Thursday, June 29, 2023

Mount Ouray

My wandering adventure to the summit of Mt. Ouray was a reminder of how quickly the mindset of a single day can change. I began the day barely able to drag myself out of bed. Two days prior I had done a 31 mile loop over Mt. Harvard and Mt. Columbia making a loop around the mountains including Horn Fork Basin and Pine Creek Basin and the Colorado Trail. Yesterday my father and I made a bushwhacking summit of Marmot Peak, just east of Buena Vista. My quads were shot from the previous days' climbing, my arms ached from trekking pole use, and my motivation as a whole was beat from all the wear and tear. It took a lot of determination to get moving. Yet I found along the way my motivation changing. The soreness in the legs and the body dissipated. The spectacular wonder of the summit lifting my spirits and suddenly I found myself renewed and refilled and loving every minute of the day. I carried that newfound spirit with me back down the trail.

Trip Info:
West Ridge route from Marshall Pass
Trailhead Elevation: 10,838 ft.
Distance: 7.29 mi. 
Elevation Gain: 3,603 ft.
Start Time: 7:59am
End Time: 1:00pm

Trip Report:
I chose the west ridge route for Mount Ouray for the simplicity of its approach. I loved being able to see the summit and most of the route right from the trailhead. Marshall Pass also has some history to it and has the Colorado Trail and Continental Divide Trail passing right through it. It was however 12 miles of bumpy dirt road after leaving Us285 but well worth it.

I carried my Osprey Stratos 24 pack today with basic essentials. I carried 2.5L of water with one of those liters mixed with Tailwind. I made the mistake of forgetting the sunscreen today so I made good use of my hat as well as my jacket. I kept my jacket with hood up for the entire descent today just to keep the sun off my head.

Colorado Trail sign as you leave the trailhead

Leaving the Marshall Pass trailhead you walk up the road a bit to a short section of road called 200C. You pass by a cabin and then head up into the trees. I had a GPX from loaded into my GPS. At first I wasn't sure if I would know where to start and much to my delight I saw a faint trail heading up the hill. Even further to my delight this trail would remain solid and easy to follow up to and above treeline. Even in the alpine the trail would appear off and on almost all the way to the summit. After an exhausting mile plus of bushwhacking on Marmot Peak yesterday it was a mental relief to have a trail to follow.

My quads were still pretty wrecked from the previous days efforts and so I kept things in a real low gear just moving at a slow enough pace I could sustain. I was pleased to see the stiff muscles would begin to loosen up with the hiking. It was more about stiffness than fatigue today. In the end the legs would handle the 3500 feet of climbing without feeling completely toasted.

Climbing steadily through the trees

The trail remained good through treeline the only obstacles being have to detour around a few downed trees. Treeline came about at 11,800 on Ouray. The trail I was following began a northeast turn here. Its of interest to note that the GPX I was following from pretty much went straight west up the slope. I chose to follow the trail as I saw it and am glad I did. On this particular day in 2023 there was a heavy snowfield that blocked much of the upper slope. By swinging further to the east I was able to avoid it and climb up a broad gully to the top of the slope.
Snow blocking the top of the initial slope.

Ascending up and around the snow,
and looking back to Marshall Pass

Starting to look ahead at the approach
to the west ridge of Ouray

Topping out on the ridge, I was glad to see the faint trail continued. This led into one of the best sections of the hike. It was a gradual incline in here going from about 12200 to 12600 over 1.3 miles or so. The views were also fantastic as you could see a long ways in almost every direction. I also found it fun to be able to see the whole summit approach ahead. Most of the ridge was a fairly easy grassy alpine walk with occasional rock mixed in. The only challenge in here was a 100 foot talus slope which served as a warm-up for the later to come summit push.

The winds were forecasted to be 20-30 today with gusts towards 40. I think I was fortunate I didn't bear the full brunt of this. There were moments on the ridge that the wind kicked in but I doubt I ever had a 40mph gust. I've felt the kind of gust that can knock you over before and today never came close. I was also thankful there were several places on that wide open ridge that the wind didn't really howl at all.

