10 September 2009

Uncompahgre Peak

5 September 2009

Neither of us planned to climb a fourteener. The weather wasn’t supposed to be accommodating. It was to be a picture-taking weekend.

My goal was to capture sunrise on the sixth tallest peak in Colorado. I’d climbed it six years ago, but a cloud formed around the top before I reached the peak, and I got zero views from what is supposed to be a pretty magnificent summit. I’ve been back for sunrise a couple of times, but my timing has never been right for the perfect sunrise.

Secretly, I hoped I might also get a moonset, but I didn’t know where in the sky the moon would be in relation to the peak, and I assumed Murphy’s Law would dictate a lunar hide and seek before I gained the ridge and could see the outline of the dramatic mountain.

We arrived at the trailhead at 1 a.m. Our phones, of course, had no signal, and I couldn’t find the little battery-powered satellite alarm clock I took on the Trek. So we had to wing it on what time we’d need to wake.

We woke at 4:50 and hit the trail ten minutes later, worried we might miss both the moonset and the sunrise. After pulling out of the trees and seeing the silhouette of the mountain against the royal blue sky, I set my camera on a tripod substitute (a big rock) and fired away.

Clouds prevented first sun hit on the tip of the peak minutes later, but before long, the entire east face of Uncompahgre turned fiery auburn.

I gave my cinnamon-colored bear to The Lizard and told him to motor on up to get pictures of Wetterhorn while the morning light was still good. The Lizard took off, quickly passing everyone on the trail ahead of us. I, meantime, snapped about 200 pictures on the way up to the second Wetterhorn viewpoint.

By then, clouds still looked as if they might accommodate a summit bid by a slow mover. I could see The Lizard near the summit, so I decided to go for it too, hoping he would feel good enough to go up a second time when we met up.

He met me on the switchbacks, accompanied me to the summit, keeping my incredibly slow pace and safekeeping my camera on the precarious cliff bands, which have eroded since I climbed it in 2003.
About 200 feet from the summit, I experienced a burst of energy and confidence, no doubt fueled by the joy of reaching the top, and I sprinted up the “final two flights."

I downed a recovery bar, posed the bears (The Lizard has now taken to calling me Goldilocks...), and then we quickly made our way back down the mountain, nearly reaching treeline before the first lightning bolt hit. For perhaps the first time ever, no descending climbers passed me on my way down. I nearly kept The Lizard’s downhill pace.

After a short nap in the car, we headed to Gunnison, where there was no room at the inn. We missed the last room by less than 30 seconds. Our favorite restaurant was closed, as has been the case most of our San Juan trips the last two years.

So we set up camp along Mill Creek, serenaded by the babbling stream. Cold Qdoba we brought along just in case tasted great in spite of the temperature. The hot tub in the hotel would have been nice, but no commercial lodging can match the magic and beauty of God’s masterpiece!

The moonset was a bonus. Reaching the top of the mountain was a bonus. The view from the top was a huge bonus. And being in the middle of paradise with my best friend is the best bonus of all.

1 comment :

  1. I must say, a golden-tressed wanderer who hangs out with three bears really should be named Goldilocks.

    Your mountain climbing would render my husband envious (I deem mountain climbing and knitting together a bit too dangerous).

    Your photography renders me envious.


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