Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Uncompaghre Peak - 14,309

Uncompaghre's West Face from Matterhorn Creek Basin, June 2009 - orange up, black down (click to enlarge).

Unlike Democrat it was too late in the season to approach Uncompaghre on skis. Neither west face couloir went all the way to the top, as can be seen in the photo above. Even the right-hand, most direct one wasn't continuously covered. This was nevertheless the route I chose, armed with a Raven ax, Gore-tex Asolos and aluminum crampons.

June 27, 2009, was one of those bizarre early summer mornings - not quite cold but not that warm, either - as I set out from my camp high in Matterhorn Creek Basin. A couple of early-birds were making their way down the rib between Uncompaghre's two west-facing couloirs as I cramponed up the initial ice field toward the rock band that appeared at about one-third height. This 30-foot step running with water posed the day's greatest challenge, glazed as it was by ice, but above it I rejoined the main snowfield (below).

The snow ended near the intersection with the Nellie Creek approach. Several hikers could already be seen above as I fell into this well-worn track to the summit. Uncompaghre presents a fortress-like isolation from all angles except this meandering line from the south. The shot below looks down the West Face from the summit.

Descending I took the more northerly couloir, remembering the iced-up band of the other way. Skis would have been very nice here - although humping them up would not have been - because if glissade is the second best option to a ski descent, a distant third has to be the quick and dirty butt-slide that my edgeless Asolos forced me into. After retrieving my ski poles from the base of the other gully I was schlepping back over the pass to my camp. I'd been resisting getting a set of trekking poles, but seeing how well my poles kept me balanced on the hike down, I may have to break down and buy some. Fourteener number 16! On to Humboldt.

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