Backpacking the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area

Backpacking the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Nov 30, 0000
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Summer


2008 - While surfing in I came across some pictures of the Southern San Juans and Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn Peaks. The wonderful pictures on the San Juan Range Page and the Uncompahgre Wilderness page impressed me and I became determined to plan a trip to the Uncompahgre Wilderness one day.

Winter 2009/2010 - My dad wanted my help in planning out his vacation time for 2010, and thought a backpacking trip with my brother and I would be fun. I suggested the Uncompahgre Wilderness, showed him the pictures on SummitPost, and eventually convinced him that Uncompahgre was the place to go this year. He put me in charge of planning it. My trip came a few years earlier than expected.

June 2010 – I got permission from my Dad to invite my friend, his little brother, and his Dad. My friend (DJ) and his little brother (Michael) could come, but his Dad couldn’t get time off. I made the preliminary plans for the trip.

The Plan

Tuesday, Aug 10 - Leave for Lake City at 4 PM and arrive at Midnight. Camp at Elkhorn RV resort.

Wednesday, Aug 11 - Wake up at 6 AM and drive to the Matterhorn Creek Trailhead off the Alpine Loop. Hike the 6-8 miles to the Wetterhorn Basin and stay the night there.

Thursday, Aug 12 – Summit Redcliff Peak, hike to the base of Matterhorn peak, and stay the night there.

Friday, Aug 13 – Do a day hike and summit Uncompahgre.

Saturday, Aug 14 – Summit Matterhorn, be back to the car by noon, and drive home.
Me in the Uncompahgre Wilderness

The Route

Uncompahgre Backpacking Route

Tuesday, Aug 10

We left home around 3:30, stopped at the nearby McDonalds for $0.99 big macs, and arrived in Lake City around 11 PM. I drove most of the way, while the rest of the group passed the time playing spades and watching the movie Saints and Soldiers.

Wednesday, Aug 11

We all woke up spontaneously at 5:30 AM, got out of camp around 7:00 and got to the trailhead at 7:45. We hiked the planned route, but lost the trail and used the Topo Map and GPS to find our way to the desired campsite. My brother Brian spent a lot of the day about the unexpected climbing and felt a bit altitude sick, but other than that things went great. It rained off and on, but we managed to stay dry. We arrived at our campsite around 2 PM, played spades, had lunch and dinner, and went to bed.
Sheep in the Uncompahgre Wilderness
Dad in Uncompahgre
Uncompahgre Wilderness
Uncompahgre Wilderness

Journal Entry - 8/11/10

I am currently sitting with my back leaning against a log with Wetterhorn soaring right above me and Coxcomb looming on the left. I am finally in the Uncompahgre Wilderness on a trip that started at least a year ago when I came across some stunning pictures on It’s not a pristine forested area, but a rugged mountain range with a rolling alpine tundra. It is AWESOME!
Uncompahgre Wilderness
Coxcomb Peak
Uncompahgre Wilderness

Thursday, Aug 12

I set my alarm for 5 AM so we could get an early start to summit Redcliff before any rain came in, but when the alarm went off it was raining, so I turned it off, fell back asleep, and didn’t wake up again until 8. We got out of camp by 9, but it was too late to summit Redcliff as well as get to our camp. We did a little route change so we could camp nearer to Uncompahgre Peak, and reached our campsite around 6 PM.
Wetterhorn in the morning
Uncompahgre Wilderness

Journal Entry: 8/12/10 – 10:22 AM

I just reached the top of Coxcomb pass and am sitting at 12,900 feet. We were a bit slow getting off this morning. My alarm went off at 5:00, but it was pouring rain so I fell back asleep and didn’t get up until. It was good for everyone to sleep in and gave everyone some needed energy.
Uncompahgre Wilderness
Coxcomb Peak

Jounral Entry: 8/12/10 – 7:26 PM

Today was crazy! We got a late 9 o’clock start that made an ascent of Redcliff impossible with our group. Overall not doing Redcliff was a definite plus. It allowed us all to sleep in before a crazy day of backpacking, and saved us from more elevation gain. We had to do 10 miles of backpacking today anyway and Redcliff would have put us over the top. It’s not like we didn’t get our fair share of climbing without Redcliff. In the last two day we have already done 9,000 feet of climbing and today alone did 3 steep 1,000 foot climbs up and over several mountain passes.
Uncompahgre WildernessSitting out the rain
Uncompahgre Wilderness

Journal Entry: 8/12/10 – 8:52 PM

I’ve been sitting in a tent for a couple of hours and am more than ready to go to sleep. Today was really tough and I am more than relieved to lie down. Our campsite is sitting right below Uncompahgre Peak and we are on a bunch of gravel. At 12,400 ft it gets really windy where we are at so my Dad made this sweet tied down system for our tent. He dug some trenches, tied string from the tent to huge rocks, but the rocks in the trenches, and buried them halfway. I am pretty sure the tent isn’t going anywhere. Last night’s campsite was much better. We were in a small grove of pine trees with lush tundra and surrounding views of Coxcomb and Wetterhorn. It wasn’t as windy and definitely not as barren as where we are now. But despite being barren, there is still a rugged beauty around tonight’s campsite
Uncompahgre Wilderness
Uncompahgre WildernessAnchoring in the tent in prep for a windy night