Working on the west ridge approach to Ouray

As you make your way on the west ridge to the final summit push there are a number of humps along the way. No matter how bad (or not bad) they may look on the approach none of them proved to be any difficulty. None of them cliff you out, they all make for fairly manageable terrain.

Knowing the final push was about 1300 feet over 0.8 miles I just settled into low gear, popped another Gu energy gel, and pushed onward. There was no real climbing on the ascent and if you encountered anything more than Class 2 you're just off route. On one of the bypasses around a hump on the ridge I encountered a few moments of exposure where things dropped a hundred feet or so. On the descent I avoided this edgy section by staying more on the larger rick at ridge proper.

Looking at the final summit push

A lot of the ridge still has grassy sections

Visually the most interesting part of the ascent was a white band of quart-rock that has a cliffy look to it. The trail easily bypasses it close by on the north side, but you get up close to it. I noticed on the descent as I followed trail segments it took me to a small saddle at the very top of the cliffs with an inviting look to them. You'll certainly want to retrace that north-side bypass on the way down.

Not quite seeing the summit yet, a bit of a false summit

Now we're finally seeing the summit

Over the last couple hundred feet you'll think you're seeing the summit a couple times but the ridge does keep going. You'll know you're not there when your altimeter still says 13600. The final couple hundred feet are a standard Colorado summit with plenty of rock to scramble over and navigate but nothing overly difficult other than the climb and the thin air. I topped out taking 2:30 for the summit which was a little slower than my usual pace given my quads were shot from a couple days ago.

The summit was amazing. Not the shape of it, though it was a large enough flat area with a pair of rock shelters and made for easy walking around. It was all about the views. Amazing. Jaw-dropping. Inspiring. I couldn't leave. Lately I've only been doing 5-10 minutes on summits but I was atop Ouray a full 25 minutes before I finally pushed myself to go. You could see most of the state from this well positioned summit. Uncompahgre and the San Juans to the southwest. The Maroons and Elks to the northwest. The southern half of the Sawatch to the north. The Mosquitos to the northeast. Pikes to the southeast. And the whole of the Sangres to the south. The views were just so unencumbered and Ouray sits nicely positioned in the middle of it all.

Summit selfie

The Sangre de Cristo Range.
Crestone group towards left side.
Blanca group in distance right of center.

Shavano & Tabeguache just left of center.
Arkansas Valley and Poncha Springs on the right

Elks in the distance left of center.
Southern Sawatch on the right side

Uncompahgre and the San Juans in the distance

Pikes in the great distance

Coming up to one of the bumps on the ridge during the descent

Nice grassy slope to descend

On the descent I had one minor issue and you can see it in the track I posted on my map. I was following trail best as I could and when I began to descend the final slope to treeline and I continued on a trail. It became evident to me this wasn't my ascent route anymore and if I continued I would be blocked by the large snowfield. I was curious if the trail segment I followed was one the GPX uses. I decided to backtrack up the hill to get up and around the snowfield.

Moving around the snowfield on the descent

Trail heading into a yellow field of flowers just before hitting the dirt roads

A final though on Mt. Ouray: I absolutely loved this hike and this mountain. It was a beautiful route and even more beautiful views most of the way. I had the mountain entirely to myself the whole day and it was wonderful to enjoy the solace and the grandeur of this place. It dawned on me, if this mountain were just another 29 arbitrary feet taller there may have been 50 people up there and maybe hundreds on a clear July day. Just 29 feet separate it from that 14er status. Not that the 29 feet would change anything about this great mountain and the fun day I had. So as a lover of Colorado's mountains and enjoying them without crazy ant trails and garbage along the way:

Don't tell anyone about these beautiful 13ers! 😉

I have a track and waypoints from the activity all contained in the embedded Google Map. Check it out and use at your own risk.

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