After a few considerations of youth, fitness, (in)experience, gumption and holiday crowds I thought Uncompahgre from the Matterhorn Creek TH might be fun for my buddy Cody's first fourteener. We kind of have this bucolic quid pro quo thing going since graduation and it was my turn. The plan was to drive up 13 hours from 567 ft. on Thursday and camp just above the 4WD parking area. Friday we'd move camp up a little closer and acclimatize a little more. Saturday we'd day hike a little and maybe try for a summit. Sunday we'd go for it for sure. I didn’t want Cody's first experience with a fourteener to be hampered by problems with altitude adjustment. This schedule sounded reasonable, but the trip got cut a little short.
Thursday played out just as planned and I was really happy with the effects of the copious amounts of prophylactic Advil and Gatorade. I also figured we'd try out this story about Ginko helping matters of altitude adjustment so I prescribed 1,200 mg a day for the previous 4 days. 10,000+ feet gained in 13 hours was all but unnoticed.
Friday we woke pretty late and didn't fancy the idea of moving everything just yet. As such, we threw some dried fruit, jerky and power bars along with Gatorade mix and a filter in our daypacks and set out for a day hike a little after 10:00 a.m.
Cody flipped his lid, as did I, when Wetterhorn exposed itself. My buddy initially confused the southern grassy dome and sheer east facing cliff for the pics of Uncompahgre from Nellie Creek Trail I'd emailed him. He redeemed himself as he referred to Matterhorn as a "stately peak"… I laughed and was pleased to see he had taken me up on the suggested reading list… great description Mr. Roach.
It wasn't long after we split from Matterhorn Creek until we switchbacked our way into the view of Uncompahgre emerging from the gently rolling hills that previously veiled her. I had thought that this might be a good stopping point and after telling Cody that the cliffs he was salivating over were part of what we drove out here for I asked him if he felt like hanging out here for a little bit or heading back to camp. "Why can't we go over there man!?!?!?!" I told him that "over there" (Uncompahgre) was a helluva lot farther than it looked and we'd probably have to go all the way over to the other side to have a decently scree-less summit. "But dude, I'm not tired, you got a pump for more water and I'm not head-achey like you said I'd be, are you?" O.k., but I then told him of the inevitable afternoon showers and how we'd be sure to get wet if not electrocuted if we were on top at the wrong time not to mention the fact that we'd been pretty leisurely and really hadn't been hustling all that much. "Dude, it's 11 in the morning, we have jackets and there's not a cloud within 300 miles. Let's just play it by ear." Fair enough.
The shortcut from the Matterhorn Creek approach to that trail's connection with the Nellie Creek approach goes very quickly at first due to a lovely, rolling, descent. After a trip through Marmot-ville (those guys had to be 12-15 lbs.) we found ourselves on a deceptive diagonal up to a southern "ridge". The next valley and incline were gorgeous but the time was about 1:00 p.m., we were still taking our good 'ol time, and I knew the clouds would be rolling in any minute. But, we moved on. Shortly thereafter we found ourselves above a sizable patch of snow and several switchbacks that didn't look quite that taxing from the sign alerting hikers of the endangered butterflies.
Next, we were presented with the reason I chose Uncompahgre for Cody's introduction. The trail kind of poops out just a tad and you try follow where others have chosen to go on all fours. I chose to go up at the first opportunity since I could see where after about 100 feet or more there was a uniform void behind a horizontal line. I figured that was where the trail around the corner to the east side picked back up. I thought the summit was right around there but I found a solid several hundred yards were left. The trail levels back out and we were on top soon enough.
In hindsight, I'd say I would probably not choose to scramble up where I did. If you hold off and skirt off a little more to the north there is an obvious path that is pretty much free from loose rock relative to the first opportunity you have to assume a three or four point stance. We came down this more northern path on the west side and gingerly walked to the aforementioned snow patch. I don't know why I didn't see this going up.
The trip back to camp was long with many rest stops disguised as photo-ops. A dip in the creek was rejuvenating and the rest of the evening was spent pondering what to do since there really wasn't anything that we had planned left. Ultimately, nothing was really practical. So, we slept… very well, and headed out that Saturday morning to Salida to hang out with some friends of mine from summers past.
I couldn't believe our luck with the weather as we were on top from about 2:30 to 3:30. Without that and the Ginko (I now swear by that stuff) there is not a snowballs chance of us getting anywhere near 14,309 and thru 13 miles one night removed from Central Standard Time. I would highly recommend the Gingko to those who are worried about serious elevation gains in a short time.
And yes, Cody is now fully aware of the fact that he can do something other than snowboard from chair lift to chair lift on a mountain... he owes me big.