Be sure to check out Part 1 as well.
On the second night of our trip I awoke to fierce winds howling down the valley. Rain poured from the skies onto our little tent, and I huddled down in my sleeping bag to stay warm. “Will we be able to hike at all on Friday?” I thought as I laid there staring at the tent ceiling.
Friday dawned cloudy and gray. Fog blanketed the valley and we all looked at each other with doubtful expressions. We knew if we were going to have any chance of summiting Uncompahgre we had to start moving soon, and yet, was there any point? After a quick breakfast of cold granola cereal and coffee we packed up our day packs and headed two miles up the trail to the ridge above the Nellie Creek trail. From here, we knew we’d have a better view of incoming weather.
Finally, after two miles of slowly making our way uphill, we reached the ridge and had a beautiful view of the peak.
Blue skies were peeking through, so we decided to go for it. The unfortunate part was that the only connector trail from Big Blue to Nellie Creek that we knew of dropped us 500 ft in elevation to the Nellie Creek trail. Then, we had to start climbing again to regain that amount, plus over 2,000 more feet to summit Uncompahgre. Determined, we continued on.
I’ll admit that this trail can feel a bit defeating. The whole time I was trudging along I could see my destination, and yet I felt like I was getting no closer. Still, the views were spectacular!
Last year on our trip up the Middle Fork of the Cimmaron, we stood on the ridge in the background and looked across a narrow valley at Uncompahgre, Wetterhorn, and Matterhorn.
We continued our slow ascent with many other would-be summitters. The trail gets steep and rocky in places. After reaching 13,000ft, we stopped much more frequently. Unfortunately, dark gray clouds beat us to the top, and we turned back. We’ve all heard too many stories about storms and lightning on 14ers to risk it. Those mountains aren’t going anywhere, so there’s always time to try again.
Dad and I took a few pictures before heading back down the trail to catch up with the BF. He’d spent some time exploring around and found us an alternate route back to our Big Blue trail. Within a quarter mile, we were back over near the Big Blue trail. We turned to look at Uncompahgre just as thunder boomed overhead.
This view and the thunder convinced us we’d made the right decision in turning back. We headed back to camp for afternoon snacks and libations and decided our view of Uncompahgre was better than standing on top anyway!
Saturday morning we awoke to blue skies. We packed up camp and got ready to start the hike back to civilization. We planned to make it back past Slide Lake before stopping for the night. First, we took a few pictures to remember that awesome camping spot.
On the way back we took more photos of wildflowers. They were so abundant that we just couldn’t help ourselves!
Our last camp was a little buggier than the previous ones, but mostly because it was at a lower elevation. Black flies buzzed around; they’re annoying but don’t bite. This camp had obviously been used in the past, but it didn’t seem like anyone had been there in a while. Several logs were there for sitting, and across the meadow was a creek–another that required taking off one’s hiking shoes to cross it. Still, it had all the requirements of a great site: flat places for tents, live trees for extra shelter, and water.
After one final night on the trail, we headed back to the car. We’d been out five days and four nights and were all ready for a hot shower. The shower would have to wait, but at least luke warm beer and Pringles were waiting for us at the car!
In the end, I’d call this a successful trip. We all had a great time together, no one got hurt, and nothing broke! We saw elk, mule deer, marmots, and ptarmigans, and really got to relax. There’s no experience like finding yourself with a view that you know few people will ever see. Backpacking can be quite challenging but in the end, the experiences you come away with make for a much richer life.