Thursday, July 12, 2012

Uncompaghre with mis comadres

If I were just hiking the 14ers for fun, it’s hard to say how I would choose my next mountain each time. After hiking Wetterhorn I was anxious for another challenging class three hike. After talking with a few friends about who was willing to hike and where, I found my friend Matt was planning to attack the Lake City area and knock 4 14ers off his list. Although I couldn’t make it for the whole weekend I decided to head back up to Lake City the next Saturday after teaching my yoga class so I could hike Uncompaghre with Matt. My friend Stephanie was able to join me which was fabulous because I’ve hike with her before and Chad had a bachelor party so he was unable to make the trip. The five hour drive would have been a lot lonelier had I made it alone.

After a few hang-ups (late start, forgotten hiking boots) Stephanie and I were finally on our way to Lake City. We didn’t have to bring as much gear because Matt had rented a hotel room for the night so we planned on staying in town. This was only complicated slightly by the fact that there was an Ultra-Marathon race occurring which meant pretty much every place in the whole small town was filled up. Luckily Matt found a place and we ended up meeting him at the town square where we could see the Ultra-Marathoners finish their racing. Personally, I know people think that I am a touch crazy hiking but trying to run 50 miles in the mountains, gaining and losing elevation and doing it all in under 18 hours is REALLY a little over the top. The good news is, Lake City was as busy as I’ve ever seen it and made for some interesting meeting of people and dinner conversations. We ate at the Southern Vittles this time, which had, by far the best fried chicken I’ve had west of the Mississippi. This made for a much better pre-hike meal than the Mini Thai Café.

Despite being invited to a Lake City house party, which would have been an experience in itself, we decided to call it a relatively early night in anticipation for our hike the next day. I think Stephanie was too anxious in anticipation though and said she stayed up most of the night not sleeping and worry about our adventure. If you remember from this blog post, Stephanie had a scary experience on Missouri mtn which was the last hike she did with me last year.

We slept in, by hiking standards and were able to make it to the trailhead around 7am. The road in to Uncompaghre is a turn off before Wetterhorn and the trail was a little rutted out in places and there were several streams flowing through the trail. True to form it took a little longer to travel not that long of a distance due to having to drive slowly but it beat adding on mileage to the hike. If we hadn’t made it to the trailhead it would have cost us an extra 8 miles. The standard route from Nellie Creek is 7.25 and the starting elevation is 11,400. Like, Wetterhorn this would be another short hike minus the exposure. Uncompaghre (which means hot water spring) stands at 14,309 feet and is ranked 6th highest 14er in the state.

The weather was considerably warmer than it had been even the week before and the trail starts out, much like Wetterhorn through a valley. You can actually see Uncompaghre when you hike Wetterhorn and the similarities in the hikes were noticeable to me. The trail winds through a valley for awhile then heads up to a saddle where you track back to the right and up the peak. The trail is very well marked and, for being a Sunday, there were only about 7 other people on the mountain. We stopped at the saddle for some photos on some very interesting rocks where you can start to get a feel for the exposure that lies above.

stepahnie and me making our way up

wetterhorn in the distance

There’s a small class 3 section just before the top where you can take the trail one of two ways. We chose to head straight up and the rocks reminded me of a staircase. 

short class three section on the way up
On the way down we wound around the other side which seemed to be the easiest route in my opinion. 
Once at the top we were treated to amazing views of the San Juans as well as steep drops of the cliffs. Just looking at Uncompaghre from a distance you can tell the mountain is cut in a different way and there are lots of volcanic rocks in the valley. Even though we were the only people on the summit we didn’t spend too much time as we still had the hike down and the 5 hour car drive home. We managed to get some great photos though:

impressive views all around

matt and stephanie looking out the other direction

me and steph - 14er number three together

Matt's 50 something and my 24th 14er

On our way out of town we stopped by my favorite bakery (possibly ever). I don’t recall the name of it but you can’t miss it on the left hand side as you drive out of town. It’s not very paleo friendly per say but they have a variety of carb loaded treats which are perfect post hike. We stopped to enjoy for about half hour before beginning the caravan home.

Though a little out of the way for most 14er hikers (If you aren’t trying to check them all off your list that is), Uncompaghre is a wonderful change from the front range crowds. The hike is short, the views are stunning and the town of Lake City is a trip in itself. You can make a weekend out of it and stay in a cabin up there or you can choose to be road warriors like ourselves and do it all in two days. One of the best parts about hiking the 14ers is how it carries you across Colorado to these beautiful towns to meet people and see things you never would have imagined before. As always I am reminded that it isn’t about the journey, it’s about the destination…and taking everything in that’s in-between.

pensive looking to the west

Thanks for the great day Uncompaghre!

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