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Peak(s):  Uncompahgre Peak  -  14,309 feet
Post Date:  05/29/2012
Date Climbed:   05/26/2012
Posted By:  JA_son27


 Windy Uncompahgre   

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

-Robert Frost



This road is definitely the one less traveled. Hiking in this distinct, and utterly beautiful landscape gives me a sense of profound freedom I cannot find anywhere else. This feeling was further precipitated by the absence of fellow adventure seekers, leaving me high and alone in this awesome and wild place.
Uncompahgre literally translated means, “Hot water spring.” The Utes were onto something when they named this magnificent monolith, as it is an ancient and extinct volcano. Sadly, my wife and I could not find any hot springs. We did find something else though, and it was just as grand. Solitude.
After months of attempting to get my body back into the shape it was before I stopped hiking, (involuntarily) I finally felt like I might be strong enough to tackle one of my favorites. All the nights I spent working out in the gym, running and doing awful stair and hill climbs have finally paid off. Once I entered the basin, I was quickly reminded why I had been training so hard, instead of sitting on the couch. Enough of the retrospective.



The night before my wife and I left for the Nellie Creek TH, I checked the forecast; Wind. I was hoping the lousy forecast would keep the not so hearty off the peak, I was right. We arrived at the base of the road around 2pm, and I was hoping to get the awesome spot in the open meadow just before the actual TH. The road itself isn’t bad by 4x4 standards, but the risk of falling trees was an ever present threat with the high winds forecasted. We didn’t have to move any downed trees, and as we pulled into the highly anticipated spot, I was awestruck by how deserted Nellie Creek was. Granted, it’s early in the season for the casual camper at this altitude, but the reward was priceless.


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A deserted Nellie Creek



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View from our campsite




This being my first “strenuous” hike of the season, I wanted to take it easy. I even let my wife sleep in until 6am, which I thought was generous. She on the other hand, didn’t think my idea and her idea of generous were the same. After drinking some coffee and eating breakfast consisting of densely packed protein, wrapped in foil packaging, we began our trek around 8. This was much later than my normal start time, but with the forecasted winds, I wasn’t too concerned about any late day thunder storms.


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Welcome sign



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Once we exited the trees and took the first few switchbacks up into the basin, we immediately felt the effects of the wind. I had warned Amanda about it, but she wasn’t expecting how cold and powerful the gusts were. She was already cold, but she wanted to continue, much to the chagrin of our little Cairn Terrier, Einstein.


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Hazy Uncompahgre



The wind was bringing in smoke from fires burning in New Mexico, which totally sucked. It wasn’t affecting my wife’s asthma, but it was bothering me. It was quickly forgotten as I marveled at how alone we were.
The few pairs of hikers we saw at the TH were way ahead of us, and we had the basin to ourselves. The higher we hiked, the more the wind began affecting my wife. By the time we made it to the first snowfield Amanda was finished. We hugged, and parted ways.
A few minutes later I hear her yelling, “Car Keys!”
I climbed back down the snow field and give her the keys, I turned around and continued up the snowfield.
Another few minutes I hear her yelling, “Sunscreen!”
“Forget it!”
I didn’t want to climb back down again for the second time, a decision I didn’t regret.


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Amanda's turn around point



The higher I went, the more snowfields I met. There were only about 4 large fields I had to cross, and slowly meandered across them. Postholing was not an issue.


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The wind was beginning to really hit hard at this point



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Hazy San Juans



Once topping out on the lower ridge, I felt the full force of the forecasted 70mph gusts. I’ve never felt like a rag doll on a hike, until now. I loved it! I had run into a couple of hikers a few minutes before, running down the hill side attempting to escape the winds in an abandoned summit attempt. “The wind was just too dangerous to continue.” I can respect that, but not wanting another to determine my summit attempt, I continued up to see for myself. Now I understood why he warned me. A two hundred plus pound man-me-was being tossed back and forth on the trail, like an old Russian at a bar, tossing back cheap vodka like there was no tomorrow. I loved it! I was warm, had the right gear, and the right attitude.




The wind slowed my progress, which is a given. For a while the routine was, brace myself against the wind, wait for it to die down then continue. This continued until the switchbacks leading up to the upper slope near 13,800. Once at the base of the switchbacks, I ran into the final 2 hikers of the day.

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Topping out above the switchbacks



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The start of the trail on the West Face



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I should've continued passed this snow field, instead I started ascending before.



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Taken on the way down



The wind abated after topping out on the switchbacks. I didn’t mind the wind, but I didn’t want to get blown off the steepest part of the trail, as pictured above. Once beyond the switchbacks, I walked into the first gully on the West face, which was much more sketchy than I remembered from the first time I hiked it. After surmounting the gully, I realized I was slightly off route. I should’ve continued across to the next gully, which was a little more mellow than the gully I climbed. (The pictures taken were from the standard route on my descent) Eventually I hooked up with the standard route at the terminus of the gully.

I had forgotten how large the summit area was, but it came relatively easy. My Winter/Spring training was paying off in dividends. I topped out, and my legs still felt fresh. The wind wasn’t as bad on the summit as it was on the ridge, but it was still present.

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Looks steeper than it is



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Summit success



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Wetterhorn and Sneffels from the summit



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Redcloud and Sunshine



After snapping a few summit shots, and a self portrait shot that was nearly impossible due to the wind, I carefully climbed down the part of the trail I missed on the way up. I hiked around off the West face, and stopped at the top of the switchbacks to gaze down into the basin. Being alone in this area was amazing.
Carefully I made my way back down to my wifey who had been waiting patiently in the car. This was an awesome first 14er hike of the season and was so blessed to have it be such a success. I recommend taking the road less traveled!



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
 


  • Comments or Questions
MtnHub


Windy!     05/30/2012 02:58
Yeah, the wind can get you down, but good job in pursuing your trek to the finish! Nice night shots! Thanks for the report!


djkest


Wind blows     05/30/2012 04:34
It can be tough to summit in the face of all that nasty wind. It truly builds character to see it through. Good on you. That is a fantastic mountain.


CRAIGO


Getting close..     05/30/2012 17:48
Are you going to finish this year? Let me know if you want to finish on Wilson Peak this summer.


JA_son27


Craigo     05/30/2012 18:02
I won't finish on Wilson Peak, but would love some company!


sunny1


Persistence!     05/31/2012 13:09
Way to go, Jason - on all the grinds at the gym, getting the summit and a great report.
Good to see you out there.
Thanks for sharing!



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