14er Report #37: Uncompahgre Peak (Very Late Summer Conditions, South Ridge Route)

Uncompahgre, #12. Uncompahgre Peak, Colorado, 2017
Uncompahgre, #12. Uncompahgre Peak, Colorado, 2017 (In the red light of an autumn sunrise.)
“Uncompahgre” – From the Ute word for “red water spring” or “red lake” or “dirty water”, take your pick–or ask a Ute elder, to be sure.


After a day of resting our bones (see the September 15, 2017, Handies Peak Report) and checking our phones in the bustling berg of Lake City (population 500, counting dogs and cats), Rik Fritz and I were ready for our next 14er objective. Again, we talked of Wetterhorn, but yet another brief dusting of snow up high the night before made us reconsider. Fickle autumn! So, to avoid any chance of a Fritz-Joder epic (see my post “The Fall” for an extreme example of just such an “epic”), we chose the relatively easy trail up Uncompahgre Peak for the adventure o’ the day.

If you happen to be in this area in mid-September, by the way, plan for a day of hanging out in Lake City as their Lake City Uncorked Wine and Music Festival takes place then. A fun event! Also, the leaves will likely be changing (as they were for us), so it is a fine time to be there. Bring both a jacket and short sleeves–it will be chilly in the shade, but hot in the sun!

Also, of historical and, perhaps, gastronomical interest in this land of many gold and silver mines, is the strange 19th century tale of Alferd G. Packer. He and five prospector companions found themselves snowbound here in the San Juans one winter and only Alferd came out alive when the storms cleared–apparently, thanks to a bit of cannibalism on his part. He was eventually convicted of murder for his acts, although there is a good chance he was railroaded and was simply a “creative survivor” of a tough situation (not unlike the Donner Party (1846-1847) and the Uruguayan rugby team (1972).

Some morbidly humorous Alferd Packer trivia: I remember eating at the Alferd G. Packer Memorial Grill at the University of Colorado back in the 70s (Since renamed the “Alferd Packer Restaurant and Grill”, apparently–spoilsports!). I think they had a “Cannibal Burger” on the menu then.  Some of the slogans I have heard related to this eatery…”Have a friend for lunch!”…”Serving humanity since 1874″…and, “He ate the only two Democrats in Hinsdale County!”

But enough raucous levity. Let’s get back to the topic at hand–the trip report of our ascent of Uncompahgre Peak in late summer/early fall/light snow conditions. May you find it useful and/or entertaining.


…Click here for the complete report and a couple of dozen images to stimulate your retinas!

14er Report #36: Handies Peak (Very Late Summer Conditions–Snow!, East Slopes Route)

Handies, #3. San Juan Mountains, CO, 2017
Handies, #3. San Juan Mountains, CO, 2017 (Both autumn and winter are approaching at the same time!)
Memories made in the mountains stay in our hearts forever.

With a pending move to Barcelona this year, I thought I might get motivated and finish the basic list of 58 14ers this year but, alas, ’twas not to be. Rock climbing seemed to be the outdoor priority for me this year. So, I guess I’ll be back from Spain for a month or two next year with the remaining 14ers in my sights! Who wants to join me?

This particular trip up Handies (and the one to follow, up Uncompahgre) was special in that I was able to team up with a very close friend from way, way, waaay back in junior high and high school days–Rik Fritz. In fact, he called me up and got me going back to the big mountains on this trip instead of the local rock climbing crag.

Rik is an amazing guy and really needs to write a book about his exploits with rattlesnakes, on Yosemite big walls, on long, high altitude, cross country flights in his hang glider, and on his seriously salty sailing adventures. He is definitely a man who has lived life to the fullest–and continues to do so. (See my near-death blog post from June 27, 2017, “The Fall” to catch a bit of what I mean.)

It was great to catch up with him and talk about all that “Back In The Day” stuff! Ahhh…the stories…the stories…and all included at least 10% truth!

Our initial goal for the 3-4 days we had available was to haul our fannies up Sneffels, Uncompahgre, and Wetterhorn, starting with the Class 3 scrambling route on this last one, “Weather Peak”. Handies wasn’t even on the list. But, ah, the best laid plans…In mid-to-late September in the Colorado Rockies, weather can be tricky and fickle pickle, as we quickly discovered.

A pounding, hours-long, cold rainstorm the night before–as we camped at the Wetterhorn/Matterhorn Trailhead–made us rethink things. There would surely be snow above and, sure enough, morning revealed a heavy coating on the high peaks tapering off finally at about treeline. Hmmm…best not to do exposed Class 3 scrambling on icy and snowy rock without the proper gear and attitude, we both said. So, instead of Wetterhorn, off to Handies we bounced in our 4×4 pickups–Handies would be a much easier peak, even with a wet, white blanket o’ schnee.

What follows, then, is what eventually transpired, to the best of my sometimes-faulty recollection, along with my usual merry montage of inspiring images…

…Click here for the rest o’ the story!