Uncompahgre Peak and the San Juans

Discussion in 'Hiking & Camping' started by Udink, Jul 12, 2017.

  1. Udink

    Udink Bad, nationwide.

    Messages:
    926
    Location:
    Price, Utah, USA
    During this year's long Independence Day weekend, my friend Chris and I traveled to the San Juan Mountains of Colorado to hike a 14er and do some camping and off-roading over high mountain passes. We left Utah on Friday afternoon with only a general idea of where we would end up for the night. Of the several easier 14ers in the San Juans, we chose Uncompahgre Peak while on the road, and I pointed the Jeep toward Lake City and then Nellie Creek. We hoped to find a place to camp along the road to the trailhead. All of the spots we passed on the lower half of the road were occupied and I was worried that we'd have to camp at or near the trailhead. Surprisingly, a short side road had a decent place to camp at its end, and we claimed it. It was shortly after 10PM. I fixed a quick dinner paired with a beer that I'd picked up earlier in Grand Junction. Chris and I had each recently bought cots, and we slept on them out in the open.


    UT-CO state line
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    10:30PM dinner
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    We awoke before 5:30 with our sleeping bags covered in a light layer of frost. I had slept fairly well but not nearly long enough. We were on our way up the road to the Uncompahgre Peak trailhead after a quick cup of coffee. It was cool and comfortable hiking weather when we hit the trail at 6:30. We hiked the first mile along Nellie Creek in the shade. Above the switchback that climbs a ridge out of the creek drainage, the sun appeared and warmed things up. I had felt fit enough to do this hike without much effort, but it was actually wearing me down pretty badly. I had to stop frequently to rest, and as we climbed higher I got a headache and felt my pulse throbbing in my head. When I started feeling nausea, it was clear that the altitude was affecting me. The symptoms were bearable, however, and I continued slowly ascending the trail. We had to cross a few snow fields that were pretty easy, even without traction devices.


    Crossing Nellie Creek
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    Uncompahgre trailhead
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    Starting up the trail
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    Uncompahgre Peak
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    Still climbing in the shade
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    Colorado Columbine
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    Closer to the sunshine
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    Chris on the trail
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    Hikers coming up the trail
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    Crossing a snow field
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    Uncompahgre Peak
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    View toward Redcloud Peak and Sunshine Peak
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    Wetterhorn Peak
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    Panorama facing east
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    Some easy scrambling was required to get on top of the summit block of Uncompahgre. Some steep and rocky stretches of trail led to the summit, which Chris and I shared with only a few other people. Most everyone else had already summited and were on their way back down. I was relieved to have made it to the summit, knowing that I should start feeling better as I descended. The total ascent was about 3,000 feet in under four miles and had taken me five hours. I didn't really feel better while hiking back down the trail, but I did make good time, reaching the trailhead about 2.5 hours after leaving the summit.


    A short scramble
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    Wetterhorn and wildflowers
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    Rocky trail near the summit
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    Chris on the summit of Uncompahgre Peak
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    View northeast into Big Blue Creek
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    Marmot near the trail
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    Coxcomb Peak and Redcliff
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    A different, rockier route down from the summit
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    Descending from Uncompahgre
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    It was relatively early in the day but I was ready to find a place to camp so I could rest for the remainder of the day. We found a pretty nice primitive campground along Henson Creek that was completely deserted, so we settled in for the evening. I felt well enough to have a couple of beers that we cooled off in the creek. After dark a deer visited our camp, three times! At first it seemed cute, but after chasing the deer off two times, it returned and got within 20 feet of us before we noticed it as we sat around the camp fire. Neither of us really wanted to sleep outside with the deer acting so strangely, so we rearranged our gear and slept in the back of the Jeep.


