Uncompahgre Peak via Matterhorn Creek

Uncompagre-from-east-slopes

Uncompahgre Peak is the sixth highest mountain peak in the U.S. state of Colorado and is the highest peak of the San Juan Mountains. It is located in the Uncompahgre Wilderness in the northern San Juans, about 7 miles west of the town of Lake City. Uncompahgre peak has a broad summit plateau, rising about 1,500 ft above the broad surrounding alpine basins. Its like a giant rectangular block with one end pushed down into the earth.

The drive down was uneventful which is the best to hope for. The stretch down from Gunnison to Lake City on the Million Dollar Highway is gorgeous and you can open it up through incredible countryside. Lake City has a cool remote and historic vibe and a few last options to supply before heading up. We drove up Matterhorn creek as far as the road let us, and had our gear ready to go for a couple mile hike in to make camp further in.

It was overcast with a light rain, but we have gear for all occasions so it was no problem. Following the trail right to where treeline ends, we found a great spot in the tall ponderosa near a creek.
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The view up valley was pretty awesome, Matterhorn and Wetterhorn on the left, Uncompahgre further along on the right. The night was clear and the stars were incredible. The morning was fine as well, only a light overcast, which lasted up over the pass into the large bowl on the Nellie Creek side. It’s a good spell before getting up and over around the low end of the tilted block at forms the peak, but the views of Uncompahgre from the south are awesome.

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It’s a long meander up the ridge but gets more interesting and slightly more challenging as you go, which is the perfect way to approach a summit, isn’t it?
The weather held and the views were forever. It was late enough and with enough weather in, that we dashed any ideas of going up Wetterhorn on the way back. That will have to be another time, and I am already looking forward to going back.

Jamestown Flood of 2013

Before

Before

62-Mill-street-after


After

Where the front yard with fence and driveway used to be.

Where the front yard, fence, water main and driveway used to be.

Living in Jamestown Colorado for about 14 years makes it the place I have lived in the longest, without moving, in my life. Its an idyllic setting in the foothills of Colorado and a short drive to Boulder. One of the nieces bike rides you can take is up Lefthand canyon from the Greenbriar to our town.

Still, we knew we might move down to “the plains” of Boulder as our daughter was approaching high school. We all needed to be closer in. So we bought a house down in Boulder and put our awesome Jamestown home on the market.

That was before the flood of September 2013. Fortunately for us, the house was mostly spared, but the property and the town was virtually destroyed. There was no longer a road in or out. The Fire Department next door was destroyed. The roads were ripped up along with the water main. There was no power, phones, or any kind of emergency services possible. I found the realtors’ sign downstream and returned it to her. I think we are at least a year or two out from getting this house back on the market.

Mount Blanca & Ellingwood Point Combination Aug 24 2013

I have always admired Mount Blanca and how majestic it is rising above the San Luis valley. It was still on my list of 14ers to visit and climb, and with a weekend available to go try it I made the plan to try it. None of the usual suspects I climb with were available so it was going to be a solo trip. Climbing 14ers solo is definately its own unique experience, you don’t have anyone else to gauge your perceptions, judgements, and actions against so the journey is as intense in the inward direction as it is on the outside.

The big question was how far could I drive up to Lake Como. The road was notorious for being super rough and 4×4 only, so it would be a real challenge for my Mini Countryman. The reputation was well founded for the road became rough pretty quick. From where I needed to park I knew I added about another 5 or 6 miles to the hike in and out, so this was going to be a long haul for sure.

The road to lake Como gets rough. Really rough.

The road to lake Como gets rough. Really rough.

On the hike in it was interesting to see how far up the road other cars were able to make it. Just a mile or so past where I had to stop were most of the stock 4×4 jeeps and trucks. The road gets crazy rough further up and beyond the capability of anything stock, unless you don’t mind lots of damage. I did see a few relatively stock Rubicon Jeeps on that last really rough stretch but when I finally made it to lake Como it was modified rock crawlers and atvs only. I didnt want to camp at the lake with the folks who had driven up with their radios and noise so I went another half mile or so and found an awesome spot to spend the night. It was near the base of Little Bear, of which I only got a glimpse or two of during the entire journey, as the cloud cover persisted through the whole trip.

Alpenglow at camp abpve Lake Como. See the yellow tent?

Alpenglow at camp above Lake Como. See the yellow tent?

