Climb Uncompahgre Peak, Colorado Fourteener

Post by blogger | July 11, 2005      

On Saturday in Lake City, Colorado it appeared
the San Juan mid-summer monsoons had begun, as we heard thunder at
10:00 in the morning. So we opted to not make the long drive around
to Wilson Peak where we’d planned a time consuming ridge scramble
that would expose us to lightning hazard. Instead we wheeled the
short (4 mile) jeep trail to the Nellie Creek Trailhead and climbed
fourteener Uncompahgre Peak. After a night in a beautiful camp spot
near the trailhead, we enjoyed a wildflower hike in the huge basin
leading up to Uncompahgre’s summit cap and scrambled the last few
hundred feet of steep scree to another sublime San Juan summit.
The trail was improved in 1997 and is holding up well. In the early
days there was no defined trail up the loose rock of the summit cap.
That’s changed, and a well defined (though still somewhat loose)
trail now cuts up the west side of the summit cap, intersects the
south ridge again just below the summit, and follows the ridge
to the top. (Incidentally, we were wrong about the monsoons and
it turned out to be a bluebird day during which you could have climbed
all afternoon.)

Climbing Uncompahgre Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado.
In the alpine, nearing Uncompahgre’s summit block. The trail
goes around the far left end of the block, then climbs steep
scree on the west face.

While hiking the stunning alpine bowls below Uncompahgre,
I was amazed to to see how much of the tundra has healed from
hiker abuse. More, it was hard to imagine that a jeep trail
once ran through areas where a clean single-track cuts through pristine
tundra. Green mythology holds that alpine tundra takes hundreds of
years to heal, but given correct conditions, it appears that’s frequently
not the case. Another enviro-lie bites the dust.

Nellie Creek flowers, backcountry skiing is good here too!
Oodles of wildflowers such as Parrys Primrose
and Marsh Marigold abound in the alpine basins of the Nellie
Creek headwater. This pristine alpine area maintains its character
while being visited by thousands of people every summer. It’s
amazingly durable and resilient. But if you want virtually no
people and an even more edenic environment, hike one ridge over
to the north and most days you’ll be totally by yourself in more
of that "crowded and
over-used Colorado backcountry" that certain individuals
and political groups like to whine about.

Charmoz GTX boot.
The Charmoz is incredibly waterproof by virtue of a Gortex
layer. That probably makes the boot a bit less breathable than
straight leather or mesh, but is incredibly nice for snow climbing
or hiking in long-lasting rain storms.

Boot report: The Charmoz
was a good boot for
this sort of alpine hiking.

The light weight is a joy, and the flexible
uppers were very comfortable even though I’d only worn the boot
one other time for a short walk.

Downside was the black rubber rand
heated up much in the sun my toes actually stung.
That could be problematic for me, as many treks I do (such as our
Wind River, Wyoming backpack trips), involve hours on scorching access

I’ve not found any other boot that combines the
fit of the Charmoz with its sweet sole flex and feather weight,
so suffering through a bit of heat is probably worth it. More, having
that much rubber over your toe allows the Charmoz to be lightweight
and still durable, adds water resistance for snow climbing, and
helps if you use the boot for moderate rock climbing (during peak
scrambles and such).

Other gear on this trip: For
car camping we enjoyed our Big Agnes Crystal
sleeping bags. For the climb Lisa tried out an Alpine Vapor lightweight
climbing pack by Granite Gear. All nice stuff we were happy with.
One of the best items we’ve been hauling for car camping is a small
gas powered chain saw I picked up at Wal-Mart a few years ago. It’s
just a little el-cheapo, but saves a huge amount of time getting
firewood, and makes short work of clearing the occasional log that’s
fallen across a jeep trail or campsite access spur. Thanks to poor
management, our Colorado forests are so choked with deadwood
you owe it to the environment to at least clean them up a little
when you go camping. If nature was allowed to run its course this
would be taken care of by forest fires. Now most forest fires are
quickly extinguished, we have few controlled burns, and even selective
logging that would help thin the forest is viewed by many people
as evil. Result, artificial deadwood choked forests
that are getting noticeably worse as the decades march by. Get your
own chain saw, enjoy your campfire, and do your part to help the


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  • XXX_er: I think steel is likely to be more hardy and aluminum looks purdier but at...
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  • zippy the pinhead: Hi Jim, I fail to understand why you insist on using a word which relate...
  • Jim Milstein: Longitudinal center line is exactly the term you want. No ambiguity. If you...
  • zippy the pinhead: Exercising my search-engine-fu, I came up with a couple of antonyms for lon...
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