    Whitmore Falls along Henson Creek
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    Camp
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    Shadows climbing in the canyon
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    Deer creepin' on our camp
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    It was nice to sleep in on Sunday morning. Chris and I casually repacked our gear into the Jeep while eating breakfast and just enjoying the quiet morning. We hit the road at about 10:30AM, planning to drive over Engineer Pass toward Animas Forks and eventually to Silverton. We stopped many times to investigate mining ruins. Among my favorites were the San Juan Chief and Frisco mills. Getting to walk/climb around inside these massive structures is a unique experience. In Utah, the Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining has been working hard for years to close and reclaim abandoned mine sites, so I congratulate Colorado for leaving these intact (and, in some cases, stabilizing or restoring).


    Leaning cabin near Redcloud Gulch
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    Thoreau's Cabin and footbridge over Henson Creek
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    Starting the climb up to Engineer Pass
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    Dark clouds over Engineer Pass
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    Ruined stone cabin
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    Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre on the horizon
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    Snow drift at Engineer Pass
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    Engineer Pass
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    Road cuts on Darley Mountain
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    Descending from Engineer Pass toward Animas Forks
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    San Juan Chief mill
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    San Juan Chief mill
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    Steam boilers at the San Juan Chief mill
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    San Juan Chief mill building
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    California Gulch
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    West Fork panorama
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    Frisco Mill
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    Frisco Mill
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    Frisco Mill
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    Frisco Mill
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    Old truck along the West Fork
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    After refueling in Silverton we began searching for a place to camp. The South Fork of Mineral Creek was the first turnoff we saw from the highway, so we decided to check it out. I wasn't expecting it to be so crowded! Primitive camping is allowed along the sides of the road, but nearly all of the good spots were occupied. Eventually we found a spot about 300 feet off the road that was flat, grassy, and surrounded by tall bushes that offered plenty of privacy. We waited out a rain storm before making several trips hauling gear between the Jeep and our camp. We set up tents and enjoyed a camp fire as the skies cleared. It didn't feel particularly cold that night but I woke up to heavy frost on my tent and gear.


    Searching for a camp spot
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    Soft light on the mountains near sunset
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    Camp at dusk
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    Morning frost
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    The plan for Monday was to drive over Black Bear Pass into Telluride and then home. The drive from Highway 550 to Black Bear Pass was narrow and incredibly steep in places. I was dreading an encounter with an opposing vehicle but it never happened. It was also an incredibly scenic drive, with great mountain views and fields of wildflowers. Unfortunately, we hadn't checked online for conditions before making the drive. San Juan County had cleared all the snow off their side of the pass, but San Miguel County hadn't yet done so from the Telluride side. From Black Bear Pass we could see that the road was impassable. We made a short, steep hike near the pass to find a geocache, then descended back to the highway the way we'd come up, fortunately once again not meeting any oncoming vehicles.


    Climbing to Black Bear Pass
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    Crossing through a plowed snow drift
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    Small lake in Mineral Basin
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    Marsh Marigold (Caltha leptosepala)
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    Road through a big drift
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    Black Bear Pass
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    Mount Sneffels
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    Unplowed road north of Black Bear Pass
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    Hikers atop Trico Peak
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    Colorado Columbine
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    Plan B was to continue to Ouray, stopping along the way at more old mines and buildings. The hike to the Colorado Boy mine was short and easy, leading to an immense building over a vertical mine shaft. Several houses in Ironton were fascinating to walk through. We attempted to drive to an old railroad turntable and a suspended foot bridge near Corkscrew Gulch but ended up on the wrong side of the canyon. By then it was about time to start heading home so we drove toward Ouray. Both Ouray and Ridgeway were ridiculously busy, so we pressed on to Montrose where we each thoroughly enjoyed a burger, fries, and shake to end the trip. The rest of the drive home went quickly, though it was almost depressing going from the mountains into the valleys where it was 104 degrees.


