Uncompahgre Peak via Matterhorn Creek


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.

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!

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.

Mt. Humboldt via the Rainbow South Colony Lakes Trail

The Crestones and Humboldt from the East

The Crestones and Humboldt from the East

I’ve been wanting to visit the Sangre de Cristo’s, especially the Crestones, for some time. I hadn’t yet climbed any of those 14ers though I had been through the area a few times and marveled at their beauty. I also read recently that they are thinking about closing or adding a fee to the South Colony Lakes road this year. The South Colony Lakes Trailhead is a point of departure for heading up to climb Crestone, Crestone Needle, Mount Humboldt, and even possibly Kit Carson and or Challenger Point. The Ranger station reported that there was “still a lot of snow up there’ and that snow would block the way after “just a mile or so”. I had also read a trip report from someone who climbed Humboldt the weekend before who said they had been able to drive to ‘1 mile short of the rainbow trail’. So, had more snow accumulated over the last week. I kinda doubted it.

My friend Jay was down for the trip, so we drove down on Tuesday and went as far as we could go toward South Colony Lake. Right were the snow blocked the road we saw signage for the Rainbow trail and some parking so we set the jeep there. After loading up some siege packs with a few days worth of gear for just about any kind of route we headed out on what we thought was the rainbow trail right as it started dumping snow. We heard some of the oddest sounds coming from the surrounding Aspen trees, the wind on old trees was making sounds like voices, and or music. It was truly surreal.

Suddenly snow

Suddenly snow

After about 45 minutes Jay looked at his GPS and announced we were in fact going the wrong way. Somehow we missed the sign in the snow and dark that pointed out that this was the Middle Colony Lakes Trail. We could not tell if we would even be able to hook it up Humboldt from there so we decided to head back and get on the right trail. On the way back Jay got nailed by a tree limb in the snow and dark that knocked him down and left a mark on his forehead that looked like he got hit with an ice-pick. Not only that but when he went down he landed on his ribs by his lower back. He shrugged all this off and we kept going. We took a break back in the jeep and laughed at our inauspicious start. So after our 2.5 mile warm-up we got on the right trail and headed up toward the South Colony Lakes.

The snow let up a little which made the going a little easier. We made camp a mile or so short of the lower lake in the woods on the snow, made some hot food and called it for the night. As often the case we got up about 5am without an alarm. Which peak to bag and what route? We decided for a longer but lighter (no ropes & pro, crampons, or ice axe) route up Humboldt via its west ridge with the idea that if we wanted to add a Crestone climb after we still had that option.

Respects for Talus Monkey

Respects for Talus Monkey

The route went up past the Lakes where we paused to pay our respects to where David Worthington aka TalusMonkey lost his life in 2009 after a valiant search and rescue attempt following his glissade accident coming down Humboldt.

The Needle and some weather moving in

Moi in front of the Needle with some weather moving in

As some weather started to dramatically move in, we decided against going directly up the couloir and instead angled for the saddle between Humbolt and the Needle to take the west ridge to the top of Humboldt. The views across to the Crestones and the San Luis Valley beyond on the way up are beyond description. As we approached the saddle we noticed another climber moving among the snow, rock and ice.

It was a Mountain Goat who was also making its way, from the other direction, over the saddle. After it passed we saw some of its tracks coming up from the other steeper side.

Looking back East over Humboldt summit

Looking back East over Humboldt summit

On the west ridge the wind was howling and weather was coming in pretty fast. We pushed hard for the summit while awestruck with the views. Looking past the sunlit summit back East the plains below were still in full sun but a dark band of bad weather was bending down, lower than we were. We had to yell at each other just to be heard. We hung out on top long enough to take it all in and snap a few more photos. There is a rock wind screen shelter on the summit which affords some protection from the wind.
Summit shot with Crestones behind to the West

Summit shot with Crestones behind to the West

We knew it was a much more direct route back to camp down the south facing snow slopes, but we knew the Eastern side of those terminated in some cliff bands. Respecting that danger we angled back West as we decended the South slopes until we got on some 30 – 40 degree snow fields that reached all the way down to the South Colony Lakes. We glissaded carefully and avoided launching ourselves off or into some of the smaller rock bands we still encountered on our way down. Had to creep across under a smallish cornice, there were signs of older avvys but the snow was super solid and stable at that time.

