First - a word about "East Coast" vs. "West Coast" driving. My friend Jay who currently lives in ABQ invited me to go down and meet him in the San Juans for some mountain trekking. Having never been to the Lake City area before, I type it into google maps to get a quick estimate about how much of a drive it's going to be from the Front Range. The google says it'll be about 5 hours and 45 minutes.
If I were on the East Coast there's no way I'd suffer through a boring-as-hell drive on highways through numerous different states to get to some little hike. Lame.
However, living in the West, I say "A 6 hour drive to climb some of the best mountains out there? SIGN ME UP!" I was trying to figure out why this might be when I came upon three reasons
1) I don't have to drive on any highways for hours on end
2) I don't have to leave the state
3) This state is so damn beautiful I'll drive all afternoon and enjoy the whole thing!
Mostly #3 though. From the front range I get to drive down 285 and over Kenosha pass for a breath-taking view of the high plains as I round the corner and head to Fairplay. Then pass alongside the lonely Buffalo Peaks, through the twisty canyon where 285 meets up with 24 and gape at the views of the Collegiate peaks as I drive alongside the raging Arkansas river before going through Monarch pass to the desert terrain on the other side. THEN, through Gunnison to the end of Blue Mesa Reservoir before entering the northern end of the San Juans and spying Uncompahgre as I turn onto the dusty road that leads to the trailhead. Whoah 6 hours is up already?
Anyways, onto the trip report proper!
We arrived at the lower Wetterhorn Creek TH around 7:00 PM on Friday evening, loaded up our packs and headed up the trail to Wetterhorn for approximately 2 miles before we met up with the ABQ contingent of our group off in the meadow just after treeline where the trail splits to go to Wetterhorn or Uncompahgre. After a restless sleep we woke up at 4 AM on Saturday, and got on the trail by 4:30 AM. With only a half-moon shining, it was still bright enough to turn off the headlamps as the trail was pretty easy going up to the pass just East of Matterhorn.
Alpine glow looking back at the pass on Wetter- and Matterhorn
Roughly 3 miles more of pleasant high alpine hiking passed as we gaped at the spires on the southwestern side of Uncompahgre came into view as dawn approached. We were taking our time as the sky was clear and the sunrise was beautiful. By 7:00 AM we had gained the ridge (after some short but steep sections) and met up with the main trail that starts from Nellie Creek TH. We stopped for a much needed snack at the junction, and then continued up the amazingly green eastern slope that ended suddenly at the cliffs on the ridge. By 8:30 we had finished the switchbacks on the front and followed the trail as it snuck around the Western face onto some class 2+ terrain that went up a short gully. The rocks were stable enough and the difficulty soon dropped back to class 1/2 for a short jaunt to the broad summit of Uncompahgre by 8:50 AM.
Apline meadow below Uncompahgre is filled with wildflowers right now!
The view from the top was simply jaw-dropping spectacular. Bluebird day, absolutely no haze, I could see all the way to Mt. Sneffles and the Wilson group in the West, South there was nothing but San Juans to the horizon, North Crested Butte and the Gunnison river valley... well I decided to do a panorama shot and it turned out pretty well so you can see for yourself! Seriously, after seeing this panorama you will want to head out and climb all over these mountains!
Click here for sweet Uncompahgre Panorama!
We hung out with a couple and a lovely dog at the top and soaked up the sun and the view for nearly an hour, heading back at 9:50. Nothing eventful to note on the way down, passed a number of people on the way up from Nellie Creek TH, but none appeared to have followed us from the Wetterhorn creek approach. It was a long ways back after leaving the main trail at the ridge after having gone up and down the summit, but again we were going to camp out this night, there were no clouds threatening so we took our time, messed around on some snowfields and made it back to camp below Wetterhorn at roughly 1:30 PM.
After a much needed nap, celebratory beers were had and it was time to plan for our climb on Wetterhorn the next day...