| Ride Like the Wind
RIDE LIKE THE WIND
Breezy Scenes above Lake City
A three day weekend and we weren’t going to spend it in the city dodging flat-screen sales or watching Dorf on Golf from the confines of our air-conditioned nightmare apartment, so we hit the road Friday afternoon and made our way to Lake City. Big winds were in the forecast but we had a lot of 13er options to choose from. I scripted our days to maximize our chances of success and, after securing our favorite top-secret free camping spot along Lake San Cristobal Road, we eased into the weekend with a large fire, some JJs for dinner, and a hefty supply of Colorado IPAs. "Ohh, yes yes yes..."(1)
Saturday May 26
12.5 miles and 4330 vert (from bottom of Wager Gulch Road)
We walked up Coney Benchmark and UN 13260, got absolutely brutalized by the winds, and walked down. These are accessed from the Carson townsite along the Wager Gulch Road. The road has been improved since last year and dispersed camping can be had along the way. We were able to bail off of the Coney BM-13260 saddle and dropped right down to the townsite, where we escaped the winds and checked out the histories etched into the walls of the buildings.
Visitors leave their marks. I wonder how many are still alive and if they remember the day they came to Carson?
Keith Spencer living great days back in '82.
As Floyd would say, let’s move on.
We hit the Restless Spirits Saloon for dinner and were disappointed to find out they had completely changed their menu. Gone were the burgers and turkey sandwiches with wasabi. Gone were the cigar-sized mozzarella logs and the Modus too. WTF? The only options you have now are pizza, calzones and nachos.
I can't endorse this for reasons soon to become apparent.
Sunday May 27
12.9 miles and 4660 vert
After a chilly night just below the first creek crossing on Nellie Creek Road, I emerged from my slumber, took two steps outside the car and had to Usain Bolt it into the trees because of that damn pizza. The only thing I remember is my stomach lurching and watching my life flash before my eyes. And it is too bad we don’t have video footage to share because I evidently high-hurdled several decaying logs and two deer in my down booties. No BS.
Wooderson: Having problems?
Papillon (breathless): Wow. That’s all I can say. Wow.
We hoofed the two miles of the road to the upper trailhead, picked up the trail to Uncompahgre and entered the basin. Our first objective was UN 13158 which shares a connecting ridge with The Big U. There are several towers along the ridge and I’m not sure how well it would go coming directly down Uncompahgre. I believe most people drop elevation to around 12,400 feet and skirt the messiness.
We climbed talus to the ridge where we encountered a twelve foot section of steep snow. I got out the axe and kicked a ladder up for Sarah. The winds were still hanging around so we didn’t linger. The southwest side of the summit ridge is class 2 and a little loose. There is even a mini catwalk (ten feet) near the summit if you want it. Views from this perch are pretty unreal.
Looking up from the saddle.
Approaching the summit.
Views yes, winds no!
There was no pen in the register which was placed in '93 so we couldn’t sign our names. But somebody is trying to rename this peak “Noncompahgre” for some unknown reason. All I can say is, please please stop.
We returned to the ridge, downclimbed the snow and crossed the basin back to the Uncompahgre trail where we sized up objective #2 of the day. Pretty slick.
We hopped on the Big Blue Trail here which gently took us up steep grass in a series of undulating switchbacks to the base of UN 13106.
"Hey hey. You got me rocking now."(2)
From here it was class 2 and steady winds. We still had work to do so we didn’t linger and made our way off the blocky summit toward our final objective UN 13091.
UN 13091 from UN 13106
There was a snowfield I could not see the bottom of blocking our descent so we backtracked a bit and finally found dry ground. Then we moved in a northeast direction to avoid some serious cliffs and dropped all the way down to 12,500 feet.
Snow and cliffs. This felt like bear territory to me so I kept my eyes peeled.
At this stage, the wind started taking its toll on our energy levels. All of that constant and forced balancing is taxing on the thighs. Luckily, I brought a sleeve of pringles and this seemed to snap us out of our funk. We passed many impressive cairns along the way to UN 13091. They seemed almost geometrically perfect.
Somebody had a lot of time on his/her hands.
The descent off of UN 13091 got interesting. It seemed like we were cliffed out. There were also some snowfields and the thought of downclimbing these made me feel a little queasy. Some big cairns led us in a northwest direction and we dropped a few hundred feet on tedious talus. Here we encountered a snowfield that looked like it ran all the way down to China. We got out the axes and did an ascending traverse for maybe thirty yards and navigated the southeast side of UN 13091. A few more rock hops and we were down on the saddle.
Weird-o-rama on the horizon...
Looking back, it appears we had a small exit from the summit, a weakness in the cliffs. I’m not sure how loose it would be but I think it would go. Maybe. I guess in my haste to press on, I overlooked it.