Looking back up the glissade route down, amazing we covered a couple miles of slope in about 15 minutes. In no time we were back at camp. We decided to hang at camp leaving open an option to go up the Crestone if we wanted super early the next morning knowing we had to be back to Boulder the next afternoon. As it worked out we didn’t feel we had enough time to bag Crestone and hike all the way out in time, but we were still rewarded with more awesome views as we made our way home the next morning. Overall an awesome visit, I can’t wait to go back.

Castle and Conundrum combination

Joe on Conundrum summit with Castle Peak behind

Joe on Conundrum summit with Castle Peak behind

Castle and Conundrum combination, September 18-19 2009.
We left Boulder Friday after work with a plan to camp at the Perl Pass Trailhead that night and wake early to go bag Castle and Conundrum Peaks. Joe and I both had our gear ready so we were able to get to where we hoped to camp by around 11pm. We took the Castle Creek Trail to the fork at Perl Pass (FR 102) and pulled the jeep off the road right there. There were some places to pitch our gear and in no time we were out. We wanted to get an early jump on it so we got up around 4:30 and hit the trail by 5. We actually got passed by a few more hard-core 4wd vehicles in the predawn, but as we got to the end of the FR 102 road past the ruin of the old Montezuma mine we saw those folks still getting ready to head out. From there we could see there was snow and the crampons we brought would come in handy if we were going straight up the snowfield to the saddle between Castle and Conundrum.

Route up snowfield in orange,arrow points to Conundrum summit

Route up snowfield in orange,arrow points to Conundrum summit

To gain access to that slope to the saddle we had to work our way upslope to get around the bergschrund at the bottom. While working our way around it was obvious that there was a good deal of rockfall with fresh tracks in the recent snow from this-would-kill-you sized boulders. Good idea to have a lid on the head here and keep an ear tuned. We saw a pretty nasty rockfall on the other side of the cirque that crossed the other sw ridge route, fortunately there was no one there at the time.

Our early start paid dividends being we were clearly the first ones up the snow slope and also to the saddle that morning.
The alpeneglow was amazing, the views incomparable as we left from the saddle south up the ridge to the top of Castle. Nice blocky scramble up a ridge with really good exposure back down to the lake. On top we noticed a few groups below making their way up both the SW and snow slope routes. After a short break on the summit we head back down to the saddle and picked up the trail up towards Conundrum. The scrambling and route finding was a little more demanding on this section with some very brief class 3. The rock is real rotten and to prevent creating rockfall we stayed on the snow and ice as much as possible taking the highest line. A false summit really looks like the top but the reason there is no registry there is because you have to continue along the ridge, down-climb a little piece and then back up to gain the true summit.

Looking down on our way back it appeared that some of the chutes could make nice couloir climbs if the conditions were right but would be deadly dangerous if conditions were not ideal. We made it back down to the saddle having bagged both peaks before running into another soul. It was KEY to be on the snow early while it was harder from the night-freeze, two folks we met on the way down were post-holing their way up the same snow slope we crampon’d up. Going down we glissaded our way and made short work of the descent, careful not to go flying out of control into the bergschrund crevasse.
We were back in Boulder before dark already looking forward to the next time…

An awesome trip!

Mt. Snowmass via NW ridge and the Curse of the Lead King Basin

August 15-16th, 2009.
We headed out on Saturday about mid day from Boulder and made good time to Marble. Don’t forget to get Gas in Glenwood Springs where you have some choices, if you get all the way to Redstone there is one place but you pay a premium.
From Marble we headed up to the high side of town and continued East on the dirt road for Lead King Basin. You have to look carefully for the Left Turn to get on the 315 road to the Geneva Lake Trailhead, (which accesses the west side of Snowmass). There are a couple of low water crossings and the road has some dangerous exposure, you really need a good 4wd vehicle. We saw two disabled vehicles enroute, an outback with a flat and a bronco that was broken down. The Touareg ate it up just fine. More on “eating it up” later. We parked at the obvious parking access for the Geneva Lake Trailhead, gathered our gear up, and headed in hiking towards the waterfall below the lake.

