| Tour de Ouray
Who: scotthsu (Scott) and Nice Axe! (Amy)
Route: ascent via NE ridge (class 2+), descent via E ridge (class 1+)
Vertical/distance: 4311', ~7.8 miles roundtrip
Time: ascent 4.5 hrs, descent 3 hrs (slowed due to Amy's painful foot)
After a long hiatus, it was great to be back on a summit again. Mt. Ouray has long been on our list due to its easy access from northern NM and because I love bristlecone pines!
We parked/slept at Gray's Creek TH at 9660'. There's a turnout just N of Gray's Creek that can easily fit 5-6 cars. We were the only ones there overnight. There's a few decent spots to put down a tent, although it would be right next to the road (which got a fair bit of traffic early in the morning). There are two obvious but unmarked trails starting from the parking lot. The Gray's Creek trail to Ouray is the one on the left.
We slept in until 6:45am. A car pulled into the parking area around 6am, and a couple of people got out and hiked away (don't know which trail; we never saw them or anyone else on the mountain that day). We started hiking around 7:15am, but it took us about 10-15 minutes of exploring both trails to figure out which trail to take. The correct (left) trail soon headed up through a beautiful stand of bare Aspen trees.
We stopped several times for Amy to adjust her boots; she has an extremely painful pinched nerve in her left foot. The hike was only possible due to a new orthotic she got earlier in the week that relieved the pain substantially. Nevertheless, less than 1 mile into the hike, she doubted that she would be able to summit. We found her a walking stick and I took her pack for long stretches, and somehow she managed to push on slowly and steadily.
The trail was fairly easy to follow. It stays on the north side of Gray's Creek but crosses over to the south side briefly exactly once in the first 1.5 miles. There are several small side streams to cross, and it is good to be aware that these are not Gray's Creek itself. After crossing a major side stream at around 1.5 miles, the trail started to ascend more steeply and then shortly enters a ravine.
At around 10,900', near the bottom of the ravine, is the split for the E and NE ridge routes. We decided to ascend the NE ridge route (route 16.3V1 in Roach's 13ers guide), so we left the trail here on an open slope and hiked about 0.1 mile north to gain a ridge, and then we hiked cross-country west along the ridge. Soon we were in a spectacular bristlecone forest around 11,400'.
We could see the forest stretching up along the ridge toward treeline, the bare branches of the older trees looking like flames shooting into the sky toward PT 12761.
Soon we were near treeline and then grunted up a class 2 talus slope toward PT 12761 on Ouray's NE ridge.
About halfway up the talus slope, we took a short snack break (and foot break for Amy). Finally, we gained the ridge and could see the rest of the route to the summit.
It's possible to keep the route at class 2 by staying off the ridge proper (generally to the N), but we elected to have some class 3 scrambling fun of course on the ridge proper. Looking back toward PT 12761:
The rest of the ridge to the summit after the fun scrambling:
Looking down to the Devils Armchair:
Summit fever blocks out all foot pain. Amy on the summit block:
Snow was not an issue. There were sparse patches up to a few inches deep here and there, but it was always easy to hop from rock to rock when necessary. We brought ice axe and gaitors but never used either. It was a pleasurable ridge hike/scramble all the way to the summit, which we reached shortly before noon.
We got our obligatory summit shots, signed the register (last entry was 10/13), had a snack and drank some cognac before starting down the E ridge. Unfortunately, it was real smoky/hazy (from a fire somewhere?), and we could barely even see Shavano and any of the other surrounding peaks. Amy heading away from the summit:
We quickly found a faint trail going down the E ridge, although we lost it once or twice in patches of snow. View down the east ridge:
According to Roach, the route descends off the ridge around 12540' toward the Devils Armchair, but we did not find a trail, instead just going straight down over stretches of grass and talus. Amy on the ridge contemplating the descent:
The descent toward Devils Armchair was extremely hard on Amy's foot, so we took it slow. After reaching the Devils Armchair, we hiked N/NE through bristlecones toward the upper end of the ravine.
We found the trail going down the ravine. From there, it was an easy hike all the way back to the TH and cold beer.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):