Uncompahgre Peak (8/8/92)
Start Elevation: 11,400 ft. (4WD TH)
Summit Elevation: 14,309 ft.
Elevation Gain: 2909 ft.
Round-trip Mileage: 7.25 mi (based on books)
Our hike of Uncompaghre Peak comes just a few days after our successful adventure on Mt. Sherman. As August 8th neared we found ourselves enjoying southwest Colorado with a visit to Mesa Verde National Park. We were also camping in the area and Uncompaghre appeared to be a good challenging summit within our range of limited experience. And with a 4WD vehicle along we were also able to keep the distance manageable by moving up the road a few miles.
We headed up the trail from Nellie Creek and it was pretty good trail for us to work on. This hike included our usual three, David, Denny, and myself, plus our Uncle Bob. From the end of the somewhat difficult 4WD road the trail headed along Nellie Creek for the initial part. It then begins to quickly gain elevation and heads towards the upper basin below Uncompaghre. Around 12600 the trail swings left and makes its run for the South Ridge. The trail gains the ridge at a very low point at 12900 and then begins the 1400 foot haul up from there.
Around 13500 the trail makes a few large switchbacks to gain the upper portion of the ridge at 13800. From the flat plateau there the most difficult part of the route began. It was almost 200 feet on relatively steep and loose rock to get up into the west face of Uncompahgre. The scrambling through rock eventually eased up around 14200 where it became easier trail the last 100 feet to the summit.
As I recall this trip many years later, much of the trail up and down is a vague memory for me. What remains vivid for me though is what happened next. As we enjoyed the spectacular views on the summit a young man came running up to us from the trail asking for help. He had noticed my Uncle Bob had a radio antenna in his backpack and was hoping to make a call for help. A woman in his group had been hit by a fallen rock and needed help. My Uncle began working the radio to call in assistance to this woman. As we worked that we began to hike down trail with the man to a vantage point where the assistance could be better directed. We went down to the saddle area around 13800 and in the slopes several hundred feet below we could see the woman in need of help.
Though we never really heard for sure, its likely the group may have been coming over from Wetterhorn seeking a shortcut up to Uncompahgre's summit and as they ascended this steep, loose slope the rock accident happened. As we waited for the county help to arrive an officer came up the trail on a motorbike to help coordinate things. Eventually as we waited this process out, probably having spent 2+ hours up there, a helicopter made its way in to rescue the woman below. We were thankful she was able to be rescued safely, and thankful for the radio equipment my Uncle had with him.
With so much activity (excitement really wasn't the right word) much of the rest of the hike out is of little memory to me. This was an early reminder for us in our hiking career, to not take anything for granted on the trails and to always keep safety as the #1 priority.
Here is an article that was published sometime after this event, that my Uncle wrote up, that helps explain in clearer detail his part in the rescue operation.
This is not my track file, but here is a track of the standard south ridge route up Uncompahgre: