:10
One of the few times I've seen two full curl rams was in the Cimarron near the saddle of Coxcomb as we came back from Wetterhorn Basin.

Had no idea of the definition. Interesting.

04/21/2022 19:34
Nice pics!

Cosmic dust
04/21/2022 21:52
@Darin: no, you're a two full curl ram!

@Will: thanks dude, hope to see you out on some of my remaining 13ers this summer!

04/22/2022 10:10
...that was a big day. I'm too much of a slacker for that much mileage and elevation gain. I think I could manage Blackwall Mtn., Wildhorse Peak, Darley Mtn., and Cow Benchmark from Engineer Pass. That's about 16.5 miles and 5300'. Anyway, congrats on your successful day.

North Fork Henson vs Engineer Pass
04/22/2022 13:18
I chose North Fork Henson mostly because I have a vehicle capable of reaching it. My Sprinter has 4x4 but it's too big to drive up Engineer Pass and I don't like beating it up that much. 12,913 didn't add much elevation, and essentially no extra distance, but 12,739 would be a significant addition from Engineer Pass. Moot point if you don't care about 12ers that much.

04/28/2022 09:59
...looks like it was a blast! Thanks!

Blasting off to space
04/28/2022 10:20
It was definitely a blast, Stu. One of my better days of the year for sure, this is such a magical area.

04/29/2022 22:02
Just awesome... the far away places you visit are magical. Thanks as always for posting!!

Great Beta
05/01/2022 16:34
Good stuff Ben, this gives me ideas to do my remaining peaks in the area. How Subuaruable is the road? For reference, Carson Pass is my tolerance limit to take my lil crosstrek.

05/02/2022 11:58
@Paul: Of course, thanks for always reading!

@Yusuf: I think you should be able to make it to the end of the road, but in case you can't you can park at Mary Alice Creek, where you came down from 13,201 based on your TR. The roughest part of the road is after that, and there's a small pull-off there with enough room to turn around. Up to that point it's approximately rough 2WD/easy 4WD without much clearance required.

05/06/2022 11:39
My Forester made it up the road no problem last August. I thought Carson Pass was a way more difficult road, props to getting a Subaru up there.

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