Sunday, July 05, 2009

Uncompahgre Peak (14,314 ft.)

18 June, 2009: The snowy spring--and work schedules--held back the star tof 14er season '09 until the third week in June(!). Trisha and I decided to start off with something easy. In fact, Uncompahgre was the absolute easiest peak we have left, except for our chosen finishers. So we cherry-picked off the bottom of the list. Off to Lake City.
We loaded upTrisha's new trailhead vehicle ("Critter"), a 1989 Isuzu Trooper, and left town Wednesday afternoon. Critter has awesome clearance, but no great power for high speed on the highway. Thus, five hours got us through Lake City, and five miles up the Henson Creek Road, where the 4WD road up Nellie Creek starts. With an hour left before astronomical sunset, we were hopeful that we would still have light to set up a camp for the night and cook dinner at the trailhead.
It quickly became apparent that Critter was going to handle this rough road just fine. Not only is it rough, it's steep, rising about 3,000 feet in just 4.3 miles. It also has tight turns and switchbacks, plus two crossings of Nellie Creek, but we cruised on up, without a hitch or a bottoming-out, in about half an hour.
We also took Cimarron on this trip, and the trailhead was where she got her first chance to run around without restriction. She loved it.
With only a couple of snoozes after the 4 am alarm, we heated some coffee, packed up, and were on the trail by a few minutes after 5 am--only half an hour after sunrise. We were treated to the sight of an old crescent moon and Venus rising above the ridge northeast of us before daylight washed them out.
We hiked the well-worn trail with decent energy, and in just a few minutes we had emerged from the trees, and began to get our first glimpses of sunlit peaks ahead. After climbing the one big switchback on the trail, which raised us up above Nellie Creek and up onto a small ridge, we finally could see our objective off to the west. It's impressive!
Above timberline, we finally began to encounter some snowfields covering the trail. They were not deep, however, and we had no problem walking over them. What we did have a problem with was the wind! Around 13,000 ft., it really kicked up, threatening our balance, and forcing us to stop now and again simply to turn our backs to it.
After marching west on the good trail, and over to the west side of the mountain's south ridge, we came to the crux of this climb: a 150-foot climb through the steeper rocks and boulders to reach the summit plateau. About here, the wind finally let up, and we continued on up the more gradual slope to the summit.
There, we had a chance to look over the nearly vertical north face, which has never been climbed. What a drop! We met two other climbers who had summitted just before us, one of whom was vacationing from Chicago. We hung around for about half an hour, soaking in the astounding views. Uncompahgre is the highest peak in the San Juans. It's also one, the lowest, of only six in Colorado which rise above 14,300 ft., and the last of these for us to climb.
The descent was uneventful, and found us hiking in summer clothes by the time we got back to the trailhead at 10,400 ft. Round trip, 6.6 miles, about 3,000 ft. vertical. Fourteener #42 for me, #40 for Trisha, and #1 for Cimarron!
Long life and many peaks!


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