Ah, winter is back.
With a short vacation planned I needed someplace to go. The San Juans looked good until Saturday night before a potential storm popped up on the radar. Where now? After pondering a couple ideas in the Sangres during work Sunday, I was pleasantly surprised to see the storm numbers go way down in the San Juans. Screw it, that’s where I’m going. Hopefully the roads won’t be too bad.
Monday night I left after work, but couldn’t stay focused on the long drive to Lake City despite how excited I was to start wandering snowy mountains. Clear, calm weather led to a wind/snow storm on Monarch Pass which finally grabbed my attention. An hour and a half later, I rolled slowly into Gunnison waving the white flag. I’ll stay here tonight, wake up around 7am and break some trail tomorrow before launching a summit attempt Wednesday.
5:45am Tuesday, not sure why the alarm clock’s going off now, but oh well let’s get moving anyways. The roads are decent as I roll down 149 and through sleepy Lake City. What am I going to do today? Mill Creek Campground offers no sign of a track headed up Sunshine and Redcloud. What about the two unnamed 13,8ers? Ken said to start at the outhouse and go straight up. Look, a plowed spot for one!
Overcast, dreary weather keeps me in the car for a half-hour. What’s the hold up? This is your vacation, let’s go! At 8:37am(9,415’), I begin in full wallow mode across the flats below Point 10,335. Shucks, this isn’t going anywhere fast. With a pair of cliff bands looming above, I begin meandering right with the deer tracks in a futile attempt to improve my situation. Nothing changes except my amount of sweat. This isn’t fun! If only that pizza place in Lake City was open during winters…...
Doubt begins to creep in as it takes two hours to reach ~10,400’. “Normal” people go to warm places on vacation, what am I doing out here? Suffering….ah, yes. Quit whining and get to treeline, tomorrow will make it all worth it.
Turning the corner I’m quite shocked to discover firmer snow on the north side of small hill. Looking up, the South Ridge is visible for the first time.
UN 13,811's South Ridge extending into the clouds
It raises my spirits as the firmer snow stays with me to the base of the South Ridge. Maybe this day will improve.
The sun attempts to brake through as I near 11,000'
Once the South Ridge proper is gained, I am pleased to discover the snow only sinks a foot or so with each step by staying on the ridgecrest or just to its right. A rhythm is maintained and I start breaking at 700-800’/hour.
Much improved breaking
The obnoxious Point 11,740, and its unnecessary 100 foot downclimb, sneaks up on me before too long. Salvation appears fifteen minutes later in the form of treeline ~11,900’. Hey look, the sun’s coming out also! A short, steep slope brings me to the snowshoe cache just below Point 12,195. Alright, that was a good day, time to go down and get some food! Hold on, it’s only 1:20pm! There’s more work to be done. Maybe a summit too?
From Point 12,195 the remainder of the route to UN 13,811 is in and out of the clouds yet looks like it should go fairly smoothly. Hopefully my presence can go unnoticed.
The remaining South Ridge of 13,811 in-and-out of the clouds from Point 12,195
It does to Point 12,483 and up to the 13,100’ flatter area. Here the downside of solo winter mountaineering(no one to relieve you during trailbreaking) comes into play as I’m now quite tired. A quick break during a windless afternoon should fix that! As I start eating some Craisins, a strong wind starts up from the West. Oh well, making it to a windless 13,100’ in January has to be some kind of record. It’s beginning to get chilly, time to finish this off.
Upper slopes of 13,811 finally clearing as I near 13,000'
As I approach, the summit pyramid of 13,811 seems to be shrinking fast. Unfortunately, that’s not the truth as every time I look up there seems to be another 100’ vertical that wasn’t there at the last glance.
The snow and scree covered summit pyramid of UN 13,811
Just after 3:15pm I step onto the windy summit of UN 13,811. Wow, look at Uncompahgre! The feeling of gratification that only winter can grant you rushes through my system. My camera battery dies after one failed attempt to get that fourteener as my summit background.
What? You don't recognize me?
Looking west, UN 13,832 calls to me. Do I have time? Yes, some other day, remember you’re getting better but still don’t deal that well with hiking alone in the dark woods. Oh yeah, time to boogie.
UN 13,832 looms two humps in the distance. Wonder if I could make it there before sunset?
With the extra benefit of the wind at my back I’m able to floor it downhill. Snowshoes are retrieved and trench seems virtually intact in the woods. The setting sun illuminates a now visible Half Peak and UN 13,674. If only the spare batteries weren’t in the Subaru! Speaking of the Subaru, I reach my vehicle at 5pm quite pleased with my day’s efforts. Remember you’re in Lake City, better hurry into town before all the restaurants close. If only that pizza place was open during winters…...
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