Geneva lake trailhead at Lead King Basin

Geneva lake trailhead at Lead King Basin

The trail stays to the left side of the creek and up over the shoulder before passing Geneva lake on the right. At every fork in the trail we basically took the left option to stay up on the slope and make our way on to Little Gem Lake. After arriving at little gem lake it was already dark so we decided we could go ahead and push on to Lake Siberia which looked to have some flat areas beside it on the topos. Stunning vistas all the way up, a very scenic route in.
High Camp at Lake Siberia

High Camp at Lake Siberia

We didn’t need much room for bivy camp and settled in for the night. The morning had good weather and sun, we were just below the summit on the west side and we ready to make our way up. Jason pointed out something truly strange, which was foreboding of things to come. He had left his Garmin GPS outside of his bivvy sack and something in the night had actualy chewed off the little rubber buttons on its front. Not the rubber on the sides or the top, just the softer rubber used on the buttons, we could see the teeth marks. We laughed it off since it still worked just fine. Looking up the west side we could see 2 dark troughs that marked two routes up the west side. When wet I’d heard to go to the left of these two and head up that way toward a fin shaped rock.
We had some fun scrambling, a traverse across iced loose scree, Fridge and Car sized Boulder maneuvering. We made a key observation which was that the more stable rock had lots of lichen on it, from years of stability. The loose rock was all uniform light grey colored and could be nasty in places.
We got separated just after moving past the fin rock and going up the ridge. I chose to stay on the blocky ridge top, which did have exposure on the other side, but was 100% solid and fine. My friend Jay traversed across the west face which at this place gets pretty vertical. After both arriving on the summit we decided not to hang out too long since there was a massive thunderhead to the west even though it looked like it might miss us to the North. We could see our tents at Lake Siberia 2000′ below our feet from the summit.
On top of Mt. Snowmass

On top of Mt. Snowmass

We both decided the best way back down was across the extreme western ridge staying on the big blocks. It involved more actual climbing but was way more solid.
Fantastic views and exposure on the other side and surely a more direct route to Lake Siberia. We both wished we had come up this route which is not one mentioned in the Roach guide. Back in camp we made another pot of coffee, took a short rest and then hoofed it all the way back to where the Touareg was parked. We thought all the danger was behind us but little did we know we were about to experience the Curse of the Lead King Basin. After packing everything up in the Touareg we got in, started her up and then both uttered “WTF?”.

The car was in drive but the transmission was like in 4th gear. That meant it would not go up the 4wd rough dirt road back. The car was reporting that we needed to “Bring it to the workshop” which was not a good suggestion being we were many miles for paved roads. We did everything we could to figure out what was wrong, checking fuses, turning everything off, different combinations of control settings, nothing worked except reverse gear and highway gear. We both had to be at work the next day but it was looking like we were going to have to hike out, maybe camping again on the way, then maybe getting in cellphone range the next day to call off any rescue…. not good. We decided that the best option was to attempt to drive out in reverse.
The road is gnarly and dangerous with a good 4wd going forward, in reverse it was completely insane. But we made it to Marble without rolling down the exposures to our deaths and from Marble we were able to go forward keeping in in 4th gear and get all the way down to Glenwood springs. We did more taking-apart, got a meal down, but all our tinkering and diagnosis was to no avail. We were at least able to call home and tell our wives what was up and not to freak out on the lateness and we were essentially all right. Incredibly we were able to make it back on I70 all the way home though we really didn’t know if we would make it over Vail Pass. In the end the root cause was revealed at the dealership days later…. some small creature, Pica’s most likely, had crawled under the Touareg and Eaten through the transmission harness completely disabling the transmission controls leaving only 4th gear and reverse working.

The Curse of the Lead King Basin - Rubber munching varmits

The Curse of the Lead King Basin - Rubber munching varmits

You can see in the picture the munching that took place over the 36 hours the vehicle was left parked around 10000′. So there you have it, that is the curse of the Lead King Basin… if you leave your vehicle there you better have some way of protecting the underside of your vehicle or be prepared to do some electrical work.

Mt. Antero Family-Style via Baldwin Gulch

August 11th, 2009.

