08 June 2010

Uncompahgre Peak

Uncompahgre Peak24 September 2005

We left for the Nelly Creek trailhead 35 minutes late. We made it on one tank of gas. We stopped at a service station near Buena Vista so The Lizard could get a cup of caffeine. I wasn’t going to get anything, but I noticed they had cinnamon tea. I got a cup.

luscious cinnamon memoriesLater in the day, I realized Uncompahgre is, in a way, the conduit for bringing our souls together. It was after my 2003 Uncompahgre trip report that The Lizard became friendly, like a friend, as if we had known each other for years. My solo hikes had caught his attention, and my trip reports with more than just the standard route description and “a fine day was had by all” piqued his interest. But it was my hike up Uncompahgre that got his blood boiling. His description of Cinnamon Pass that followed got my thoughts spinning around him for months to come. He took me up Cinnamon Pass in 2004, and I bought Cinnabon for the occasion, just as we’d discussed the year before. And here I was, sipping cinnamon tea! What a perfect way to complete the full circle!

We arrived about an hour before sunrise. The trailhead bathroom was locked. Too late in the season for forest service maintenance, I suppose. I started up the trail alone while The Lizard got ready because he can always catch me.

I slipped on a wet rock and fell in the river in the first few minutes. No serious damage. But my leg and my arm were wet. Fortunately, it wasn’t that cold.

Soon The Lizard caught me, and the sky began turning colors. He wanted to see how quickly he could get up Uncompahgre, which I now was quite amazed I had mistaken two years ago. How could I ever have mistaken the other mountain for the 14er??? I told The Lizard to go forward with his plan, so we kissed, and he took off. I reached the junction, which I assumed was the same one I’d gotten wrong back in 2003, and I took the left, trying to hurry as much as I could because I had lost my view Uncompahgre. I could see clouds, but not the mountain. Suddenly I spotted a herd of about 12 deer; two of them bucks.

Red Hot Cinnamon PassI stopped for just a split second because they were staring at me. I could skip the sunrise, chill out and wait for the deer not to be so alarmed, or I could plow forward and try not to miss the sunrise, which was beginning to look alarmingly too near, and me nowhere near where I needed to be. The deer were still staring at me. I was in a beautiful meadow surrounded on three sides with a headwall I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get up. It would block the view of the mountain. I could race back down to the junction and try to work my way up again as fast as I could, but I estimated less than 60 seconds until pink mountain. I was going to miss it.

I went forward as fast as I could go. The deer bolted up the side of the waterfall, showing me what I assumed would be the only way out of the bowl. I wouldn’t get pictures of the deer at all, but by golly, I was going to try to get that pink mountain.

The speckled clouds glowed pink. If I went into the middle of the meadow instead of trying to race up the near vertical path the deer had escaped, I thought might be able to get the clouds over the shoulder of Uncompahgre and perhaps even see the tip of the mountain turn pink. So I left the trail and went up into the meadow.

I got ONE shot of the clouds. I backed up even further so I could maximize my view of the mountain, and suddenly it turned bright pink. Not the top. Not spilling down the north face. But wholly pink. The entire peak. The clouds on the opposite side of the valley must have blocked the sun and then allowed it to peak through for a couple of seconds. Three shots, and Uncompahgre was in shadows again. I worked my way back across the meadow and stared at the slope where the deer had escaped. I wasn’t sure I could make it up that. I might be better off going back down and getting back on the trail. The “trail” I’d taken wasn’t a trail at all. It just led to the waterfall. Pretty, but totally in shadows.

Suddenly I saw The Lizard up at the top of the slope. He'd waited for me! So I began making my way up. Slowly up. It was steep. A few minutes later, we were exchanging experiences. He’d seen the whole mountain light up, but was more interested in the deer. He wondered why I’d gone the way I did.

I should have gone the other way. I guess if I don’t pull a Silverheels at least once a year, something’s wrong. Actually, I pulled this same move on Uncompahgre before I did it on Silverheels, so I should call it My Uncompahgre BooBoo instead of My Silverheels BooBoo. Or perhaps My Point 12,788 BooBoo? Naaaa. Silverheels has more of a ring to it. Looking at Uncompahgre and my infamous unnamed point now, I realized I had done something pretty spectacular that day, even though I had taken the wrong trail. That was a Herculean task for me! I really did climb two separate peaks in one day! No wonder I was so tired near the top of Uncom!

