Uncompahgre Peak (14,309 feet) via the Nellie Creek Trail Head – July 26, 2013


Summit Marker

Summit Marker

I had plans to meet up with a couple of partners for my hike up Uncompahgre. I’d met Jennifer and Xan online. They were hoping for a ride up the 4×4 portion of the Nellie Creek Road. I’d rented a 4×4 for this trip, just because I knew that I’d need it for the Nellie Creek Road. I texted Jennifer after I left Kilpacker Basin, and told her that I’d be in Lake City around 6:30 pm. I drove the long way around to Lake City, rather than take any of the mountain passes. I made it to the bottom of the Nellie Creek Road and Jennifer and Xan were already there. We move their stuff into my 4×4, and started up the Nellie Creek Road. The 4×4 travel was a bit rough at first, mostly because my 4×4 driving skills were a bit rusty. But, after 10 minutes of driving the road, I was starting to get the hang of it. We made it up the road, and to the Nellie Creek trail head parking lot in about 45 minutes. We checked out the parking lot, and ultimately opted for a camping spot about ¼ mile down from the trailhead. We had discussed making a very early start, so around 9 pm, we headed to our tents.

Really Goofy Summit Self Shot

Really Goofy Summit Self Shot

It rained lightly during the night. We woke up and started hiking around 3 am in the morning. I need to drive to Silverton in the afternoon for a train into the Chicago Basin. So, I really needed to get up and down Uncompahgre quickly, and we truly had no idea how long this one would take us. We estimated between 5 and 7 hours possibly. Jennifer and Xan were use to early starts, so 3 am was normal for them. We walked the ¼ mile from our camp, up the road, to the trial head, and signed in at the register. For the beginning of our hike, we were face to face with a lower summit that we all thought was Uncompahgre. Later, I got out the map, and we realized that Uncompahgre was much further to the west. The trail that we followed skirted the bottom of this other peak, that was not Uncompahgre. The trail was nice, and very easy to follow. The ladies seem to set the pace. I was pacing slightly behind them, and every time that they paused to take a breather, I caught up. Whew, at points it started to looked like they might leave me in the dust. They admitted later that they were huffing and puffing pretty bad themselves also.

Amazing Sun Rise

Amazing Sun Rise

The travel was pretty much in the dark the whole way, but it was a very bright moon, and the sky was almost perfectly clear. So, even though we used headlamps to keep from stumbling, we could easily see silhouettes of the peaks around us, and a rough view of the route that lay ahead. Eventually the solid trail gains the south ridge, and slowly starts towards the summit. A few switch backs later, and we were finally into some mild class 2. There was only one small section that might be rated class 2, and that was the section that gains the primary plateau, up to the upper ridge. The exposure was minimal, and the class 2 was mostly just a short section of loose scrambling. It was not super steep. Once you clear the class 2 section, the final pitch is another moderate ridge/hump hike to the top. We made it to the summit in around 2 and a half hours from the trailhead. This was so much faster than we ever thought we would summit. I guess that maybe we were being a little bit competitive with ourselves. Or, maybe we didn’t want to let each other down. Or, maybe we were all just a little bit concerned with the need to summit and return quickly, that we overcompensated, and drove ourselves harder than we thought we could. Regardless, I felt that we rocked to the top.

Parting Sot of Uncompahgre

Parting Sot of Uncompahgre

We spent about 20 minutes on top. We discussed waiting for the sun to rise. But, it was pretty cold up there, and after about 20 minutes, a really nasty storm cloud formed, and started spitting hail down on us. We cautiously started back down the ridge/hump. As we approached the class 2 down climb, we were blessed with a beautiful sun rise view in the east. At the same time, the hail that had threatened us seemed to stop. We paused for pictures, then continued back down the ridge, looking back often at the sun rising in the east. We continued down the class 2 section. On the way down, it seemed even shorter and less steep. We continued down the switch backs, down the rest of the ridge, off the ridge, and down into the basin, toward the trail head. We made it back down to the trailhead in a total roundtrip time of 4 hours and 30 minutes; about an hour 45 minutes from the summit.

Sweet Deer at the Lower TH

Sweet Deer at the Lower TH

I’m still shocked at how nice this hike was. If it weren’t for the nasty 4×4 road to the trailhead, I think that this peak might challenge Bierstadt as the peak that people do regularly, on a whim. After getting back to the car, we packed up, and made our way down the 4×4 road. I dropped the ladies off at their car, and mooched a beer off of them. Yumm, good. Since we had made such great time, I was able to stop off in Lake City, and partake in a well needed shower, at a local camp ground. After my shower, I set my sights for Silverton, via Engineers Pass. After doing the Nellie Creek Road, I couldn’t imagine the 4×4 mountain pass could be much worse. Let’s just say, that it’s about the same level of difficulty, but for a much longer period, which makes it feel a whole lot worse. With Uncompahgre complete, only five more to go…


To Summit 2:25

On Summit 2:45

Back to Trailhead 4:27


7.78 miles

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