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Redcliff Peak. Photo by Ryan Wichelns
The Beginner’s Guide to Climbing Colorado’s Thirteeners

Redcliff Peak

You’ll pad through lush forests and traverse numerous streambeds before summiting this 13,642-foot beauty near Ridgway.

Trailhead Elevation: 10,755 feet
Summit Elevation: 13,642 feet
Hiking Distance: 5.9 miles, round trip
Time: Half-day hike
Drive Time from Denver: 6 hours
Closest Town with Services: Ridgway
Where to Park: Wetterhorn Basin trailhead

The Hike: The valleys surrounding the different forks of the Cimarron River, to the east of Ridgway, feel like hidden gardens of Eden: trickling water, lush grasses, narrow gorges, and several jagged peaks. Redcliff is one of the easiest of those peaks to conquer. To do so, you’ll follow the maintained Wetterhorn Basin Trail south from the parking lot (off County Road 860) through forests and across numerous streambeds until the trees start to thin at roughly mile 1.6. Don’t forget to be on the lookout for small waterfalls on the slope ahead of you: The trail meanders through a slew of them and then up the headwall toward Wetterhorn Basin.

At a clearing near 11,400 feet, you’ll leave the trail and head east. Look for a stream descending from the saddle between Redcliff and flat-topped Coxcomb Peak. Stay on the left (north) side of that stream as you begin to climb a steep, grassy hillside, aiming straight for that saddle. Eventually, the grass will give way to loose scree, but look for packed game trails and grass to add some stability and make the going easier. From the 13,350-foot saddle, look north to find the ridgeline to the summit. Don’t panic: It’s not as steep as it appears, and the footing is far more solid than what you just ascended. You’ll huff and puff a little, but it’s easy to follow the switchbacking herd path straight to the summit. Views to the south and west look into one of the most remote parts of the San Juan Mountains. At 14,015-feet, dramatic Wetterhorn Peak is hard to miss, as is 14,308-foot Uncompahgre Peak, both less than five miles away. Descend the scree carefully and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Fair Warning: The climb to the saddle between Redcliff and Coxcomb is steep and filled with loose talus. You’ll inevitably kick some small rocks down below you as you climb, so make sure you stagger yourself and your partners across the slope. 

Getting There: From U.S. 50 east of Montrose, turn south on Cimarron Road, which eventually becomes County Road 858. Pass the Silver Jack Reservoir and turn right on County Road 860 (19.6 miles from U.S. 50). Follow this road south along the West Fork of the Cimarron River. Roughly 1.5 miles from the trailhead, the road turns rough. You’ll want a high-clearance vehicle with four-wheel-drive from here. If your Camry can’t make it, there is some parking where the road gets rocky, but parking there will add three miles (round trip) to your day.

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