Journal Entry: 8/12/10 – 9:30 PM

I can’t go to sleep so I might as well write some more. I’ll write a little compare/contrast of today and yesterday. Physically today was a lot harder. We did a lot more climbing, a lot more mileage, but for the most part, we had higher spirits. Yesterday Brian was grumpily trudging along behind us, complaining about altitude sickness, while today he was practically running for parts of the hike. I think DJ and Michael were better prepared mentally for what lay ahead today allowing them to go farther and faster. Personally I felt a lot happier today, Yesterday night I felt really bad after trying too hard to persuade everyone to do Redcliff and by the end felt like I had forced them to agree and felt bad for dragging them along on my trip. Today I approached things differently. I was more open to others’ ideas and less stubborn about doing things my way. My attitude made all the difference.

Although today was much harder, finding the way was much easier. Yesterday the trails were non-existent and we had to rely on the maps and our GPS to find the way. Today the trails were well defined, and when they weren’t huge cairns and trail markers showed the way.

Friday, Aug 13

The alarm went off at 6:30, got our daypacks packed, and were headed towards Uncompahgre Peak by 7:30. Hiking up Uncompahgre seemed easy compared to all the climbing we had done with our full packs on. We summited around 11, and enjoyed the gorgeous views and the company for a while. We went the whole trip up to this point without seeing any people except for a couple sheep herders with their hundreds of sheep, and so enjoyed the company of several hikers at the top. We got back down around 2, decided to skip Matterhorn the next day, and tried to find a better campsite below treeline. We couldn’t find a great spot so decided to go back to the car and camp in Lake City again.
On top of UncompahgreAbsorbing the views as well as some sleep

Jounral Entry: 8/15/10

I am now back home from backpacking in the Uncompahgre Wilderness. I didn’t write anything in my journal on Friday or Saturday, so here is a rundown of the last two days of our trip.

We woke up around 6:30 Friday morning. I slept really well the last 5 or 6 hours of the night, but my Dad and DJ complained that the slight but constant wind kept them up. We didn’t take down camp Friday morning, and instead backed our daypacks and started climbing Uncompahgre Peak. The climb up Uncompahgre was not nearly as bad as expected. After doing multiple 1,000+ foot climbs with full packs on, climbing up Uncompahgre with light daypacks was actually a relief. Close to the top there was one Class 3 section we hadn’t expected, but it was doable and unexposed and everyone was able to complete it.
King of the MountainKing of the Mountain: A throne of rocks on the way to Uncompahgre

The top of Uncompahgre is truly spectacular. We were able to see for miles and miles in every direction and think we even saw the La Sals to the west, clear in Utah! The view south was spectacular with mountains continuing as far as the eye could see. We could barely make out Montrose to the Northwest, but that was the only sign of civilization one could see. There is nowhere I have been in the Wasatch Mountains where I live that can even compare. The Wasatch Mountains are beautiful, no doubt, but whenever you get to the top of a mountain, you can see miles and miles of urbanized country in the Salt Lake and Utah Valleys.
On top of UncompahgreAll five of us on top of Uncompahgre
Uncompahgre PeakView from the top of Uncompahgre

The hike back down was uneventful and we reached camp around 2 pm. Once at camp we ate lunch and I tried to take a little nap. My quest for a nap was unsuccessful since the rest of the group wanted to pack up and get closer to the car. I felt sore at the moment because I thought that if it had been anyone else sleeping we would have just waited for them. I got over these hard feelings and packed up myself so we could head out.
Uncompahgre PeakHeading down the mountain

Uncompahgre WildernessEating Ramen at Camp

On the way down from Uncompahgre we decided to skip Matterhorn since climbing it seemed a bit anticlimactic after looking down on it from the top of Uncompahgre. This meant we could hike farther down the mountain towards are car so that Saturday would be a breeze. My dad wanted to camp below treeline again, but we were unable to find a suitable camping spot in the trees and decided since we had come down so far already we may as well just head back to the car and camp once again in Lake City.

Saturday, Aug 14

We woke up around 7:30, took showers at Elkhorn RV Resort, and left. We stopped at Grand Junction and ate a delicious meal at Olive Garden, which was a tasty surprise after having Ramen Noodle for most of the week. We arrived back home around 5 PM.

Trip Summary

The trip was a great experience for all of us. We hiked 28 miles in three days, had a total ascent of 14,000 feet, climbed our first fourteener, and most importantly, had fun!


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