While on our two week loop of Southwest Colorado we planned three days around Buena Vista which sits at the foot of several Sawatch 14ers. The two big attractions to staying nearby were the natural hot springs and the peaks. The most well know hot springs are the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, which is a hot spring and spa resort that seems to lately be on the upswing. We also found that there are nearby cabins that have there own private hot springs at the “Antero Hot Springs” and we decided to stay there. Personally I find it much more relaxing to not have a lot of other folks around and having our own hot spring just outside our cabin was just fantastic and worth it.

Since there is a 4wd road up Baldwin gulch we took the short drive up to it to get a sense of what kind of condition it was in and take a guess at how long it would take us to get to where we wanted to hike from. With Anna being nine years old and my wife not having done any 14ers yet it seemed wise to try to drive up close and leave just the last mile and a half to climb up. So we guessed at 2 hours for the drive and 3 hours for the hike. The weather looked great for us to give it a shot and we decided to head out at a reasonable early time of 7am.

Getting there:
We drove west toward St. Elmo on Chaffee County Road 162 and another 10 miles on the dirt road to reach the signed Baldwin Gulch Jeep Road (also listed as the 277 Road).

You can park here, there are plenty of pull-offs along the road. This is the lower trailhead and its a long way from here. Short, high-clearance 4WD vehicles can drive up the 277 road, our stock 04 Jeep Liberty did fine. Above the river crossing (10,850′), there are dispersed camping spots along the side of the road as it leads to multiple switchbacks up to the saddle. We parked at the saddle and made our way up the ridge line to the top.

I took a chisel-peen hammer to prospect for Aquamarines and I think we actually did find some Garnets. It was a great trek for Chris and Anna to get on top of their first 14er with the added bonus of Gem-Hunting near the summit. If you want to see some of the nicest aquamarines found on Antero, stop at the “Rock Doc” back on US285. We picked up a few carats of Aquamarine there and they have nice examples of the things folks prospect for on Antero.

La Plata via Southwest Ridge June 28 2009

La Plata Summit June 28, 2009

La Plata Summit June 28, 2009

We Left Boulder at 4 on Saturday and drove to La Plata’s southwest trailhead. We took the Copper exit off of I-70 and turned onto rt 390 about 14 miles north of Buena Vista. Took rt390 the 13+ miles back to the old mining town of Winfield and missed the right turn there (at the historic marker). The liberty handled the pretty rough 4×4 road as we drove to the Huron trailhead before realizing our mistake and going back to the turn off at Winfield for the La Plata trail head. The 4×4 trail was totally free of snow, but running water to cross and some deep ruts and tall boulders to drive around.

At the trailhead we heard some corrupted boom-box Ted Nugent off in the distance and occasional gunfire from at least 3 different weapons so it seemed like a good idea and hike in before camping. The hike from the trailhead follows a creek up through to tree line and after just a mile of hiking up steeply the noise nuisance was no longer in mind. We threw down gear just before tree line ended and agreed we would hit it early as long as the weather was good.

A 3:30am start and followed the trail easily taking a snow free route up the back bowl. We saw some pre dawn wildlife, a pair of eyes staring us down from across the creek that never budged and just watched us hike by and a deer that ran down from the high saddle as we approached the top. The usual selection of Picas and Marmots also starting popping out as the sky got brighter. The sun was still not up yet as we headed for the 600ft+ push up the first false summit. Went off trail to the right and walked up some frozen snow fields – crampons would of made easy work of this predawn refrozen snow but there is not so much snow left. The super hard core could still ski or board down into the north side bowl.

The weather was absolutely perfect on this hike. The early early start meant that when some thunderclouds rolled in we were already pack up and rolling out in the jeep. The wind was even gentle over the duration. We did put on gloves and additional layer once we hit about 13000ft.

We had the summit at 7am all to ourselves and not a soul in sight, which kind of surprised me for a Saturday morning in June. Just another benefit of the super-eeeeeearly start.

On the way down we followed the trail more dilligently which made the false summit scramble section better.
We took our time back to camp and enjoyed the rest of the short hike back out to trailhead before 11am.

It took us about 3.5 hours to summit, and only 1.5 down. LaPlata was a great time, there are so many incredible areas to explore in the area, and tons of camping opportunities. Can’t wait to get back.