The alpenglow was awesome in the early morning, but the cloud cover and fog bank sitting over the peaks was a bit concerning. The hike/climb I intended to take might not go, but the conditions were iffy, a definite maybe. Conditions like this really keep you on your toes and super aware of the current conditions, for a turn for the worse could be real trouble. Then again they can improve and turn for the better just as easily. The cloud cieling was pretty low, I could not see the route up the ridge or any part of the upper peaks. I intended to climb Blanca first by hiking the trail to the saddle between Blanca and Ellingwood point, then climbing the path up the ridge to Blnca’s summit. The cloud cover was thicker and thicker all the way up, but I could still find my way and felt I could still find my way back even if things got worse.

Route finding in the clouds, cairn to cairn!

Route finding in the clouds, cairn to cairn!

There was nobody else on the summit and the views were about 40 yards at best. Super fun to navigate through the fog and still find the summit, it was also easier to retrace my steps on the way back down to the saddle. At the saddle I knew I needed to start to hike down before traversing across, I had studied the maps and knew that you had to traverse lower to avoid having to scale numerous towers on the ridge, the visibility bein as bad as it was also made the ridge traverse a no-go.

The windy, cloudy, wet summit of Mount Blanca.

The windy, cloudy, wet summit of Mount Blanca.

Still, it was impossible to tell which couloir was the right one to go up, I could not see anyone else on the route, nor the ridge line on the top and just had to take my best guess.
As my luck would have it I climbed up what I had to admit to myself was not the route.

The traverse, which chute is the one to climb up. I guessed wrong, it was further to the climbers left than I went.

The traverse. Which chute is the one to climb up? I guessed wrong, going up the middle of this view. It was further to the climbers left than I went.

There were no cairns, it ended at a vertical tower that I could not see over or around and so I had to be wise and hike down. I was pretty sure that was it for my attempt at Ellingwood point, but on the way down I saw a cairn that marked an exit out of this couloir to the next one further over. I had missed that in the fog.

The right couloir, you will see cairns along the way, otherwise your heading toward a dead end.

The right couloir, you will see cairns along the way, otherwise your heading toward a dead end.

Excited to be, as I thought, back on route I started to traverse more, and was pleased every time I saw a cairn appear out of the mist. Up and up and finally on the ridge, I was confident that I was on my way and in short order was on the top of Ellingwood, again totally in the clouds. I did’nt linger and pretty quickly was back on my way down with that smile and new engery of accomplishment carrying me down.

Clouds lifting on the way back down.

Clouds lifting on the way back down.

Back at the bottom of the traverse I met some other climbers whom I was able to help point out the route too for they were as puzzled as I had been, and the view looking back down the valley toward camp with the cloud cieling was pretty awesome. Right when I got back to my tent it started to pour down the rain, so I jumped in, took a rest and waited for it to pass, which it did in less than an hour. I was determined to get on with the long hike out and visions of a nice pint and a big meal in Walsenberg spurred me on.

A long journey to the clouds and back.

A long journey to the clouds and back.

Back at the car I could see it was an epic hike to bag these two peaks from there, 17.5 miles and about 6k in elevation gain, longer harder trek than Longs was even. Looking back on the peaks I just bagged I could see the clouds still socked in up high, and the scale of the hike/climb was easier to see. It had been an awesome trip. One final note of caution, visions of food and pints can lead to a speeding ticket, even with a radar detector.

The tan line of the road to lake Como is where I had to park. Mount Blanca still hidden in the clouds but Majestic as ever.

The tan line of the road to lake Como is where I had to park. Mount Blanca still hidden in the clouds but Majestic as ever.

Pikes Peak Hike to Dawn

Alpenglow on the Devil’s Playground


With a 24 hour window and the weather looking ok, it was time to hike Pikes. My friend Jay was up to it but our last minute scrambling set the departure back a bit. Its ironic that the hikes and climbs up Pikes Peak are so long when there is a road and a cog railway that you can take to the top, Still we knew there would be hardly anyone there at night on a night hike to the top in the dark. it wasn’t too late when we rolled into the Crags campground, which is to the West and North of Pikes Peak near Woodland Park. The beta I had read on 14ers,com had estimates of the route up Pikes from here as being 11 miles roundtrip and 4k elevation gain, so we we departed the campground trailhead in the dark after midnight it seemed about right to catch the dawn on the summit. Bringing along a GPS revealed that it was a good deal longer than that if you took the trail the whole way, we recorded 7.55 miles each way for a 15 mile round trip. One of the great experiences of this hike is seeing this intense artificial starlight beacon that shines from the peak at night. When we came over the crest at Devil’s Playground it was stunning to see. On the summit you can see the contraption set up at the very end of the cog railway tracks. You better stop that train before that light.

