Incomparable Uncompahgre Peak

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Incomparable Uncompahgre Peak

Check off the San Juan’s tallest fourteener
Approach the monarch of the San Juan Mountains on a superbly crafted trail. Fissures in the south ridge create westward visual corridors. The closest neighbor is Matterhorn Peak. Steeply-pitched Wetterhorn Peak, 14,015’, presents daring fourteener devotees with a thrilling exposed ledge assault.
The monoclinal east ridge of Uncompahgre slopes gradually up from the south and plummets north onto a rock glacier runout.
Courtesy of Thomas Holt Ward

While the Uncompahgre summit is notable for its expansiveness, hikers tend to gather near the 700-foot straight down plunge on the northeast face. Eastward lies the ridge traverse and Nellie Point’s lengthy razorback ridge.
A hiker traverses the Nellie Point summit ridge while absorbing the full might of big-boned Uncompahgre Peak.
From the Nellie Creek Trailhead, bear west on the Uncompahgre Peak Trail to the south ridge. Hike north to the summit. Descend the south ridge to elevation 13,440 feet. Leave the trail and walk north to the east ridge of Uncompahgre. Traverse east to a pass at elevation 12,380 feet and then climb Nellie Point. Backtrack to the pass and return to the Uncompahgre Peak Trail via the Big Blue Creek Trail.

Incomparable Uncompahgre Peak

Approach the monarch of the San Juan Mountains on a superbly crafted trail. Fissures in the south ridge create westward visual corridors. The closest neighbor is Matterhorn Peak. Steeply-pitched Wetterhorn Peak, 14,015’, presents daring fourteener devotees with a thrilling exposed ledge assault.
The monoclinal east ridge of Uncompahgre slopes gradually up from the south and plummets north onto a rock glacier runout.
Courtesy of Thomas Holt Ward

While the Uncompahgre summit is notable for its expansiveness, hikers tend to gather near the 700-foot straight down plunge on the northeast face. Eastward lies the ridge traverse and Nellie Point’s lengthy razorback ridge.
A hiker traverses the Nellie Point summit ridge while absorbing the full might of big-boned Uncompahgre Peak.
From the Nellie Creek Trailhead, bear west on the Uncompahgre Peak Trail to the south ridge. Hike north to the summit. Descend the south ridge to elevation 13,440 feet. Leave the trail and walk north to the east ridge of Uncompahgre. Traverse east to a pass at elevation 12,380 feet and then climb Nellie Point. Backtrack to the pass and return to the Uncompahgre Peak Trail via the Big Blue Creek Trail.
Travel basics

Travel from Lake City: This route is recommended for all but serious four-wheel-drive enthusiasts. From Lake City, follow signs to the start of the Alpine Loop heading toward Engineer Pass. A sign marks the Nellie Creek Trailhead turnoff 5.2 miles from Lake City. There is ample parking for those who must walk the 4.1 miles up Forest Service Road 877, Hinsdale County Road 23. High clearance, four-wheel-drive low and sturdy tires are mandatory. The track is rocky and steep. At 1.8 miles, cross Nellie Creek and make a hard left. At 2.2 miles, the road forks; take the left switchback. Cross the creek again at 2.6 miles. Allow 25 to 45 minutes for Forest Service Road 877. There is a large parking lot and pit toilet at the trailhead but no treated water.

Travel from Silverton Over Engineer Pass: Allow three hours to drive the 30 miles from Silverton to the Nellie Creek Trailhead. The west side of Engineer Pass is a perilous, no-nonsense shelf. It is a test of ground clearance and has several very steep pitches. For 1.5 miles, the visibility of on-coming traffic is restricted and pullouts are few. It is 13.3 miles from Engineer Pass, 12,800 feet, to the Forest Service Road 877 turnoff.

Distance and Elevation Gain: Uncompahgre Peak alone is 7.6 miles with 2,900 feet of vertical; 9.7 miles with 3,750 feet of climbing for both mountains.

Total Time: 6 to 8½ hours

Difficulty: Class 1 trail to the Uncompahgre crux and then Class 2-plus with mild exposure; navigation easy. Off-trail to Nellie Point; low Class 3 on the summit ridge with mild exposure; navigation moderate.

Map: Uncompahgre Peak, Colorado 7.5’ USGS Quad or Apogee Mapping

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