| Alpine Loop-alooza: 1 of 3
Ever since I climbed Wetterhorn Peak years ago, I've always wanted to climb it again. After finishing the 14ers in 2008 it quickly moved to the front of our "peaks to re-climb" list.
Because we were a little late on planning, the only lodging we could find in Lake City over Fourth of July weekend was a campsite at Castle Lakes. $22 per day sounded steep at first, but it comes with bathrooms, showers and Wi-Fi, so it's actually a pretty good deal.
We drive to the mountains so often, sometimes we'll intentionally take longer routes just to see different scenery. While discussing which route to take to Lake City, the topic of breweries came up – naturally.
"Doesn't Canon City have a brewery?" Jen asked.
"I don't know. Call your dad," I said.
You see, Jen's dad is our live Dex. Whenever we're on the road and we need to know if X town has a brewery, we call him to Google it for us.
Well, John wasn't answering his phone on this day, so we went to our back-up: Jen's older sister, Nancy. And boy did she come through, pointing us to the McClellan Brewery, downtown Canon City. Good food, friendly service, nice atmosphere and decent beer. It was worth the extra miles to experience this brewpub that was new to me.
Before we left for Lake City Jen pre-made our "camp" breakfasts: "meat pies," which consisted of eggs, sausage, cheese and hash browns baked into a pie crust. That's what we ate cold on the side of the Alpine Loop road at 5 a.m. on July 3.
After signing the register, we were on the trail by 6 a.m. Surprisingly, seven people were already on the trail ahead of us.
Just 10 minutes into our hike I realized I had forgotten the route description. I wasn't too worried, though, because the route was burned into my memory. That said, I remembered there being a crucial turn-off right in the beginning.
Before I could even read the sign ahead, I said, "Jen, I think this is where we need to turn right."
Curiously enough, that sign doesn't tell you to turn right for Wetterhorn. That's right, the most popular destination in the whole area isn't even mentioned on the sign.
But at least it's written in, thanks to some Good Samaritan:
As we moved up the slope, the views became more and more beautiful. Here's a pan of the area, with Wetterhorn on the left and Matterhorn on the right:
There's something about re-climbing mountains that's very comforting. When you first climb a mountain, it can be awkward and scary. But when you revisit, it's like you're coming home to a familiar place. You don't have the anxiety of uncertainty. And you can actually relax and check out your surroundings a little more. Plus, you always see new things that you didn't see before.
I guess we were hiking fast because we caught up to the seventh person before we made it to the small snowfield below the saddle.
The snow was firm and somewhat icy so we used the ice axes to ascend. They weren't completely necessary (low angle; safe run-out), but they came in handy. Trekking poles would've worked just as well.
Hiking toward the colorful dirt, with the second (very small and easy) snow crossing ahead (no gear required):
A couple looks back:
Jen on the yellow dirt saddle:
Working our way up the slope:
We worried that all the recent rain would make the rocks wet and slick, but the wind dried them quickly. The ground, however, stayed saturated with water, making it loose and pasty.
Class 3 begins:
Picking our route:
As we weaved our way up the rock, slowly working toward the ridge crest, Jen stepped on a softball-sized rock that was only anchored into the ground by soft, clay-like soil. Gravity slowly pulled on it in a non-threatening way, but it was enough to cause me to instinctively yell, "ROCK!" I didn't think anyone was below us, but I still thought it was a good idea to throw out the warning.
Jen followed immediately by yelling, "ROCK!"
Turns out, there was a climber below, just about 50 feet down.
Jen and I both yelled again: "ROCK!"
The climber looked up and nodded, as if he saw it and didn't think it was a problem.
When Jen saw that he wasn't moving, she yelled again, "It's still coming!" The fact that she was able to get out a three-word sentence made it seem like it was all in slow motion.
The rock bounced off some slabs, cracked against a boulder, and then, like a game of Plinko on the Price is Right, it bounced against another boulder. And that's when the climber started moving. Unfortunately, he started moving right into the path of the boulder, and it ended up missing his head by just feet.
After giving our nerves a moment to calm down, we angled toward the solid rock on the ridge.
"Screw this loose shit; let's take the ridge":
Fun little chimney:
Once on the ridge, it was all Class 3 excitement. And then the infamous gully to the top ...
Eight photos stitched together (best viewed large):
Jen climbing up into the cloud:
Me following (we decided to just climb straight up to the summit):
At about 8:30 a.m. we gained the lonely, cloudy summit. Sorry, no good photos to share. Though the clouds did part here and there, offering some spectacular views.
Before descending back down the steep gully, we waited for the other climbers to come up so that we didn't kick any rocks on them. The guy that narrowly missed the rock earlier said he put his helmet on after that incident. We were glad to hear that he was doing well, and not emotionally scarred.
Jen descending back down the steep gully; the prow is in the background:
Me climbing down:
As we worked our way down, we ran into an older gent who asked us about the route up. Right then he stepped on a football-sized rock that set off down the mountain. Jen immediately yelled, "ROCK!"
"No one's down there," he said. But, alas, there were two climbers below. Luckily, the rock stopped on its own.
Looking back as we descended, with two climbers on their way up:
Marmot in need of braces and a diet:
The descent was uneventful, and we were glad that the weather held for us. Uncompahgre's summit, however, was socked in most of the day.
At 10:30 a.m. we made it back to the truck. But our day was far from over. Our 4x4ing extravaganza was just about to begin.
Panorama I took at Engineer Pass (best viewed large):
One of the easy sections on Road 878 (connector road from Engineer Pass road to Hwy 550, 3.5 miles south of Ouray):
Me helping some guy pick up his wrecked BMW GS, less than 100 yards up Road 878 (Those things are heavy as hell! And I paid for it with a strained wrist muscle. Actually, after watching him lose his balance and fall downslope, I'm surprised he didn't end up with a broken leg.):
While waiting for the Ourayle House to open, we took a drive up Yankee Boy Basin. I've driven to the end of that road many times, but this was by far the roughest I've ever seen it (beyond the bathrooms). A lot of dirt must have eroded away from all the rain this spring. It was rockier and rougher than ever, and the last section of road is even closed.
Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing Co. at the Ourayle House in Ouray:
After taking Cinnamon Pass back to our campground, I think I chugged a beer and passed out.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):