15 October 2009

Uncompahgre Peak

13 September 2003

It’s 3:28 a.m. I just returned from Lake City. My face and neck have been hurting for about the last two hours. I just looked at my face in the mirror. I look like I spent the day skiing. Snowburn!

I left Denver at almost 8 p.m. Friday night. A couple hours later than I wanted, but listening to Erik Weihenmayer’s “Touch the Top of the World” while I drove kept me very awake. WOW! What an inspiring story! The book opens with one of his training climbs of Longs Peak, my first 14er. I was immediately drawn into this book.

I had to turn off the CD when I hit the bumpy dirt road leading to the Nellie Creek Trailhead, though, and within ten minutes, I could no longer keep my eyes open. I found a wide parking area alongside the road and car camped at 2 a.m. I woke at 6 a.m. and headed down the road again in search of the trailhead, only to be sidetracked by the magnificent orange reflection of the rising sun on the freshly powdered peaks surrounding my car.

Once I reached the trailhead, I was thrilled to find not only would I not be alone on this trail, but there was a real bathroom, too! There were two empty trucks at the trailhead, a truck of three boys getting ready to head out and a couple with two dogs already making their way up the creek.

Because I changed my plans so many times, I didn’t have the proper map for this particular trail, and I didn’t want to tear the page out of my guidebook. So I read the trail description three times in an attempt to memorize it, then mixed some homemade trail mix of dried berries and pistachios, loaded my camera, stuck a couple extra rolls of film in my Camelbak and headed off.

Big mistake: Always keep the map package in the car. It does me no good sitting on my desk at home.

I found the couple and their two dogs waiting for me at the trail junction where we should have turned sharp left. They also had not brought their map and were confused and thought I might be able to help. I was unfamiliar with the area, tired and equally confused about which peak was which. The guidebook describes this particular hike as a long walk. We turned it into a VERY long walk, summiting an apparently unnamed 13,088-foot peak (give or take a foot or two) before tackling Uncompahgre.

As we began the actual ascent of Uncompahgre, the wind picked up, clouds were beginning to speed across the mountain like time-lapse photography. I kept forgetting to hydrate because I wasn’t hot.

On the ridge, I hoped to get my first glimpse ever of Wetterhorn and Matterhorn. Only one of the pointy peaks revealed itself, though; the other was buried in clouds. The entire northern panorama was white.

The wind was making the trip arduous. I think we (all of the day’s hikers) spent more time off the frequently hidden trail than on it. I kept seeing cairns far off from the up to knee-deep footprints everyone followed. One very steep section through the cliffs seemed to be Class 3 to me, with ice, snow, slippery mud and wind contributing to the difficulty.

This was my first summit of any mountain not close to the Denver area, so the solitude was almost overwhelming.

I began to head down after about ten minutes because the weather was unsettling. Going down was a different challenge than going up because most of the snow had turned to slush. For me, the absence of view may have been a real blessing because I never worried about how steep the trail became.

Breaking trail in soft snow is much more fun than following crunchy snow footprints/postholes. The glissade down the switchbacks was truly a blast, but began accidentally. Further down the mountain, I bushwhacked instead of following the trail because punching into thigh-deep drifts one leg at a time was a thrilling sensation.

I finally got my catnap at about midnight atop Kenosha Pass. I’d finished my book on CD, and the view-obstructing fog was making me sleepier than I’d been all day. All the aspens in my headlights when I pulled over were weighted down with two or three inches of fresh snow. Thankfully, the roads were dry.

Now I have to finish a charity quilt, put together a wedding album and design a fund-raising PowerPoint presentation for the Alliance of Professional Women. I should be busy for at least a couple of days...

1 comment :

  1. You are quite the adventurer. This sounds like something I would liked to have done 40 years ago. Now I'm content to read about it. Beautiful photographs. Your blog never disappoints.


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