Trip Report: Mount Ouray west-to-east thru hike
July 17, 2011
Ascent: 3 miles, 3k ft vertical from West ridge off of Marshall Pass
Descent: 4ish miles down East ridge to Gray's Creek TH
Our party of 3 planned to camp just off the Marshall Pass road, near the top of the pass. We had seen on the map and sat image what appeared to be a side road (north side) that could get us off the pass road a bit.
We found that easy enough...less than a mile before the pass. The road dips and had a section of water about a foot deep, about 20 ft long, so perhaps would not be a good idea for an low clearance vehicle. Just maybe 100 yds on the road behind the first set of trees you see it ends in a loop at a trail head. This is west of the west ridge. Surprise! There was a cabin there.
The Hutchinson-Barnett Cabin, which is primitive but open for use! It has a single room with 3 cots (wood surface), a wood burning stove, table/chairs and lots of firewood. It is a 1935 built cabin that was used in cattle ranching. What a treat to not have to set up tents!. There were no signs saying any restrictions or reservations for it.
Inside the cabin
Sign inside the cabin
The next morning we met the 4th of our party at the Gray's Creek TH where he left his car for the destination and drove back to the cabin as our starting point. This Gray's Creek TH could easily be missed. It is about 8 miles before the pass at a switch back. There is a pull out and could accommodate camping. The TH sign is perhaps 25 yds after the pull out and there is no obvious trail at that point. But rather, at the pull out you can see the trail. I imagine other reports may make this more clear. We had also been confused by the road crossing signs closer to the O'havre camp ground. I should have printed out the map.
So from the trail at this parking area / cabin we very shortly turned right (no trail) and straight up the grassy slopes to the west ridge. The ridge levels out at about 12,000 and then there is a nice long (about 1 mile) section as it sweeps around to the final 1 mile / 1200 ft ascent.
looking down lower section of west ridge
There is a better trail than one would expect on a somewhat remote 13er; broken in places of course, but still helpful. As stated in other trip reports it is perhaps a little less rugged to stay on the north side around the rocky knobs, but in any case there is no real exposure or loose rock or need to use your hands. Of course there is a bit of a false summit relative to the view up this ridge, just beyond the quartz section.
The top has awesome views in all directions of course. It was a bit hazy but I believe we could see all the way to the Crestones in the south! It took our party from 2-2.5 hrs to reach the summit, at a moderate pace. As many others have reported 2 of our 3 GPS's showed an elev over 14k.
GPS sats don't lie!
For the thru hike you descend to the south east, not the north east ridge. The north east ridge looked like it would have a terrible descent to the basin...loose and steep.
There is an obvious trail down the talus slope. We were blessed to see a mother ptarmigan and her tiny brood very close.
look closely...ptarmigan mom and chick...
Once onto the broad grassy east ridge you can go down into the armchair whereever you like. You will want to pick your way onto the grass patches wherever you can find them. It is quite steep but not loose. Still I was very glad we did not reverse the route because that climb up the side of the ridge must be more tiring than the ascent of the west ridge from it's base.
The bristlecone forest is pretty much what I hoped for. It is a very wonderful experience to wind through it and it is flat and not rugged. We did not find a trail through it til on the far (low) end.
We knew to angle across the forest to a hill that is almost bald. The trail down to Gray's creek picks up around there.
Once you enter the gully (it was dry) leading to Gray's creek it gets narrow, rocky, steep, and generally not very pleasant. There are places where there was a trail, but many, not so much. It seems that the gully is steep and dense enough that mostly you are forced into the rocky bottom. Once it starts to level out a little then you will pass through some gorgeous aspen groves.
aspen grove at Gray's creek
Then voila, you are at the road (and your car hopefully). We made the descent in 2.5 hrs at a fairly leisurely pace allowing for some pics.
I highly recommend this thru hike and doing it from the west as we did. That way you can be off the mountain and enjoying a descent when you go thru the bristlecone forest....and of course there was the treat of the cabin on the west end for the night before.