Peak(s):  Uncompahgre Peak  -  14,309 feet
Date Posted:  07/26/2007
Date Climbed:   07/22/2007
Author:  KeithK

 Drama and Majesty in the San Juans  

Uncompahgre Peak
July 22, 2007
Elevation: 14,309'
Route: South Ridge from Nellie Creek
Round Trip: 8 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,000'
Participants: KeithK, Azraelcat1976(Lisa), Notallwhowander(Becky), Easter(terrier mix)

After consecutive days at the Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch trailhead, and a more than satisfying summit of Handies Peak on Saturday, the weekend would culminate with what I perceived to be one of the most unique and aesthetically pleasing 14ers, the mighty Uncompahgre Peak. Lisa, Becky, Easter and I camped just below the trailhead after negotiating the 4 miles of up, down, over and around that is the Nellie Creek road. Rains had scarcely let up for the 3 days that I'd been in the area, so starting a campfire was borderline epic, as the printed route descriptions that we were using as fire starter even refused to burn. Now that's a testament to the power of, not even fire can touch it! Lisa would not give up, though, and finally, after many failed matches and a melted lighter, I went for the insect repellent, and we soon had a sustainable, albeit inconsistent fire. Sauteed mushrooms, zuchini, and other vegetables never tasted better. The following morning, the same could be said for the scrambled eggs with cheese and fake sausage. Thanks Lisa!

Ready to get going, we packed up camp and drove the short distance to the trailhead. It was well after 6:00 when we finally started hiking.

Becky and Easter were off quickly, while Lisa patiently waited for me to tag along behind. This was my 3rd day of hiking, and I felt pretty good, but that didn't mean that I was any faster than normal. The trail quickly climbs out of the trees, but not before this unexpected and unusual scene emerged.

Yes, those are llamas...

And of course, the peak itself quickly comes into view, rising impressively to the west...

Evidence of the rain in the area, the trail was actually underwater for a short time before the first switchback up out of the creek bed...

At this point, it's just easy hiking across the rolling basin, with plenty of wildflowers to enjoy, as well as an actual waterfall...

I noticed a guy carrying a big bag of rocks, and realized that the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps was working in conjunction with the CFI, and there were a dozen or so hard working souls doing trail maintenance in a couple of the more eroded sections. It is highly commendable that these kids choose to spend their summers doing this hard work, and I was very appreciative of their efforts. The trail was in great shape.

As Lisa continued to pace us ahead, we gained the south ridge, and this is where the altitude gain really kicks in.

Showing the basic route at the top of the south ridge...

I looked up at the switchbacks ahead with trepidation, as I was laboring hard on this hike. Still, Lisa insisted that we were making good time, even though I was quite sure that Becky and her dog were already on the summit.

The western escarpment, some of the most dramatic scenery I've witnessed anywhere, to be sure...

The switchbacks were not as steep as they looked from the ridge, and we finally made it to the west side of the peak.

The rugged western slope...

From here, it's a short traverse below these cliffs to the "crux" of the route, a somewhat steep, loose gully that climbs up onto the southwest bench below the summit pitch. Lisa was eyeing the class 3 gulley before the standard trail, and I pointed out that it was not the actual trail. Reluctantly, she led on. I didn't mean to deprive her of some scrambling fun! I felt bad... The gulley required a little bit of careful attention, but was not too bad and it did not take too long to emerge up onto the bench. Still, it was the first time that I've had to actually use my hands on a 14er, and it felt a bit like climbing. We continued up to the south and around to the east, before heading north for the final summit pitch. Here, we met Becky and Easter on their way down. A short while later, the summit was finally to be had!

Hard work always pays off...

The views from the summit are nothing short of spectacular, and we had a reasonably clear day to enjoy the sweeping vistas. The Grand Mesa was prominent to the far north, and most of the San Juan range sprawled out in the other 3 directions. The Sangres were impressive to the east, until some very inconvenient clouds rolled right in front of them, taunting me! Oh well, this was quite possibly the most majestic and dramatic scenery I've had the privelege to witness.

Wetterhorn with Sneffels behind...

The Wilson Group...

Redcloud and Sunshine...


Northeast, trying to find the Elks. I'm pretty sure I could make them out, but the pictures couldn't quite capture them...

North towards Grand Mesa...


We spent a good half hour on the summit, resting, snacking and chatting with the few others that were up there. An older couple from Maine, making their annual pilgrimage to Colorado to work on the 14ers. A 60 year old solo gentleman from Oklahoma, doing the same thing, just enjoying life to the fullest. And a Grand Junction family of 4 with 2 dogs, on their first 14er. Their yellow lab provided a stark contrast to her dachsund brother. Dogs are just amazing. My boston terrier will begin training, oh yes!

Satisfied and rested, it was time to descend. I was anxious about tackling that scree gulley again, but found that my trekking poles provided great balance, and it wasn't bad at all. I did manage to kick a soccer ball sized rock down at Lisa, but it wasn't a threat to do any damage. The rest was just hiking. My feet were finally worn out from the weekend's efforts, and I could not manage the light jogging that I did on Handies the day before. Lisa, however, being a marathon runner, took advantage of my slow pace to get in some training, runnning down the trail, then hiking back up, then running down... It made me more tired to watch her!

Still, we were back to the truck in good time, got the boots off, and began the trek down the ATV course to find Becky. Turns out she had chosen to hike all the way down to Lisa's car, instead of riding down that nauseating road. Swapping gear, all that was left was to say farewell and begin the journey back to Denver. The San Juans did not disappoint me, and I cannot wait to go back. It was great to meet Becky and Lisa; just another example of how is more than just a website. The people here are just terrific. Hiking with Lisa was a real joy, and I cannot thank her enough for her patience and encouragement. It made the weekend all that much better. I hope we will hike together again soon!

The obligatory columbines...


 Comments or Questions

Grt. Report
07/27/2007 01:09
Great photos. I am heading there this weekend. Looks really green in that part of the state.


Again, great report!
11/30/2010 17:28
I'll have to hike with you again just for the excellent TRs lol. Thanks for the kind words


Great pics
01/19/2011 03:38
I also enjoyed reading about your adventure. Where else do you get ”fake sausage” paired with llamas?
Edit, 8/2010--I wish your TRs had stayed this simple, humble, and genuine.


Thank you all!
04/14/2011 20:32
This was a great weekend, even after being snubbed on Redcloud right out of the gate. Handies and Uncompahgre are spectacular hikes, and I love the San Juans...

Yeah, del_sur, you're a class act... NOT

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