Back at the saddle we encountered some wild rock formations and the ground had a beach feel to it. The only things missing were the umbrellas and the tan lines, the pretty girl smiles and the smell of pina colada sunblock.
"If the doors of perception were cleansed
everything will appear to man as it is,
The winds started pushing 40+ mph here and I tried everything to get it to stop. I plead, I cursed, I even gave the finger to the western skyline - all to no avail. In fact, it seemed to get more belligerent when I flipped it off. So we staggered on and made our descent.
Around 12,000 feet, the wind finally subsided and we enjoyed a leisurely stroll down an old mining road. We passed some ruins along the way – dilapidated cabins, endless rusty cans, shoes and a tinge of despair.
"But if I work all day at the blue sky mine there'll be food on the table tonight."(4)
Everything was going as planned until we got to within about 50 yards of Nellie Creek Road where a stream crossing stopped us cold in our tracks - literally and figuratively.
There was an icy third class log to our left that looked shaky at best. I figured I might be able to get across but if I slipped I would be in a world of shit. I also didn’t want Sarah to cross the creek without me checking it for hazards. Sharp rocks, broken bottles, alligator snapping turtles… You see, I’m a gentleman.
So we removed our boots and socks and I chose the shortest line possible even though it had a thick-looking finish (it would turn out to be thorny too - ouch). I got across to the other side and wailed like a wounded rodent for a few moments, then navigated the prickers and got to a spot where I could put my boots back on and drop a couple of f-bombs. Sarah followed minus the wailing and 50 yards later we were back on Nellie Creek Road about a third of a mile above the first stream crossing and just about home.
The stream crossing after the fact. The water level was about calf deep.
Our original plan for the next day was one of the couloirs on American Peak. But I didn’t have any beta, didn’t want to freeze my ass off up there on Sunday night (the Lake City low was 27 degrees), and also didn’t think I’d have the discipline to get up early. I also wanted to have a fire and there was a ban on anything not in a designated fire ring. Jeez, I’m starting to sound like a prima donna.
So we slept again at our top-secret camp site and sampled Deviant, Modus, Dales, and Avery IPAs. Jeez, I’m starting to sound like a lush too.
"Hop Footage" - photo taken March 10, 2012 at Nellie Creek TH.
Monday May 28
5.7 miles and 3020 vert
We got a leisurely 9:30 AM start from the lower Matterhorn Creek trailhead and quickly hoofed it to the Wetterhorn cutoff trail. From here, we made a hard right and ascended 1500 feet of steep grass. The grass yielded to loose scree for the final 200 feet. Nice.
The grassy grunt.
For the first time all weekend, the winds finally died down and the surrounding views were amazing. We crossed some orange sherbet rock and topped out on Point 13052 which I initally believed to be Broken Hill. But there was nothing about our perch that looked class 5. It didn’t even look class 2. Then something menacing caught the corner of my eye. I looked over my right shoulder and saw a wicked looking peak along a connecting ridge.
Broken Hill and a broken spirit.
Wooderson: I think that’s it.
Papillon: If that’s it, I’m not going.
Hit the bricks, kid...
We looked for a way down to the saddle from Point 13052. I had to downclimb fifteen feet of steep snow that looked icy at the bottom (it wasn’t). From there, it looked like the terrain might cliff out so I ran over and took a look. All was well and we made quick work to the base of Broken Hill.
From here, the summit looked formidable. But I knew there was easy access on the other side provided we could get to it. So we grunted up a few hundred feet of loose scree (one final F.U.) and found a ledge which gave us passage to the south side of Broken Hill. From here, it was 100 feet of talus and we topped out.
If there is a better view from any perch on the Lake City side than there is on Broken Hill, give me a call.
We snapped photos, exchanged smiles and dropped off of the summit and descended west and then south down to 12,000 feet. From here things looked like they would get pretty steep and narrow if we followed the runoff so we hopped to the north side of the creek, picked up a game trail and made an ever so subtle ascending traverse around the word “Iron” on the topo until we could see the Wetterhorn trail below us.
The 'shwack is on! The 'shwack is on!
Minutes later, we touched down and closed the book on the weekend.
"We're on a road to nowhere."(5)
Until next time...
Special thanks to Furthermore, SarahT, and SuperPolok for their trip reports, and ChicagoTransplant for the recent photos and discussion about UN 13158.
(1)Bukowski, Charles. 1971. Post Office.
(2)The Rolling Stones. 1994. You Got Me Rocking. Voodoo Lounge. Virgin Records.
(3)Blake, William. 1793. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
(4)Midnight Oil. 1990. Blue Sky Mine. Blue Sky Mining. Columbia Records.
(5)Talking Heads. 1985. Road to Nowhere. Little Creatures. Sire Records.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):