Peak(s):  Uncompahgre Peak  -  14,309 feet
Date Posted:  10/13/2008
Date Climbed:   10/05/2008
Author:  COmedic04

 Fall in the San Juans  

Fall Ascent of Uncompahgre

05 Oct 2008
Ryan - "COmedic04"
Lauren - "Purplepaddler"

Beautiful fall foliage from Nellie Creek Rd

I had been dying to get away for a climb before the snow really started to fly in the high country, and Lauren suddenly was endowed with a lot of free time, so we decided to head to the San Juans for a climb and fall color-viewing! Our original plan was to climb both Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn. As the weekend approached, the weather reports continued to deteriorate, as did my spirits. From cloudy and a high of 40F, to up to 3" and a high of 35F, and finally to a 90% chance of 7" and a high of 30F. Ugh. So much for a fall trip! But, I wasn't about to let the weather forecast ruin my getaway, so we just prepared by packing all of our winter weather gear and mentally prepped ourself for the worst. We both agreed that we'd just play it by ear, see how the weather was, and make our decision on whether to go for one or both of our target peaks.

After I got off work at 7am on Saturday, I headed over to Lauren's house and we hit the road. I had worked the night before, so Lauren graciously offerred to drive while I napped in the passenger's seat...thankfully she didn't have the camera out to take any incriminating pictures of me drooling and snoring!!

We stopped in Salida for some lunch and to grab a couple supplies on the way, and soon found ourselves in Lake City, after a short livestock-crossing delay:

Cow crossing!

We stopped for gas and, as chance would have it, ran into fellow member "TriAnything" and her friend, who were at the end of their week-long trip around the mountains! We chatted for a while and got some great trail condition beta. Thanks guys!

On their suggestion, we took a detour and drove up towards Slumgullion Pass to check out the overlook and get our first couple of peeks at our peaks!


Lauren, in awe of the beautiful scenery

We headed back down the pass, through Lake City and down Henson Road to the Nellie Creek turnoff. We were both a little apprehensive of the ominous-looking clouds about the peaks, but too excited to care much. The colors along the 4x4 trail were incredible!

Beautiful colors!

The Yellow Leaf Road, in sepia

Aspen-covered waterfall

We made it up to the trailhead and, amidst the snow starting to fly, put our packs together and hit the trail.

At the trailhead

We hiked in about 2 miles to treeline, and made camp there. We quickly pitched our tent and found a tree to hang our food from, and then went exploring, hiking up the trail a ways until we got to the sign for the Uncompahgre Peak/Ridgestock Driveway intersection. It was chilly and snow covered, but beautiful nevertheless. We could just barely make out the shape of Uncompahgre, and decided to just relax at camp, rather than attempting to climb it that evening.

The frosty trail sign

Even in the snow, the fall colors were breathtaking!

We went back to camp, (eventually) made a fire with the wet wood we gathered from around camp, and made a scrumptious meal of cashew chicken with rice and sundried tomatoes. We followed that up with an attempt a making "s'mores in a bag", which just turned into a gooey, messy, but yummy mess. We hit the sack shortly after that.

We were apparently both VERY tired, because we slept much later than we had planned, not getting out of our bags until almost 9! Oops! Although, we had the unique pleasure of waking to the sound of elk bugling in the distance! We were even more excited by the fact that the weather seemed to have cleared, and we could see Uncompahgre from our campsite! That sight cheered and warmed both of us, so after a quick breakfast, we hit the trail.

The brave adventurers

Uncompahgre in all her glory!

We had both suited up with a lot of winter gear, preparing for the worst. We had gaiters on, many layers, balaclavas, and the works. It was a bit overkill, but we weren't quite sure what kind of weather we'd have to face on the ridge.

The weather did change a little as we got further up the S/E slopes, but for the most part, it was just slightly breezy and cool. Needless to say, we quickly shed some layers!

Lauren, gracefully cooling herself off

"Are we there yet?!?

We we got to about 12,900, we decided to take the shortcut up the south ridge, rather than following the trail south to wrap around and slowly climb the ridge. I think this is referred to in Roach's book at Variation 2 on the standard approach. This definitely saved us quite a bit of time, as well as having to hiking along the ridge, which looked much windier and colder than below it. It proved to be a relatively strenuous climb in the weather, especially as it got a little colder and started to snow, but we were in high spirits with such a great view of the peak the whole time.

Close to the shortcut, showing the southern slopes

I'm really bad about being able to identify peaks from a distance, but I think this is either Sneffels or the Wilson group

We also ran across the skeletal remains of a paw of some sort of mammal...based on its size, we both think it might have been from a marmot.


We quickly gained the ridge, and were immediately subjected to much colder winds blowing from the west, but were treated to a quick view of Wetterhorn before it was covered by the oncoming clouds. We wrapped our way around the west side of the summit block and climbed up the short, steep section of scree towards the summit. I'm pretty convinced it could be considered class three, especially with the snow.

Anyway, before we knew it, we were finally standing on the summit block, peering over the impressive edge of the north face!


We dispensed with the usual summit rituals and headed down, just as clouds blew in and enveloped the summit block. Once we reach the gentle, grassy southeast slopes, we were cheered by the sun on our faces, and the impressive view behind us!

"We were just up there?!?"

We hiked back to camp, relaxed for a little while, then packed everything up and made our way back to the car. We were both satisfied with our climb, but I know were both eager to come back to this beautiful area again soon. Our little peek at Wetterhorn, and the other impressive San Juan mountains only intensified our desire to climb them, and I'm sure we'll both be returning soon! We took our time driving back down the 4x4 trail, taking in the incredible scenery, and fighting our reluctance to leave.

The beautiful aspens from Nellie Creek

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions
Mel McKinney

Isn‘t that a great peak!
10/13/2008 16:23
Congrats to you both! I loved climbing that peak myself and was so excited. Beautiful photos, by the way, but it‘s tough to take a bad photo in that area!


I am sooooo Jealous
10/13/2008 13:19
Hey you two, congratulations. It sounds like a great trip. Out of all the ones I did this year, I really wanted to hit Uncompahgre, but just could manage to get down that way with my different scheduling problems. Glad you had a good time and a successful summit.


10/15/2008 15:12
Did you keep the tradition alive.. and pee off the summit..or was it too cold??


re: Tradition..
10/15/2008 19:54
No...sorry to say I didn‘t partake. Although Lauren started an insane tradition of her own...but I‘ll let her tell you about that one...

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