Monday, August 1, 2011

Uncompahgre Peak


Date: July 28&29, 2011
Elevation: 14, 309'Range: San Juan Mountains
Location: 9 miles Northwest of Lake City
Climbed With: Tim (brother)
Conditions: Bluebird morning, soft clouds around 11
Trailhead: Matterhorn Creek
Route: Southwest Slopes (Class 2)
Round Trip: 14.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 4300'

Timeline:  THURSDAY Denver: 11:00 AM
                                         TH: 4:50 PM
                                         Start: 5:25 PM
                                         Camp (~11.5-12K): 7:00 PM

                  FRIDAY        Left Camp: 6:00 AM
                                         Summit: 9:15 AM
                                         Start Descent: 9:45 AM
                                         Back to Camp: 12:15 PM
                                         Trailhead/Car: 1:30 PM

After lots of planning around uncertainty, we eventually left Denver at 11:00 AM on Thursday Morning. A casual drive down US-285 and we stopped in Buena Vista (1:00 PM) for burgers at K's. This place has great burgers and has become part of my 14er routine it seems like. We caught US 50 to Gunnison (3:15 PM), stopped for gas and a last set of phone calls before the weekend. And then CO149 down to Lake City. Maybe it was just me but I thought driving this road was awesome, the scenery was like a cross between Lord of the Rings and an old John Wayne western. Followed the easy dirt road out of Lake City and ran into a lot of Jeep traffic coming down from Engineer Pass. Left the easy dirt road and followed the rough 2WD road to the TH at 4:50 PM. We spent some time in a mosquito infested parking space below some trees, reapplying bug spray every 30 seconds.

Eventually we got the backpacks packed and left the car/TH at 5:25 PM. The pack in was cloudless and we had plenty of daylight and weather was not an issue. Passed the empty 4WD TH / gate at 5:40 PM. Kept packing in and kept eyes out for a spot.

We saw a nice spot on the west side of the trail around 11.5K, only to realize it was occupied. We settled on one just east of the trail around 11.5/11.75 K. We set up camp and forced down beans and rice for dinner and were treated to an awesome sunset over Matterhorn Peak.

We packed our daypacks the night before so the next morning we just retrieved our bear bag and hit the trail. Making good pace, we stayed right at the junction (left to Matterhorn Peak, Right to Uncompahgre)  right before a ravine and continued up the trail to the top of the pass. The view from the pass does not dissapoint, Uncompahgre lit up by the rising sun.

We made our way across the scenic basin, nobody else to be seen on the trail. We did lose a lot of elevation going down into the basin in some areas which made for some discouraging uphill on the way back.

There are two small ridges you must gain, the tops of which are marked by posts. This route can be a little bit confusing at times but posts are a good sign, and finally just below the second small ridge there is a sign that confirms Uncompahgre is ahead on the trail. At the top of the second small ridge, we started the gentle traverse across Uncompahgre's Southeast slope, and then looped back to join the main trail from Nellie Creek. 

We started up the ridge on a great path. Once again, CFI was hard at work on the trail, thanks again! Passed the work zone and then took a short break in front of a huge amphitheater looking Southwest, just before the switchbacks. Then we started the steep switchbacks on mediocre rocks, nothing too loose. Count to 7 switch backs, 4 and 5 being a zig-zag. Once on top of the ridge we were met by the hardest challenge. A short, steep, well-cairned shoot requires some careful foot placements, but is really fun. 

From the top of this shoot it is a gentle walk on top of the plateau to the summit. The cliffs on top were amazing.

We spent a good half hour on the summit (9:15-9:45 AM) taking in all of the views and taking lots of pictures. The summit was not too crowded, us and a small group from Texas. 

Coming back down we hit a lot of traffic, lots of people making their way up the shoot, switchbacks, and slope. We turned the corner and headed west back towards Matterhorn Creek, back to the pass and down to camp by 12:15 PM.

Along the way we had been thrown off by a strange noise, BAHHHH! Sheep right? But it was so constant we were almost thinking ATVs. How could a sheep BAAHH that much? This was one of the highlights for me....a huuuge flock of sheep. So cool.

We packed up and left camp at 12:45 PM and were back at the car at 1:30 PM. Pit stop in Lake City for water and some fruit. The weather rolled in and claps of thunder stole the show. Next stop, Silver Creek, Grizzly Gulch TH...

....To Be Continued (Handies Peak)