Uncompahgre GoldWhile The Lizard and I talked, the sun hit Uncompahgre again for less than 30 seconds. This time, I could see the entire mountain, and it was gold instead of pink. So impressive! I wish I could have been closer for the alpen glow, but I’m not disappointed with what I got.

The Lizard took off again to try to make the summit in record time. I plodded along, setting a goal of first one ridge, then another. I kept telling myself I could make it to the next ridge, and I would. Finally I was below the ridge where I’d spotted The Lizard about half an hour earlier, silhouetted against the skyline, and it looked somewhat steep. Still an easy mountain, but with the wind the way it was pounding and my back already sore from my pack, I wasn’t sure I could make the next ridge.

I wanted to. If I got up that high, I would be able to see the view I’d missed two years ago because the summit was socked in by the time I reached it. Today was pretty darned cloudy, but the clouds were moving fast in gale-force winds. I started up the ridge. Soon I was stopping every ten steps or so because it was so difficult for me. The slope wasn’t all that difficult, but the wind was sucking the air right out of me. I was afraid to go near the edge of the ridge once I reached it for fear of being blown off or having my camera ripped right from my hands as I tried to snap photos. So I skirted the ridge on the trail and hoped eventually I’d be sheltered somewhat from the overwhelming force of the wind.

San Juan SkylineFinally I reached a high point where I could see Pilot Knob, Goldenhorn, Vermillion, the Wilsons and El Diente, Wildhorse, Potosi, Cirque, Teakettle, Sneffels, Wetterhorn, Matterhorn, Coxcomb, Precipice and Dunsanine. !!! Holy cow! I thought I’d see Wetterhorn and Matterhorn! Man, does Uncompahgre ever have a magnificent view! Off in the other direction I could see Red Cloud and Handies, too. Plus another little unnamed point that looked to me like a mini Matterhorn from that angle. My Mistaken Identity Peak looks pretty dramatic from that view, too! Great photo op!

I shot and shot and shot, and then suddenly The Lizard was with me. He’d made the summit in an hour and 15 minutes. We headed down together, then the sun peaked out, lighting up Uncompahgre for the third time of the day.

More Uncompahgre GoldI snapped a few more photos, then took the Lizard's pack while he took my camera and raced back up to capture the view in full sunlight. The window closed before he could get to the top. I hoped he would wait for the sun to make a return appearance. It was just too darned good a view to let perfect light pass by when we were that close.

I was supposed to wait for the Lizard while he shot, but I thought I could carry his pack for a while, just not on my back. I carried it in front of me for a while, then had to sit down and rest my back for a while. I carried the a little bit more and had to sit down to rest my back again. So I tried carrying it on my shoulder for a while, and I still had to sit down to rest my back again. I carried it in front again and didn’t make it very far before I had to sit down once again. I waited about half an hour for The Lizard to return and take the load from me. Half an hour later, he snatched my pack too because I was limping so gingerly.

The drive out was spectacular. The aspens are peaking. The sky was white, though, so I didn’t take very many pictures. Nevertheless, I always enjoy viewing the gold, even if I can't take physical visions of it home with me.

San Juan Gold


  1. I think you had a lot of fun? Great photos and beautiful views, OMG.

  2. I always so envious on how much you can enjoy nature on your bike :-) Lovely pictures! Thank you for sharing that.

  3. Amazing photos. The last one is incredible, though. Sounds like a great time.

  4. this place, wow, totally worth all trouble getting there. I wish I´d been there too.

  5. I thought you WERE outside all the time, biking and photographing. :)

    I love your hills and mountains, you seem to love my farm country. :)

    Hm, you live in Colorade, think I have to visit some day.
    But now I am off to the dentist. :(

  6. Life's twists and turns have a way of taking us back to where we started, to know it for the first time.

    A road map to sanity is what you've got here... yep. Mountains, alpenglow, altitude and Cinnabon.

    Doesn't get any better.


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