Weird Masonic Time Capsule


On the top there are awesome views all around, and a bizarre Masonic time-capsule worth a look.

Time to make the Donuts!


We hung around to see the shop open up and get some fresh coffee and donuts, which after that long night hike were exceptionally good. We could hear the Cog Railway coming, so it was time to get going back down.

If you stop to play at the Devil’s playground, is that bad?

We had to stop and climb around in the Devil’s Playground on the way back down. If you drive up, stop here and check it out. Great bouldering formations up in the high tundra to clamber on.

That’s why its called the Crags

We also got a better look at what the campground was named for, “The Crags”, on the way back, with lots of clearly great climbing all over it.
All in all, a great half night/day in the high mountains!

Bear in the Backyard

Look who’s coming to dinner…

One of the things we love about where we live is all of the wildlife we get to see up close and personal. I think this year we have seen black bear in our yard at least half a dozen times, and that was in the daylight hours. After the spring we did not see them as often in the summer. Its gotten a lot cooler, the temps at night are perfect in this pre-fall time.

Just the other night I woke up after hearing some loud rustling out the open window. I craned my neck to see if I could see anything and sure enough there was a nice big black bear making his way down to where the “bear can” is. A bear can is a locking 50 gallon drum, and they become noisy “bear toys” but are effective at keeping the garbage inside.

I knew it would be gone by the time it would take me to get down over there and shoo it off, but I could also see it crossed the path of an outdoor camera I have set up. You can see this bear is a good sofa-sized one.

Mt. Princeton Summit Camp at 14,197′


I had not yet slept through the night on top of a Colorado 14er, so the time had come! I made some hasty plans and found my climbing friend Jason was also interested. We set out Friday after work and drove to Leadville where we sorted out that the only 14er nearby that either of us hadn’t been on top of was Mt. Princeton. It looked perfect for what was on the agenda, a somewhat accessible 4wd road, a night hike to the summit, and a summit with a few flat spots to bivvy.

Mt. Princeton was the last collegiate peak I hadn’t yet bagged and I had been all around it without ever getting to the top so I was excited. The road gets sketchy toward the end, I’m glad we had a decent 4wd with high clearance AND nobody was driving down while we were headed up. There are a few longer stretches toward the end where there is nasty exposure and only width for 1 vehicle. If your thinking of going up and wondering where the most convenient parking is, look carefully for a stone staircase you will see on your right going up and over the shoulder of Tigger Peak, there are a few spots right there but otherwise you have to go on to the end where you will end up on the trail that leads first up and over Tigger Peak.
So we took the trail up and over Tigger Peak.

view up Tigger peak where the Mt. Princeton road ends.

The trail up Tigger starts above treelike and has some great views in itself. From the top of Tigger we could only see the trail going back and down on the other side, we could not even see Princeton’s summit though we knew it wasn’t far at all for there was no moon and it was slightly overcast. All the time we hiked down the shoulder between Tigger and Princeton there was the wearisome thought that all that vertical had to be made up, and then some. Each false summit only resetting the resolve to conquer the next brought us to the top though separately by a few minutes, I did not know it but my friend Jay was suffering from some bad food. Needless to say we were happy to get set up on the summit and settle in for the night.

The one thing you really don’t want when camping on a summit is thunderstorms, and as the forecast had suggested, we were lucky enough not to see any come our way. We both stirred at the first rays and emerged from our shelters to take in the awesome sight of the landscape, dropping away on all sides, greeting the warming light of the the morning. Below some early risers were seen on the trail making their way up. From the summit you can see the trail line all the way to where it drops over Tiggers shoulder back to the road. It was also kinda fun to see the first batch of early risers make the summit and seem disappointed that “someone else got there first”, which quickly passed when the realization was made that we spent the night.

Can see the faint trail that skirts around Tigger clearly, or you can take the longer route right over Tiggers’ top.


We crushed the trail going back, probably in 1/3 the time it took to go up, back in Boulder by 4pm it was a sweet overnight trip. There are so many ways to enjoy these mountains, and the more ways I find to play on them, the more my appreciation of them grows.

2012 Crashreel

The 2012 winter season has come and gone leaving me longing for the  big powder days that never really came. Still, even thin snow is a blast. I thought it would be fun to piece together a crash reel from one afternoon at Keystone just to experiment with GoPro Video and some basic editing…

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I love my commute, little Spring Bear.


Came across this little bear on my way home after work.

One of the many things we love about living in the foothills of Boulder county is getting to enjoy the abundant wildlife.
My commute is often like a ride through a wildlife preserve though actually its a ride through a few different National Forests which surround our small town. I love my commute.