    Houses near the Idarado Mine
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    A very orange Red Mountain Creek
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    Mine entrance at Guston
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    Colorado Boy Trail
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    Old Man's Beard
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    Colorado Boy Trail
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    Colorado Boy mineshaft
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    Colorado Boy headframe
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    House at Ironton
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    Wallpaper and picture frame
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    Newspaper on the wall
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    Corkscrew Gulch
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    Uncompahgre Gorge
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    Photo Gallery: Uncompahgre Peak and the San Juans
    GPS Track and Photo Waypoints:
    [ Google Earth KMZ ] [ Gmap4 Satellite ] [ Gmap4 Topo ]
     
  2. Rockskipper

    Rockskipper Member

    Messages:
    315
    Location:
    W. Colorado
    I had a couple of deer do that once. They kept coming into camp, totally unafraid, and ended up bedding down not far from my tent. The next morning I found mountain lion tracks nearby and figured the deer were seeking safety by being near humans. A ranger at Bowman Lake (Glacier) also told me that they come into the campground there for the same reason.

    Great report and photos!
     
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  3. slc_dan

    slc_dan Desert Rat-Weekend Warrior

    Messages:
    1,370
    Location:
    Salt Lake City
    I really love the front range of CO. So much so that wife and I speak (not too seriously) about moving there every time we visit.

    Great trip @Udink, Thanks for sharing.
     
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  4. IntrepidXJ

    IntrepidXJ ADVENTR

    Messages:
    2,297
    Location:
    Grand Junction, CO
    Really? When given the choice I prefer to head to SLC over Denver/Front Range any day! I guess it's a good thing I'm halfway between them both :)
     
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  5. Rockskipper

    Rockskipper Member

    Messages:
    315
    Location:
    W. Colorado
    Do you think he maybe meant the Western Slope, given the subject of this trip report? But I'm with you. I made a resolution a long time ago to never go east of Glenwood Canyon again. I went to college in Ft. Collins and later Boulder, but I don't miss the Front Range even a little.
     
  6. slc_dan

    slc_dan Desert Rat-Weekend Warrior

    Messages:
    1,370
    Location:
    Salt Lake City
    Definitely meant the western slope. Ouray, Silverton, Durango area.

    I concur on Denver, I'd rather be in SLC.
     
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  7. IntrepidXJ

    IntrepidXJ ADVENTR

    Messages:
    2,297
    Location:
    Grand Junction, CO
    That makes more sense :)
     
  8. Wanderlust073

    Wanderlust073 Member

    Messages:
    135
    Location:
    Colorado
    Don't hate on the front range. All the extra bodies lessens your odds of being the one hit by lightning!
     
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  9. Artemus

    Artemus I walk

    Messages:
    2,962
    Location:
    better off outside
    Great report, Dennis!

    I third the appreciation of the San Juans and often fantasized living near Durango or Telluride. SLC is a bit of a haul to get there making a two day weekend tough but Dennis and Randy live closer so they may have the ideal compromise.
     
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  10. IntrepidXJ

    IntrepidXJ ADVENTR

    Messages:
    2,297
    Location:
    Grand Junction, CO
    Living near the San Juans is certainly part of the reason I ended up in Grand Junction :)
     
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  11. Artemus

    Artemus I walk

    Messages:
    2,962
    Location:
    better off outside
    What is your driving time to Telluride? Silverton? Durango?
     
  12. IntrepidXJ

    IntrepidXJ ADVENTR

    Messages:
    2,297
    Location:
    Grand Junction, CO
    Telluride is my least favorite town in the area, so if i end up there it's because I went over Imogene Pass or Black Bear Pass, so it would take a while ;) I can get to Ouray in under 2 hours and then around another 30 minutes to Silverton (unless I get caught behind slow drivers on Red Mountain Pass).
     
  13. Bob

    Bob Trailmaster

    Messages:
    1,889
    Location:
    NUtah
    Nice ....good to see mining stuff is still around that country. Been many years.... early 80's to be exact that I have been wheelin through all that country.... some really rough wheelin back then..... spent alot of time there....
     
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